AUGUST 28, 1963: I HAVE A DREAM

I HAVE A DREAM

In Washington DC, on  August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to a crowd stretching from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument.

“Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back King_Jr_Martin_Luther_093.jpgto Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.”

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”

“When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'”

 

Part of that is when they try and demean me unfairly, because we had a massive crowd of people. We had a crowd… I looked over that sea of people, and I said to myself, ‘wow’, and I’ve seen crowds before. Big, big crowds. That was some crowd. — Donald Trump

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AUGUST 23, 1618: THIS LITTLE PIG HAD ROAST BEEF

THIS LITTLE PIG HAD ROAST BEEF

There is no dearth of stories in the realm of pig-faced lady literature; a 17th century Dutch account typifies the genre. This particular pig-faced lady was born at Wirkham on the Rhine in 1618. Her name was Tanakin Skinker. Miss Skinker was a near perfectly formed little girl – one might say beautifully constructed – except that her face (some say her entire head) was that of a swine. She was a dead ringer for a pig.

     The child grew to be a woman and a source of great discomfort to her parents, for although her disposition and carriage were in general unoffending, her table manners fell a bit short of those desirous in a lady. Her voracious and indelicate appetite was appeased by placing large amounts of food in a silver trough to which she would vigorously apply her entire face, accompanied by grunts, snorts and squeals. The maid who served her had to be paid handsomely for enduring this and risking her limbs to the wildly snapping jaws.

     A fortune awaited the man who would consent to marry Miss Skinker, and many suitors came calling, gallants from Italy, France, Scotland, and England – fortune hunters all, naturally – but ultimately they all refused to marry her. Were there no pig-faced men in the world?  Or even a dog-faced boy?  Apparently not, at least not one who saw himself as such.

In this particular account, our pig-faced lady was sadly left to die an old maid (or sow, if you prefer). Other accounts have happier, if less likely, conclusions. The woman’s pig-like appearance was the result of witchcraft.  A husband was found, and he was granted the choice of having her appear beautiful to him but pig-like to others, or pig-like to him and beautiful to others. When the husband told her that the choice was hers, the enchantment was broken and her pig-like appearance vanished. And in some modern accounts, the pig-faced lady is abducted by aliens.

 

AUGUST 3, 1946: THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS

THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS

Louis J. Koch, an Indiana family man and father of nine children, was disappointed when a family trip took him to Santa Claus, Indiana, and he found no Santa Claus, no elves, no reindeer, no workshop –  Indiananothing. Why they named the place Santa Claus was a bit of a mystery.  And he fixated upon the town named Santa Claus that had no Santa Claus, and upon the many (thousands?) of children who would suffer the same disappointment. Lying in bed at night perhaps (or working on a third martini), he envisioned a park where children could have fun and visit Santa all year round.

     And he did something about it.  Santa Claus Land opened on August 3, 1946. At no cost, children could visit Santa, a toy shop, toy displays, a restaurant, and themed children’s rides, such as The Freedom Train. Though skeptical, Koch’s son Bill took over as head of Santa Claus Land and continued to add to the park, including the first Jeep-Go-Round ever manufactured, a new restaurant, and a deer farm.

     And it continued to grow, evolving into a huge theme park divided into sections celebrating Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July with rides, live entertainment, games, and attractions, including three wooden roller coasters: The Raven, The Legend, and The Voyage. Just how many times could a kid throw up in one day? Then came the obligatory water park featuring the world’s two longest water coasters: Wildebeest and Mammoth, slides, pools, a river, and water-play attractions. Whew!

Of course, all of this became too much for a place called Santa Claus Land. Today it goes by the name Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari.  And good luck finding Santa Claus.

 

JULY 8, 1898: SQUEAKY CLEAN IN SKAGWAY

SQUEAKY CLEAN IN SKAGWAY

Soapy Smith, “king of the frontier con men” died in a gunfight celebrated as the Shootout on Juneau Wharf on the evening of July 8, 1898. His last words, while not particularly memorable and certainly not effective, were nevertheless appropriate to the situation: “My God, don’t shoot!”

Soapy’s career began soon after the death of his mother in Fort Worth, Texas. He formed a highly disciplined cadre of ne’er-do-wells to work for him, and rose rapidly to criminal super stardom. He built three major evil empires: in Denver, Colorado, from 1886 to 1895); Creede, Colorado in 1892; and Skagway, Alaska, from 1897 to 1898. It was in Skagway that he finally made his dramatic exit.

