SEPTEMBER 18, 1981: THE LOT IS FULL

THE LOT IS FULL

Guinness, when not brewing stout, keeps busy by recording great moments in the history of human endeavors – the largest ball of aluminum foil, the most people in the trunk of a 1973 Volkswagen, the parkinghighest this, the longest that. The recording of such precious and penultimate moments has over the years given so many their 15 minutes of fame and, at the very least, an asterisk in the annals of time.

And so it was on September 18, 1981, for the city of Edmonton in the province of Alberta in Canada. On that day, the West Edmonton Mall made the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest parking lot in the world with designated spots for 20,000 automobiles. What a step in the shopping experience! What a giant leap for mankind!

Of course a 20,000-car parking garage is nothing without somewhere for all those parking people to go. And the West Edmonton Mall has plenty of places to go: more than 800 stores, 100 restaurants, and 19 movie theaters. It has a full-size ice-skating rink, where the Edmonton Oilers practice; two hotels, a chapel; and several nightclubs.

The mall is arranged in a series of themed wings. There’s a 19th-century European boulevard, a Bourbon Street, and a Chinatown wing arranged around a koi pond. A replica of Christopher Columbus’ Santa Maria shares a lagoon with real submarines and exotic fish. When the mall opened, its developer gushed: “You don’t have to go to New York or Paris or Disneyland or Hawaii. We have it all here for you in one place, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada!”

The mall has held other records, too: At one time or another it’s been the World’s Largest Shopping Mall (48 city blocks), the World’s Largest Indoor Amusement Park and the World’s Largest Indoor Water Park (which includes the World’s Largest Indoor Lake and the World’s Largest Indoor Wave Pool). And all of this in the World’s Nicest Country (at 35 million nice people).

Naturally every parking lot has its detractors; some parking lot purists argue that the Edmonton Mall shouldn’t hold the record because the lot is half indoors and half outdoors and therefore actually two parking lots. Picky, picky, picky.

The Edmonton Mall parking lot most likely added an unintended world’s record to its trophy case: the most people looking for their lost cars.

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SEPTEMBER 15, 1907: IT WAS BEAUTY KILLED THE BEAST

IT WAS BEAUTY KILLED THE BEAST

W.C. Fields cautioned against working with children or animals because they’re sure to steal the scene. You might say the same about a 50-foot gorilla. But scream queen Fay Wray had the big guy eating out of the palm of her hand (actually she spent quite a few scenes in the palm of faywrayhis hand). Born Vina Fay Wray on September 15, 1907, she became well-known for her roles in a series of horror movies, spanning the evolution from silent to talkie. But it was her role as the love of King Kong’s life that remained her primary claim to fame throughout a 57-year career in both movies and television.

In 2004, Peter Jackson approached her for a cameo in his remake of King Kong. She turned down the role, saying that the first Kong was the true King (Long live the King). Fay Wray died in her sleep that same year, before filming of the remake had begun.

Two days later, the Empire State Building went dark for 15 minutes in her memory.

King Kong had more than its share of “you’re going to regret saying that” lines, such as:

“Yeah, but what’s on the other side of that wall; that’s what I wanna find out.”

“He’s always been king of his world, but we’ll teach him fear.”

“Suppose it doesn’t like having its picture taken?”

Working the Little Gray Cells

In 1920, a new detective appeared upon the literary scene.– a former Belgian police officer with twirly “magnificent moustaches” and an egg-shaped head. Hercule Poirot debuted in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first novel by Dame Agatha Christie, “the Queen of Crime,”agatha born on September 15, 1890. It is one of 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections featuring the Belgian detective and several other characters, most notably Miss Marple.

Christie’s career was full of superlatives. She is the best-selling novelist of all time, over 2 billion copies of her books having been sold. Her books are the third most widely-published in the world, trailing only Shakespeare and the Bible. And Then There Were None is the best-selling mystery ever — 100albert_finney_plays_poirot million copies thus far. The Mousetrap is the longest running stage play with more than 25,000 performances and still running. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was named the best crime novel ever by the 600-member Crime Writers’ Association.

