Tag: Midwest

Day 992: The John Wilkes Booth World Tour

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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:

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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…

Day 804: The Dance Sensation That Swept The First Nations

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As a fiercely devout skeptic I have little patience for incorporating any spiritual routine into my life apart from my daily dose of Otis Redding and/or Etta James, both of whom possessed vocal talents that by their very nature taunted non-believers with their otherworldly oomph. Religious rituals, from Cree to Christianity and all points in between, hold little appeal for me. But as a professional anthropologist (and by ‘professional’ I mean the exact opposite of that), I possess a healthy curiosity for the spiritual to-do list of all my fellow humans.

I have been to a couple Native American round dances, and while I can’t speak with any praise to the music – there’s no backbeat, no groove, no emphasis on the ‘1’ – I admire the grace and harmonious tranquility in the process. It really jounces my think-meat to learn that this same dance directly led to an unthinkable slaughter.

I suppose it’s the old cliché of fearing what one doesn’t understand. Perhaps one can attribute the Wounded Knee debacle to abject stupidity or the tense national atmosphere due to the wretched economy under that spend-heavy rascal president, Benjamin Harrison. Mostly I think the massacre came about due to that tragic chemical collision between two of the most devious elements in the universe: ignorance and assholery.

Paiutes

By 1889, the bulk of the hostile skirmishes between Natives and Americans had subsided. The “old west” was beginning to peter out, and the new president was stubbornly set on filling in all that ‘territory’ space in the nation’s abdomen with legitimate states. On that list was South Dakota, which at the time was loaded with Sioux who had been “cordially assigned” chunks of land there by the US government. The government’s plan was to integrate the Native Americans by whatever means necessary. Read more…

Day 658: The Sumptuous Buttery World Of Popcorn

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The esteemed American poet James Joseph Brown Jr. once wrote, “But when I get funky, I do the sap. And when I want lovin’, mother, she got to have. Say, you got to have a mother for me. Yeah, popcorn.”

And so it was.

Popcorn is one of the most universally beloved snacks by folks who don’t wear braces. It can exude so many personalities, from the puckish kiss of sweet caramel to the warm seductive sploosh of melted butter to that weird pink stuff in the box with the elephant on the front. That’s the popcorn the other popcorns don’t talk to at parties. There’s something not right about that guy.

But for the most part popcorn is a friendly snack, sharing our greatest movie experiences with us and even reminding us about the importance of flossing when one of its stubborn husks decides to take refuge behind a molar. And popcorn is a big business. Americans snarf down more than sixteen billion quarts of popcorn a year, which works out to about 51 quarts per person. That’s a lot of popcorn.

Having been raised with the metric system, I can only assume that 51 quarts looks something like this.

Having been raised with the metric system, I can only assume that 51 quarts looks something like this.

There’s an old legend about the Native Americans giving popcorn to the newly-landed Europeans, but a fair amount of archeological poking around the US has uncovered absolutely no evidence to support it. Corn was, however, a major crop down South America way, around where Peru sits today, and there’s evidence of popcorn having been consumed there close to seven thousand years ago. To be clear, they found corncobs that date from around 4700 B.C. – how they extrapolated that the corn was devoured in pop form, I have no clue. But the Smithsonian Museum said it happened, so who am I to argue? Read more…

Day 550: The Schemers Of Iron Mountain

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In 1967, a book dropped onto bookstore shelves, one that would rattle the public and tear away the curtain that had been concealing some of the United States government’s darkest secrets. The book contained the findings of a secret think tank – one that revealed the true intent of those bastards in Washington, and their priority of power over true service of the people.

Except the whole thing was a lie. We think. It depends on whom you ask. The Report From Iron Mountain fuelled the already mighty passions of the die-hard conspiracy-lovers who were still reeling from the assassination of JFK a few years earlier. But alas, it was revealed to be a hoax. Or was it? Even now, some people aren’t sure.

You can probably stir up some good fights about it if you get the right crowds together.

ThinkTank

In 1967, the anti-war movement had swung its club in San Francisco and its dimpled ball of discontent had soared across the country. So the purported findings of a 1963 panel of intellectual elites, in particular the findings that may have pushed President Johnson to nudge a deeper foothold in the escalating Vietnam conflict, drew a few pairs of curious eyes. Read more…

Day 426: Happy _____ Day – March Edition

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Happy birthday mom!

With that out of the way… it’s March! The month when spring is summoned by the dripping alarm clock of vanishing snow and sufficiently titillated mercury. When grey gets washed away in green. When the dreary edifice of post-holiday winterishness crumbles into the sea of renewal.

Well, for most of you. Spring tends to hit the Snooze button a few times when you live this far north, but I’ll try not to sound bitter. After all, there is a lot to celebrate this month.

NationalPigDay

For starters, today is National Pig Day. In 1972, sisters Ellen Stanley and Mary Lynne Rave decided our porcine friends deserve a day of commemoration. All across the Midwest, pig parties are thrown at zoos, schools, nursing homes, and anywhere else where you can find people who move too slowly to escape. “Pig punch” is served, people tie pink ribbons around trees, and dine on spare ribs, bacon and ham.

Wait… we are honoring these creatures, letting them know we appreciate and love them, by eating them? I’d hate to see how these people honor Veteran’s Day. Read more…