Saturday, September 11, 2021

10 AWESOME MUSEUMS NOT OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Museums…those public and private repositories of anything and everything that might be of interest to someone, collections open to the public to enjoy, and that educate.  They encompass a wide variety of interests such as fine art, items showing the natural history of a region, or something as specific as a hair collection.

I recently found a list of 10 very specific museums/collections with a common thread—they are not open to the public.

CIA Museum

Needless to say, one of the most secretive agencies in the entire United States government (and the world) wouldn't just throw the doors of their archives open for everyone. The Central Intelligence Agency's internal museum is one of the most thorough collections of intelligence memorabilia on Earth with over 3,500 items. The collection includes documents from the OSS [Office of Strategic Services created in WW II, the forerunner of the CIA], spy weapons and equipment, and even an AK-47 rifle that belonged to Osama Bin Laden. The only public aspects of the Museum are three showcases at the CIA's headquarters in Langley, Virginia. And that building isn't easy to get into, either.

International Museum And Library Of The Conjuring Arts

If you’re looking for a community of people who like to keep secrets, the CIA isn't the only place to look.  Professional magicians are right up there, too. Considering that their careers hinge on being able to fool people, magicians aren't crazy about opening up to the public. David Copperfield has used his vast fortune to amass a collection of over 150,000 pieces of magic history from practitioners like Harry Houdini and hundreds of others.  It's located in a 40,000 square foot Las Vegas warehouse that has a fake hat shop in the front. [I saw a television special about Houdini including an auction of items from his career with David Copperfield being one of the major successful bidders on several items]

MIT Museum Of Espionage [in Turkey, not the Massachusetts Institute of Technology :) ]

The United States isn't the only nation that keeps its intelligence archives in a private museum. Turkey's MIT spy group has been amassing an impressive collection of memorabilia from top-secret operations for years. Stored at the group's headquarters in Ankara, the museum's glass display cases contain such spy craft relics as a shoe wedge designed to store a hidden microphone, hollowed-out objects for secreting code books, and bugging devices discovered in Turkish embassies abroad during the Cold War. A Turkish newspaper requested access to the museum and was allowed in for one day, but that's the only time the Museum of Espionage has ever been seen by the public.

Canadian Museum Of Making

It is possible to get inside the doors of the Canadian Museum of Making, which is located on a private ranch near Cochrane, Alberta, but it's not easy. The museum's owner, Ian MacGregor, is very picky about who he allows through the doors. From the outside, you'd never know that the 20,000 square foot museum is even there, because he constructed the complex entirely underground. Inside is one of the world's most extensive collections of mechanical objects from between 1750 and 1920. Every once in a while, MacGregor will open the doors to select people, but it's a rare occasion.

El Museo del Enervantes

Intended for use in the training of military staff waging Mexico's seemingly endless war against the drug cartels, El Museo del Enervantes, located in Mexico City, is a private museum that chronicles every aspect of the world of narcoterrorism. In-depth exhibits illustrate the manufacturing process involved in making cocaine, heroin, and other drugs. A huge display case shows off dozens of handguns confiscated from drug lords, many encrusted with gold and jewels. There is also a plaque commemorating all the Mexican soldiers who died on duty since 1976.

The Honda Secret Museum

Many automakers rent out space to spotlight important moments in their history, but Honda defies the trend by making their history museum closed to the public. Assembled by company veteran Lou Staller, it's a collection of almost 50 cars and motorcycles that commemorate Honda's successes and failures. Included in the collection is a Honda N-600 from 1970—the first passenger car the company sold in the States—and the 1997 EV Plus, the very first electric vehicle to be marketed here. The museum is only accessible to Honda employees, and the vast majority of them have never been there, making it a treasure trove for car enthusiasts.

Musée d'Anatomie Delmas-Orfila-Rouvière

The Musée d'Anatomie Delmas-Orfila-Rouvière permanently closed its door to everyone—public and invited only—in 2005. Prior to that time, it was the largest and most complete anatomy museum in France. The Museum's collection began in 1794 and expanded steadily over the years to include upwards of 5,800 anatomic items from humans and other animals. Some of the items on display includes casts of the heads of executed 19th century criminals, comparative anatomy displays of reptiles and birds, and skulls of deceased mental patients. It occupied the eighth floor of the Descartes University's school of medicine, and access was granted only to the medical elite.

The Black Museum

Scotland Yard, one of the most famous crime-fighting institutions in history, has amassed some serious items. If you want to see them, they're kept in the Black Museum. Located at police headquarters in London, this collection of evidence from some of Scotland Yard's most notorious crimes includes the pots serial killer Dennis Nilsen used to cook his victims and a taunting letter from Jack the Ripper. Also on display is a vast array of weapons used in the commission of crimes, including some cleverly disguised tools of mayhem. There is a current discussion about finally making the museum open to the public, but as of now it's still police only.

