Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

APRIL 30, 1803: AND FOR ONE TULIP MORE, GALVESTON

AND FOR ONE TULIP MORE, GALVESTON

The United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, more than doubling the size of the nation. In addition to the city of New Orleans and western Louisiana, the purchase included Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska; most of North and South Dakota; parts of Minnesota, New Mexico Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado (portions of Texas were included for ordering before 1804).

The price paid was 50 million francs (55 million without Texas). With the Dutch purchase of Manhattan in mind, President Jefferson had hoped to pay for the acquisition using beads. The frontierspeople would have none of it (“We may die without our boots on, but we won’t wear no sissy beads.”) and the people of New Orleans already had so many beads they held a party each year to give them away.

The purchase was pricey compared to the Dutch purchase of Manhattan ($15 million versus $24 in American currency; but since there was no American currency when the Dutch bought Manhattan, the comparison is like comparing guilders and tulips – and guilders and tulips went a lot farther back in 1626).  In another comparison, the United States paid 223 million rubles for Alaska. That’s 7.2 million dollars, 32 million francs, 18 million guilders, or 41 million tulips.

The only other comparable land purchase was a parcel along the Mexican border for a few pesos. The remaining portions of the United States were liberated from various other sources, usually native American or Spanish.

 

 

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APRIL 29, 1946: GOD’LL GET YOU FOR THAT

GOD’LL GET YOU FOR THAT

God was married on this day in 1946. For the second time. He was 70 at the time; she was 21 and, he claimed, a reincarnation of his first wife.

Unlike many other religious leaders who claimed to have God’s ear, Reverend Major Jealous Divine, (1876 – 1965) claimed to be God. Some contemporaries – jealous’ themselves perhaps – claimed he was more charlatan than god. Earlier in his life, before he became God, he was simply the Messenger. He founded what some have called a cult and oversaw its growth into a multiracial and international church.

Father Divine preached extensively in the south where, in 1913, he ran afoul of local ministers and was sentenced to 60 days jail time. While he was serving his sentence, several prison inspectors were injured in an auto accident, which, Father Divine pointed out, was the direct result of their disbelief.

Upon his release, he attracted a following of mostly women in Georgia. In 1914, several of his followers’ husbands and local preachers had Divine arrested for lunacy. This did not have the desired effect; it actually expanded his ministry. Father Divine was found mentally sound in spite of “maniacal” beliefs. When arrested, he had refused to give his name and was tried as John Doe (aka God).

After moving north and attracting a New York following — just as you were saying with a smirk, it could only happen in Georgia — Father Divine was arrested again, this time for disturbing the peace. At his 1932 trial, the jury found him guilty but asked for leniency. Ignoring this request, the judge called him a menace to society and sentenced him to one year in prison and a $500 fine. The 55-year-old judge died of a heart attack a few days later. Father Divine told-you-soed thusly: “I hated to do it. I did not desire Judge Smith to die . . . I did desire that my spirit would touch his heart and change his mind that he might repent and believe and be saved from the grave.”

In 1944, singer/songwriter Johnny Mercer attended one of his sermons – the subject, “You got to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.” Mercer was impressed. He returned to Hollywood and, with songwriter Harold Arlen, wrote “Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive”, which was recorded by Mercer himself and the Pied Pipers in 1945. It was also recorded by Bing Crosby with the Andrews Sisters.  And probably sung a year later at God’s wedding.

 

 

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APRIL 28, 2004: IT WAS SHEAR PLEASURE

IT WAS SHEAR PLEASURE

Some folks will go to great lengths to avoid sitting in a barber’s chair. So it seems will some animals. A New Zealand Merino sheep named Shrek — not to be confused with the bald green guy of the same name — really didn’t want to be shorn. So he went on the lam in the late 90’s, living as a fugitive, hiding in caves, always looking back over his shoulder.  He avoided capture for six years but alas someone finally fingered him and he was apprehended in April 2004. And on April 28, the now incredibly woolly Shrek went under the shears. It took a mere 20 minutes to denude him, and the entire indignity was nationally televised. The suddenly svelte Shrek gave up 60 pounds of wool, enough to suit 20 New Zealanders.

Now famous, he took tea with the Prime Minister on his tenth birthday and was allowed to spurn the shears for another 30 months before being shorn on an iceberg off the New Zealand coast (certainly a jumping the shark event). Shrek bought the sheep farm in 2011.