Hercule Poirot appeared in half of Christie’s novel and in 54 short stories. By midway through her career, she was finding him “insufferable.” And by the 1960s she described him as an “egocentric creep.” Finally in the 1975 novel Curtain, she disposed of him (although the book was written many years earlier and stored in a bank vault for publication at the end of her life). Most of her books and stories have been adapted for television, radio and movies.

Agatha Christie died in 1976.

 

It is the brain, the little gray cells on which one must rely. One must seek the truth within–not without. ~ Hercule Poirot

SEPTEMBER 13, 1916: A TALE OF TWO CHOCOLATE FACTORIES

A TALE OF TWO CHOCOLATE FACTORIES

When Roald Dahl’s mother offered to pay his tuition to Cambridge University, Dahl said: “No thank you. I want to go straight from school to work for a company that will send me to wonderful faraway places like Africa or China.” And Dahl born on September 13, 1916, did go to wonkafaraway places — Newfoundland, Tanzania, Nairobi, and Alexandria, Egypt, where as a fighter pilot a plane crash left him with serious injuries.

Following a recovery that included a hip replacement and two spinal surgeries, Dahl was transferred to Washington, D.C., where he met author C.S. Forrester, who encouraged him to start writing. His becoming a writer was a “pure fluke,” he said. “Without being asked to, I doubt if I’d ever have thought to do it.”

Dahl wrote his first story for children, The Gremlins, in 1942, for Walt Disney, coining the word. He didn’t return to children’s stories until the 1960s, winning critical and commercial success with James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Other popular books include Fantastic Mr. Fox (1970), The Witches (1983) and Matilda (1988).

Despite his books’ popularity, some critics and parents have have taken him to task for their portrayal of children’s harsh revenge on adult wrongdoers. In his defense, Dahl claimed that children have a cruder sense of humor than adults, and that he was simply trying to satisfy his readers.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was filmed twice, once under its original title and once as Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Dahl died in 1990 and was buried with his snooker cues, an excellent burgundy, chocolates, pencils and a power saw. Today, children continue to leave toys and flowers by his grave

Chocolate for the Masses

hersheyAnother really big name in chocolate was born on September 13, 1857. After a few years dabbling in caramel, Milton Snavely Hershey became excited by the potential of milk chocolate, which at that time was a luxury. Hershey was determined to develop a formula for milk chocolate and that he could sell to the mass market. He produced his first Hershey Bar in 1900, Hershey’s Kisses in 1907, and the Hershey’s Bar with almonds was in 1908. Willie Wonka created a chocolate factory; Milton Hershey created a chocolate empire with its own town, Hershey, Pennsylvania.

 

Researchers have discovered that chocolate produces some of the same reactions in the brain as marijuana. The researchers also discovered other similarities between the two but can’t remember what they are. ~ Matt Lauer

Just a Bunch of Tomorrows, Part 3: A Change of Fortunes

One Thursday afternoon, I was playing with my friends Bud and Lou and we were going through our favorite routine.

“What’s the name of the guy on first base?”

“No, Who’s on first.”

twins“I don’t know.”

“Third base.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the very young Mrs. Johnson — at least that’s what Bessie and Cora always called her.  She huddled with Cora for a while and then left, looking a little sad but not crying like some of the others.  But when she was gone Cora began to cry and mumbled something into Bessie’s shoulder.

Bessie said to her sternly:  “She’s got a right to know.”

“I couldn’t, “ said Cora, still sniffling.  “I saw such terrible things and — he’s so young; they’re both so young.”

I had never thought that much about the fact that there was a war going on.  It was far away, didn’t affect my daily life, and self-centered as I was, I pretty much ignored it.   I knew about war, at least war as it was shown in the movies, and I played war games with some of my conjured up friends, but I had a hard time thinking of war as something real.  But now suddenly it felt real and much closer.  I realized from the change in Bessie and Cora and the fortunes they told that we must be losing the war.  I hadn’t worried about my father before.  He was over there, but he wrote all the time, and most of the time the letters were happy and talked of funny things.  Everything always seemed fine, as though he were just on a business trip or vacation.  I missed him but didn’t fear for him.