The U.S. Secret Service Museum

It appears that taxpayer money is supporting a disproportionate number of museums that aren't open to the public. Located in the nondescript office building that houses the Secret Service headquarters is a small private museum that's only open to invited guests. Inside the one-room museum are artifacts from some of the most shocking crimes in American history—assassination attempts on Presidents. Among these artifacts is the bullet-scarred window from Ronald Reagan's limousine on the day that John Hinckley attacked and the assault rifle that Francisco Duran used to spray bullets into the White House in 1994.

The Zymoglyphic Museum

The Zymoglyphic Museum in San Mateo, California, is open to the public—but only for two days out of every year. The museum's creator houses his collection in a small outbuilding off of his garage, down a nondescript suburban cul-de-sac. Inside is the world's largest assemblage of animals and artifacts from the Zymoglyphic Era…a period in Earth's past that never existed. The dioramas, housed in aquarium tanks, are well thought out and executed with incredible attention to detail.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Dark Origins Of Fairy Tales

The origin of fairy tales dates back thousands of years. The history of fairy tales or fairy stories have fantasy creatures and talking animals. Enchantments and far-fetched events are also usually part of the plot. Unlike legends and folklore tales, they seldom contain any references to religion, actual places, persons or events. The term "once upon a time" is used rather than an actual reference to a date. Early oral fairy tales and folklore were for adults as much as for children. The early written fairy tales of the literary type definitely contained strictly adult material. In many instances, they were quite gruesome. They became more children's fairy tales in the 19th and 20th centuries.

There are two theories that have attempted to explain the common elements in the text of the different fairytales found spread over many continents. One theory is that a tale comes from a single source and spreads from culture to culture over time. A good example of this is the story of Aladdin, his flying carpet, magic lamp, and the genie. Disney made an animated movie of the tale and a live action film was recently made. We all associate the story and the characters with the mideast/Arab world. In reality, the original tale came from China. The other theory is that these tales reference common human experience from many cultures and over time evolved into tales of similar human experiences. The first written fairy tales were from ancient Egypt and occurred around 1300 BC. It is amazing to find very similar stories/plots occurring in the folklore from different countries at different times and in totally different cultures.

Many of our most pervasive stories can be found in the tales of the Brothers Grimm and even earlier and have changed a great deal along the way. All the blindings, sexual misconduct, and death has been mostly scrubbed away in the last century or so. None of the stories with people getting nailed into barrels and thrown down hills or into ponds have really made it into the mainstream. Take a look at a few terrifying, gruesome, often bizarre early versions of ubiquitous fairy tales. Warning—the original versions of these fairy tales contain grisly details.

Sleeping Beauty:

In one of the very earliest versions of this classic story published in 1634, the princess does not prick her finger on a spindle, instead getting a sliver of flax stuck under her fingernail. She falls down, apparently dead, but her father cannot face the idea of losing her, so he lays her body on a bed in one of his estates. Later, a king out hunting in the woods finds her, and since he can't wake her up, rapes her while she's unconscious, then heads home to his own country. Some time after that, still unconscious, she gives birth to two children, and one of them accidentally sucks the splinter out of her finger, so she wakes up. The king who raped her is already married, but he burns his wife alive so he and the princess can be together. To keep everything "morally sound," the wife tries to kill and eat the babies first. Not exactly the type of story to tell children at bedtime.

Little Red Riding Hood

The Brothers Grimm actually made this story a lot nicer than it was when they originally got their hands on it. In the original version from 1697, there is no intrepid huntsman. Little Red simply strips naked, gets in bed, and then dies, eaten up by the big bad wolf. In another even darker version, she eats her own grandmother first. In the Chinese version of the story, it is a tiger instead of a wolf that is the villain and eats the girl.

Rumpelstiltskin

This story is pretty simple. The miller's daughter is trapped and forced to spin straw into gold or be killed. A little man appears to her, and spins it for her, but says that he will take her child in payment unless she can guess his name. In the Grimm fairy tale, when she finally figures out Rumpelstiltskin's name, he yells, "The Devil told you that! The Devil told you that!" He stamps his right foot so hard that he drives it into the ground right up to his waist. Then he takes hold of his left foot with both hands and tears himself in two. Again, certainly not acceptable fare for children, whether bedtime or not.

Cinderella

In the Grimm story, not only do the stepsisters cut off parts of their feet in order to fit into the glass slippers where the blood pooling in their shoes gives them away, but at the end, they have their eyes pecked out by doves, just for good measure.

