Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

February 2, 1887: The Shadow Knows

The first weather forecast by a rodent meteorologist took place on February 2, 1887, in the metropolis of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. His groupies, members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, in an effort to stifle all competition, declared that Phil (for that was his name), the Punxsutawney groundhog, was the one and only true weather-forecasting groundhog in all of North America. Pay no mind to those wanna-bes like Birmingham Bill, Staten Island Chuck, or Canada’s Shubenacadie Sam. Phil’s original prediction has been lost to history, but it was either six more weeks of winter or an early spring.

As a celebrity, Punxsutawney Phil can be temperamental, occasionally biting or scratching an adoring fan if given the chance, but Phil’s rude behavior doesn’t hold a candle to that of Staten Island Chuck. Sure New Yorkers are accused of being rude and Staten Islanders are certainly outliers — but biting the mayor that feeds you is a bit over the top.

The lucky mayor was Michael Bloomberg, the occasion was Groundhog Day 2009, and some would say it was the mayor’s own fault. Practically anyone, groundhog or otherwise, would not enjoy being roused out of a deep sleep at seven in the morning and asked to pontificate on the weather. Chuck wasn’t up for the celebration and the mayor was just a little too persistent, so of course Chuck bit him. Wouldn’t you?

Later in the day, Mayor Bloomberg, his left finger bandaged, was keeping mum. “Given the heightened response against terrorism, and clearly in this case a terrorist rodent who could very well have been trained by Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, I’m not at liberty to say any more than that,” the mayor said.

The Human Fly Saw His Shadow

On February 2, 1912, a brave steeplejack jumped from the torch platform of the Statue of Liberty, some 345 feet above the ground. He fell like a dead weight for 75 feet before his parachute opened and he floated safely to the ground, 30 feet from the water’s edge. Pathé News paid him $1,500 for his derring-do, which they filmed. Frederick Rodman Law, who became known as the Human Fly, went on to perform other feats, jumping from the Brooklyn Bridge and from a dynamited balloon above the Hudson River. A short movie career followed, and he is widely credited as being the first motion picture stuntman. He died in 1919 of tuberculosis.

Advertisements
Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

JULY 31, 1718: LUST IN THE BARLEY

LUST IN THE BARLEY

A tragedy occurred on the last day of July in the English countryside, and eighteenth century poets were all over it like paparazzi on today’s celebrities. Gay wrote about it, and even Pope versified the unfortunate event.  John Hewit was a well-set man of 25, the comely Sara Drew about the same age, when they were both struck dead by a single lightning bolt. An anonymous poet (neither Gay nor Pope) told the sad story:

loversmeadowSara and Johnnie were lovers.

Oh, how those two kids could love.

Vowed to be true to each other,

As true as the stars above

He was her man,  And they were doing no wrong.

 

They were out in the meadow,

Picking flowers they say.

They lay down in the barley

Just to pass the time of day.

She was his woman, And they were doing no wrong.

 

The rain began, pitter patter.

It soaked them right through to the skin.

The great storm of 1718,

Yet the lovers didn’t come in.

He was her man, And they were doing no wrong.

 

Then came loud peals of thunder.

Guess what? They stayed there outside.

Lightning struck all around them.

Alas, our lovers were fried.

She was his woman, And they’ll be doing no wrong.

 

When the neighbors went searching, they saw the barley smoking. Then they spied the faithful pair – Sara, lifeless, with just a tiny burn mark on her breast;  John lying upon her in a vain attempt to shield her from the lightning, black all over.  Their tombstone, penned by Pope, read:

Near this place lie the bodies

OF JOHN HEWIT AND SARA DREW

an industrious young man

and virtuous maiden of this parish

who, being at harvest-work

were in one instant killed by lightning

the last day of July 1718

Either Pope didn’t know the sordid truth or he wasn’t telling.

 

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

JULY 15, 971: JUST LYING IN THE RAIN

JUST LYING IN THE RAIN

‘St. Swithin’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St. Swithin’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ’twill rain nae mair.’