Now I needed to know more.  I went to Cora and pestered her until she agreed to tell my fortune.  This actually seemed to cheer her up.  She began to rub my head and told me I’d see marvelous things, and do exciting stuff.  “One day you’ll shake hands with the President,” said Cora almost giddily.  “President Patton.”

“Tell me about my father,” I said.  She froze, and a look I’d never seen, a look of intense sadness, crept across her face.  “No more fortunes today, young man,” she said stiffly, abruptly standing and walking out, leaving me alone.

That was my last day with Bessie and Cora.  I didn’t see them again until many years later when I was a teenager and they had retired from the fortune-telling business.  I told my mother about that final day and she laughed it off but I could tell she was upset.  It had been too long since my father’s last letter, and we both knew it.  I was convinced that Cora had seen something horrible that she wouldn’t reveal.  And I remained convinced for the next two weeks until my father came marching through our front door, a full week before his letter telling us he was on his way home.

But what about that last day with Cora; had she not seen something tragic after all?  I think maybe she had, because I also heard more about the very young Mrs. Johnson.  I guess she had every reason to cry, but it wasn’t the reason that Cora had withheld.  Young draftee Johnson had boarded the train for California but disappeared before it got there, never to be heard from again.  And many of Cora’s other fortunes went slightly awry.  You might just say that, for the most part, they were just a bunch of very inaccurate tomorrows, fun at first, but increasingly colored by Cora’s growing sense of the horror of war.  I guess she was really meant to be a fair-weather fortuneteller.

And I never shook hands with President Patton.

 

Just a Bunch of Tomorrows is included in Naughty Marietta and Other Stories

SEPTEMBER 12, 1970: TURN ON, TUNE IN, DROP OUT

TURN ON, TUNE IN, DROP OUT

Richard Nixon called him the most dangerous man in America, an honor usually reserved by Republicans for figures such as Charles Darwin and Barack Obama. Timothy Leary wasn’t always so “dangerous.” He had a distinguished military service and academic psychology career timothy-leary-until he started thinking way outside the box, promoting the therapeutic use of psychedelic substances. It was your basic slippery slope, as he quickly evolved during the wild and woolly 60’s to a self-described performing philosopher and hippie guru. He used LSD himself and developed a philosophy of mind expansion and personal truth through LSD with such heady concepts as space migration and intelligence increase. Eventually, it was all about turning on, tuning in, and dropping out.

As a result, Leary also came to spend more time in jail than out of it, becoming intimate with 36 prisons throughout the world. In January 1970, he received a 20-year prison sentence for a pair of earlier transgressions. Upon his reporting for prison duty, Leary was given a series of psychological tests meant to help determine what work duties he was suited to. Having himself designed such tests, he found it quite easy to manipulate the results so that they would show him to be a model citizen with an interest in forestry and gardening, pursuits that would conveniently keep him out of doors.

Leary was assigned to work as a gardener in a minimum security prison. On September 12, 1970, leaving a farewell note, he climbed over the prison wall along a telephone wire to a waiting pickup truck supplied by the Weather Underground. For $25,000 (paid by the Brotherhood of Eternal Love), the weathermen smuggled Leary and his wife out of the United States and into Algeria. From there, they traveled to Switzerland, Vienna and Beirut. In 1972, they headed for Afghanistan which had no extradition policy with the U.S. Unfortunately, they traveled aboard an American airline, and were arrested before they could deplane.

Leary was returned to prison where he remained until his release in 1976. He died in 1996.

Come Together

“Come Together,” written by John Lennon, became a big hit for the Beatles and an anti-war anthem. It was originally written as a campaign song for Timothy Leary’s aborted run for governor against Ronald Reagan.