Sardine in Honorable Tin Can

Following the death of Warner Oland, who had successfully brought the character of Charlie Chan to the screen in 16 films, Twentieth Century Fox began the search for a new Chan. Sidney Toler, who was born in Warrensburg, Missouri, on April 28, 1874, was chosen to play the detective, and filming began less then a week later on Charlie Chan in Honolulu. Through four years and eleven films, Toler played Charlie Chan for Twentieth Century Fox. Fox terminated the series in 1942, following the completion of Castle in the Desert. Sidney Toler went on to star in eleven more Charlie Chan films for Monogram Pictures. Very ill during the filming of his last two Chan pictures in 1946, Toler died in 1947.

The character of Charlie Chan was created for the novel The House Without a Key in 1925 by Earl Derr Biggers. Biggers loosely based Chan on a real-life Honolulu detective named Chang Apana. He conceived of the heroic Chan as an alternative to the many stereotypical villains such as Fu Manchu that typified the so-called Yellow Peril, a prevailing vision of the menace of Asia. Sounding like a turn-of-the-century Donald Trump, Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune intoned: “The Chinese are uncivilized, unclean, and filthy beyond all conception without any of the higher domestic or social relations; lustful and sensual in their dispositions; every female is a prostitute of the basest order.” Luckily, Greeley is remember more for urging young men to go west.

Over four dozen films featuring Charlie Chan were made, beginning in 1926. Movie-goers took to Chan, but in later years critics found that in spite of his good qualities he too was an Asian stereotype. Many also objected to the fact that he was played by Caucasian actors in yellowface (although Keye Luke who played Chan’s number one son in 7 films was a bona fide Chinese-American actor).

In addition to his great detection, Charlie Chan was noted for the aphorisms sprinkled liberally throughout the films. A handful of the very many:

Accidents can happen, if planned that way. (Dark Alibi)

Action speak louder than French. (Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo)

Bad alibi like dead fish – cannot stand test of time. (Charlie Chan in Panama)

Detective without curiosity is like glass eye at keyhole – no good. (Charlie Chan in the Secret Service)

Even wise fly sometimes mistake spider web for old man’s whiskers. (Charlie Chan’s Chance)

 

chan

 

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APRIL 27, 1899: I COULDA BEEN A TENOR

I COULDA BEEN A TENOR

Walter Lantz, who was born in 1899 to Italian immigrant parents,  actually had the surname Lanza until an immigration official anglicized it. Had he not, Walter could have grown up to be an opera singer rather than the creator of Woody Woodpecker and many other cartoon characters.

The first of these characters was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, star of a 1928 cartoon series for Lantz_OswaldUniversal Studios. The character, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Mickey Mouse, had once belonged to Disney. Lantz won it in a game of poker.

Other less memorable characters followed: a trio of chimps, Meany, Miny and Moe; Baby-Face Mouse; Snuffy Skunk; Doxie (a dachshund); and monkeys Jock and Jill. One character stood out from the crowd – Andy Panda became the comic star for 1939.

A year later, Lantz married actress Grace Stafford. While on their honeymoon, Walter and Grace were pestered by an insistent woodywoodpecker02woodpecker pecking on their roof, and Grace suggested that Walter use the bird as a cartoon character. Woody Woodpecker appeared for the first time in an Andy Panda cartoon and soon became a leading character.

Mel Blanc was originally the voice of Woody Woodpecker, but after only three cartoons, he left to join Warner Brothers. Lantz held anonymous auditions for a new Woody. Lantz’s wife Grace made a secret audition tape and was chosen to be the new voice. She continued in the part until production ceased in 1972.

Woody Woodpecker is the only comic character to have his own hit song. Kay Kyser recorded “The Woody Woodpecker Song,” a top hit and Academy Award nominee in 1948.

Ho-ho-ho ho ho! Ho-ho-ho ho ho! Oh, that’s the Woody Woodpecker song.  They don’t write lyrics like that anymore.

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APRIL 26, 1970: FLAUNT YOUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

FLAUNT YOUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Shine up your sneakers, grab your party hats and noisemakers. It’s a day to cast off your inhibitions and get wild and crazy. Yes, today is World Intellectual Property Day, the day set aside to “raise awareness of how patents, copyright, trademarks and designs impact on dailyparty life” and “to celebrate creativity, and the contribution made by creators and innovators to the development of societies across the globe.” And get pleasantly pickled of course.

