NOVEMBER 5, 1605: AND BRER FAWKES HE LAY LOW

AND BRER FAWKES HE LAY LOW

Please to remember the fifth of November, gunpowder treason and plot
I see of no reason why gunpowder treason Should ever be forgot
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, ’twas his intent
To blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below
Poor old England to overthrow…

Guy Fawkes, also known as Guido, was a protester some four hundred years ago, a member of a group of English Catholics who were dismayed at having a Protestant as King of England.  Their protests eventually moved beyond the verbal assaults (“Hi de hay, hi de ho, King James the First has got to go”) down the slippery slope to gunpowder, treason and plot.

Guy Fawkes was born in England in 1570 but as a young man went off to Europe to fight in the Eighty Years’ War (not the entire war, of course) on the side of Catholic Spain.  He hoped that in return Spain would back his Occupy the Throne movement in England.  Spain wasn’t interested.

Guy  returned to England and fell in with some fellow travelers.  Realizing that the Occupy the Throne movement required removing the person who was currently sitting on it, the group plotted to assassinate him.  They rented a spacious undercroft beneath Westminster Palace  where they amassed a good supply of gunpowder.  Guy Fawkes was left in charge of the gunpowder.

Unfortunately, someone snitched on them and Fawkes was captured on November 5.  Subjected to waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation methods, Fawkes told all and was condemned to death. (Evidently, James I was not amused.)  Just before his scheduled execution, Fawkes jumped from the scaffold, breaking his neck and cheating the English out of a good hanging.

Since then the English have celebrated the failure of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 with the November 5 celebration, an integral part of which is burning Guy Fawkes (and sometimes others) in effigy.  Seems like a long time to hold a grudge.

 

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NOVEMBER 4, 1702: PURSUING THE FRENCH

PURSUING THE FRENCH

John Benbow was an admiral in the British Royal Navy at the turn of the 18th century. Known as Old Benbow, he is mostly known for his misfortunes during one of England’s endless kerfuffles with France.

It was 1702, and the pesky French were threatening English interests benbowin the West Indies with a squadron of five ships. Benbow sailed after them with seven ships. Upon overtaking the French, Benbow gave the signal for his ships to engage, but nothing happened, and Benbow was forced to disengage. It seems Benbow’s officers were in a bit of a snit over Benbow’s offensive manners and thought disobeying his orders would teach him a nice lesson.

The following day, Benbow once more gave the order to advance, but the captains of five ships continued to defy him. Pissed but undaunted, Benbow had at the French with just two ships, battling for the entire day until one ship became disabled and was forced to withdraw.

The following day Benbow resumed battle with just one ship against the five French ships. Three times Benbow boarded the French admiral’s ship, and three times he was driven back. He suffered severe wounds to an arm, a leg, and his face. But still he persisted. He had his cot brought upon deck and continued to bark orders as he lay bleeding. When one of his lieutenants expressed regret at his shattered leg, Benbow replied: “I am sorry for it; but I had rather lost them both than have seen the dishonor brought upon the English nation.”

The French moved in for the kill, and Benbow was just able to extricate his ship and sail to Jamaica. There he ordered the ship captains arrested and court-martialed. One of the captains died before trial, two were convicted and shot, one was cashiered and imprisoned, and two were acquitted due to extenuating circumstances (one having been drunk during the initial insubordination, but repentant when sober).

Even though Old Benbow was shown to be blameless for the escape of the French squadron, he was despondent. His wounds grew worse during the following weeks and on November 4, 1702, he died.

 

OCTOBER 27, 1666: I DID IT WITH MY BOX OF MATCHES

I DID IT WITH MY BOX OF MATCHES

When the ashes settled after the great Chicago Fire, folks looked to assign blame and pointed their fingers at a cow.  The English were fire-of-londonalso looking to fix blame for a fire some two centuries earlier.  In early September 1666, a major fire broke out in Pudding Lane in the City of London and within days had destroyed 80 percent of the old city.
Accusations were flying in all directions — strangers, the Spanish, Dutch, Irish and most particularly the French, Catholics, even King Charles II.