Snow White

In the original 1812 Grimm Brothers version, the evil Queen is Snow White's actual mother rather than her stepmother, which makes the story more terrifying. The Disney version also left out the fact that the Queen sends the huntsman out to bring back Snow White's liver and lungs, which she then means to eat. In the Grimm version, she's not in a deep sleep when the prince finds her—she's dead. The prince, being an enthusiastic participant in necrophilia, is taking her dead body to his castle when his servant trips, jostles the coffin, and dislodges the poison apple from her throat. And once again, the Grimms gave the story a gruesome consequence for the villain. When the queen shows up at Snow White's wedding, she's forced to step into iron shoes that had been cooking in the fire, and then dances until she falls down dead.

Hansel and Gretel

The version of the story we know is already pretty gruesome—the evil stepmother abandons the children to die in the forest, they happen upon a cannibalistic witch's cottage who fattens them up to eat They outwit then kill the witch and escape. The Grimm version is basically the same, but an early French version, called The Lost Children, has an even more gruesome ending.

Rapunzel

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair. In the Grimm version, she does just that for a prince on numerous occasions and winds up pregnant. She innocently mentions to her jailer witch that her clothes feel too tight. The witch doesn't want any competition so she chops off Rapunzel's hair and magically transports her far away, where she lives as a beggar with no money, no home, and after a few months, two hungry mouths to feed. As for the prince, the witch lures him up and then pushes him from the window. Some thorn bushes break his fall, but also poke out his eyes. But, surprisingly, there is a happy ending.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears

In this tale's earliest known incarnation, there was no Goldilocks—only the three bears and a fox named Scrapefoot, who enters the three bears' palace, sleeps in their beds and messes around with their salmon of knowledge. In the end, she either gets thrown out of the window or eaten, depending on who's telling the tale. Interestingly, it has been suggested that the use of the word vixen to mean female fox is how we got to Goldilocks, by means of a crafty old woman in the intervening story incarnations.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Weird Origins Of 12 Beloved Nursery Rhymes

Nursery rhymes and fairy tales, thought of as children's fare—yet many have dark and disturbing origins.  This week's blog talks about nursery rhymes. Next week's blog will shine a light of reality on fairy tales.

You have to admit that there's something a little strange about a group of toddlers chanting a nonsensical nursery rhyme. But if you stop and examine the lyrics of these iconic ballads, you'll notice the songs barely conceal their wicked origins.

Behind most nursery rhymes lurks hundreds of years of history that we routinely ignore. But the veil of light-hearted fun has been lifted revealing their dark origins.

1. Mary, Mary Quite Contrary: Vivid images of a sweet little gardener pruning rose bushes leap to mind. However, the Mary in question was far more sinister than a flower enthusiast. Mary I of England, otherwise known as Bloody Mary, was given the gruesome nickname due to her ruthless persecution of Protestants. In the rhyme, the cockleshells and silver bells refer to instruments of torture. Not so kid friendly!

2. Three Blind Mice: Queen Mary was so bloodthirsty she inspired several nursery rhymes chronicling her behavior. The knife-wielding farmer's wife mentioned in the story? Yep—it's Queen Mary I again.

3. Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush: Kids on the playground skipping in circles and singing the familiar tune don't realize is was created by the female inmates of England's Wakefield Prison. Doing laps around the mulberry bush was the daily exercise routine for prisoners. In fact, the bush in question still exists on the grounds of Wakefield.

4. Pop Goes The Weasel: If you grew up in the U.S., this rhyme was lumped together with Mulberry Bush which makes sense as they use the same musical tune. In England, children were familiar with different lyrics… "Half a pound of tuppenny rice, half a pound of treacle; That's the way the money goes," were the weekly groceries paid for by pawning off Dad's suit, or "Pop! goes the weasel."

5. Rub-A-Dub-Dub: As far as bath-time songs go, it's a safer bet to teach your kids Ernie's "Rubber Duckie" tune from Sesame Street. The nursery rhyme Rub-A-Dub-Dub is the opposite of squeaky clean. In the 18th century, embarrassed butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers had to endure the shame of their indiscreet recreational behaviors being revealed such as visiting peep shows and bathhouses and being immortalized in song. No one is quite sure how it ended up as a nursery rhyme.

6. Goosey Goosey Gander: Running through the lyrics you'll discover that the song describes a moral enforcer who busts into women's rooms and tosses their unmarried, and therefore sinful, partners down the staircase. This one doesn't bother pretending to be kid friendly. But it still has a more layered meaning. Back in the 16th century when Goosey Gander emerged, the Protestants offered rewards for Catholic Priest's heads. Apparently, the rhyme details the popular execution method reserved for the clergyman.

7. Rock-A-Bye Baby: Believe it or not, the gentle lullaby stems from the scandalous family drama surrounding King James II's first son. Rumor had it the King and his second wife, Mary of Modena, arranged to take in someone else's baby and presented him as their male heir.

