Saturday, November 10, 2018

Eagle Vs. Turkey: America's National Symbol

We all know that the bald eagle is America's National Symbol…a proud and majestic bird.  And turkey is what we serve every year at Thanksgiving dinner…a tasty bird made all the more appetizing when accompanied by dressing, cranberries, mashed potatoes and gravy.

But did you know that if Benjamin Franklin had gotten his way, the turkey would have been our national symbol?

In 1776, right after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress appointed a special committee to select a design for an official national seal.  This committee consisted of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin.  They each had their own ideas, none of which included the bald eagle.  They finally came to agreement on a drawing of a woman holding a shield to represent the states.  However, the design did nothing to inspire the members of Congress.

So Congress consulted a Philadelphia artist named William Barton who created a new design that included a golden eagle.  At the time we were still at war with England and the fierce looking bird was deemed an appropriate symbol…with one small change.  The golden eagle also flew over Europe so the federal lawmakers declared that the bird in the seal had to be an American bald eagle.

On June 20, 1782, they approved the design that we recognize today.

From the start, the eagle had been a controversial choice.  Benjamin Franklin was quite vocal in his objection to the selection of the eagle.  He considered it a bird of "bad moral character."  A year after the Treaty of Paris officially ended the war with Great Britain, Franklin argued that the turkey would have been a more appropriate symbol.  "A much more respected bird and a true native of America."

Unfortunately for Franklin, Congress was not convinced and the bald eagle remained our national symbol.

Whereas both the bald eagle and the turkey are native to America, we can't lay exclusive claim to either species since both traditionally ranged in Canada and Mexico as well as the U.S.

And all of this leads us to one important question.  If the turkey had been chosen as our national symbol, what would we serve as our traditional Thanksgiving dinner?  Somehow roast eagle just doesn't have the same appeal as the turkey.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

November's Bizarre and Unique Holidays

November is a month with a couple of legal holidays in the U.S., specifically Veteran's Day on November 11 and Thanksgiving on November 22 this year (4th Thursday in November)  There are other recognized days such as All Saint's Day (November 1) and All Soul's Day (November 2).  And with a tip of the hat to our British cousins, Guy Fawkes Day (November 5).

The entire month of November is:  Aviation History month, Child Safety Protection month, International Drum month, National Adoption Awareness month, National Epilepsy month, National Model Railroad month, National Novel Writing month, Native American Heritage month, Peanut Butter Lovers month, Real Jewelry month, and National Sleep Comfort month.  There's also Chemistry Week (first week of the month) and Game & Puzzle week (third week of the month).

But that's only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.  November, just like all the other months, is filled with bizarre and unique holidays.  I hope you enjoy these November offerings.

November 1:
All Saint's Day

November 2:
All Soul's Day
Book Lovers Day—this is celebrated either August 9th or the first Saturday in November.  Book Lovers Day, as the name implies, encourages us to find a place to relax with a good book.  Not only is reading a great hobby, it's an important one.  Reading is educational, informative, and relaxing.
Deviled Egg Day
Look For Circles Day

November 3:
Housewife's Day
Sandwich Day

November 4:
King Tut Day—this celebrates the date of the discovery of King Tutankhamen's Tomb on November 4, 1922, in Egypt's Valley of Kings.  King Tut became King of Egypt in 1333 B.C. at the age of 9 and ruled until 1324 B.C. when he died at age 19.  The cause of his death is uncertain with murder and innocent accident being the two main theories.

November 5:
Gunpowder Day
Guy Fawkes Day (goes hand-in-hand with Gunpowder Day)

November 6:
Election Day—mid term elections for both federal and state. Many heated election races this year.
Marooned Without A Compass Day—do you often find yourself going around in circles?  Do you feel hopelessly lost?  Which direction will your life take?  Being marooned without a compass for a day could be a good thing.  Our busy lifestyles seldom leave us time to relax.  We can enjoy being marooned…until tomorrow.
Saxophone Day

November 7:
Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day

November 8:
Cook Something Bold Day
Dunce Day

November 9:
Chaos Never Dies Day—this day recognizes the turmoil in everyday life.  Just when your hectic surroundings seem to calm down at work and home, along comes something to disrupt your life.  Disorder is everywhere.  This holiday is designed for you.  Pick one thing that is really disrupting your life and change it for the good.

