Category Archive 'Americana'
11 Jun 2016

Oregon Rancher Foils Bike Theft

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RancherLassoes

The Guardian:

An attempted bicycle theft in a Walmart parking lot was foiled by a cattle rancher on horseback, who chased the thief down and lassoed him until the local police in southern Oregon could arrive.

The bicycle was stolen from a bike rack outside a Walmart in Eagle Point, a town about 170 miles south of Eugene, Oregon, at around 10amon Friday morning. The woman who owned the bike and several others gave chase on foot but were unable to catch him.

Then a rancher named Robert Borba brought his horse out of its trailer, mounted up and chased the thief down, according to Chris Adams, an officer with the Eagle Point police who responded to the 911 call about the theft.

“When we arrived, there was a large crowd standing around a younger gentleman who was on the ground, the rope around his ankle, hanging on to a tree,” Adams said. Victorino Arellano-Sanchez was arrested and charged with theft, the police said.

30 Sep 2015

14 Most Inebriated Pennsylvania Counties

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ArmstrongCounty
Kittaning, county seat of Armstrong County

Only in Our State

Clinton County (County Seat, Lock Haven) comes in first. (Applause!)

Lackawanna (Scranton), Luzerne (Hazleton), Monroe (Stroudsburg), and Huntingdon (Huntingdon) all get in there. Sadly, my native county, Schuylkill, does not even make this list. It would have in the old days. My hometown in its prime had more barrooms than Philadelphia, typically six per block: each corner building and one in the middle of the block on either side of the street.

06 Sep 2015

Top Slang Word in All 50 States

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USSlangmap

Most popular slang words in all 50 states: Federalist Papers

30 Jun 2015

The Thrill of Forrest Fenn’s Chase

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ForrestFenn

Taylor Clark, in California Sunday Magazine, has a helluva story about a still-ongoing treasure hunt arranged for his own amusement by a colorful millionaire art dealer.

Five years ago, a legendary art dealer left his home in Santa Fe, traveled to an undisclosed location somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, and hid a 42‑pound chest filled with priceless treasure.

In the summer of 1988, not long after doctors removed his cancer-plagued right kidney… late one night, Fenn had an idea… He would stuff a treasure chest with glittering valuables, write a clue-laden poem that would point to its location, and then march out to his favorite spot on earth to take some pills and lie in eternal repose with the gold, like a doomed conquistador in an Indiana Jones movie. All he needed was someone to write and publish the book in which he’d place the poem. “Because there was no point in hiding it if no one knew I hid it,” Fenn said.

“Forrest told me the idea at lunch one day,” recalled the bestselling author Douglas Preston, a longtime friend and one of the first writers Fenn approached. “His plan was to inter himself with the treasure, so that anyone who found it could essentially rob his grave. I said, ‘God, Forrest, that’s a terrific story — ​you’re the guy who’s going to take it with you!’” Still, Preston didn’t go for the idea… and neither did any of the other writers. “I think they didn’t like the idea of me dying out in the trees someplace,” Fenn said.

Fenn’s failure to launch this scheme was no great disappointment, however, for the simple reason that his cancer treatment worked. Yet he couldn’t let go of his treasure idea. He held on to the chest he’d bought, an ornate bronze lockbox, and spent years filling it. Fenn tinkered with its contents constantly, aiming to create a stash that would dazzle anyone who opened it: gold coins, Ceylon sapphires, ancient Chinese carved-jade faces, Alaskan gold nuggets the size of chicken eggs — some of these items coming from his own private collection, others acquired just to add to the hoard.

For the next 20 years, Fenn kept the chest in a vault in his Santa Fe home, covered with a red bandanna. Occasionally, he’d test out its amazement quotient on friends, who tended to view the whole thing as just another amusing Fennian lark. Certainly, few of them expected he’d actually hide it. For one thing, the man was a born raconteur who readily admitted to embellishing his stories. For another, the treasure was worth a fortune — seven figures, most likely — and not even Fenn was crazy enough to just give something like that away. And after so many years of talk, if he was really going to do it, wouldn’t he have done it already?

Then, sometime around 2010, Fenn did it. Without even telling his wife, Peggy, he slipped out and squirreled away his chest — to which he’d added a miniature autobiography, sealed with wax in an olive jar — somewhere in the wilds of the Rockies. It took him two trips from his car to get all of the treasure to the hiding spot, because it weighed 42 pounds and he was in the neighborhood of his 80th birthday by then. For a while, Fenn kept what he’d done secret. His own daughters didn’t find out about it until he self-published his memoir, The Thrill of the Chase, complete with the poem he’d spent years refining.

Read the whole thing, and bring your shovel.

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The author serves up an anecdote from his first meeting with Fenn, which illustrates beautifully that grand eccentric’s philosophic approach to collecting historical artifacts.

