Saturday, January 16, 2021

12 Offbeat American Museums

Museums…we've all been to them whether in our home town or on our travels. And there are all types of museums housing and displaying treasures depicting so many different themes. There are art museums presenting all types of art from the paintings of the old masters to modern art and all varieties in between, museums dedicated to specific historical events and times, living history museums including live demonstrations and presenters in period costumes, museums of cultural relevance, and museums such as those of the Smithsonian that cover just about everything from fossils millions of years old to space travel.

I came across a couple of lists for offbeat and weird museum that I've combined into one list of 12 offbeat museums, presented here in no particular order. I checked and all of these have valid websites.

Tenement Museum

Located in the heart of New York City's Lower East Side, the Tenement Museum pays homage to New York's immigrants. It traces the history of a single tenement building constructed in 1863 and located at 97 Orchard Street. From the outside it doesn't look any different from any other building in the area, but inside is the story of the waves of immigrants arriving in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries. The building was condemned in 1935, which is where the museum's focus ends.

National Museum of Funeral History

This Houston, Texas, museum was founded in 1992 and claims that "any day above ground is a good one." The museum's mission is to preserve the heritage of the funeral industry. They offer exhibits such as a full-scale replica of Pope John Paul II's crypt, a 1900s casket factory, and a Civil War embalming diorama.

Leila's Hair Museum

This Independence, Missouri, museum is dedicated to…you guessed it…hair. According to the museum, in Victorian times it was popular to make wreaths, jewelry and other ornamentations out of human hair and Leila's Hair Museum keeps the tradition alive. Visitors can see many wreaths and over 2000 pieces of jewelry containing or made of human hair that dates back before 1900.

Mutter Museum

This Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, museum is probably the best known of those on this list. I've seen it in show segments in the Mysteries At The Museum series on the Travel Channel. It's a museum of medical oddities and specimens such as Grover Cleveland's tumor, a conjoined liver from Siamese twins, a slide of a murderer's brain, a woman who turned to wax after death.

SPAM Museum

And I'm not talking about unwanted email. This Austin, Minnesota, museum is dedicated to SPAM, often heralded as America's favorite canned meat. The Hormel company created SPAM in 1937. Museum visitors can practice canning SPAM and brush up on SPAM trivia including its role in World War II.

The Museum Of Bad Art

Good art can be found anywhere, but bad art? That's a whole different thing. This museum, founded in 1993, has three Massachusetts locations—Dedham, Somerville, and Brookline and is "dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition, and celebration of bad art in all its forms and in all its glory."

Devil's Rope Museum

This McLean, Texas, museum was founded in 1991 and is the largest barbed wire museum in the world. Appropriately nicknamed devil's rope, the barbed wire museum gives the history of barbed wire, shows artifacts, the significance of the invention, and the impact on the development of the Old West.

The National Museum of Crime and Punishment

Located in Washington D.C. and opened in 2008, the museum contains artifacts and interactive exhibits including an FBI shooting range, high speed police chase simulator, and various forensics techniques. There are also historical exhibits, forensics workshops, and CSI summer camps for teens.

There are several museums dedicated to this topic. Our fascination with crime and forensics is obvious. Just check out the number of television shows—both entertainment programs and documentaries—that deal with solving crime using forensics, all the cold cases that have been solved, and wrongly convicted people released from prison since DNA testing became part of our reality.

Spark Museum Of Electrical Invention

Located in Bellingham, Washington, the museum has been around in various stages since 1985 and moved to its current home in 2001. You'll find lots of gadgets and complicated objects that look like they came out of a steam punk scenario but in reality changed the course of history and modern life, items paying tribute to Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Enrico Marconi and Nikola Tesla.

Their website currently shows the museum as temporarily closed.

The Neon Museum

Located in Las Vegas, Nevada, the museum houses the neon signs no longer being used by casinos, chapels, restaurants, and other businesses. Vegas' iconic art used to be sent to the scrap yard. In 1996, the non-profit Neon Museum began preserving the city's legacy in a three acre lot referred to as Neon Boneyard. The museum has assembled an outdoor gallery along the east end of Fremont Street and is available free to the public 24 hours a day.