Enter one Robert Hubert.  Hubert was a simple watchmaker who wasn’t quite wound up  — and he was a French Catholic.  He obligingly confessed to being the culprit, telling authorities he deliberately started the fire in Westminster.  He was arrested, but one little problem cropped up: the fire hadn’t even reached Westminster, let alone started there.

When confronted with the fact that the fire originated in a Pudding Lane bakery.  Hubert adjusted his story, saying that he had actually started the fire there, tossing a fire grenade through an open window.  What’s more, he did it because he was a French spy in service of the Pope.

Hubert was hauled before the court.  His story turned out to be riddled with problems.  The bakery had no windows, and Hubert was judged to be so crippled that he could not have thrown the grenade.  An even bigger problem:  he was not in England when the fire started, according to the testimony of the captain of a Swedish ship who had landed him on English soil two days after the outbreak of the fire.

Nevertheless, the court found Hubert guilty, and on October 27, 1666, he was hanged at Tyburn, London.  A year later, the cause of the fire was quietly changed to ‘the hand of God, a great wind and a very dry season.’

Don’t You Be a Meanie

Oh, Mr. Paganini
Please play my rhapsody
And if you cannot play it won’t you sing it?
And if you can’t sing you simply have to . . .

Mr. Paganini, aka (If You Can’t Sing It) You’ll Have to Swing It became a paganinifixture in Ella Fitzgerald’s repertoire back in the 1930s. The Mr. Paganini to whom she refers is composer and violin virtuoso Niccolo Paganini who was born on October 27, 1782. During the height of his career, the legendary “devil violinist”  set all of nineteenth-century Europe into a frenzy. He was a headliner in every major European city.  His technical ability was legend, and so was his willingness to flaunt it. His fame as a violinist was equaled by his reputation as a gambler and womanizer.

Alas, his grueling schedule and extravagant lifestyle took their toll, and he suffered from ever increasing health problems. He died in 1840.

OCTOBER 26, 2010: WELL-ARMED SOOTHSAYER

WELL-ARMED SOOTHSAYER

Paul the Oracle was somewhat of a child prodigy, demonstrating a marked intelligence right from the get-go. “There was something about the way he looked at our visitors,” said the adult in Paul’s early life. “It was so unusual, so we tried to find out what his special talents were.”

Paul was hatched from an egg at the Sea Life Centre in Weymouth, England, then moved to his permanent home, a tank at a center in Oberhausen, Germany.  Paul took his name from a German children’s poem, Der Tintenfisch Paul Oktopus. He quickly became a celebrity by virtue of his divination of the outcome of international football matches, choosing the winners through a stratagem typical of German engineering in its complexity — picking boxes of oysters emblazoned with competing nations’ flags.

Octopuses are some of the most intelligent of invertebrates, with complex thought processes, memory, and different personalities (good octopus, bad octopus). They can use simple tools, learn through observation, and are particularly sensitive to pain. This according to PETA, the animal rights group. PETA argued that it was cruel to keep Paul in permanent confinement. Sea Life Centres contended that releasing him would be dangerous, because being born in captivity, he was only accustomed to sitting around a tank, popping oysters and using a remote, not fending for himself.

Paul’s accurate choices for the 2010 World Cup, broadcast live on German television, made him a star. Paul predicted the winners of each of seven matches that the German team played, against Australia, Serbia, Ghana, England, Argentina, Spain, and Uruguay. His prediction that Argentina would lose prompted Argentine chef Nicolas Bedorrou to post an octopus recipe on Facebook.

“There are always people who want to eat our octopus,” said Paul’s keeper. “He will survive.”

Paul’s correct prediction of the outcome of the semi-final, with Germany losing to Spain, led to death threats. Spain’s prime minister offered to give Paul safe haven in Spain.