8. Jack and Jill: This one is definitely not about a pair of clumsy siblings. Jack falling down, and subsequently breaking his crown, was the twisted spin on France's King Louis XVI's death by guillotine. Jill, now known to be King Louis XVI's wife Marie Antoinette, went the same way as her husband. The nursery rhyme paints her grim guillotine ending as "tumbling down after."

9. Baa Baa Black Sheep: This baaad boy sheep was presenting his "yeah, you know I've got wool" face. But even with a hefty coat like the one wrapped around this fluffy guy, somebody is going home wool-less. "None for the Little Boy that cries in the lane," seems like a harsh snub for that poor child. That's exactly what the originators intended since the rhyme was a commentary on the high wool taxes in medieval England.

10. Georgie Porgie: The crude rhyme poked fun at the weight of George IV of England, who apparently had a habit of stepping outside of his marriage. Georgie notoriously fathered many illegitimate children and recognized a second wife, ignoring the public perception.

11. London Bridge Is Falling Down: Over the years, there hasn't been a definitive explanation of this bizarre yet cheery song of structural collapse. However, in 1844, a travel writer named Samuel Laing spotted a big clue while translating a Norwegian text. Tracing through the Norse text he found a verse about Viking King Olaf II leading a brutal attack on the famous bridge in the years 1009 or 1014. However, this was never confirmed.

12. Humpty Dumpty: If you take a quick look at the lyrics, you'll notice there's not even one example of identifying Humpty as an egg-like creature. Nevertheless, everyone is sure he's an egg. However, there's more to the story. Humpty Dumpty represents two different subjects: one human, one weapon. The man: King Richard III, nicknamed The Hunchback King. The device: a trusty English Civil War cannon. 

Saturday, August 21, 2021

6 Important Lands that Never Existed

This week's blog is about 6 lands believed to be real at the time but since have proven to be no more than myths.

Ancient travelers (and by ancient I mean many centuries ago, maybe even millenniums) told stories of mysterious places located in the unexplored reaches of the world—fabled cities, phantom islands and exotic civilizations.  Even though these lands were usually dismissed as myths and legends, a few of them found their way onto world maps and helped inspire some of history's most important journeys of discovery.  From a fabled Christian empire in Asia to a supposed lost kingdom in Canada, find out more about six of the most influential lands that never were.

1) Thule

A subject of fascination for ancient explorers, romantic poets and Nazi occultists.  Thule was an elusive territory believed to be located in the frozen north Atlantic near Scandinavia. Its legend dates back to the 4th century B.C., when the Greek journeyman Pytheas claimed to have travelled to an icy island beyond Scotland where the sun rarely set and land, sea and air combined into a bewildering, jelly-like mass.

Many of Pytheas' contemporaries doubted his claims, but that didn't stop distant Thule from lingering in the European imagination.  It eventually became synonymous with the northernmost place in the known world.  Explorers and researchers variously identified it as Norway, Iceland and the Shetland Islands, and it served a recurring theme in poetry and myth.  The island is perhaps most famous for its connection to the Thule Society, a post-World War I occult organization in Germany that considered Thule the ancestral home of the Aryan race. The Munich-based group counted many future Nazis among its members, including Rudolf Hess, who later served as Deputy Führer of Germany under Adolf Hitler.

2) The Kingdom of Prester John

For more than 500 years, Europeans believed a Christian king ruled over a vast empire somewhere in the wilds of either Africa, India or the Far East.  Talk of this mythical land first surfaced in 1165 after the Byzantine and Holy Roman emperors received a letter—most likely a European forgery—from a monarch calling himself Prester John.  The mysterious king claimed to serve as supreme ruler of the three Indies and all its 72 kingdoms.  He described his realm as a utopia rich in gold, populated by exotic races of giants and horned men.  Perhaps most important of all, Prester John and his subjects were Christians—even the name Prester meant Priest.

Despite the fact that a Papal mission to find Prester John's court disappeared without a trace, the myth of his kingdom took hold among Europeans.  Crusading Christians rejoiced in the idea that a devout ruler might come to their aid in the struggle against Islam during the Crusades, and when Genghis Khan's Mongol hordes conquered parts of Persia in the early 1200s, many mistakenly credited Prester John's forces with the attack.  The kingdom later became a subject of fascination for travelers and explorers.  Marco Polo provided a questionable account of encountering its remnants in Northern China.  Vasco da Gama and other Portuguese mariners searched for it in Africa and India.  While explorers eventually discovered a Christian civilization in Ethiopia, it lacked the grandeur and the gold Europeans had come to associate with Prester John's realm. By the 17th century, the legend had faded, and the famed empire was dropped from most maps.