American Visionary Art Museum

Located in Baltimore, Maryland, this innovative museum houses such oddities as an enormous ball made out of more than 18,000 bras, a replica of the ill-fated Lusitania constructed of nearly 200,000 toothpicks, a floor mat created out of hundreds of toothbrushes, an extensive Pez collection, and sculptures made from Styrofoam cups. In the spring the museum hosts the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race where entrants create wacky sculptures that travel on both land and sea.

The International UFO Museum And Research Center

Located in Roswell, New Mexico (where else?), it is the result of the famous (or infamous) UFO crash in Roswell in 1947. At first identified as a UFO by the Air Force, they quickly recanted and declared it a downed weather balloon thus beginning decades of cover-up accusations. The furor finally died down until 1978 when a UFO researcher started interviewing locals who claimed to have seen the debris and said it was part of an extraterrestrial craft. From that, the stories expanded and Roswell became the world's most famous UFO crash.

Have you come across any odd or unusual museums in your travels?

Saturday, January 9, 2021

10 Little Known Wars

For every major war that fills our history books and newspapers—the Revolutionary War of the American colonists vs. England, American Civil War with the North vs. the South, World War I, World War II, what were termed police actions such as Korea and Viet Nam (war by any other name), and the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991, a United Nations action) leading up to the current armed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan—there are dozens of small wars that don't receive any attention in history class.  Some of them were ludicrous and others were very serious.

Here's a list of 10 wars (in no particular order) that you probably never heard about.

1)  The Pig War

This little known conflict dates back to 1859 and had the potential to change the course of American history.  And it all started over a pig.  Both America and Britain claimed possession of and resided on San Juan Island off the coast of Washington state.  The two countries maintained an uneasy truce…until an American farmer shot a British pig he discovered tearing up his potato patch.  This action resulted in the British trying to arrest the farmer who called in the American troops in support of his position.  The two countries squared off on the tiny island.  The British Navy sent 3 warships and over 2,000 men.  The Americans responded with military force of their own.  No shots were fired (beyond the original shot that killed the pig).  San Juan Island was eventually ceded to the Americans as part of the San Juan Islands group.

2)  The Stray Dog War

And speaking of animals being the source of an international conflict, that's also the case with the long-running rivalry between Bulgaria and Greece.  In 1925 a Greek soldier chased his runaway dog across the border and was shot dead by a Bulgarian border guard.  That action set off an immediate retaliation with the Greek army invading the border region of Petrich and routing the Bulgarian army.  The League of Nations ordered Greece to withdraw and pay Bulgaria about $90,000 in damages.

3)  The War Of Jenkins' Ear

There are lots of reasons why wars start, but there's only one known to have started because of a severed ear.  British sea captain Robert Jenkins' boat was boarded by the Spanish in the Caribbean.  The Spanish accused him of piracy and cut off his left ear.  In 1738, Jenkins brought the ear to Parliament and it was enough for Great Britain to declare war on Spain.  After 7 years of conflict, both countries backed off with no major territory changes on either side.

4)  The Moldovan-Transdniestrian War

The breakup of the Soviet Union left several countries looking for something to do and in some cases that something ended up being war.  Moldova had a partisan faction wanting to stay allied with Romania and another wanting to align with Russia.  Nearly a thousand people were killed before hostilities ceased.  The unusual part of the war was the relationship between the soldiers of the opposing sides.  After battling each other during the day, they would socialize in the bars in the disputed zone at night, often apologizing to each other for the events of the day.

5)  The Honey War

In the early days of the United States when the federal government wasn't as strong as it is now, the individual states often became involved in ridiculous squabbles with each other that sometimes escalated into violence.  In 1839, the governor of Missouri decided to redraw his state's border with Iowa because…well, apparently because he felt like it that morning.  And then he sent in his tax collectors to pick up some extra cash from its new citizens.  Needless to say, this didn't go over very well.  The only thing the tax collectors were able to collect consisted of 3 beehives full of honey.  The Missouri militia got into an armed conflict with Iowa citizens who captured a sheriff.  Congress finally drew a permanent border line and told both states to chill out.