November 10:
Forget-Me-Not Day

November 11:
Veteran's Day

November 12:
Chicken Soup For The Soul Day
Young Readers Day

November 13:
National Indian Pudding Day
Sadie Hawkins Day—originated from a 1930s comic strip, Al Capp's Lil Abner.  In the strip, the mayor of Dogpatch desperately wants to marry off his ugly daughter, so he creates the Sadie Hawkins Day race where all the single men are given a short head start then all the single women chase them.  If a girl catches a man, then he has to marry her.  The Sadie Hawkins Day celebration basically ended 40 years later when Al Capp died and the comic strip was discontinued, however it can occasionally still be seen celebrated on some college campuses.
World Kindness Day—the day encourages us to be kind to others, helping to create a nicer, better world.  The holiday is intended to build a kinder and more compassionate world.  Kindness rubs off on others and generates even more kindness.

November 14:
Operating Room Nurse Day

November 15:
Clean Your Refrigerator Day
America Recycles Day
National Philanthropy Day

November 16:
Button Day
Have A Party With Your Bear Day—is your teddy bear a real party animal?  Hopefully so because today is the day you get to party.  Invite all your teddy bears and your friends and have them invite their teddy bears for a fun day.

November 17:
Electronic Greeting Card Day
Homemade Bread Day
Take A Hike Day
World Peace Day—encourages us to be kind to others and teach others to be peaceful.  The creator of this holiday believes world peace starts with individuals and if we all do our part to promote peach we can make war and strife obsolete.

November 18:
Occult Day—this is a mysterious day, something outside the realm of the normal and natural world.  Lots of words can be used to describe the occult…concealed, secret, hidden, mysterious, unnatural.  Astrology and alchemy also could belong.  Many secret groups are occult.  Celebrate this day by not sitting back and waiting for something to happen.  Have fun with it.

November 19:
Have A Bad Day Day

November 20:
Absurdity Day—is…well…absurd!  Some days are illogical and senseless which is exactly the definition of Absurdity Day.  Celebrate this day in an absurd manner, have fun with it.
Beautiful Day
Universal Children's Day

November 21:
False Confession Day
Great American Smokeout
World Hello Day

November 22:
Go For A Ride Day

November 23:
Eat A Cranberry Day
National Cashew Day
National Adoption Day
Black Friday—shopping day

November 24:
Evolution Day—Today is the anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's book, On the Origin of Species, in 1859. His controversial theory turned the world upside down in its thinking of how we came to be.

November 25:
National Parfait Day

November 26:
Shopping Reminder Day

November 27:
Pins And Needles Day

November 28:
Make Your Own Head Day
Red Planet Day—honors the fourth planet from the sun…Mars.  On this day, take a few minutes to look up into the sky and gaze at our celestial neighbor.  This day commemorates the launch of the Spacecraft Mariner 4 on November 28, 1964.

November 29:
Buy Nothing Day
Square Dance Day
You're Welcome Day

November 30:
Stay At Home Because You Are Well Day—this is the day to stay home from work because you feel well, taking an unofficial day off to enjoy yourself. Warning…doing this might get you in trouble, possibly even costing you your job.

So…there you have it.  The bizarre and unique holidays of November.  Pick the ones you like, or celebrate all of them!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Horror Movies For Halloween

What has happened to the scary horror movies from the past that traded on the atmosphere of fear rather than the visual of spurting blood and flying body parts?  The tingling sensation that made the hair stand on the back of our necks and goose bumps on our arms as our imaginations ran wild.  The spooky ground fog that slithered over and around the tombstones, cloaking the cemetery in an eerie silence and spectral glow.