Said Lennon: “The thing was created in the studio. It’s gobbledygook; “Come Together” was an expression that Leary had come up with for his attempt at being president or whatever he wanted to be, and he asked me to write a campaign song. I tried and tried, but I couldn’t come up with one. But I came up with this, “Come Together,” which would’ve been no good to him—you couldn’t have a campaign song like that, right?

 

Just a Bunch of Tomorrows, Part 2: My New Playmates

One Thursday afternoon Bessie, Cora and I were having tuna fish and mustard sandwiches, the only way they ever served it.  Wilhelm came by with the scarf draped around his shoulders that indicated he was going out for a walk, kissed Bessie on the forehead, and said:  “Cora, I’m going out twinsfor a short walk with Walter and Elliot.”  Bessie’s face tightened right up so it was even harder than Ludwig the Rock; Cora just sighed and shook her head.

“That’s what I want to do,” I said.

“What do you want to do, dear?” asked Cora.

“Go outside and see some friends.”

“But you don’t have any friends around here,” said Bessie.

“That’s what I want,” I said, a little petulantly.  “Some friends around here, someone to play with.”

“Poor dear,” said Cora. “A boy your age does need someone to play with, doesn’t he?”

“He sure does,” I said, poking my finger into my tuna to make little tunnels.

“Oh my,” said Cora.  “I wonder if maybe we could just . . .”

“Cora,” Bessie said in a voice that was probably as firm as Edward G. Robinson’s.

“Oh Bessie,” said Cora.  These twin fortunetellers were having a complete conversation just using each other’s names, and I didn’t have a clue to what they were saying.

“Cora,” Bessie reiterated.

Cora sighed.  “All right, Bessie.”  End of conversation. Certainly enlightening.  Bessie smiled a grim smile and picked up the empty plates and the scarred remnants of my tuna sandwich.  She gave Cora one last meaningful look and marched out of the room.  I knew it was time for Mrs. Halloran who came every Thursday at two for news of her husband, Warrant Officer Warren Halloran, who was in the Philippines and probably having an affair with a nurse.

I studied Cora’s face for insight and she did her level best to remain expressionless and enigmatic.  She failed miserably, and I was able to figure out that she had some plan for finding me playmates that Bessie didn’t approve of.

After ten minutes of an intensive, intimidating ten-year-old stare, Cora broke.  “If you could play with anyone you wanted to,” she said with a lot of hesitation, “who do you suppose you’d choose.”

“You mean someone who doesn’t live in this neighborhood?”

“There aren’t many children your age in this neighborhood,” said Cora.

“Someone from my own neighborhood?”

“Perhaps.”

“Someone from very far way?”

“I suppose.”

“Someone I didn’t even know, like someone in the movies?”

“Someone like Shirley Temple?”

I made a face.  “Someone like the Little Rascals, maybe.”

“Little Rascals,” Cora mused.  “I guess I could conjure up a rascal or two.”  And so Cora had me concentrate very hard, with my eyes closed tight, on the ones I wanted to play with.  And after a minute, she’d say:  “I see them now.  I see who you want to play with.”  She’d sometimes tell me I was thinking of so-and-so, usually a name I’d never heard of, but it didn’t matter.  If I thought hard enough, she’d conjure up the person I was thinking of, and we’d pass many Tuesdays and Thursdays playing together.  And my playmates became more and more fanciful.

“Here’s looking at you, kid,” Rick would say to me before he sent me off into the cutthroat-filled streets of Morocco with a highly secret document.  Or I might be called on to kick some wicked witch butt for Dorothy and her inept companions.  Capturing big cats with Clyde Beatty, searching catacombs for Count Dracula’s casket, watching the crazy world from under Harpo’s overcoat — there wasn’t much I didn’t do those Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Sometimes when taking a break from my own frenzied activity, I’d listen in while Bessie and Cora told the young military wives their fortunes, and I sensed a change taking place.  One day, Bessie spoke to a young woman about something called a fraulein and sent her away crying.  But it was Cora’s fortunes that were changing the most.  Her futures had always been so bright, so happy — something to look forward to.  Now they were about making the best of bad times and being strong for the kids.

continued

Just a Bunch of Tomorrows is included in Naughty Marietta and Other Stories 

 

SEPTEMBER 11, 1680: THE UNFORTUNATE ROGER CRAB

THE UNFORTUNATE ROGER CRAB

Seventeenth century England was not without its share of eccentrics, folks who were not the sharpest arrows in the quiver. Roger Crab may certainly be categorized as one of them, although his misfortune at having his skull split open while serving in the Parliamentary Army might provide some excuse for his eccentricity. The unfortunate Crab was sentenced to death after the incident (for having his skull in the wrong place at the wrong time?), but his sentence was later commuted and, upon his release, he became a haberdasher of hats.