6)  Anglo-Zanzibar War

This conflict lasted an awesome 38 minutes making it the world record holder for the shortest war in history.  Khalid vin Bargash, the new Sultan of Zanzibar, came into power in 1896.  He didn't like having his protectorate as a British puppet so he declared war and barricaded himself in the palace.  Less than an hour later, the British had shelled him, removed him from power and installed a new Sultan in his place.

7)  The Football War

This four day war between Honduras and El Salvador was about more than a soccer game.  Hundreds of thousands Salvadorans had been moving to Honduras to find work.  By the late 1970s, tensions between the two countries had reached the breaking point.  The spark that set off the war was the FIFA World Cup qualifying matches between the two countries.  After each had won one game, the Salvadoran Air Force (passenger planes with bombs strapped to them) attacked Honduran targets.  Neither nation could support an extended war, so a cease-fire was negotiated.  They remained bitter enemies for more than a decade.

8)  The Watermelon War

Yet another war that started over a trivial matter and quickly escalated out of control.  The United States occupation of Panama to build the canal displaced much of the nation's white-collar workforce, leaving a great many natives unemployed.  A boat carrying 1,000 American workers landed in Panama City making the matter even worse.  One of those passengers, an American named Jack Oliver, took a piece of watermelon from a Panamanian vendor and refused to pay for it.  The vendor pulled a knife.  Oliver pulled a gun.  And both sides were battling it out with each sustaining casualties.  Eventually a railroad car of riflemen arrived on the scene and brokered a peace.  The brief war, however, laid the groundwork for the later American occupation of Panama.

9)  The Emu War

Unlike earlier mentioned wars started because of animals, this one was a war against animals.  In 1932, Australia found itself overrun by emus, a large flightless bird that looks like an ostrich.  More than 20,000 emus were destroying crops so the government declared all out war on the birds.  They sent soldiers armed with machine guns and orders to shoot emus on sight.  The birds proved to be tougher than estimated and after a week the commanding officer gave up.  They had killed barely 10 percent of their target.

10)  The Chaco War

This was a South American conflict that started over a postage stamp.  The Chaco region is on the border between Bolivia and Paraguay with both countries believing the region was rich in oil (which it wasn't).  Bolivia issued a postage stamp in 1932 featuring a map of their country including the Chaco region.  Not to be outdone, Paraguay struck back by issuing their own stamp with their map including the Chaco region.  Hostilities erupted in the region with both sides buying arms from the U.S. and from Europe.  When it was over, Paraguay was the winner and new owner of a completely useless piece of land.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

9 All Time Unsolved Mysteries

Welcome to 2021. Here's looking at a much better year than 2020 was.

A while back I saw a list titled 9 All Time Unsolved Mysteries.  The items listed…well, some were a surprise that they made an All Time list and I was curious about some that were left off the list.  This list consisted only of places and things with no mention of specific people.  I guess that explains why the mystery of Jack The Ripper's identity (actually, he was identified by a DNA match a few years ago), what happened to Amelia Earhart, and exactly who took that axe and gave Lizzie Borden's parents all those whacks didn't make the list.

Two of the items on the list were new to me—the Chase Vault and the Taos Hum.  I've been to Taos…didn't hear about this mystery and didn't hear the hum.

 So, confusion in hand about what made the list and what didn't, I present—in no particular order—9 All Time Unsolved Mysteries.

9)  ATLANTIS—location unknown

Myth or reality?  The lost continent from ancient times [rather than the current Caribbean resort :) ] is one of the world's favorite legends.  Most of what we know about Atlantis comes from the Greek philosopher Plato who wrote about it approximately 2000 years ago although the story of the ancient civilization places its time at 9000 years prior to that.  He described Atlantis as a huge island where brave and virtuous people…a highly advanced civilization…lived in a kind of paradise.  He placed its location west of the Pillars of Hercules, known today as the Straits of Gibraltar.  The story claims that the physical disappearance of the actual island came as a result of a massive earthquake or volcanic eruption that caused it to sink into the ocean.  To this day debate continues about whether Atlantis was real or myth and people continue to literally search all over the world for the remains of the lost continent with several diverse and wide spread locations declared to be Atlantis.