Paul died on October 26, 2010, at the age of two-and-a-half, a normal lifespan for an octopus.  German attempts to find other oracles have never fared well. The animals at the Chemnitz Zoo were wrong on all their predictions.  Leon the porcupine incorrectly picked Australia, Petty the pygmy hippopotamus failed to be swayed by Serbia’s pile of hay topped with apples , and Anton the tamarin mistakenly ate a raisin representing Ghana.

The E-ri-e Was Arisin’

Back at the beginning of the 19th century, shipping goods from one end of New York to the other was a costly and cumbersome. Thereerie2 was no railroad, no trucking, no Thruway — just a two-week ordeal by stagecoach to get from New York City to Buffalo. The New York State Legislature leaped into this transportation breach. They proposed and Governor DeWitt Clinton enthusiastically endorsed a proposal to build a canal from Buffalo, at the eastern point of Lake Erie, to Albany, and the Hudson River. By 1817, they had authorized $7 million for the construction of what would laughingly be referred to as Clinton’s Ditch, 363 miles long, 40 feet wide, and four feet deep.

Work began in August 1823. Teams of oxen plowed the ground, and Irish workers did the digging, using only basic hand tools. It was a lot of work for $10 a month, but officials cleverly left barrels of whiskey alsong the route as an added inducement.

Governor Clinton opened the 425-mile Erie Canal on October 26, 1825, sailing from Buffalo in the Seneca Chief.  News of his departure was relayed to New York City by cannons placed along the entire length of the canal and river, each within hearing distance of the next cannon. The firing of each signaled the next to fire. It took 81 minutes to get the word to New York— the fastest communication the world had yet known. Clinton arrived in New York on September 4, where he ceremoniously emptied a barrel of Lake Erie water into the Atlantic Ocean — the “Marriage of the Waters” of the Great Lakes and the Atlantic.

The canal put New York on the map as the Empire State, transformed New York City into the nation’s principal seaport, and opened the interior of North America to settlement. It has been in continuous operation longer than any other constructed transportation system on the North American continent.

OCTOBER 25, 1642: MEDICINAL WONDERS OF BRANDY

MEDICINAL WONDERS OF BRANDY

Sir Hugh Ackland of Devonshire in England was seized with a violent fever, and having apparently died during that afternoon of October 25, 1642, was laid out as dead. A nurse and two footmen were assigned todeatbed sit up through the night to watch his corpse, lest it be stolen. Lady Ackland sent the night watchers a bottle of brandy to add a little cheer to an otherwise dreary task.  One of the footmen, a bit of a rogue, said to the others: “The Master dearly loved brandy when he was alive, and now, though he is dead, I am determined he shall have a glass with us.” The footman then poured out a glass and forced it down Sir Hugh’s throat. The corpse immediately made a deep gurgling noise, and its neck and chest shook violently. In a panic, the watchers rushed downstairs, the footmen stumbling and rolling head-over-heels, the nurse screaming in terror.

The noise awakened a young gentleman who was sleeping in the house. He immediately jumped out of bed and raced up to the room where the body lay. There, he found Sir Hugh’s corpse sitting upright with a look of confusion on his face.  The young man summoned the servants and ordered them to place their master in a warm bed. He then sent for Sir Hugh’s medical attendants. Sir Hugh was restored to perfect health, and lived many years afterward, recounting his strange story frequently enough that Lady Ackland regretted having sent up the bottle of brandy.

The footman received a handsome annuity.

Well, dinner would have been splendid… if the wine had been as cold as the soup, the beef as rare as the service, the brandy as old as the fish, and the maid as willing as the Duchess.  — Winston Churchill

OCTOBER 19, 1533: I’M ALWAYS CALCULATING STIFELS

I’M ALWAYS CALCULATING STIFELS

Michael Stifel (or Steifel or Styfel) was a German mathematician, priest and monk. He was also a big fan of Martin Luther, publishing a poem called On the Christian, righteous doctrine of Doctor Martin Luther (not really in the same neighborhood as Keats or Shelley). But what he came to be most famous for was a verse of a different color.