His wandering mind somehow happened upon the idea that it was sinful to eat any kind of animal food or to drink anything stronger than water. Determined to pursue a biblical way of life, Crab sold all his hats and other belongings, distributing the proceeds among the poor. He then took up residence in a makeshift hut, where he lived on a diet of bran, leaves and grass (the 16th century equivalent of a kale and edamame diet), and began to produce pamphlets on the wonders of diet.

“Instead of strong drinks and wines,” he wrote, “I give the old man (referring to his body) a cup of water; and instead of roast mutton and rabbit, and other dainty dishes, I give him broth thickened with bran, and pudding made with bran and turnip-leaves chopped together.”

mad-hatterJust as Crab persecuted his own body, others began to persecute him. He was cudgeled and put in the stocks. He was stripped and whipped. Four times he was arrested on suspicion of being a wizard. He bounced from prison to prison until his death on September 11, 1680.  Fortunately, our modern society treats its vegetarian eccentrics much more humanely.

Some scholars believe Crab was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter.

Just a Bunch of Tomorrows, Part 1: Bessie and Cora

I really don’t know why my mother took me to see Bessie and Cora.  Perhaps she was worried about the future, my future, and the future was Bessie and Cora’s forte.  These two sixty-something ladies shared a bungalow on the upper end of D Street, a bungalow from which they told fortunes, mostly to the young women whose husbands were off trying their best to wind down World War II.

Bessie and Cora were twins as well as fortunetellers.

Although they looked very much alike, they were not identical, which made life much easier for Wilhelm, Cora’s husband, who also shared the bungalow and whose eyesight and mental prowess had been waning since about 1939, so that it was difficult enough for him to identify his wife as it was.

Bessie and Cora each took a slightly different spin on divining the future:  Bessie was an avowed palmist; Cora dabbled in tarot, tea leaves and the other trendier methods.  Bessie was pragmatic; she gave her clients nuts and bolts information to help them cope with the near-term future.  Cora was a blue-sky seer; her flights of fancy took her clients into a distant romantic future filled with dark strangers and great wealth.

My mother took me to see Bessie and Cora twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays while she went to do her part for the war effort — I was never sure exactly what — I always assumed it was riveting airplanes, but that’s probably just a romantic notion I picked up later in life.  And so, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, my future was in the hands of Bessie and Cora.  It didn’t take too many Tuesdays and Thursdays for me to completely read their meager library of children’s books and lose interest in the fortune telling paraphernalia that had outlived its usefulness and had been consigned to a cardboard box in the back hallway.

And how many times can you hear your future foretold?  I would be a good student, and if I studied hard, become very smart and eventually successful  — that’s what Bessie saw in my palm.  She held my palm tightly, looked at it sternly, her features as hard as the marble bust of Beethoven that watched from an upper bookshelf.  (I could never understand Wilhelm’s confusion.  The sisters did look very much alike, but even though their physical features were the same, Bessie’s were hard and Cora’s were soft — an incredible difference that should have been obvious to everyone, even Wilhelm. Bessie looked just as much like Old Marble Beethoven as she did like Cora.  At least I thought so.)  Bessie’s divination of my future never wavered; it was exactly the same on the third Thursday as it was on the first Tuesday, so I quickly gave complete control of my future to Cora.