8)  ANTIKYTHERA MECHANISM—Greece

Discovered in October 1900 in a shipwreck off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera, this machine contains the oldest known complex gear mechanism…sometimes referred to as the world's first analog computer.  It's estimated to have been made in the first century B.C. and appears to have been constructed on theories of astronomy and mathematics.  The device is believed to be made from a bronze alloy of 95% copper and 5% tin, but its advanced state of corrosion from having been in the ocean for almost 2000 years has made it impossible to perform an accurate analysis.  It's precise functions have not been scientifically confirmed.

7)  THE CHASE VAULT—Barbados

This mystery begins in 1808 in Barbados when the wealthy Chase family purchased an 80 year old vault to inter their dead relatives.  At the time they acquired the used vault, it contained only one occupant—Thomasina Goddard.  Col. Thomas Chase made the decision not to disturb Goddard, so she was not moved to another vault.  Shortly after that, young Mary-Anne Maria's body was added to the vault.  Then 4 years after that, the vault was opened to inter her sister's body.  Only a month after that, Col. Thomas himself passed away.  And that's when the legend takes hold.  Coffins had moved, some were standing on end.  Vandals were blamed.  Everything was returned to its original position and the vault once again closed and sealed.  From then on, every time the vault was opened to admit another coffin, the vault's contents would be in disarray, including Col. Thomas' heavy casket which took 8 men to lift.  No seals had been broken, no evidence of illegal entry into the vault, no evidence inside the vault of anyone being there as the sandy floor was undisturbed with no signs of flooding or earthquake.  The Chase family bodies were eventually moved to other burial sites in the cemetery and all incidents stopped.

6)  NAZCA LINES--Peru

The Nazca Lines were discovered by accident when a small airplane flew over the arid Peruvian coastal plains in 1927.  More lines were discovered nearby at the end of the 1980s.  The lines depict animals and geometric forms, many of them several kilometers in length with some of them only recognizable from an airplane.  The most outstanding shapes depict the figures of a spider, monkey, dog, small lizard, hummingbird, condor, and what appears to be an astronaut.  The lines were scratched into the desert between 500 B.C. and 500 A.D.  They are believed to have had ritual astronomical functions.  Others believe they were meant as sign posts for ancient extraterrestrials.  UNESCO named the Nazca Lines an Archaeological World Heritage Site in 1994.

5)  EASTER ISLAND—Chile (South Pacific)

Roughly 64 square miles in area and located in the South Pacific approximately 2,300 miles from Chile, Easter Island was named by Dutch explorers in honor of the day they discovered it in 1722.  It was annexed by Chile in the late 19th century.  The mystery of Easter Island centers around the almost 900 giant stone figures that are centuries old and are distinctive from other stone sculptures found in various Polynesian cultures.  The purpose of the statues, how they were constructed and transported is still a matter of speculation.  Today, Easter Island's economy is based on tourism.

 4)  TUNGUSKA EXPLOSION—Siberia

June 30, 1908, a mighty explosion occurred in this remote area of Siberia.  It was 1927 before a scientific expedition investigated the site.  They found 800 square miles of remote forest ripped apart, 80 million trees on their sides in a radial pattern.  They acted as markers pointing directly away from the blast's epicenter.  When the members of the expedition arrived at ground zero, they found the trees standing upright but all the limbs and bark had been stripped away, resembling a forest of telephone poles.  This phenomenon was seen again 37 years later at another massive explosion in Hiroshima, Japan, at the end of World War II.  More than a century after the Tunguska Explosion there is still debate over the cause, but the generally agreed upon theory is that a space rock approximately 120 feet across entered the atmosphere above Siberia at about 33,500 miles per hour, heated the surrounding air to 44,500 degrees Fahrenheit and self-exploded at an altitude of about 28,000 feet producing a fireball and releasing energy equivalent to 185 Hiroshima atomic bombs.  The majority of the asteroid was consumed by the explosion so there was no impact crater.