Starting off with small-time cons such as three-card monte and shell games, he eventually employed the big con that gave him his nickname. On a busy street corner, Smith would go into an ordinary sales pitch extolling the wonders of his soap cakes. But he proceeded to wrap money around the cakes of soap – ones, tens, a hundred dollar bill.   He then wrapped plain paper around them to hide the money.

soapyHe mixed the money-wrapped packages with bars containing no money and began selling the soap for a dollar a cake. Immediately, one of his shills would buy a bar, tear it open, and begin waving around the money he had supposedly won.  People began buying soap, usually several bars. Every few minutes, someone would shout that he had won, always a confederate. Eventually, Smith would announce that the hundred-dollar bill remained unpurchased and began auctioning off the remaining soap bars to the highest bidders. Naturally, the only money was “won” by members of the gang.

Smith used this swindle successfully for twenty years. The proceeds from this scam and others gave him the money to pay graft to police, judges, and politicians, and live as a somewhat shady swell until his comeuppance on the Juneau Wharf at the hand of a man he had cheated.

 

 

 

JUNE 20, 1890: PAINTING OUTSIDE THE LINES

PAINTING OUTSIDE THE LINES

Oscar Wilde’s only published novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, appeared as the lead story in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in the July 1890 issue, released on June 20.

In the novel, the title character is the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward. Basil is impressed by Dorian’s beauty and becomes infatuated with him. Dorian is also infatuated by Dorian’s beauty, especially the beauty in the painting, and more than annoyed that the man in the painting will remain the same, while Dorian himself will get old and wrinkled and forget people’s names and so forth. Obviously the only answer is to put his soul on the market, which he does, with the purchaser (you know who) promising that the painting will age while Dorian himself stays the same.

In an apparent effort to make the painting age as quickly as possible, Dorian embarks on a life of debauchery, and each sin takes its toll on the portrait.

The book had about the same effect on British critics as Dorian’s naughtiness had on the painting. “Vulgar”, “unclean”, “poisonous” and “discreditable” were a few of their nicer comments. “A tale spawned from the leprous literature of the French Decadents – a poisonous book, the atmosphere of which is heavy with the mephitic odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction,” said the Daily Chronicle.   And this was after Wilde’s editor had already deleted a lot of “objectionable” text before it made its first appearance in Lippincott’s, eliminating titillating bits of debauchery and elements of homosexuality.

Deciding that the novel contained things that might upset an innocent woman, the editor cut further, removing many more decadent passages before the book was published in 1891.

MAN THE TOMATOES, FULL SPEED AHEAD

It’s a battlefield out there. Each morning I prepare my weaponry and fortify myself to better face the enemy.  Then it’s out into the morning mist, bellying my way through the trenches, my trusty trowel at my right, my insecticidal soap at my left. Half a league, half a league, half a league onward, into the valley of Death – mine not to reason why, mine but to do or die.  “Huzzah, huzzah,” I shout,  “Be valiant, stout and bold.”

With scant warning, they attack!  Tufts of crabgrass pop up behind every rock, aphids to the right of me, weevils to the left of me. A slug squadron advances relentlessly head on.   Japanese beetles at four o’clock.  The battle is joined.  Almost at once, I’m ambushed by an elite corps of exotic man-eating weeds, snapping at my ankles and calves, while trash-talking thistles peek out from between tomatoes, taunting me with Donald Trump slogans.

But I’ll not be intimidated.

“Forward,” I shout and storm into the mouth of Hell. I manage to free a tiny pepper plant being held prisoner by a half dozen stinging nettle goons.  Moments after I make a clearing to let the cucumbers once again see sunlight, the neighbor’s cat claims it for his own and begins his morning toilette.  He glowers at me, unflinching, as I try to encourage him to move on, his eyes saying I may not be big but I can bring down a gazelle and I can bring down you.  Enjoying the moment, knotweeds laugh merrily and loudly insult my gardenerhood.

I jump in with both feet, hacking and pulling and spraying.  When I’m done, a pile of green debris lies all around me shattered and sundered.  The day is mine.  The tomatoes, cucumbers and beans all nod in appreciation as I holster my trowel and spray bottle and ride off into cocktail time.

Later, exhausted, I’ll sleep, perchance to dream – of late potato blight.

 

JUNE 2, 1855: GIVE ME A MARTINI OR GIVE ME DEATH

GIVE ME A MARTINI OR GIVE ME DEATH

In the early 1850s, the city of Portland, Maine, with a population of 21,000 might be called a sleepy little burg. But that was about to change thanks to a Maine law enacted in 1851 outlawing the manufacture and sale of alcohol anywhere in the state, except for medicinal and mechanical purposes.