I'm talking about the traditional horror classics from decades gone by such as Frankenstein from 1931 with Boris Karloff's brilliant performance as the monster.  Also from 1931, Dracula with Bela Lugosi's portrayal of the vampire as both elegant and mesmerizing which left the horror to the imagination of the viewer.  The next year gave us 1932's The Mummy with Boris Karloff once again turning in a stellar performance, this time as the two thousand year old mummy in search of the reincarnation of his mate.  Then came 1941's The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney, Jr., as the stricken and cursed Larry Talbot.

True to Hollywood tradition, these classic horror movies spawned numerous sequels—Bride of Frankenstein, House of Frankenstein, Ghost of Frankenstein, Dracula's Daughter.  And as long as Hollywood was on a roll, they added to the profit factor by capitalizing on the popularity of the characters by having them co-star in such movies as Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man.  Then there were the myriad remakes that came over the ensuing years, some serious attempts and others totally ludicrous.  Each one pushed the envelope in its own way in order to hopefully make it better (as in more box office dollars) than its predecessor.

And the award for the most remakes over the years goes to Dracula.  Some were serious films and others were more on the ridiculous side with titles such as Dracula's Dog.

With all four of the above mentioned original movies, the remakes never really captured the essence of the originals…in my humble opinion.

But these classic horror movies have done more than provide us with entertainment.  They have given us some valuable lessons for handling real life as well as those evil things lurking in the shadows.

Here are 9 important lessons Halloween season horror movies have taught us.

9)  When it appears that you have killed the monster, NEVER check to see if it's really dead.

8)  If your companions suddenly begin to exhibit uncharacteristic behavior such as hissing, fascination with blood, glowing eyes, or increasing hairiness, get away from them as fast as possible.

7)  Do not search the basement when the power has just gone out especially if it was NOT knocked out as the result of a storm or if yours is the only house on the block without power.

6)  If appliances start operating by themselves, move out.

5)  Stay away from certain geographic locations such as: Amityville, Elm Street, Transylvania, Nilbog, the Bermuda Triangle…or any small town in Maine.

4)  If your children speak to you in any language which they should not know or if they speak to you using a voice which is not their own, be afraid…be very afraid.

3)  When you have the benefit of numbers, NEVER pair off (are you listening to this advice Scooby Doo gang?) or worse yet go it alone when searching the spooky old mansion for the source of the strange noises.

2)  As a general rule, don't solve puzzles that open portals to hell.

And last, but not least…

1)  If you find a town that looks mysteriously deserted, there's probably a good reason for it.  Take the hint and stay away!

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Haunted Houses Are Big Business, Part 2 of 2 (Professional Haunted Attractions)

Last week I talked about the history of haunted houses as staged events and ended with some Halloween facts.  This week I'm talking about the big business of professional haunted house attractions.

In the U.S., there are approximately 4,500 professional haunted house attractions opened to the public during the Halloween season—300 theme parks that operate a seasonal haunted house venue, 1200 large-scale haunted houses, and 3000 such attractions operated by and/or for charity organizations as fund raisers.  And, of course, Disneyland in California and Disney World in Florida have the year round Haunted Mansion ride.

What is America's oldest and largest commercial Halloween haunt?  That honor belongs to the Knott's Berry Farm theme park in Orange County, just south of Los Angeles, California.  Or as it's known this time of year—Knott's Scary Farm.  It's the world's first Halloween theme park event, the largest Halloween theme park event, and the largest special event in the amusement park industry.  The park makes it clear that the event is not recommended for children under thirteen years old.