3) Hy-Brasil

Long before Europeans ever stepped foot in the New World, explorers searched for the island of Hy-Brasil, an ethereal land said to exist off the west coast of Ireland.  The story of Hy-Brasil most likely comes from Celtic legend—its name means Isle of the Blest in Gaelic—but its precise origins are unclear.  Hy-Brasil first appeared on maps in the 14th century, usually in the form of a small, circular island with a narrow strait splitting it in two.  Many mariners accepted it as a real place until as recently as the 1800s, and it became popular as the basis for myths and folktales.  Some legends described the island as a lost paradise.  Others claimed that it was perpetually obscured by a dense curtain of mist and fog, only becoming visible to the naked eye every seven years.  [which sounds as if it might have been the genesis of the Lerner & Lowe musical BRIGADOON about a village in Scotland that appeared out of the mist every one hundred years]

Despite its somewhat whimsical reputation, Hy-Brasil was widely sought after by Britain-based explorers in the 15th century. The navigator John Cabot launched several expeditions in an attempt to find it.  It's suggested that he had hoped to locate it during his famous journey to the coast of Newfoundland in 1497.  Documents from Cabot's time claim that previous explorers had already reached Hy-Brasil, leading some researchers to argue that these unnamed mariners may have inadvertently traveled all the way to the Americas prior to Christopher Columbus.

4) El Dorado

Beginning in the 16th century, European explorers and conquistadors were intrigued by tales of a mythical city of gold located in the unexplored reaches of South America.  The city had its origin in accounts of El Dorado (The Gilded One), a native king who powdered his body with gold dust and tossed jewels and gold into a sacred lake as part of a coronation rite.  Stories of the gilded king eventually led to rumors of a golden city of untold wealth and splendor.  Adventurers spent many years—and countless lives—in a futile search for its riches.

One of the most famous El Dorado expeditions came in 1617, when the English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh traveled up the Orinoco River on a quest to find it in what is now Venezuela.  They didn't find any trace of the gilded city, and King James I later executed Raleigh after he disobeyed an order to avoid fighting with the Spanish.  El Dorado continued to drive exploration and colonial violence until the early 1800s, when scientists Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland branded the city a myth after undertaking a research expedition to Latin America.

El Dorado wasn't the only gilded city supposedly tucked away in the New World.  European explorers also hunted for the Seven Cities of Cibola, a mythical group of gold-rich settlements said to be located somewhere in what are now Mexico and the American Southwest.  The most famous search for the Seven Cities came in the 16th century, when the Spanish conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado scoured the Great Plains of the U.S. in search of a city of riches called Quivira.

5) St. Brendan’s Island

St. Brendan’s Island was a mysterious manifestation of Paradise once thought to be hidden somewhere in the eastern Atlantic Ocean.  The myth of the phantom island dates back to the Navigatio Brendani, or Voyage of Brendan, a 1,200-year-old Irish legend about the seafaring monk St. Brendan the Navigator.  As the story goes, Brendan led a crew of pious sailors on a 6th century voyage in search of the famed Promised Land of the Saints.  The journey on the open sea describes attacks by fireball-wielding giants and run-ins with talking birds.  According to the tale, Brendan and his men landed on a mist-covered island filled with delicious fruit and sparkling gems. The grateful crew are said to have spent 40 days exploring the island before returning to Ireland.

Although there is no historical proof of St. Brendan’s voyage, the legend became so popular during medieval times that St. Brendan's Island found its way onto many maps of the Atlantic. Early cartographers placed it near Ireland, but in later years it migrated to the coasts of North Africa, the Canary Islands, and finally the Azores. Sailors often claimed to have caught fleeting glimpses of the mystical isle during the Age of Discovery, and it's likely that even Christopher Columbus believed in its existence.  Its legend eventually faded after multiple search expeditions failed to track it down. By the 18th century, the famed Promised Land of the Saints had been removed from most navigational charts.

6) The Kingdom of Saguenay

The story of the mirage-like Kingdom of Saguenay dates to the 1530s, when French explorer Jacques Cartier made his second journey to Canada in search of gold and a northwest passage to Asia.  While traveling along the St. Lawrence River at what is modern day Quebec, Cartier's Iroquois guides began to whisper tales of Saguenay, a vast kingdom that lay to the north. According to a chief named Donnacona, the mysterious realm was rich in spices, furs and precious metals and populated by blond, bearded men with pale skin.  The stories eventually transitioned into the realm of the absurd when the natives claimed the region was also home to races of one-legged people and whole tribes possessing no anus.  Cartier became intrigued by the prospect of plundering the riches of Saguenay.  He brought Donnacona back to France, where the Iroquois chief continued to spread tales of a lost kingdom.

Legends about Saguenay haunted French explorers in North America for years, but treasure hunters never found any trace of the mythical land.  Most historians now dismiss it as a myth, but some argue the natives may have been referring to copper deposits in the Canadian northwest.  Others have suggested that the Indian tales could have been inspired by a centuries old Norse outpost left over from Viking voyages to North America.