Portland Mayor Neal S. Dow was an outspoken prohibitionist who fully supported the law, so much so that he was dubbed the “Napoleon of Temperance. ” However, Dow had authorized a large shipment of “medicinal and mechanical alcohol” that was being stored in the city vaults for distribution to pharmacists and doctors (authorized under the law). The good citizens of Portland got wind of this cache of alcohol and suspected the worst, that Dow was a hypocrite and a secret sot.

The Maine law had an interesting little clause allowing any three voters to apply for a search warrant if they suspected someone was selling liquor illegally. Three men did just that, appearing before a judge who issued a search warrant.

On the afternoon of June 2, a crowd of several hundred people, already irate over the law coming between them and their Harvey Wallbangers, gathered outside the building where the alcohol was being held. The crowd grew larger and surlier as it became obvious that the police were not going to seize the booze. As the crowd swelled, jostling became shoving, and the hurling of angry words became the hurling of rocks. The infamous Portland Rum Riot of 1855 was in full swing.

Police were unable to control the mob, and Mayor Dow called out the militia. When the protesters ignored the order to disperse, the militia, on Dow’s orders, fired into the crowd killing one man and wounding several others.

Dow was widely criticized for his strong-arm tactics during the incident and was later prosecuted for improperly acquiring the alcohol but was acquitted. The Maine Law was repealed the following year.

 

 

 

MARCH 27, 2013: I LEFT MY HEART AND A BUNCH OF QUARTERS . . .

I LEFT MY HEART AND A BUNCH OF QUARTERS . . .

The bane of drivers everywhere, the toll-taker, notably went missing from from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge on March 27, 2013.  Not the tolls themselves,  just those golden gatehuman beings who had previously greeted motorists with smiling faces on and official hands out.  On that morning, officials  threw the switch on a new electronic system of collecting tolls. This was the future; this was progress.

Empty toll booths were joined by a new 27-foot LED sign instructing motorists to keep on moving as the Golden Gate Bridge became the only span in California and one of the few in the world to convert to all-electronic tolls.

Now motorists go online to register license plates and credit card information with the bridge district and pay tolls as they are incurred. Those who don’t have online accounts have about 48 hours after they cross the bridge to pay the toll at one of the payment kiosks located along thoroughfares leading to and from the Golden Gate. Those who don’t pay up receive invoices, because Big Brother knows who they are.

The bridge has been a San Francisco icon since it was opened in 1937. Before that the only practical short route between San Francisco and what is now Marin County was by a half-hour boat trip across San Francisco Bay. During the bridge-opening celebration, before vehicle traffic was allowed, 200,000 people crossed the bridge on foot and roller skate.

In addition to being a major tourist attraction, the bridge is the world’s most popular suicide spot. An official suicide count is kept, sorted according to which of the bridge’s 128 lampposts the jumper was nearest when he or she jumped. (Lamppost #19 is particularly recommended.)  By 2017,  the suicide count had exceeded 1,500, and new suicides were occurring as fast as one could say ‘Goodbye, cruel world.’  Formed several decades ago, The Golden Gate Leapers Association, is a sports pool  in which bets are placed on which day the next jump will occur.

A few years ago, savvy officials came up with a plan to thwart would-be jumpers: a “suicide deterrent” net spanning both sides of the bridge that will capture them like hapless butterflies.  The net will have cost $200 million by the time it is completed in 2021.  Most likely there will be a toll collected from those butterflies to help pay for it.

Put a Cork in it

Back through the centuries wine lovers never aged their wines; they consumed it quickly before it went bad.  Then in the 18th century, British glassblowers began to make bottles with narrow necks for wine that made airtight storage possible. Corks were used to seal the bottles. This quickly led to the invention of one of the dandiest little gizmos ever devised — the corkscrew. The design was based on a similar device used to clean muskets. The first corkscrews were T-shaped devices that twisted into the cork and after a certain amount of pulling extracted the cork. Corkscrew were first patented in England and France, then in 1860, M. L. Byrn of New York City received an American patent.

Since then, hundreds of corkscrews have been designed of every shape, size and mechanics you can imagine — single-lever, double-winged, air pump, electric, mounted. Naturally there are corkscrew books, corkscrew clubs, and corkscrew collectors, helixophiles.

 

 

February 13, 1937: No Prince Valentine, This One

Hal Foster had been drawing the Tarzan comic strip based on the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs for several years, but itched to create his own original strip. He began work on a feature called Derek, Son of Thane, set in Arthurian England. Before the strip had its coming out party on February 13, 1937, it had gone through a couple of name changes, first to Prince Arn and eventually to Prince Valiant.