It should be no surprise that many of the professional haunted houses/scare attractions have an organization of their own.  Many of the most famous haunted house attractions in the U.S. have formed America Haunts.  They even hold a national convention every summer.  The attractions that belong to America Haunts are as diverse as the people who operate them.  These attractions have been consistently reviewed and are rated as excellent by scores of media sources and considered safe, fun, and an extremely scary show for horror and haunted house fans.  These are amazingly detailed, cutting edge attractions that rival many Hollywood horror movie effects.  Definitely not for the faint-hearted.

The many America Haunts attractions [located across the country from San Diego, California, on the Pacific coast, to Baltimore, Maryland, on the Atlantic coast], annually draw in millions of brave souls during the Halloween season.  The haunted house industry, like most other industries, has its own trade shows, experts, consultants, suppliers, magazines, associations, education seminars, gatherings, and events.  Haunted attraction owners annually spend millions of dollars with haunted house vendors for supplies such as fog machines, animatronic monsters, lighting equipment, and costumes and masks.  In recent years, the overseas market has provided the biggest growth in business for the haunted house vendors of supplies.

The Otis Elevator Company estimates that 85% of the buildings with their elevators do not have a named 13th floor, with that actual floor being given the number 14.  Some businesses don't want to be associated with the stigma attached to the number 13 as being unlucky.  Some don't want to take a chance on losing customers/clients due to them having an aversion to the number 13.  And that probably explains the basic reason for the name of one of the largest haunted house attractions in the U.S.—The 13th Floor Haunted House in Denver, Colorado.

In the 1940s, the building that houses The 13th Floor Haunted House operated briefly as a hotel located across the street from the Sunset train station.  A group of children arrived at the station on their way to their destination south of Denver.  The weather had turned bad, so the bus driver taking them from the station to their final destination decided it would be better to wait until morning to complete their journey.  They checked into the hotel across the street and in the morning continued on their way.  The school bus became stalled on the tracks just south of town and was struck by a train, killing 10 of the children.  Legend has it that those children continue to haunt the hotel, protecting others from a similar fate.

Several of the large, professional attractions, such as The 13th Floor Haunted House, offer more than one venue as part of a specific location.  Each of the venues has a different theme.  And some of the attractions have both indoor and outdoor fright areas.

One such outdoor attraction is Hundred Acres Manor in Pittsburgh.  The attraction boasts 6 haunted attractions for 1 price.

Another outside offering is The Haunted Trail in Balboa Park, in San Diego, California.  It's a mile long trail through a twisted grove of pines and gnarled oaks.  This year, Horror Icons are a big attraction at the Haunted Trail—Freddy, Michael Myers, and The Nun. It’s Friday the 13th every night with Jason who has pitched a tent at Camp Crystal Lake. When you follow the red balloon, ”IT” will lead you to PennyWise the Dancing Clown. The Ghoul Bus has made an unplanned stop in Derry, Maine and Georgie is trapped inside. Enter the upside down world through the Stranger Things house, and get snowed on at the Island of Misfit Toys.  The Haunted Trail also offers the 3500 sq. ft. haunted maze

And this barely scratches the surface of what the large, professional Haunted House attractions have to offer those looking for the ultimate scare.  So…have a happy, sane, and safe Halloween.

And be sure to watch your back or you, too, could become one of the ghouls who haunt the land every Halloween!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Haunted Houses Are Big Business, Part 1 (history of haunted houses) of 2 (professional haunted houses)

This week and next week in my Halloween season series of blogs, I'm doing a two-part blog about haunted houses. This week covers the history of haunted houses plus some miscellaneous facts.

I remember when I was a child in West Los Angeles.  We had a very large garage and one year my mother and father fixed it up like a haunted house for my Halloween party—a winding, twisty route through all kinds of scary things.  It was a lot of fun and totally different from anything anyone else in the neighborhood did for Halloween.  Of course, back in those days scary things were not at all the same type of bloody gruesome attractions that are the main features of today's professional Halloween attractions.