Soft-featured Cora spread out her tea leaves and told me that someday I would fly in very fast airplanes to faraway places where I’d meet fascinating people — kings, queens, archdukes, emirs.  She consulted her cards to discover that I would, when I reached a proper age, have rendezvous with women as beautiful as Rita Hayworth, as lively as Carmen Miranda, as mysterious as Marlene Dietrich.  The bumps and contours of my ten-year-old head revealed that adventure also lie ahead — hidden treasures, Himalayan treks, maybe even a trip to Mars.  It was a wonderful life that Cora had planned for me, but even her big wide wonderful world of the future grew tiresome in time.

Wilhelm wasn’t particularly impressed by his wife’s or his sister-in-law’s prowess at prognostication.  Whenever the subject came up, he’d just snort and say:  “The future.  It’s just a bunch of tomorrows, pretty much the same as today.”  For a while I enjoyed sneaking up on Wilhelm to see how close I could get before he knew I was there.

continued

Just a Bunch of Tomorrows is included in Naughty Marietta and Other Stories

SEPTEMBER 10, 1897: IN A TAXI, HONEY

IN A TAXI, HONEY

Shortly after noon on September 10, 1897, on Bond Street in London an electric motorcar began to behave erratically. It swerved this way and that, then veered sharply and slammed into a wall. The gentlemen driving the vehicle, a taxi, was 25-year-old George Smith. George was quite drunk.

A police constable who witnessed the incident asked George to step down from the driver’s box. George complied, and the constable, seeing his silly grin and inability to walk straight, hauled him off to a nearby police station. At first George denied being drunk, but when a police surgeon certified his inebriation, he admitted to having had “two or three glasses of beer.”

“How fast was I going?” George asked.

“I should think about eight miles an hour,” answered the constable.

“I was going up an incline and could not have been going six miles an hour,” George argued. “The fastest these cars will travel is eight miles an hour.”

“You are not charged with driving furiously, but with being drunk. What about that?”

“I have nothing to say to that.”

George apologized, was fined 20 shillings, and found his way into the history books as the first man ever arrested for drunken driving. Today well over a million Georges are arrested every year for driving while intoxicated.

Do Do That Voodoo

Get a lover, keep a lover, get rid of a lover. She could do it all. “She could keep anybody from harming you and she could do anything you wanted done to anybody. How she used to do it, I don’t know. She used to say prayers and mix different things to give people to drink, to rubMarieLaveau with, to throw over your shoulder, to throw in the river. Oh! She had a million things to do but everything would happen just like she would say.” (Aileen Eugene, 1930)

For most of the 19th century, Marie Laveau was the most famous and powerful Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. Rich and poor, black and white, they all respected and feared her. She was born a Free Woman of Color on September 10, 1794. A devout Catholic, she attended Mass daily. She worked as a hairdresser and a nurse before becoming involved in the practice of voodoo, a religion that draws freely from both West African ancestor worship and Catholicism.

Even after he death in 1881, she continued to influence the people of New Orleans. People still visit her grave in the city’s St. Louis Cemetery, leaving money, cigars and rum with the hope she will fulfill their wishes.

Speaking of Voodoo . . .

I got your voodoo.  It’s all in this fun little novel — charms spells, magic, romance, danger — all sorts of things that go bump in the Caribbean night.  Take a look.  I’ve been known to stick pins into little dolls to get what I want.

 

SEPTEMBER 8, 1892: PLEDGE, SALUTE, SING OUT THE CHORUS

salutePLEDGE, SALUTE

Daniel Sharp Ford was a bit of a flag-waver. He thought the country needed a little more patriotism, and so launched a crusade to get flags into every school in the country. As the owner of the magazine Youth’s Companion he had a ready-made platform for the promotion of his ideas. As part of his patriotism package, he asked a socialist minister, Francis Bellamy, to create a pledge to the flag of one’s country, a pledge that could be used throughout the world.

Bellamy came up with a pledge that was simplicity itself, and Ford published it in the September 8, 1892, issue of his magazine. The Pledge of Allegiance, as it was called, read:

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The pledge was incredibly popular, repeated in schools, public gatherings, government meetings, in Congress. However, Ford and Bellamy found it awkward that folks just stood there while pledging, so they came up with a nifty salute. Pledgers would face the flag, extend their right arm forward and slightly upward — the Bellamy Salute.