Prince Valiant was five years old when his story began, a continuous story that has been told through 4,000 Sunday episodes. Without a whole lot of deference to historical accuracy, Val’s adventure’s take him throughout Europe, Africa, the Far East and even the Americas in a time frame covering hundreds of years. He does battle with Huns, Vikings, Sorcerers, witches and a slew of monsters from prehistoric to modern, but always big.

Foster drew the strip until 1971 and wrote the continuity until 1980. Since then, other artists have kept it alive. Foster died in 1982, at age 89.

Thaw Out the Holly

With the giving and getting of gifts growing to a crescendo in late valentines-day3December, it is to many a glass of cold water in the face when the merriment suddenly gives way to a bleak long winter with scarcely a box or a bow in sight. The people of Norwich, a city on England’s east coast, a couple of centuries ago found a way to keep on giving by elevating February 13, St. Valentine’s Eve to a Christmas-like celebration.

According to an 1862 account, this Victorian tradition was evidently peculiar to Norwich: visitors to the city were often puzzled to find the shop windows crammed with gifts in early February and newspapers full of advertisements for ‘Useful and Ornamental Articles Suitable for the Season’ available from local retailers.

As soon as it got dark on St. Valentine’s Eve, the streets were swarming with folks carrying baskets of treasures to be anonymously dropped on doorsteps throughout the city. They’d deposit a gift, bang on the door, and rush away before anyone inside could reach the door. Indoors there were excited shrieks and shouts, flushed faces, sparkling eyes and laughter, a rush to the door, examination of the parcels.

Practical jokers  were everywhere as well, ringing doorbells and running off, leaving mock parcels that were pulled away by string when someone attempted to pick them up. Large parcels that dwindled to nothing as the recipient fought through layer after layer of wrapping, and even larger parcels containing live boys who would jump out, steal a kiss, and run away.

As with most holidays that involve children out after dark and mischief, the celebration of St. Valentine’s Eve fell out of favor, to be replaced by the Hallmark-inspired and saintless Valentine’s Day.

February 13, 1971

Golf is thought of as relatively safe sport.  But for the safety of others, there are just some people who should not be allowed on a golf course.  Vice President Spiro Agnew had the dubious distinction of beaning not just one but three spectators on this day during the Bob Hope Desert Classic.  On his very first drive, he sliced into the crowd for a two-bagger, bouncing off a man to nail his wife as well.  On his next shot, he hit a woman, sending her to the hospital.  The previous year, Agnew had managed to hit his partner in the back of the head.

 

 

January 31, 1990: Next Day on Your Dressing Room They’ve Hung a Tsar

mcdonalds-russiaContinuing severe economic problems and internal political turmoil took a backseat on January 31, 1990, as Muscovites lined up to try a most unRussian guilty pleasure. The Soviet Union might be crumbling around them, but that icon of Western decadence, purveyors of glasnost on a sesame seed bun, was riding high. McDonald’s had come to town.

Those Big Macs, with fries and shakes might cost a day’s wages, but the people of Moscow were eating them up. The notorious golden arches of capitalism were signs that times they were a’changing in the Soviet Union – in fact, within two years the Soviet Union would dissolve. A Soviet journalist saw no great political earthquake but rather an “expression of America’s rationalism and pragmatism toward food.” Could the Quarter Pounder be the ultimate example of the People’s Food?

Whatever it was, they took to it in Moscow like a Bolshevik takes to a putsch. Located in Pushkin Square, this McDonald’s was the world’s largest, boasting 28 cash registers and a seating capacity of 700. Its opening day broke a McDonald’s record with more than 30,000 customers served. It remains the world’s busiest McDonald’s, serving more than 20,000 customers daily.

Moscow resident Natalya Kolesknikova told Russian State Television that when out-of-town guests came to visit, she showed them two things, McDonald’s and the McKremlin.

 

coconut woman Harriet Forrester was no fool. For one thing, she gave no heed to Everett Limpole’s bodeful warning that this stretch of beach would be completely underwater within five years – four-and-one-half feet below sea level in 1,856 days, to be exact – a prediction he reiterated after each session of poring over a loft full of books and charts, in a loft owned by Harriet for which Everett promptly paid the first of every month. Harriet Forrester was no fool.

Nor did she pay much attention to Malachi Thorpe, an Everett Limpole cohort, who had his own set of books and charts, with maps as well, but an entirely different hobbyhorse – namely, that the pirate Henri Caesar had plundered these parts and that some of his treasure lay buried and still undiscovered, possibly on this very beach. Malachi also accepted the Everett Limpole rising ocean scenario, thereby giving a certain sense of urgency to his treasure hunt. Harriet Forrester did not share either his belief in pirate treasure or his urgency. She was no fool.