It’s not quite as over the top as say Fat Tuesday but it’s close. Celebrating the contributions of creators and innovators with two guys in clown suits and a person of unknown gender wearing nothing but a rubber chicken puts a fair amount of zest into a gray day in late April. And coming as it does on the heels of World Book and Copyright Day – well, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Why April 26 you ask? Because it’s the date on which the Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization was established in 1970.  Perhaps you missed it.  What is intellectual property you ask? That’s the beautiful part. It’s anything you want it to be. What you are reading here at this moment by very elastic definition could be considered intellectual property – especially after three Harvey Wallbangers. So live it up; National Defense Transportation Day is nearly a month away.

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APRIL 25, 1926: HERE THE MAESTRO DIED

HERE THE MAESTRO DIED

The world premier of Giacomo Puccini’s last opera “Turandot” was held at Milan’s La Scala on April 25, 1926, two years after his death. Arturo Toscanini conducted. Toward the end of the third act, Toscanini laid down his baton, turned to the audience and announced: “Here the Maestro died.”  Puccini had died before finishing the opera. Subsequent performances at La Scala and elsewhere included the last few minutes of music composed by Franco Alfano using Puccini’s notes.  A highlight of the opera is “Nessun Dorma,” probably the most famous aria in all of opera.

Down at the End of Lonely Street

Elvis Presley scored his first number one hit on the Billboard Pop 100 on this date in 1956.  Recorded and released as a single in January, “Heartbreak Hotel” marked Presley’s debut on the RCA Victor record label . It spent seven weeks at number one, became his first million-seller, and was the best-selling single of 1956. The song was based on a newspaper article about a lonely man who committed suicide by jumping from a hotel window.

Sick in de Stomach, Part 4: Happy Birthday, Dear Albert

TURTA full hour passed before Christian shouted to Basil. “Is it done yet?”

“This pesky turtle won’t stick his head out so’s I can bop it.”

Basil remained seated next to the tortoise for the rest of the afternoon, leaving only to refill his glass of rum every fifteen minutes or so. Christian and Mutton finally rejoined him.

“Y’know,” Basil confessed, “I sort of forgot which end this turtle’s head is suppose to come outten. Another thing. I got sort of hungry here smellin’ that soup cookin’ so I been having a few tastes now and then and y’know, it tastes sorta good. I think this here turtle’s been sitting next to it so long that it kinda got some turtle taste. I’ll bet if we just add a little sissy sherry, even ol’ Albert’ll like it.”

“Turtle, you say,” said Albert, taking another sip from the bowl that sat on the table in front of him. The others ringed the table, watching in anticipation.

“Caught ‘im myself,” said Basil, grinning.

“It tastes more like sherry with a lot of pepper in it,” said Albert, forcing another sip. By the time they had added the sherry, all that remained of the soup, thanks to the prolonged boiling and Basil’s frequent tasting, were a few charred leaves. Peaches had tried to perk up the bowl of hot sherry and leaves with a healthy dose of pepper. “Interesting leaves,” Albert mused. “My good sherry, I suspect.”

“Only the best for ol’ Albert.”

“I always preferred sherry in a glass, accompanied by a good cigar,” said Albert. “But it’s so much more delicate served hot with leaves floating in it. Perhaps you’ll let me savor it in solitude. I’m afraid I might spill a precious droplet or two with everyone watching. If you’d be so good as to bring a cigar when you return.”

They marched out, and when they returned five minutes later, all that remained of Albert’s birthday soup was a little dampness on the lips of his satisfied smile. Only Peaches noticed the curious puddle underneath the table.

“Thank you, my friends,” said Albert, lighting a cigar. “I only wish there were another bowlful, such is my appetite for turtle soup. Perhaps I’ll go to Guadeloupe tomorrow.”

“Here’s to ol’ Albert bein’ seventy,” said Basil, downing a glass of rum. “Happy birthday, Albert,” chorused the others. Albert smiled, and Peaches was compelled to recite: “Tiger, tiger, burning bright . . .”

Sick in de Stomach is one of the 15 stories from Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean, available as an ebook or in a print edition with real pages and everything.

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

APRIL 24, 1819: WHERE’S THE SODA, JERK?

WHERE’S THE SODA, JERK?