The German saying “to talk a Stiefel” or “to calculate a Stiefel” meaning to say or calculate nonsense can be traced right back to  Michael Stifel – all because of one particular calculation our mathematician/monk made back in 1532. A few years earlier, Stifel had become minister in quiet Lochau, where the tranquil life allowed him to dabble in mathematical studies. His particular interest was in one that he called “Wortrechnung” (word calculation), studying the statistical properties of letters and words in the bible.

As a result of these studies he published a book (publishing seems to be the downfall of many a good person), A Book of Arithmetic about the AntiChrist. A Revelation in the Revelation. Well, this had best seller written all over it. It had the sort of great hook a book needs to grab audiences – the rapidly approaching Judgment Day. To be specific – which Michael was – the world would end on October 19, 1533, at 8 a.m., German Standard Time.

One would think that a would-be Nostradamus – especially one with a statistical bent – would calculate the risk/reward of predicting the end of the world. If you’re wrong, there’s a pretty large helping of egg on your face, and if you’re right, there’s no one around to congratulate you. As you might guess, Stifel fell into the first category.

The townsfolk who, believing his prediction, did not plant crops or store foods and even burned their homes and possessions on the appointed day, were not amused. Stifel had to be taken into protective custody with the villagers chanting death threats outside his cell. He made no further predictions.

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
― T.S. Eliot

OCTOBER 17, 1814: THIS ROUND’S ON ME

THIS ROUND’S ON ME

An unfortunate incident involving beer – aged porter to be precise – occurred in London back in 1814.

The central London parish of St Giles was, as slums go, one of the slummiest.  Although it has since been rather gentrified with theaters, Covent Garden and the British Museum nearby, it was then mostly squalid housing where immigrants crowded into its ramshackle buildings, often more thanbeer one family to a room. Near one end of the parish stood the massive Meux and Company Horse Shoe Brewery, its giant vats filled with thousands of gallons of aging porter.

One particular vat which held over 135,000 gallons had seen better days. Like the shanties surrounding the brewery, it suffered from age, and on October 17 it succumbed, bursting and letting loose enough precious liquid to give all of St. Giles and then some a pretty good buzz, although the fury with which it was released made tippling difficult. Like giant shaken cans of beer, nearby vats ruptured and joined the game of dominoes.

Within minutes the brick structure that was the Meux and Company Horse Shoe Brewery was breached, and the deluge roared down Tottenham Court Road, flinging aside or burying in debris anyone or anything in its path.

Homes caved in. A busy pub crumbled, burying a buxom barmaid and her ogling patrons for several hours.  All in all, nine people were killed by drink that day. Those who didn’t lose their lives lost everything they owned to evil alcohol. Soon after the suds subsided, survivors rushed in to save what they could of the precious brew, collecting one or more for the road in pots and cans.

St. Giles smelled like the morning after a particular robust party for weeks. The brewery was later taken to court over the accident, but they pleaded an “Act of God,” and the judge and jury bought it, leaving them blameless. The brewery even received reparations from the government.  God, it would seem, has a soft spot for brewers.

I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer. ~ Abraham Lincoln

Alice in Donaldland, Part 6: A Grinning Cat

Read Part 1

Alice stood at a crossroads, wondering which way she ought to go. As she pondered, a large Cat appeared on the branch of a tree a few feet away. When the Cat spotted Alice, it grinned at her. She had never known a Cat to grin before and didn’t even know a Cat could grin. It looked rather good-natured, but it had very long claws and a great many teeth so Alice thought it wise to treat the Cat with respect.

“What sort of cat are you?” Alice asked. “You must be happy, smiling like that.”

“I’m a Cheshire, “answered the Cat. “And I always smile.”