Halloween attractions have moved far beyond the neighborhood scare as a fun encounter for the trick-or-treaters.  Today they are big business—very big business.  Operators of the large attractions spend most of the year coming up with new and better ideas for frightening attractions and implementing them.  They take pleasure in dreaming up even more diabolical ways of giving us the seasonal nightmares.

This week, let's talk about the history of haunted houses and some Halloween facts.  Just in the United States, there are over 1200 professional haunted houses, 300 theme parks that operate horror-themed annual Halloween events and over 3000 charity-run spooky Halloween attractions.  Haunted attractions have a long history dating back to early civilizations.

Ancient Times:
The Egyptians knew that the best way to keep body snatchers away from a pyramid was to really scare them away.  The commonly used mazes, moving walls, self-opening doors, and traps as well as snakes and insects protected treasure and the bodies of royalty.  True, they weren't charging admission and the public wasn't lined up waiting to get inside, but it is an early example of creating a setting to produce fear.

The Greeks and Romans have a folklore complete with mazes and labyrinths filled with monsters.  With theater being a vital part of their culture, we can assume they created numerous special effects devices to enhance the scare factor that would evolve into today's haunted house elements.

The Dark Ages:
This period in history saw the Christians continue the evolution toward today's haunted house attraction. During the 1300s through the 1500s, Europe had been converted from Celtic and pagan religions to the practice of Christianity.  Many of today's Halloween activities—carving pumpkins, bobbing for apples, dressing up in costumes and even trick-or-treating—were pagan practices that stayed with us.

The Renaissance:
Theater became increasingly popular and catered to society's love of horror which resulted in the development of more special effects.  Ghosts, demons, the devil, and other monsters appeared regularly in plays including those of William Shakespeare.

The 1800s:
This was a time when the general population became fascinated with ghosts and the possibility of other realms.  Self-proclaimed mediums, fortune tellers, clairvoyants, and spiritualists engaged in conjuring sessions in an attempt to communicate with the dead which became a form of entertainment for the elite.  The theme of hauntings continued in the theater and the century provided the first wax museum, the forerunner of future walk-through attractions that played on people's sense of reality.

The 1900s:
The start of the 20th century saw the increased popularity of the traveling carnival and the rise of the what was referred to as a freak show.  Dark rides also became popular amusements.  The patrons sat in a boat or on a train and were automatically moved through numerous scenes.  Amusement parks came into popularity during this time.  Those that could not afford a big roller coaster offered cheap fun houses and haunted house attractions to pull in customers.

Also during this time, many of the residential houses built during the early 1800s had become dilapidated and worn down.  Adults would tell their children that ghosts filled the neglected homes in an attempt to keep them from exploring those structures.  This further fueled the mystique of haunted houses.

The 1960s:
In 1969, Disneyland (Anaheim, California) opened its Haunted Mansion attraction.  Rather than putting a genuine decrepit-looking structure in the middle of Disneyland, they created a lavish mansion with a pristine exterior based on the appearance of the San Jose, California, Winchester House.  It was originally a walk-through attraction but was soon changed over to a ride.

The 1970s:
Non-profit organizations began to use abandoned buildings and fields to put up haunted houses to raise money for charity.

The 1980s:
This was the decade when horror movies grew in popularity and so did haunted houses.  Most amusement parks had a scary attraction of some sort.

The 1990s to present:
Haunts are everywhere—haunted hayrides, mazes, and scavenger hunts.  They've become so popular that haunts are here to stay with the industry constantly evolving with new and more terrifying attractions. 

Halloween Frightening and Fun Facts:
Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday in the U.S.

Approximately 100 countries celebrate Halloween.

Over 7 billion dollars are spent annually on candy, costumes and activities in just the U.S.

Approximately 90% of all households with children will participate in some sort of Halloween activity.

Over 80% of all haunted attractions in the U.S. are operated by a charity or help to benefit a charity of some sort.