Harriet did, however, have her own hobbyhorse, the Coconut House – her bed and breakfast inn, her first love, her world. It sat right on one of the prettiest beaches on the entire island against a backdrop of sea grapes and frangipani. It had, in addition to the Limpole loft, which brought in just ninety dollars a month (but steady, month in, month out), three small suites that fetched ninety dollars a night, albeit more sporadically.

Harriet’s rental units had become microcosms of her own ideas, travels and interests. The Casablanca Suite revolved around its ceiling fan. Persian and Oriental rugs were scattered over a tile floor and, in some places, up the walls; fifty-four strings of bright beads served as the bathroom door; a jeweled music box played a tinny version of As Time Goes By; and portraits of Bogart, Bergman, Greenstreet, and Lorre were simply framed and grouped on one wall, looking very much like members of the family. The New Orleans Suite was all that jazz, from a 1980’s stereo flanked by a vinyl who’s who of the Dixieland world to the trumpets, trombones and banjos Harriet had rescued from pawnshops and second-hand stores. And the Coconut Suite looked as though the Marx brothers had washed up during high tide.

Despite detailed literature warning what one would encounter at the Coconut House, guests would often arrive only to refuse to stay in any one of the three rooms. It didn’t bother Harriet any. It was her place, and if folks didn’t like it, they weren’t her kind of folks anyway. And those that did stay loved it, and they came back, and they told friends who came and told other friends, and Harriet kept pretty busy.

Harriet would frequently sit with her guests on the big front porch that faced the beach. There they could talk while waves tumbled in, pelicans cruised in perfect formation inches above the water, and sandpipers darted here and there like tiny wind-up toys. Everett Limpole would more than likely join them, and Malachi often did as well.   continued

Coconut Woman is one of 15 (count ’em) stories featured in Calypso: Stories of the Caribbean. Every story at least 78 degrees Fahrenheit.  Warm up at  Amazon  or Barnes and Noble.  Or order it through you favorite book store.

 

 

January 23, 1957: Tossing Around a Pluto Platter

Fred Morrison and his future wife Lucille were fooling around on a California beach back in 1938 when Fred had a light bulb over your head eureka moment. The pair were tossing a cake pan back and forth when a bored bystander offered them a quarter for the cake pan. Fred started doing the math — it was pretty simple math — I sell a five-cent cake pan for a quarter and I get to hang out on the beach.

The Morrisons jumped right into their flying cake pan business, but before long a nasty war got in their way, including a stretch for Fred as a prisoner of war. It was the late 40s before he got back into the flying cake pan business. Cake pan prices had gone up but plastic was in, and so, in 1948, Morrison and a partner introduced a plastic disc they called “flyin saucer”to take advantage of the UFO craze.

Morrison designed a new model in 1955 called the “pluto platter,” and on January 23, 1957, he sold the rights to Wham-O. Later that year Wham-O added the name Frisbee. And eventually, the name pluto platter was put out of its misery.

 

Nothing in Moderation

He got his first job in television by showing up for an audition wearing apercydovetonsils barrel and shorts. From there his career took off during a ten-year period that carried him from obscurity to stardom, the ride getting steadily wilder and crazier. Although someone else held the title Mr. Television, Ernie Kovacs, born on January 23, 1919, certainly left his imprint on the medium.

Often referred to as television’s surrealist, the cigar-smoking, poker-playing Hungarian-American comedian could be counted on for the unusual if not the bizarre in any of his many television outings, including It’s Time for Ernie, his first network series; Ernie in Kovacsland; and The Ernie Kovacs Show, featuring characters such as poet Percy Dovetonsils, bumbling magician Matzoh Heppelwhite, Frenchman Pierre Ragout, and the Nairobi Trio. He also hosted the Tonight Show twice a week and had a short stint as a celebrity panelist on What’s My Line?, where he strove more for humor than insight. (When Henry J. Kaiser, the founder of the automobile company, was the program’s mystery guest, and the panel had established that the mystery guest’s name was synonymous with an automobile brand, Kovacs asked, “Are you – and this is just a wild guess – but are you Abraham Lincoln?”

Kovacs was at the peak of his career when he was killed in a late-night automobile accident on his way home from one of the many parties that had become part of his life in California. The inscription on his tombstone reads “Ernie Kovacs 1919 – 1962 — Nothing In Moderation.”