“Cheshire? Wouldn’t that make you a cheese?”

“Have you ever seen a cheese smile?”

“I guess not. Well Mr. Cheshire Cat, sir, I wonder if you might tell me which way to go?”

“That depends a great deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where — ”

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

” — so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added.

“In that direction lives a Hatter,” the Cat said , pointing. “And in that direction lives a March Hare. Visit either; they’re both mad.”

“Oh dear, I don’t want to go among mad people.”

You can’t help that. We’re all mad in Donaldland. Speaking of which, are you going to play golf with the Queen today?”

“I should like to,” said Alice. “But I haven’t been invited.”

“Oh you needn’t be invited. All that’s required is signing a nondisclosure agreement.”

“What would I not be disclosing?”

“Oh I can’t disclose that.”

“Where would I find the Queen’s Court?”

“There are several courts. There’s the Tennis Court, the Basketball Court, and the Supreme Court. At the Tennis Court, the Queen’s subjects serve.”

“What do they serve?”

“Why the Queen of course. At the Basketball Court, everyone runs about madly, stealing chickens and turkeys and partridges. When they’ve collected five fowls, they get to sit down. The Supreme Court is where things are decided; it’s divided into three wings.”

“Chicken wings?”

“No, no, no. Groups of deciders. There’s the liberal wing, the conservative wing, and the sexual predator wing and they all make decisions. But the Queen tells them what their decisions are.”

“It sounds like a Kangaroo Court,” scoffed Alice.

“Kangaroo Court, that’s rich. I like that.” The Cat’s grin widened. “Perhaps I’ll see you there. Ta ta.” And with that the Cheshire Cat began to disappear until only it’s grin remained. Alice, having already forgotten who lived which way, picked a path and started off. As it turned out, it didn’t matter which path because she came to a clearing with a large table, and both the Hatter and the Hare were crowded into one corner. A Dormouse sat on the table between them.

Part 7, Coming Tuesday

OCTOBER 14, 1790: IT IT’S THURSDAY, THIS MUST BE PITCAIRN

 IT IT’S THURSDAY, THIS MUST BE PITCAIRN

When British ships arrived at Pitcairn Island in 1814, two men paddled out in canoes to meet them. Both spoke English well, impressing the officers and men of the ships with their refinement as they met on deck. Their civilized demeanor persuaded the ships’ captains that  the mutineers from the Bounty, had created a proper society (after alcoholism, murder and disease had killed most of them off), and did not merit prosecution for the takeover.

One of the two men was Thursday October Christian, son of Fletcher Christian and his Tahitian wife Mauatua. Fletcher, you will remember, was the ringleader of the mutiny that took place on the Bounty‘s voyage to Tahiti for breadfruit. Captain Philip Pipon, commander of one of the British ships, described Fletcher’s son Thursday as being “about twenty five years of age, a tall fine young man about six feet high, with dark black hair, and a countenance extremely open and interesting. He wore no clothes except a piece of cloth round his loins, a straw hat ornamented with black cock’s feathers, and occasionally a peacock’s, nearly similar to that worn by the Spaniards in South America, though smaller.”

Thursday October Christian, born on October 14, 1790, was the first child born on the Pitcairn Islands after the mutineers took refuge there. Born on a Thursday in October, he was given his name because his father wanted him to have “no name that will remind me of England,” forgetting perhaps that there are both Thursdays and Octobers in England. Captain Pipon referred to young Thursday as Friday October Christian,” because the Bounty had crossed the international date line going eastward, but the mutineers had somehow failed to adjust their calendars for this. The mutineers were living on a tropical island where everyone was running around naked. Is it any surprise that they didn’t know what day it was – or care?

As soon as Captain Pipon left, Thursday went back to his original name, not wanting to be confused with that other character from a story set on a tropical island.