3)  PIRI REIS MAP—circa 1513

The Piri Reis Map is often cited as proof that civilization on Earth was once very advanced then for unknown reasons disappeared with man only now gaining any understanding of this mysterious cultural decline.  In addition to the map's historical interest, it contains details that no European could have known in the early 1500s.  The Sumerians in Mesopotamia are the earliest known civilization and appeared on the scene apparently from out of nowhere around 4000 B.C. but had no nautical or maritime cultural heritage.  Piri Reis' own commentary indicates some of his source maps in creating his map were from the time of Alexander The Great (332 B.C.).  The map shows that the makers knew the accurate circumference of the Earth to within 50 miles.  The depicted coastline and island shown in Antarctica are as they were prior to 4000 B.C. when they were ice free.  Debate continues with no clear answers of how Piri Reis could have created such an accurate map at that time.

2)  TAOS HUM—New Mexico

The Taos Hum is a low-pitched mechanical buzzing sound often heard in Taos, New Mexico.  Not everyone can hear it, but those who do say it's driving them crazy.  Apparently it begins suddenly as if someone had turned on a switch, never abates, interferes with their sleep, and is more noticeable inside the house than outside.  In 1993 residents requested that Congress carry out an investigation into the source of the hum, but no specific causes were uncovered.  In 1997, Congress asked various scientists from several elite research institutes to look into it.  So far, no concrete facts have been uncovered to prove exactly what is causing the hum or what it is that allows some people to hear it and others to not hear it.  I've been to Taos and did not hear any hum/mechanical buzzing sound.

1)  SHROUD OF TURIN—Italy

There is intense debate among scientists, theologians, historians, and researchers about the origins of the shroud and its image.  The shroud is housed in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy.  It is a linen cloth showing the image of a man who appears to have suffered physical trauma of the type consistent with crucifixion.  This image is commonly associated with Jesus Christ, his crucifixion and burial.  In 1988 a multi-national scientific group did a radiocarbon dating test on small samples of the shroud and concluded that the samples they tested dated from the Middle Ages, between 1260 A.D. and 1390 A.D.  Since 2005, at least four articles have appeared in scholarly publications stating the cloth samples used were not representative of the whole shroud.  To this day, the shroud continues to be a much studied and controversial artifact.

Are there any unsolved mysteries of place or thing that you think should have been on this list?

Saturday, December 26, 2020

New Year's Resolutions You'll Be Able To Keep…and other miscellaneous end of year stuff

New Year's resolutions have basically become an annual joke.  Every first of January we make resolutions for the upcoming year, and if we're lucky, they remain valid for the rest of the month.

So, this year how about making some resolutions you'll actually be able to keep during 2021?  Here's a list of several such resolutions. 2020 has been a very difficult year. We're all hoping that 2021 will be a better year. I hope you accept these suggestions in the spirit of humor in which they are offered.  If I've offended anyone, I apologize in advance.

1.  Gain Weight.  Let's face it, you already have a start on this one with all the holiday meals, candy, beverages, and snacks starting with Thanksgiving and continuing on through Christmas.

2.  Go Deeper Into Debt.  You probably have a head start on this one, too, from holiday gift shopping.  After all, even buying new things for yourself…well, it was probably stuff you needed and with all the great sales this year who could resist?

3.  Spend More Money.  This goes hand-in-hand with the second item on the list.  Spend it now while you're still physically able to get out to do it.

4.  Don't Get A Better Job.  Since having any job is better than not having one, be happy with status quo.

5.  Whatever Shape You're In Is Fine.  Seriously…round is a perfectly acceptable shape.

6.  Don't Go Back To School.  Look at your current life and time schedule.  Now add a part time college schedule to that plus the cost of tuition (probably the same amount as that new curved 80-inch 3D HDTV home theater with Dolby Surround Sound you bought in item two on the list) and the cost of expensive college textbooks.  Hmmm…a fine bottle of rare vintage wine or a bottle of aged single malt scotch vs. Concepts of Economics Vol. 1.