I tell you what,” Fenn said at the end of our first afternoon together, hoisting himself up from the leather sofa. “I’ll give you a treat.” He shuffled over to one of the floor-to-ceiling bookcases that line his library and pulled out an old green bottle that I recognized immediately from Too Far to Walk, one of the nine other books he’s written.

“This is the Jackie Kennedy brandy,” I said, startled.

In June of 1984, Fenn lodged Kennedy in the guesthouse of his gallery, where she was a model visitor. “A lot of people stayed at my guesthouse, and she’s the only one who left my cleaning lady a $50 tip and a two-page handwritten letter,” he told me. When Kennedy departed, she left behind a mostly empty bottle of Korbel brandy, which now enjoys pride of place next to Fenn’s Air Force medals. In the past 30 years, he has offered sips from the bottle to only two people. He unscrewed its top and extended it to me.

“Now, you take a big swig, I’m gonna punch you out,” he warned.

I held the bottle for a moment, hesitating. Wasn’t this, in its way, a piece of American history? I took the tiniest volume of liquid that could plausibly be called a sip into my mouth, held it for a moment, and swallowed.

“So, do you feel different now?” Fenn asked.

I couldn’t say that I did. History tasted pretty much exactly like old brandy. Yet for the rest of my life, I’d be able to say I shared a drink with Jackie Kennedy.

“See, when I look at you taking a sip of this, I would think of you feeling like you’re on a different plateau,” Fenn said, grinning. “Because you’re part of it now. Instead of being a spectator, you’re a player.”

02 Jun 2015

Jean Ritchie, 8 December 1922 — 1 June 2015

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jeanritchie

Jean Ritchie, the best singer in the American Appalachian folk tradition, passed away last evening at the age of 92. She was born in Viper, an unincorporated settlement in Eastern Kentucky, and died in Berea, Kentucky.

America Folklife Center announcement. Formal obituaries have yet to appear.

Wikipedia bio.

Here is a good example of her repertoire and voice:

04 May 2015

Yellow House

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YellowHouse

Sippi takes a walk and admires a neighbor.

On a street not far from here lives a man. I do not know him, but I have waved and said hello. He is salubrious in a way I admire. He has lived here forever and a day, I imagine, and watched his town disintegrate. He refuses to go along. His house is conspicuous. It is so yellow that Van Gogh would throw in the towel and go back to the store and start shopping for raw umber. He crawls up and down it, and all around it, and it is as neat as a pin. He does everything himself. He put up a big fence around his yard, an enormous undertaking, and never flagged until he was done. Every surface is clean and bright and in good repair, everywhere you can see. It is the only structure in this town I can describe in that way.

We stopped walking down his street a while back because his neighbors were disreputable. On one side was a house gone to seed for forty years or more. The denizens had approximately 150 snot-nosed urchins who played in the street, which I rather enjoyed seeing, but they kept two, hair-trigger pitbulls the size of donkeys, and you could never tell if they were tied up or not. These animals represented a desire to publicly contract ebola so you could get your own seat on the subway of life. Fine by me.

On the other side of the neat house was a two-family affair that looked in rather better shape, but that’s not to say good. There were no obvious structural issues visible to my eye at two hundred yards, which is more than I can say about my house. The house had been occupied by a series of Hatfields and McCoys, cars by the dozens, but somehow never with an even number of tires, abandoned toys everywhere, stray cats outside and stray people inside. I never saw an actual person who lived there outside, a mark of the breed. One minute the window curtain would be a confederate flag, then the rental merry-go-round would spin and a Sponge-Bob beach towel would take its place. The stray cats were the only constant.

The man in the perfect yellow house persevered. He painted his driveway and waxed his lawn and dusted his roof shingles. He polished his trees and chromed the inside of his mailbox. He was adamantine. He was, and is, a species of wonderful.

He must have gotten weary of the noise, and the trouble, and the endless low-rent hubbub. I testify to you, with God as my witness, that when the houses on both sides of him decided to spin the wheel of occupancy one more time, he bought them both, and he gave them the delenda est. Flattened them. There was a pile of lead-painted pickup sticks on one side, waiting for the next round of dumpsters, and the one on the other side was nothing but a patch of straw with the first hint of grass yet to poke through.

That man knows something. Something important. It’s not that he knows exactly what would show up in the two houses when the For Sale or For Rent signs came down. He’s not pretending to tell fortunes at the fair. What he knew, for a dead cert, was that there was no chance of any change bringing anything but: Worse.

I should get out more often.

Read the whole thing.

04 Jan 2015

Civil War Photos

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WilliamTBiedler
William T. Beidler

Kuriositas looks at Young Faces of the American Civil War. Apparently, some people collect Civil War photographs and devote considerable research into trying to identify the individual soldier who is the subject of the photograph.