     St. Swithin is the British counterpart to America’s Puxatawney Phil, except that the former is a ninth century bishop and the latter is a ground hog.  And just how did the good St. Swithin get his meterological stripes?  Here’s how:

ST-SWITHIN-DUDLEY-MAXIMSSt. Swithin was noted for his great humility, a quality that some may say he carried to excess. On his deathbed, he asked to be buried, not in the church or in some shrine, but outside where his corpse might be watered by rain from the church eaves and his grave stomped on by passers-by. Folks rolled their eyes a bit but complied with his request.

     And his remains lay wet and walked on for a good hundred years, until a more modern generation of clergy (those 10th century radicals!) took umbrage at one of their own resting in such a lowly spot. They decided at once to relocate Swithin, who could not object, to a great cathedral.  However, on July 15, 971,  just as a ceremony with great pomp and circumstance was about to begin, as if on cue, a heavy rain burst forth and continued with nary a break for 40 days (40 days is a popular duration for great rainfalls).

     The monks interpreted this tempest as a not-so-subtle warning from on high that their nasty little undertaking was a bit of blasphemy.  They immediately abandoned the project. And even without the help of modern social media, word spread throughout the land, and a tradition was born: if it rained on St. Swithin’s Day, it would rain for 40 days.

St. Swithin also planted apple trees (like Johnny Appleseed, who never predicted weather) leading to the popular description of rain: “St Swithin is christening the apples

Death Visits Aunt Agatha, Part 3: Solomon Grundy et al

Early that evening, after helping herself to a steak she found in the refrigerator, Bridget poured herself a tumblerful of Monty’s gin and returned to the bedroom to console his sick aunt.

“Seen a lot of people die,” said Bridget. “Usually they do it more quickly.”

Aunt Agatha gurgled.

“Simon Walters took the last count back in ’06. He was about the longest, three days. Course, unlike yourself, he was young and healthy. ‘Til the tractor hit him. Now Lucy Beaconsberry was a lot like you, old and frail, withered, look of death all over her. Gurgled just like you been gurgling. Turned her toes up in less than twelve hours. Just figured what good was she doing anybody, just lying there and gurgling. Thoughtful of her, I’d say.”

Aunt Agatha stirred slightly, but didn’t open her eyes.

“Yes, I’ve seen a lot of folks go. Joshua Higgins gave up the ghost just last week. Eighty-seven he was. Nice ripe old age. You’re close to ten years older than that, aren’t you, dear? Pretty old. Good long life you’ve had. When pneumonia took old Frances Cartwright back in October — just a week after her ninetieth birthday, she said ‘ I figure anyone that lives past ninety is stealing space from someone younger.’ Interesting way to look at it, wouldn’t you say? Smart old lady, Frances. Had some pain though. Just feel lucky you don’t have the pain. At least not yet.”

Bridget gave her charge another nasty look, then got up and left the room. When she returned with a refilled tumbler of gin, she thought for a moment that Aunt Agatha had stopped breathing. But several short hacking coughs dashed her hopes. Damn you, old woman, Bridget thought. What good does your hanging on do you or anyone else? “How about a little verse, my dear?” she said.

“Solomon Grundy,

Born on a Monday,

Christened on Tuesday,

Married on Wednesday,

Took ill on Thursday,

Worse on Friday,

Died on Saturday,

Buried on Sunday:

This is the end

Of Solomon Grundy.

“You see, dear, it’s just a matter of pace. Jeremy Lockless held on bedridden for almost two years. Did you know that? Well, let me tell you, his family grew to hate him so much for just lying there so long that, when he did finally bite the dust, they wouldn’t even bury him. They just threw him in the woods out back for whatever wild animals wanted his carcass.”

Sunday evening and two more tumblers of gin made Bridget frantic. Now she was really losing money. Maybe she could just hurry things along with a pillow. Don’t be foolish, Bridget, she told herself. Use your head. And with a third tumbler, now vodka — Aunt Agatha was still here but the gin was gone — Bridget got an idea.

continued