When John Wilkes Booth was crouching in Richard H. Garrett’s tobacco barn, listening to Lieutenant Colonel Everton Conger’s orders to surrender, he decided to go out with a bang. He refused the surrender, then once the barn was lit on fire he took a bullet to the neck, delivered by Sergeant Boston Corbett. He was dead by the break of dawn, less than two weeks after he had prematurely terminated the presidency of Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theatre.
Or was he?
Way out in the sprawling suburbs of historical perception there exists the notion that the man whose life was snuffed to a nub in that barn was actually a man named James William Boyd, a Confederate soldier who looked enough like Booth that his body passed through ten pairs of identifying eyes (not counting the pair that aimed the gun that took his life), as well as an official autopsy. The composers of this theory also posit that the government knew about the mix-up and let it happen. Because where is the fun in a murder without a deep and sinister government conspiracy?
As for the “real” John Wilkes Booth… well, on the off-chance that this is all true, we can say with a relative certainty that Booth was, in fact, this guy:
One day in 1873, some eight years after the furor over the Lincoln assassination had been pressed between the leaves of history, Memphis lawyer Finis L. Bates met and befriended a liquor and tobacco merchant named John St. Helen. It’s good to get to know the man who sells you booze and smokes, and Bates was particularly taken by John’s ability to spout Shakespeare from memory. The two became good friends outside the seller-consumer relationship.
Five years later, John St. Helen was on what he believed to be his deathbed, profoundly ill. He confided in Finis Bates that he was in fact John Wilkes Booth. He asked Finis to advise his brother, Edwin Booth, of his demise. Then he recovered. Read more…
Apart from a couple of quick overnighters in nearby Calgary and a 4-day excursion to my in-laws’ place in Kamloops last summer, I have not left the confines of my city since beginning this project. But while the burden of fiscal asphyxiation may have formed a tether around my proverbial ankle, I nevertheless spiral into the occasional exploratory fantasy, weaving through the streets of Paris on Google’s Street-View or drooling at the contoured geometry of New York skyscrapers.
I also find myself drawn to the world’s lesser-boasted attractions, from the world’s first UFO landing pad in the nearby bustling burg of St. Paul, Alberta to the largest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas. I want to see more of what the world has to offer – hell, our city’s most exquisite attraction is a large shopping mall. There have to be adventures out there more deserving of my exploring eye.
Then I stumbled onto Midgetville.
Don’t be offended – that’s what Wikipedia calls it, though the more appropriate term might be ‘Tiny Town’. And yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a metropolis of little people. And there are several to be found on the map, although most of them probably never existed. Historically, people have cruelly infused some strange mythos with the plight of little people. I can’t imagine their targets enjoyed the bizarre legends, but since when has the fear of offending others been the affliction of the majority? Read more…
In a few hours I will be visited by a myriad of Captain Jack Sparrows and Spidermen, Walking Dead-types and three-and-a-half-foot Jedi. Some kids will get the good chocolate, while others will get the crap made with compound chocolate (damn you, Oh Henry!). The pathetic kids over 15 with dollar-store devil horns and an Insane Clown Posse shirt will get an icy glare and maybe a box of raisins. I should really pick up some raisins.
And I’ll probably think back to my own days of trick-or-treating. The two years I dressed up as Yoda, complete with a full-on latex mask. The year I went as Michael Dukakis (along with my friend, who dressed up as George H.W. Bush). My one outing as Beldar Conehead, ten years after the character had left TV and four years before they made that movie. It was fun, it was cold, and it sated my sweet tooth – often to the point of nausea – for at least a week.
It seems only logical then, rather than to prattle on about the Gaelic Samhain roots of Halloween, to poke instead around the archeological bones of the portion of the holiday that brought me mirth as a child. Today I loathe dressing up in costume for Halloween parties. But I still enjoy noshing on the goodies left over once the lights go out and the kids stop a-knockin’.
When Halloween began, the only acceptable costumes were clowns, floozies, and Batman.
Back in the late medieval days, when every day without the plague was a day worth celebrating, poor folks used to wander from door to door, offering prayers for the dead in exchange for food on All Souls Day, November 2. This tradition, called ‘souling’, started in Ireland and Britain, but was clearly happening in spots all around Europe. In Scotland, where they really know how to party, the act of ‘guising’ was recorded as early as 1895. This involved children in disguise carrying lanterns made from scooped-out turnips, walking around town and receiving cakes, fruit and money. Read more…
When the Nintendo Entertainment System was released in 1985, it was more than just a way to play video games in one’s home. There were accessories, dammit – the truly lucky kids got the optional robot (which, it turns out, sucked) and the light gun.
The light gun. Formally known as the NES Zapper, this thing was magic to a 10-year-old who had grown up believing the Intellivoice was the greatest gaming innovation he’d see in his lifetime. Now my television had become an input device. Conquering these new games meant having skill, marksmanship, and – for an added challenge – the ability to hit a target bang-on after having rolled tactically from behind the sofa to fire off a quick shot from the family room floor.
Nintendo had invented the future. Well, actually they didn’t. Light guns had been around since the Great Depression.
This is the Seeburg Ray-O-Lite, the closest thing to a first-person shooter game outside a carnival in 1936. The duck would move back and forth, a little light-sensing vacuum tube embedded in it. The rifle would emit a ray of light when the trigger was pulled. Hit the target, the duck flopped over. Miss it, and feel that cold chill of shame, because it was the 30’s and manly pursuits like wrasslin’ and shootin’ were the only ways a man could prove himself back then. Read more…