Somehow we expect their faces to be different, not so staggeringly modern looking. Place them in contemporary clothing and all of these young men would not look out of place in a mall or a high school yearbook. Yet these extraordinary ambrotype and tintype photographs were taken during the American Civil War (1861-1865). Almost 150 years separates their lives from our own yet their youthful faces retain a powerful resonance and an immediacy which brings that dreadful conflict in to our imagination.

Who were these young men? What sort of lives did they live during and (one hopes) after the Civil War? The names of many of the young men pictured here are unknown, their fates a mystery. Yet despite the century and a half gap between their careful posing for the camera, some can still be identified. Astonishingly, names can still be discovered, as well as insight in to their character and personality.

Above is William T. Beidler, photographed with an already-archaic flintlock musket. Young Beidler, along with two of his brothers, served in Mosby’s 43rd Virginia Cavalry Battalion. He was born 9 December 1845 and enlisted from Fauquier County 10 February 1864. He served as a 4th Sergeant (not a Captain) in Captain William H. Chapman’s Company C.

He is recorded as having participated in actions: 12 March 1865 at the “Hague” near Kinsale, Westmoreland County, 21 March 1865 at Hamilton, and 4 May 1865 at Charles Town. West Virginia.

After the war, he worked in the wholesale drygoods business in Baltimore, where he died 7 August 1897 (aet. 53).

25 Nov 2014

Before My Time

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PatNovak

We geezers who were little kids watching television in the 1950s remember Jack Webb playing LAPD Sergeant Jim Friday in Dragnet, but you have to be older yet to know that Webb previously played a hard-boiled detective on the radio.

Word Around the Net:

Before Dragnet, before everyone knew him, Jack Webb did several other radio shows. The best of them was called Pat Novak for Hire [1946-1947], about a boat owner and general odd jobs guy who kept getting involved in various pulpy adventures.

What set this show apart was the writing, which was noire hard boiled writing at its absolute best. The primary writer Richard L. Breen who went on to write such films as State Fair, Niagra, and PT 109. And his work was poetry. The interaction between Novak and his nemesis on the police force Lieutanant Hellman is classic and usually hilarious, and the philosophical monologues and musings of drunken ex-doctor Jocko Madigan is unique to the show. …

Every show starts with a grim and often bitter intro by Pat Novak about how hardcore his life and the world he moves through is. This is San Francisco back before the hippies, the toughest place in America and one of the roughest places in the world.

    ‘Around here a set of morals won’t cause any more stir than Mother’s Day in an orphanage. Maybe that’s not good, but that’s the way it is. And it wouldn’t do any good to build a church down here, because some guy would muscle in and start cutting the wine with wood alcohol. All you can do is try to make the books balance, and the easiest way to do that is to keep one hand on your billfold and the other hand on somebody else’s.’

    ‘Down in the waterfront, in San Francisco, you always bite off more than you can chew. It’s tough on your windpipe, but you don’t go hungry.’

    ‘Pat Novak, for hire. It’s about the only way you can say it. Oh, you can dress it up and tell how many shopping days there are ’til Christmas, but if you got yourself on the market, you can’t waste time talking. You got to be as brief as a pauper’s will, because down in the waterfront, in San Francisco, everybody wants a piece of the cake, and the only easy buck is the one you just spent. Oh, it’s a good life. If you work real hard and study a little on the side, you got a trade by the time you get to prison.’

Almost all of these are worth listening to and as hardboiled as a fifteen year egg.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

09 Oct 2014

Exiting the Hive

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Morton1

Gerard Van der Leun (very old bio here) recently published a nice essay about moving out of Manhattan to a small town somewhere in the (rural & gun-owning portion of the) Pacific Northwest.

By the time I left the Hive, whatever had once bound me to it had long since frayed away. The upward pace of a “career” seemed more and more like a pointless marathon, a mere job. Long days spent striving to “exceed corporate goals” came to resemble a game of pick-up-sticks played with cows. Efforts to save an enterprise that one didn’t own came down to admitting that the enterprise had no intrinsic worth other than maintaining the vulgar lifestyle of an aging monomaniac who could no longer reason his way through two and two to four. It all combined into a vast cloud of wind-spun detritus that obscured the plain and simple fact that while government employees were working 24 hours a day printing more money, nobody anywhere was printing more time.

And so, at last, “Man, you gotta go.”

Jack Kerouac, Bard of the Road, wrote “Man, you gotta go.” Then he went home, lived with his mother again, and died a drunk. Not my road.

Okay. Fair enough. But go where? Here? Maybe. But where, exactly, is “here?”

Today, for a week or so, “here” turns out to be a small town up on the northwest edge of the nation. In size and composition, architecture and attitude, it is just about the exact polar opposite of the Hive.