Years passed and folks were happily pledging, but then the tinkering began. In 1923, the words, “the Flag of the United States” were added, thanks to the efforts of the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution who fretted that immigrant children might be confused about just which flag they were pledging allegiance to. A year later, the worriers added “of America.”

Then the Bellamy Salute came under fire; it looked a little too much like the German Nazi salute.

Come 1954, Congress got into the act, adding the words “under God” as a way of thumbing their noses at those godless communists, and giving the pledge its current form.

SING OUT THE CHORUS

BelafontecalypsoHarry Belafonte is an American singer, songwriter, actor, activist, and of course the King of Calypso. His third album, Calypso, hit the top of the charts on September 8, 1956, and had everyone singing out the chorus “Day-o.” It became the first album by a single artist to sell a million copies. In addition to “Day-o (Banana Boat Song),” the album included such calypso standards as “Jamaica Farewell,” “Man Smart,” and “Will His Love Be Like His Rum?” Discerning readers will note that some of those calypso standards serve as titles for short stories included in Calypso: Stories of the Caribbean.

SEPTEMBER 6, 1916: THIS LITTLE PIGGLY WIGGLY

THIS LITTLE PIGGLY WIGGLY

Before September 6, 1916, if you needed groceries, you would head to your local store and present your list to the friendly grocer standing behind the counter. The grocer would then fetch the items you requested. This could be time consuming and of course you always ended up behind the person who didn’t have a proper list or felt the need to chat for a bit. Clarence Saunders changed all that when he opened the very first Piggly Wiggly in Memphis, Tennessee. In his amazing store, you could wander throughout four aisles gathering your own goodies at your own pace, pausing to study the nutrition labels if you wished, or zipping through at a breakneck pace. The store’s 605 items were carefully organized into departments of like products. You worked your way through this shopping wonderland to where a cashier waited to check you out.

Saunders patented this self-service concept which was also known as a groceteria, and during the next few years issued franchises to hundreds of grocers throughout the Midwest and South. This little Piggly Wiggly went to market and grew up into an empire of 2,660 stores with annual sales of $180 million.

Saunders of course grew wealthy as well, but wouldn’t you know it he got greedy. He attempted to play funny with Piggly Wiggly stock, squeezing short interest and tripling its price. The stock exchange folks got wind of his scheme, and Saunders got caught, losing $9 million as a result. His company was broken up with stores being sold to such other players as Krogers and Safeway.

Saunders attempted to stage a comeback with fully automated grocery shopping in his Keedoozle stores but the concept failed to catch on (or was it the name? Would any serious shopper admit he or she was going to run down to the local Keedoozle?). Saunders died in 1953. A replica of his original store has been constructed in the Memphis Pink Palace Museum and Planetarium.

Ernest Tubb (1914-1984)

Known throughout his career as the Texas Troubadour, Ernest Tubb was a pioneer of country music who helped to popularize the honky tonk style with his major 1941 hit “Walking the Floor Over You.” His career went on to span another four decades. He died on September 6, 1984.

 

SEPTEMBER 5, 1786: WATCH IT WITH THAT THING; YOU’LL POKE SOMEBODY’S EYE OUT

WATCH IT WITH THAT THING; YOU’LL POKE SOMEBODY’S EYE OUT

Jonas Hanway who died on September 5, 1786, was well-know in several British spheres — a vice president of the Foundling Hospital, founder of Magdalen Hospital, revolutionizing London birth registration, and in charge of “victuallizing” the Navy. On the other hand, he was also known for tirades against tipping and tea-drinking and his support for the concept of solitary confinement.

But what he is most remembered for is bringing the umbrella to Britain. Now the umbrella had been around for a long time. It was invented in China back in the 11th century B.C. It was popular in Greece and Egypt as a sunshade. It was also used in Rome, but when the empire declined and fell, so did use of the umbrella. It was finally reintroduced in the 15th century, and by the 17th century had become quite popular among sophisticated women in France and even some British women. But a man?