7.  Drink More Alcohol.  Open that fine bottle of wine or scotch and watch your new 80-inch TV.

8.  Smoke Like A Chimney.  When someone chastises you for putting second hand smoke out there, ask them if they've traded in their gas-guzzling car for a bicycle.

9.  Stay At Home for your vacation.  If, however, you prefer to find toilet paper that's hard enough to scrape paint, really weird television, and even weirder food…then travel out of the country.

And last but not least…

10.  Don't Volunteer!

And now for something completely different (with apologies to Monty Python for stealing…uh, I mean borrowing…their catch phrase).

As a follow up to Christmas, a few words about that much maligned holiday treat, the butt of so many jokes, that humble yet seemingly inedible concoction—fruitcake.

Food historians theorize that fruitcake (any cake in which dried fruits and nuts try to coexist with cake batter) is older than Moses.  Ancient Egyptians entombed fruitcake and Romans carried it into battle, probably for the same reason.  Fruitcake was built to last and it did, well into medieval times.

It was in the 18th century that fruitcake achieved totemic status.  At that time nut-harvesting farmers encased fruits and nuts in a cakelike substance to save for the next harvest as a sort of good luck charm.

And thus the problem.  Any cake that is not meant to be eaten doesn't deserve to be classified as food.

Our love/hate relationship with fruitcake began in the early 20th century when the first mail-order fruitcakes became fashionable gifts.  It ended up as a mass-produced product using barely recognizable fruits and packed into cans as heavy as barbell weights.

And another something different…

While celebrating the arrival of the New Year, there's one thing you should keep in mind—the darker the liquor, the bigger the hangover.  According to a new study that compares the after effects of drinking bourbon vs. vodka, what sounds like an old wives' tale is true…to a point.

Brownish colored spirits such as whiskey and rum contain greater amounts of congeners than clear liquors such as vodka and gin.  And what are congeners, you might ask?  They are substances that occur naturally or are added to alcohol during the production and aging process, many of which are toxic.  They contribute to the alcohol's color, odor, and taste.  They also interfere with cell function, and I'm NOT talking about your mobile phone. :)  And they viciously punish your head and tummy the next morning.  According to the study, bourbon is aged in oak barrels and has thirty-seven times as many congeners as vodka, which is heavily filtered to remove impurities.

Drinking in the study was relatively moderate compared to some New Year's Eve binges.  The average blood-alcohol content of the survey participants was 0.1 percent, somewhere between 0.09 ("mildly intoxicated" and considered legally over the limit in most states), and 0.15 ("visibly drunk" and definitely on your way to jail if you're driving a vehicle).  The study's findings may not translate to your holiday party.

The bottom line, however, is that congeners are not the primary culprit in the dreaded hangover.  The credit goes to the alcohol itself.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Legend of St. Nicholas

Who is that man in red? The man who, every Christmas Eve, brazenly breaks into people's homes, helps himself to cookies and milk, and leaves things behind resulting in a mess of wrapping paper and ribbon for others to clean up the next morning. Reindeer and a heavily laden sleigh can't be good for the roof. Soot from a chimney tracked all over the floor…something else left behind for others to clean.

Yet every year we anxiously anticipate his arrival, track his progress through the skies, and welcome him into our homes.

Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. One of the best known of the St. Nicholas stories is that he saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery or prostitution by their father when he provided them with a dowry so they could be married. Over the course of many years, Nicholas' popularity spread and he became known as the protector of children and sailors. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6. This was traditionally considered a lucky day to make large purchases or to get married. By the Renaissance, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. Even after the Protestant Reformation, when the veneration of saints began to be discouraged, St. Nicholas maintained a positive reputation, especially in Holland.

Sinter Klaas Comes to New York

St. Nicholas made his first inroads into American popular culture towards the end of the 18th century. In December 1773, and again in 1774, a New York newspaper reported that groups of Dutch families had gathered to honor the anniversary of his death.