Where Central Park in the Hive is a large, long oblong of struggling overused green in the center of an immense slab of asphalt, steel and concrete, the central park of this town is about 25 yards on a side. It’s a pleasant patch of cool grass studded with picnic tables and ringed with oaks that drape it in a shawl of shade. At the east end is a brick and cedar bandstand where banjos, guitars and fiddles sing out on odd afternoons and evenings. You’ll hear some country and some rock, but mostly you’ll hear the strains of bluegrass brought down out of the old Alleghenies and carried far west to these higher, more distant and demanding mountains.

On the west side of the park is a five-foot by three-foot marble faced granite slab in the shape of two tablets donated and erected there by the local chapter of the Eagles. Carved into the marble face in polished script are the Ten Commandments, King James version.

It would seem that whatever local chapter of the ACLU exists in these parts has chosen to ignore this blatant eruption of the Christian tradition in the secular town park. One might suppose the ACLU has done this simply because it hasn’t gotten around to it. It would, however, be much more likely that the organization is aware that in this town an ACLU suit to remove the Ten Commandments would be answered not with a five year legal argument, but with 30 rounds of semi-automatic rifle fire into the offices and automobiles of those seeking its removal. Since, for all its posturing, the ACLU has devolved into a refuge for moral and physical cowards with law degrees, it’s not difficult to see why this stone, largely unread and unnoticed, has been given a pass.

This is a heavily armed part of the nation and, as a result, it is a very civil and polite part as well.

Read the whole thing.

25 Sep 2014

Paw Paw French

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PawPawFrench

NPR identifies another case of linguistic non-assimilation, one apparently on the verge of expiring.

Language lovers and locals of an isolated mining region of the Ozarks are scrambling to preserve what’s left of a dialect known as pawpaw French before it fades. The dialect once dominated this community in southeastern Missouri, but now, it is barely a whisper. …

Pawpaw French — named after a local fruit-bearing tree — is a linguistic bridge that melds a Canadian French accent with a Louisiana French vocabulary. The French originally settled Old Mines around 1723, back when the area was part of upper Louisiana. Floods of workers from Canada and Louisiana came to work the lead mines.

The dialect faded in other nearby towns like De Soto and Bonne Terre and Ste. Genevieve a long time ago. Pawpaw French persisted in Old Mines because it is much more remote.

07 Sep 2014

Amish Raise Barn in Ohio

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26 Jul 2014

1940 Pittsburgh

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StairwayPittsburgh
January 1940. “Long stairway in mill district of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.” Medium-format nitrate negative by Jack Delano for the FSA

From Shorpy via Madame Scherzo.

21 Jul 2014

Diplomacy

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stab

David Hill goes back in time to relive the scheming, the negotiations, and the double-dealing of the old-time board game Diplomacy.

If you’ve ever heard of Diplomacy, chances are you know it as “the game that ruins friendships.” It’s also likely you’ve never finished an entire game. That’s because Diplomacy requires seven players and seven or eight hours to complete. Games played by postal mail, the way most played for the first 30 years of its existence, could take longer than a year to finish. Despite this, Diplomacy is one of the most popular strategic board games in history. Since its invention in 1954 by Harvard grad Allan B. Calhamer, Diplomacy has sold over 300,000 copies and was inducted into Games Magazine’s hall of fame alongside Monopoly, Clue, and Scrabble.

The game is incredibly simple. The game board is a map of 1914 Europe divided into 19 sea regions and 56 land regions, 34 of which contain what are known as “supply centers.” Each player plays as a major power (Austria-Hungary, Turkey, Italy, England, France, Russia, Germany) with three pieces on the board (four for Russia) known as “home supply centers.” Each piece can move one space at a time, and each piece has equal strength. When two pieces try to move to the same space, neither moves. If two pieces move to the same space but one of those pieces has “support” from a third piece, the piece with support will win the standoff and take the space. The goal is to control 18 supply centers, which rarely happens. What’s more common is for two or more players to agree to end the game in a draw. Aside from a few other special situations, that’s pretty much it for rules.

There are two things that make Diplomacy so unique and challenging. The first is that, unlike in most board games, players don’t take turns moving. Everyone writes down their moves and puts them in a box. The moves are then read aloud, every piece on the board moving simultaneously. The second is that prior to each move the players are given time to negotiate with each other, as a group or privately. The result is something like a cross between Risk, poker, and Survivor — with no dice or cards or cameras. There’s no element of luck. The only variable factor in the game is each player’s ability to convince others to do what they want. The core game mechanic, then, is negotiation. This is both what draws and repels people to Diplomacy in equal force; because when it comes to those negotiations, anything goes. And anything usually does.

Read the whole thing.

It’s been decades since I’ve played Diplomacy, but I remember that Hill is right about the game taking much too long. What he does not mention is how uneven the initial positions of the various countries are. England is sitting pretty, but nobody I ever saw ever won playing Turkey.

09 Jun 2014

Life’s Three Essentials

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LifesThree-Essentials

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