 

Cheap Halloween Thrills

Robert Mitchum usually starred as a rugged, but romantic leading guy type who brought a seen-it-all disinterest to many film noir classics. In two films, however, he played men of pure evil. In Night of the Hunter (1955), he played a monstrous preacher in pursuit of two children. In Cape Fear (1962), he was the menacing rapist Max Cady (in a later remake, he played a police detective pursuing Robert De Niro’s Cady).

1 The Shining

2 The Exorcist

3 Beetlejuice

4 Invasion of the Body Snatchers

5 Ghost Story

6 Ghostbusters

7 Freaks

8 Ichabod and Mr. Toad

9 Hound of the Baskervilles

10 I Walked with a Zombie

11 Diabolique

12 Alien

13 Rosemarys Baby

14The Birds

15 Psycho

16 Phantom of the Opera

17 Nosferatu

18 Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

19 Get Out

20 Frankenstein

21 Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

22Young Frankenstein

23 Edward Scissorhands

24 The Invisible Man

25 Dracula

26 The Wolf Man

27 Cape Fear

28 Night of the Hunter

OCTOBER 13, 1917: GOD TO EARTH: SHAPE UP

GOD TO EARTH: SHAPE UP

It was an “aeroplane of light, an immense globe flying westward at moderate speed,” according to one of the many witnesses who were assembled that cloudy October 13. Many were certain they had seen amiracle-of-the-sun_cosmo-code figure within the globe — not some strange looking extraterrestrial creature, but rather a human form, a woman. Had this been the 1950s, this occurrence may have been commonplace; people were seeing flying saucers, flying doughnuts and other strange alien craft everywhere. But this was 1917, and UFOs were the stuff of speculative science fiction. Therefore, witnesses did not attribute this to an invasion from Mars or some far-off galaxy; they said it was a miracle.

The number of witnesses was rather phenomenal for a UFO sighting — some 30,000 or more descended on the little Portuguese village of Fatima. Nor had an alien invasion ever been scheduled in advance. It was three children who announced the visit of the lady. The kids had seen apparitions off and on for several months leading up to this day, apparitions bringing the message that folks upstairs were annoyed at all the war mongering that was going on and that if things didn’t change for the better, annihilation was next on the agenda. (This was not unlike the message Klaatu — as in “Klaatu barada niktu” — delivered to earthlings several decades later. It’s a message that never seems to not get through to us, however.)

Although the accounts of the appearance were wildly contradictory, leading some naysayers to suggest people saw what they wanted to see, the consensus was that it was raining when the clouds suddenly parted and the sun appeared. It was duller than usual and resembled a spinning globe as it careened toward the earth. Its lady passenger appeared to some but not all in the assembly and shot an admonishing glance before her chariot zigzagged away.

Many remained skeptical, having not seen anything themselves and suggesting that some of the others may have stared at the sun a bit too long. Nevertheless, some 13 years later the Roman Catholic Church declared that maybe it was a miracle after all. It’s official designation is now the Miracle of the Sun.

 

Cheap Halloween Thrills

Universal Pictures, knowing a good thing when they had it, cranked out horror pictures at a breakneck speed during the 30s and 40s. Along with the Frankenstein franchise and many others there were these three gems:Dracula (1931) with Bela Lugosi beginning his reign as the Count; The Invisible Man (1933) with Claude Rains as the man who wasn’t there, sort of;  and The Wolf Man (1941) with Lon Chaney Jr. as the hairy tortured soul.

1 The Shining

2 The Exorcist

3 Beetlejuice

4 Invasion of the Body Snatchers

5 Ghost Story

6 Ghostbusters

7 Freaks

8 Ichabod and Mr. Toad

9 Hound of the Baskervilles

10 I Walked with a Zombie

11 Diabolique

12 Alien

13 Rosemarys Baby

14The Birds

15 Psycho

16 Phantom of the Opera

17 Nosferatu

18 Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

19 Get Out

20 Frankenstein

21 Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

22Young Frankenstein

23 Edward Scissorhands

24 Dracula

25 The Invisible Man

26 The Wolf Man

 