Check back next week for Part 2 of my Haunted Houses blog--Professional Haunted Houses.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Top 5 Most Haunted Roads In The World

It seems that almost every country has a list of haunted roads, haunted towns, haunted houses/castles, and anything else that can be put into the category of a haunted something, with one or more entities attributed to the paranormal/supernatural condition.

I recently came across a haunted road list that claimed to be the top 5 in the world and I'd like to share that with you. I do not agree with this list. I've read about roads purported to be considerably more haunted than most of these.

5)  Belchen Tunnel, Switzerland:
It's claimed that the ghost of an old lady haunts this Swiss road. There was one specific report that said two women picked her up and she warned them that something dreadful was going to happen. Then she disappeared.

4)  Stocksbridge Road, UK:
This is also known as the Killer Road and has been home to many ghostly sightings. One report said some security guards witnessed children playing on the road late one night, but they disappeared before the guards could reach them. Numerous reports have been made of the ghost of a monk appearing on the road's bridge.

 3)  Highway 666, USA:
Travelers on this haunted American highway (known as the Devil's Highway) have reported speeding ghost cars, packs of devil dogs, and a flaming demonic semi-truck that drives directly at the spooked travelers. Many people attribute these sightings to a biblical association between the numbers 666 and Satan. In 2003, the highway number was changed to Highway 491. There are still a few places where you can see the highway 666 sign (labeled as old) next to the Highway 491 sign (labeled as new).

2)  Tuen Mun Road, Hong Kong:
Local residents blame the high number of accidents along this road on the sudden appearance of ghosts in the middle of the road. It's claimed that a person suddenly appears, forcing the driver to swerve and crash. They say with every new car fatality that another ghost will haunt the road.

1)  Clinton Road, New Jersey USA:
If you find yourself on this haunted road, be sure to toss a coin into the river at the Old Boy Bridge. The ghost of a boy who drowned will throw it back. There have also been reported sightings of UFOs, mutated circus animals, and mysterious glowing eyes.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival

With Halloween only a month away, I thought I'd start a series of blogs representing the spirit of the holiday.

According to Chinese legend, hungry and restless ghosts roam the world to visit their living descendants.

Traditional Chinese belief has the seventh month of the lunar year reserved for the Hungry Ghost festival (Yu Lan). For 2018, the festival started on August 25th. Next year it starts on August 15, 2019. This is a boisterous celebration of feasts and music. According to Chinese folklore, the ghosts who wander the physical world are ravenous and envious after dying without descendants or because they are not honored by relatives who are still alive.

Because the hungry spirits need to be appeased, prayers and incense are offered to deceased relatives. Fake currency, known as hell money, along with paper copies of material wealth are burned. The ghosts then use them when they return to the underworld.

Neighborhoods hold nightly shows of Chinese operas and pop concerts. The front row of seats remain empty because they are reserved for the ghosts. These shows are accompanied by extravagant feasts. On the 15th day of the lunar month, families offer cooked food to the ghosts with the hope that the spirits will help them find good jobs, get good grades, or even win the lottery.

Tradition holds that there are 14 things you should not do during the Hungry Ghost Festival month:

1)      Don't stay out late at night, spirits might follow you home
2)      Don't stab your chopsticks on your bowl of rice, it resembles the joss sticks offerings to the dead
3)      Don't take photos at night, they might capture things you don't want to see
4)      Don't celebrate your birthday at night
5)      Don't open an umbrella, especially a red one, in the house
6)      Avoid working late during this month
7)      Don't cover your forehead
8)      Don't play games that can attract spirits such as Ouija Board
9)      Don't wait at a bus stop after midnight
10)    Don't use black or a dark color nail polish, the spirits might think you are one of them
11)    Don't enter a cemetery or abandoned house
12)    Don't spit or blow your nose in public or at a tree/plant
13)    Don't lean against the wall, spirits like to stick on walls because they're cooler
14)    Don't turn your head around if someone pats you on the shoulder

Next week in my spirit of the holiday series, I'll be posting a blog about the 5 Most Haunted Roads In The World.