Fortunately, today we have Google Earth to confirm or deny such rumors of mythical places.  :)

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Famous People Who Possibly Never Existed

In our present age of instant information sources (both real and fake), it's easy to search for the biography of a well-known person. However, it was not always this way. The facts about many historical figures weren't written down until years, sometimes decades or even centuries, after they allegedly lived. With these large gaps of time, any evidence of the person's actual existence may be nothing more than stories with an absence of any real proof.

Here is a list of famous people whose names you will recognize but who may never have existed at all, at least not in their popular and commonly accepted form. This list of 6 is only a small number of famous people who may or may not be real. The original list I came across listed 17 people.

Mulan

The tale of a woman dressing as a man and fighting for a cause (whether family, country, or religion) is a timeless theme (think Joan of Arc). Some come with proof to prove they are real and others don't have the necessary credentials of proof. Disney introduced movie fans to the legend of Mulan, though she was already famous in Chinese literature. It's commonly accepted that Mulan was a real person who actually did this. But any evidence of this actually happening is scarce.

The book Chinese Shadow Theatre: History, Popular Religion, and Women Warriors says Mulan might have been a fictional character based in part on Wei Huahu, an actual female warrior from ancient China. As for Mulan herself, the earliest known reference was in an ancient song, The Battle of Mulan. But it doesn't specify when she lived, gives few details of the actual battles she fought, and didn't give a full name for her other than Mulan.

Then there's a text called Lienü zhuan translated as Exemplary Women of Early China, written by Liu Xiang around 18 BC, and packed with over 120 biographies of famous women from ancient China. Despite supposedly being a prominent person, Mulan is not listed. Even though she supposedly lived several hundred years after Xiang first published his book, there's a section at the end for supplemental biographies. No one has ever added Mulan, even though her alleged exploits were quite exceptional.

Shakespeare

Surely the great William Shakespeare was a real person. He has lots of writings and there are portraits of him. So, how could he not be real? I'm been to Stratford-Upon-Avon in England and have seen the house said to be his. Surprisingly, many people are convinced that "William Shakespeare" was a pen name, and whoever wrote those stories might be lost to history.

As presented on PBS, there was a man named William Shakespeare, but we know little about him. We don't know where he learned to write, how he learned so much about law, politics, and history, and his will mentioned no plays or sonnets, which you'd think would be foremost on his mind. It sounds like the real Shakespeare didn't write much more than the daily to do list. If true, then who is the real Shakespeare? Plenty of candidates have emerged over the years, like Francis Bacon, Ben Johnson, and Christopher Marlowe, but these possibilities haven't stuck.

There's another legitimate possibility in Edward de Vere—the Earl of Oxford. According to J. Thomas Looney, a schoolteacher who uncovered a great deal about the man, Vere wrote poetry that reads much like what is attributed to Shakespeare. According to this theory, Vere used an assumed name because being one of the nobility he didn't want to be associated with a low-brow art like playwriting. Then, when he died, his followers published his plays under the pen name of some random commoner named William Shakespeare who had died years before.

Robin Hood

The legendary English folk hero, Robin Hood, is well-known for robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, residing in Sherwood Forest with his band of merry men, and wooing Maid Marian. The stories are certainly fictitious, but was Robin Hood a real person or simply based on one? It's impossible to say if any one individual inspired the legend's creation. The stories are either totally invented, or are a combination of elements taken from different historical sources.

Identifying a single person as the basis for the famous outlaw becomes even more difficult as the stories began to grow in popularity in the 13th and 14th centuries. Various English outlaws began calling themselves Robin Hood. Nevertheless, some historians speculate that Robin Hood was based at least in part on nobleman Fulk FitzWarin, who rebelled against King John (one of Robin Hood's foes). FitzWarin's life was later turned into its own medieval tale, Fouke le Fitz Waryn, which holds some similarities to the Robin Hood stories. If he was the basis, then a name change was a good decision. The name Fulk FitzWarin doesn't exactly strike fear into the hearts of villains.

William Tell

William Tell is a Swiss folk hero who allegedly lived in Switzerland during the early 14th century, when the Hapsburg dynasty of Austria ruled the land. As the story goes, an Austrian official placed a hat on a pole in the city of Altdorf and commanded every Swiss subject to remove their caps in a show of respect as they passed by it. One day, William Tell, a local peasant accompanied by his son, refused to comply. In response, the Austrians forced him to shoot an apple off his son's head at 120 paces or face execution. Tell loaded his crossbow and skillfully shot the apple. He then went on to lead a small revolt against the Austrians.