Hanway is credited with being the first male Londoner to carry an umbrella, much to the chagrin of hackney coachmen who thought it their proprietary right to protect Londoners from rainfall. For years, they jeered at him with vigor as being a feminine sissy and even worse, a French sissy. But by the time of his death, umbrellas were commonplace throughout London.

Brolliology is of course the study of umbrellas. Of course. Does anyone actually know a brolliologist? What inspires someone to become one? What are their conventions like? We will study the umbrella a little further on September 7, the date of another noted umbrella in history.

Animals House

houseRThe Beatles had already roiled the American music scene by the fall of 1964, but the British invasion had many skirmishes to go. Another assault came in the form of the Animals who, on September 5, 1964 grabbed the top spot on the U.S. pop charts with their bluesy hit about a New Orleans whore house. No bubble gum here.

“We were looking for a song that would grab people’s attention,” said Eric Burdon. “House of the Rising Sun” got people’s attention big time. The song originated many years before the Animals recording. Alan Lomax recorded an early rendition in the ’30s. Bob Dylan and various folk artists had also recorded versions.

The song is supposedly about a house on St. Louis Street in the French Quarter, said to be the original House of the Rising Sun brothel, run by a Madam named Marianne LeSoleil Levant between 1862 and 1874. The early version is a lament by one of the working girls:

There is a house in New Orleans they call the Rising Sun.
It’s been the ruin of many a poor girl and me, O God, for one.
If I had listened what Mama said, I’d be at home today.
Being so young and foolish, poor boy, let a rambler lead me astray.
Go tell my baby sister never do like I have done
To shun that house in New Orleans they call the Rising Sun.

 

 

SEPTEMBER 4, 1957: THAT’S E AS IN EDSEL

edsel-citation-05THAT’S E AS IN EDSEL

It was dubbed “E-Day” by the Ford Motor Company and the air was heavy with hype – the first new automobile brand introduced by Detroit’s Big Three since the 1930s. For months, the company had been running ads that simply pictured the car’s hood ornament and the line “The Edsel Is Coming.” (Alfred Hitchcock was more successful a few years later with “The Birds Is Coming.”) Everything about the car was hush-hush. Dealers who showed even a tailfin to the curious public would lose their franchise (which turned out to be not such a calamity).

E-Day was a gluttony of hoopla, promotions and prizes. And it did lure would-be shoppers to the Edsel showrooms. And when they got there, they found a car that was certainly different, but not pleasantly so. “A Pontiac pushing a toilet seat,” said one reporter. “An Oldsmobile sucking a lemon.”

And those were just the problems with appearance. The transmission was a confusing push-button affair on the steering wheel. The rear turn-signal lights were shaped to point in the opposite direction from which the car was turning. And if you pushed the Edsel speed up to 50 mph or so, that famous hood ornament was likely to fly off and crash into the windshield. It guzzled gas. It was an over-sized, over-designed camel just when cautious consumers were looking for a horse.

And perhaps after all that hype, any car would have failed. And fail the Edsel did, spectacularly. In its first year, Edsel sold just 64,000 cars and lost $250 million (about $2.5 billion in today’s dollars). After the 1960 model year, the Edsel division folded for good. And Ford President Robert (Strange) McNamara went to run the Department of Defense.

That’s G . . .

The legendary Apache, Geronimo or the One Who Yawns, made a pretty big nuisance of himself throughout much of the late 19th century. Finally on September 4, 1886, Geronimo surrendered to government authorities, bringing to a conclusion the Indian Wars of the Southwest.

In his retirement, he remained a prisoner of war, but became something of a celebrity as well, appearing at fairs and carnivals, selling souvenirs from his extensive collection of settler scalps and autographed photos of his warrior days. He took a ride on a Ferris wheel at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair and hobnobbed with President Theodore Roosevelt during his 1905 inaugural parade. He would most likely have joined the 2016 Republican nomination battle had he not died in 1909.