OCTOBER 6, 1962: YOU CAN COME OUT FROM UNDER YOUR SEAT

YOU CAN COME OUT FROM UNDER YOUR SEAT

When one thinks of offbeat film-making, directors Tim Burton and David Lynch come to mind. You’d be hard pressed, however, to find a more offbeat body of cinematic work than that of Tod Browning. Who?, most people would be asking. Tod Browning’s strange macabre films were a pulp-fiction parade of crooks, carnies, lowlifes, deadbeats, wretches, wastrels, scoundrels and, of course, vampires and freaks. And they helped to define the horror film genre.

Browning came to this career honestly. Born in Louisville, Kentrucky, he gave up his comfortable home life at 16 to immerse himself in the world of carnivals, sideshows and circuses. His resume included stints as S Ringling Brothers clown, a barker for the Wild Man of Borneo and the “Living Corpse” for which he was buried alive. He also worked as a magician, dancer and actor before finding his niche as a director of dozens of silent films, including a 10-film collaboration with Lon Chaney. When sound came to the movies, he made his mark with two of his most notable films: Dracula starring Bela Lugosi and Freaks, his master work and the film that destroyed his career. Freaks was so grotesque and unnerving that it was banned in the United Kingdom for three decades. In the U.S., MGM took the film away from Browning and chopped it by almost a third. It performed miserably.

His career on the skids, Browning made a handful of films during the 1930s before “retiring” at the end of the decade. He died on October 6, 1962.

 

Cheap Halloween Thrills

You were expecting this of course. Freaks is a love triangle set in a bizarre carnival world, featuring Hans, a wealthy dwarf, Cleopatra, a gold-digging trapeze artist, and Hercules, a strongman. Cleopatra and Hercules plan to trick Hans into marrying Cleopatra and then poison him. All the performers are real sideshow “freaks” — Koo Koo, the bird girl, Daisy and Violet, the Siamese twins, Johnny Eck, the Half Boy, Schlitzie, the Pinhead, to name a few, but the beauty of the film is Browning’s portraying them as the real human beings they are. The film remains frightening and grotesque, even after MGM’s “editing.” The deleted scenes were trashed, so it’s likely that no one still living today has seen the original version.

1 The Shining

2 The Exorcist

3 Beetlejuice

4 Invasion of the Body Snatchers

5 Ghost Story

6 Ghostbusters

7 Freaks

As it progresses, you’ll see that it’s a highly subjective list, reflecting a few of my own biases. You won’t see Halloween Chainsaw Bloodbath on Elm Street or any movie featuring flesh-eating zombies. (I’ll forgo the soapbox.)

 

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb

Cold war and nuclear fears had been ramping up for years, when President John F. Kennedy took to the tube on October 6, 1961, to suggest that American families build bomb shelters to protect them from atomic fallout when those pesky Communists of the Soviet Union attacked the Homeland with their nuclear missiles. Just a year later, the Cuban Missile Crisis raised the stakes even higher.

While folks like Nelson Rockefeller and Edward Teller were outlining grandiose plans for an enormous network of concrete lined underground fallout shelters to shelter millions of people, civil defense authorities were talking up concrete block basement shelters that could be constructed by home handifolk for a couple of hundred bucks. Exactly how much protection they might actually provide was an open question.

Most people calmed down during the mid-1960s,  and fallout shelters pretty much went the way of duck and cover.  They were converted into wine cellars, recreation rooms or mushroom gardens. For others, the fallout shelter notion has been kept alive by internet sites devoted to nuclear hysteria. You can survive a nuclear or dirty bomb attack, shouts one such site.  It will not be the end of the world. But, you must be prepared!

Being prepared naturally involves purchasing a fallout shelter from one of the many firms that still market them — Acme Survival Shelters, Hardened Structures Inc., Safecastle.  Taking it over the top is a company called Zombie Gear whose motto is Be prepared for anything.