Tell is essentially the Swiss version of Robin Hood and, much like the outlaw of Sherwood Forest, he probably never existed. The apple story is extremely similar to a Viking folktale, which most likely was imported to Switzerland at some point and used by Swiss patriots as a rallying cry against their Austrian rulers.

Homer

Homer is the Greek poet who wrote two of the books that your English teacher probably required you to read in high school—The Iliad and The Odyssey. Despite the popularity and importance of these mythological epics, their author remains shrouded in mystery. Homer almost certainly was not the creator of these tales, which likely preceded him by about 1,000 years. He was simply the first to write them down. As for the poet himself, some say Homer was blind, while at least one author argues that Homer was actually a woman.

Some historians believe that Homer was not a single person, but rather a group of Greek scholars. In the end, we will probably never know the answer, but the legacy of Homer's works will continue.

King Arthur

We're all familiar with the Arthurian legend. Even if you haven't read the stories, you likely saw Monty Python and the Holy Grail or are familiar with the theatrical production and subsequent movie, Camelot. In any case, the British king is said to have claimed the sword, Excalibur, from the Lady of the Lake and found the aforementioned Holy Grail. These stories are most likely a mishmash of folklore, but was the Arthur of legend based on a real man? The first tales of Arthur appeared in the ninth century and chronicle his battle against the invading Saxon armies, so it's likely that the individuals who served as the basis for Arthur lived sometime before then. Some historians suggest the Roman military commander Lucius Artorius Castus as a possible candidate. Others suggest Riothamus, king of the Britons during the fifth century.

John Henry

John Henry—the steel-driving man has been immortalized in folk music since the 1800s. His Ballad of John Henry tells the story of an ex-slave working on the railroad. He challenged a steam drill to see which could work faster, and he won. He died soon afterwards from sheer exhaustion. The greatest heroes die in the end, and Henry's story has ascended to near-myth because of it.

Thing is, he might actually be a myth. As NPR explains, John Henry is almost certainly a "tall tale," though one based on "historical circumstance." There were obviously men working on railroads back in the 1800s, and steam drills were eventually introduced as a way to speed up labor and reduce costs. More than likely, the rail workers disapproved of a machine taking their jobs, though it's unproven if anybody actually attempted to work faster than one.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

It's Friday the 13th —Does it make you stop and think?

Triskaidekaphobia:  Fear of the number thirteen.

Paraskevidekatriaphobia:  Fear of Friday the 13th.

An obviously irrational concept that a mere number can bring bad luck to someone.  Or that a specific day of the week can be unlucky.  But that doesn't stop us from dwelling on the possibility.

This coming Friday is Friday the 13th.  The tradition of Friday being a day of bad luck dates back centuries with some of the more common theories linking it to significant events in the Bible believed to have taken place on Friday such as the Crucifixion of Christ, Eve offering Adam the apple in the Garden of Eden, the beginning of the great flood.

Many sources for the superstition surrounding the number thirteen and its association with bad luck also derive from Christianity with the Last Supper being cited as the origin.  Judas was the thirteenth person to be seated at the table.

And when you put the two bad luck symbols together you get Friday the 13th—the day associated with misfortune.

One legend of the origin of Friday the 13th as unlucky comes from the persecution of the Knights Templar. Philip IV of France borrowed enormous sums of money from the very wealthy Templars to finance a war with England. An ineffectual king and an even worse military commander, Philip was easily defeated. He saw a way of both currying favor with the Pope and eliminating his huge debt. On that fateful day of Friday, October 13, 1307, he ordered all Templars arrested and their property seized. Jacques DeMolay, the Grandmaster of the order, was thrown in prison along with several other high-ranking members of the order. The Knights Templar, which had dominated medieval life for two centuries, were no more. Unfortunately for Philip, the Templars had learned of his planned treachery before hand. Many of them escaped and their vast stores of treasure were hidden from the King's soldiers. Jacques DeMolay was burned alive after being tortured when he refused to admit to any wrongdoing. Another legend that has also persisted is that Jacques DeMolay cursed both Philip IV and Pope Clement V, as he died. Philip and Clement died within months of DeMolay's death.

Superstition is a belief or notion not based on reason or knowledge.  An irrational belief.  Lots of superstitions came into being during the Dark Ages, a time when living conditions were so severe that people reached out to anything that might bring them help and solace with the results being explanations for what seemed unexplainable at the time.  Religious beliefs and lack of scientific knowledge helped to spawn many superstitions.

Superstitions differ from culture to culture, but we all have them even if it's only paying surface homage to the concept.  We don't believe in the good luck vs. bad luck of chain letters/chain e-mails/texts, yet it often comes down to saying what's the harm, then sending them on to avoid breaking the chain.