Samuel Fahnestock was given a patent for the first soda fountain in 1819. Carbonated mineral water was all the rage at the time.  Joseph Priestley had created the first man-made carbonated water back in 1767, and Jacob Schweppes had developed a method of mass producing it, quickly leading to the production of different brands of soda and different flavors. Fahnestock’s soda fountain allowed these drinks to be sold by the glass. Oddly enough, it took more than fifty years for someone to create the first ice cream soda, even though ice cream had been around since at least the 10th century.

At the peak of their popularity in the 1940s and 1950s, soda fountains were everywhere – in pharmacies, ice cream parlors, candy stores, department stores, and five-and-dimes. They were public meeting places (or hangouts, when occupied by teenagers).

Soda fountains required the services of a soda jerk. The name referred not to the personality of the person serving sodas but to the jerking action used to swing the soda fountain handle back and forth when dispensing soda. The position of jerk was actually quite sought after and usually came only after an extended period of service in less desirable positions. The soda jerk was the star of the soda fountain show.

The decline of the soda fountain began in the early 1950s when the Walgreens chain introduced full self-service drug stores. Hello Dairy Queen and McDonalds and supersizing; goodbye chocolate soda with two straws and two cents plain.

sick in de stomach, part 3: turtle lust

“I’ve got a dandy soup pot and loads of vegetables – onions, carrots, potatoes,” said Christian, when they reconvened at noon the next day in Albert’s Booby Bay Cafe.

“I got lots of leaves,” said Mutton. “I couldn’t find very many in the bay, so I got a bunch from out back.”

“That stuff you got there is just fine and all that,” said Basil, grinning. “But it ain’t turtle soup yet. Old Basil’s got the turtle goods.” He pulled his hand from behind his back and held before them, by its tail, a three-inch turtle.

“I don’t think that will make much broth,” said Christian, inspecting the turtle. “Say, isn’t that little Gustave’s pet turtle?”

“What kind of a pet is a turtle for a young lad? Won’t fetch nothin’.”

“It’s too small anyway,” said Christian.

“Now you didn’t say nothin’ ’bout how big a turtle you wanted, did ya? How much turtle d’ya need? Albert’s just one little Frenchie. Okay, okay, you start cookin’ them onions. Mutton, take this little critter back to Gustave, and I’ll go find a big turtle, which I would’ve found before, if someone had only said as such.” Basil made a trip to the bar for a refill, then headed off alone, the rum sloshing in his glass, mumbling as he went: “The lad won’t never make a seafarer, I’ll warrant, not ’til he learns how to give directions proper.”

The vegetables and leaves were boiling violently in the pot of water when Basil returned two hours later, dragging a bulky burlap bag behind him. “Got us a right fine turtle here,” he said. “A big’un like old Moby Dick, ‘cept he was a whale and Ahab only had one leg where I got two legs, and this here’s a turtle.” Basil ripped open the burlap bag to reveal a 200-pound tortoise. The tortoise took one look at them and retreated into his shell.

“That’s a lot of turtle,” said Christian.

“First he’s too little, now he’s too big. You’re bein’ mighty picky about the size of turtles. This here one’s the only other one on the whole island.”

“I think these turtles are endangered,” said Christian.

“I know this here turtle’s endangered.”

“He won’t fit in the pot,” argued Christian.

“He wouldn’t want to anyway,” said Mutton. “It’s pretty hot in there.”

“First, we gotta dismember ‘im.”

“What’s dismember?” asked Mutton.

Basil shook his head. “It’s just like rememberin’ except, in this case, we cut him into little pieces.”

“Won’t that hurt?” asked Mutton.

“It would if we didn’t bop him on the head first.”

“Have you ever bopped a turtle on the head, Basil?” Christian asked.

“Never bopped no turtle. Bashed me a scalawag though.”

“What’s it like?” asked Mutton. “Does it hurt a lot?”

“Well,” said Basil, “first he looks at you all twirly like, eyes wigglin.’ And sometimes they just stays open and keeps wigglin’ while the brains squirts outen ‘is skull and flies all over tarnation.”

Christian blanched.

“But it don’t hurt none,” Basil concluded.

Christian shook his head. “Okay, go ahead and do it. I’m going to wait over there.”

“Me too,” said Mutton, and he followed Christian away. Basil found a good size rock and sat down next to the tortoise.

continued

Sick in de Stomach is one of the 15 stories from Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean, available as an ebook or in a print edition with real pages and everything.