We often follow the tradition of the superstition without really knowing why it's the traditional thing to do.  If we blow out all the candles on our birthday cake with one breath while making a silent wish, then the wish will come true.  When expressing a desire for good luck (we'll be able to go on the picnic if it doesn't rain), we grin, then we knock on wood as we emit an embarrassed chuckle.

In Western folklore, many superstitions are associated with bad luck.  In addition to Friday the 13th, there's walking under a ladder, having a black cat cross your path, spilling salt, stepping on a crack, and breaking a mirror among others.

In addition to cultural superstitions, there's also certain occupations that evoke various rituals to bring on good luck.  It seems to me that gamblers and sports figures have the most superstitions and rituals to insure good luck.

Do you have any superstitions that you hold dear?  Are they more of a traditional situation handed down through your family or are they superstitions that have come down through history?

And I'm sure there won't be any unpleasantries or bizarre accidents on Friday the 13th this month. (knock on wood).

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Weird August Holidays

Every month has its collection of strange, weird, and obscure holidays, sometimes more than one per day, many of which are unknown to the general public. And, needless to say, holidays that are not government recognized—days where the schools, banks, government offices, and post office are not closed. But still holidays to be celebrated and enjoyed in their own quirky fashion.

Let's start with month long celebrations.  For August you have:  Admit You're Happy Month, Family Fun Month, National Catfish Month, National Eye Exam Month, National Golf Month [I'd better make sure my brother knows about this one], Peach Month, Romance Awareness Month, Water Quality Month, and National Picnic Month.

And then there are the week long celebrations. The first week of August is National Simplify Your Life Week. The second week of the month is National Smile Week. The third week is Friendship Week. And the fourth week is Be Kind To Humankind Week.

And the daily celebrations:  I found it interesting that 10 of the 31 days in August had holidays connected to food [are we seeing an ongoing theme here?]. Some of the dates had more than one holiday attached to them.

August 1)  National Raspberry Cream Pie Day

August 1)  Friendship Day (the first Sunday in August)

August 1)  International Forgiveness Day (first Sunday in August)

August 1)  Sisters Day (first Sunday in August)

August 2)  National Ice Cream Sandwich Day

August 3)  National Watermelon Day

August 4)  U.S. Coast Guard Day

August 5)  Work Like A Dog Day

August 6)  Wiggle Your Toes Day

August 7)  National Lighthouse Day

August 7)  National Mustard Day (the first Saturday in August)

August 8)  Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day

            Apparently zucchini is one of the most prolific plants with a single plant producing what seems to be an endless supply of zucchini. By the time August arrives, home gardeners have far more zucchini than they can possibly use. After giving away as much as they can to family and friends, desperate growers seek desperate measures to rid themselves of the overflow. And that gives us the name of the holiday…sneak some zucchini onto your neighbor's porch day.

August 9)  Book Lover's Day

            Book Lover's Day encourages you to find a comfortable place, relax, and enjoy a good book. If you happen to fall asleep in that gently swaying hammock while reading, that's perfectly okay. There is some disagreement about when this holiday is celebrated. August 9th is the most widely accepted date. Some celebrate it on the first Saturday in November. My suggestion? Celebrate both days.

August 10)  Lazy Day

August 10)  National S'mores Day

August 11)  Presidential Joke Day

August 12)  Middle Child's Day

August 13)  Left Hander's Day

August 14)  National Creamsicle Day

August 14/15)  V-J Day (end of World War II)

August 15)  Relaxation Day

            For people with a hectic lifestyle, this is the day to kick back and do nothing…just relax. Take a break from your busy work and personal schedule. If something stresses you out, this is the day to ignore it.

August 16)  National Tell A Joke Day

August 17)  National Thrift Shop Day

August 18)  Bad Poetry Day

August 19)  Aviation Day

August 20)  National Radio Day

August 21)  Senior Citizen's Day

August 22)  Be An Angel Day

August 22)  National Tooth Fairy Day (and/or February 28)

August 23)  Ride The Wind Day

            This is a carefree day, a time to soar above the earth. Catch a ride on the breeze or float like a cloud. Summer will soon be over. Take advantage of this day to relax and leave your worries behind. Fly a kite. Enjoy the final days of summer.

August 24)  Vesuvius Day

August 25)  Kiss And Make Up Day

August 26)  National Dog Day

August 26)  Women's Equality Day

August 27)  Global Forgiveness Day

August 27)  Just Because Day

August 28)  Race Your Mouse Day [but in today's world are we talking rodent or computer?]

August 29)  More Herbs, Less Salt Day

August 30)  Frankenstein Day

            There are 3 versions of this day. This one is in honor of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, who was born August 30, 1797. There is also Frankenstein Friday and National Frankenstein Day, both celebrated in October. Confused? Celebrate all 3 days.

August 30)  Toasted Marshmallow Day

August 31)  National Trail Mix Day