The name Santa Claus evolved from his Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). In 1804, John Pintard, a member of the New York Historical Society, distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas at the society's annual meeting. The background of the engraving contains now-familiar Santa images including stockings filled with toys and fruit hung over a fireplace. In 1809, Washington Irving helped to popularize the Sinter Klaas stories when he referred to St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York in his book, The History of New York. As his prominence grew, Sinter Klaas was described as everything from a rascal with a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat, and yellow stockings to a man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a "huge pair of Flemish trunk hose."

Shopping Mall Santas

Gift-giving, mainly centered around children, has been an important part of the Christmas celebration since the holiday's rejuvenation in the early 19th century. Stores began to advertise Christmas shopping in 1820, and by the 1840s, newspapers were creating separate sections for holiday advertisements, which often featured images of the newly-popular Santa Claus. In 1841, thousands of children visited a Philadelphia shop to see a life-size Santa Claus model. It was only a matter of time before stores began to attract children, and their parents, with the lure of a peek at a live Santa Claus. In the early 1890s, the Salvation Army needed money to pay for the free Christmas meals they provided to needy families. They began dressing up unemployed men in Santa Claus suits and sending them into the streets of New York to solicit donations. Those familiar Salvation Army Santas have been ringing bells on the street corners of American cities ever since.

A Santa by Any Other Name

18th-century America's Santa Claus was not the only St. Nicholas-inspired gift-giver to make an appearance at Christmastime. Similar figures were popular all over the world. Christkind or Kris Kringle was believed to deliver presents to well-behaved Swiss and German children. Meaning Christ child, Christkind is an angel-like figure often accompanied by St. Nicholas on his holiday missions. In Scandinavia, a jolly elf named Jultomten was thought to deliver gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats. British legend explains that Father Christmas visits each home on Christmas Eve to fill children's stockings with holiday treats. Pere Noel is responsible for filling the shoes of French children. In Russia, it is believed that an elderly woman named Babouschka purposely gave the wise men wrong directions to Bethlehem so that they couldn't find Jesus. Later, she felt remorseful, but could not find the men to undo the damage. To this day, on January 5, Babouschka visits Russian children leaving gifts at their bedsides in the hope that one of them is the baby Jesus and she will be forgiven. In Italy, a similar story exists about a woman called La Befana, a kindly witch who rides a broomstick down the chimneys of Italian homes to deliver toys into the stockings of lucky children.

The Ninth Reindeer

Rudolph, "the most famous reindeer of all," was born over a hundred years after his eight flying counterparts. The red-nosed wonder was the creation of Robert L. May, a copywriter at the Montgomery Ward department store.

In 1939, May wrote a Christmas-themed story-poem to help bring holiday traffic into his store. Using a similar rhyme pattern to Moore's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, May told the story of Rudolph, a young reindeer who was teased by the other deer because of his large, glowing, red nose. But, when Christmas Eve turned foggy and Santa worried that he wouldn't be able to deliver gifts that night, the former outcast saved Christmas by leading the sleigh with the light of his red nose. Rudolph's message—that given the opportunity, a liability can be turned into an asset—proved popular. Montgomery Ward sold almost two and a half million copies of the story in 1939. When it was reissued in 1946, the book sold over three and half million copies. Several years later, one of May's friends, Johnny Marks, wrote a short song based on Rudolph's story (1949). It was recorded by Gene Autry and sold over two million copies. Since then, the story has been translated into 25 languages and been made into a television movie, narrated by Burl Ives, which has charmed audiences since 1964.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

HOPING FOR MORE character interview

HOPING FOR MORE, contemporary romance novella is part of the Deerbourne Inn series from The Wild Rose Press, scheduled for release on Wednesday, December 16, 2020.

Welcome to my blog. My guests today are Wynne Buchanan, assistant librarian in Willow Springs, Vermont, and Dr. Daniel Eugene Stevenson, Jr., professor of history at the University of Vermont in Burlington.  Wynne and Gene—thank you for taking time from your schedules to be with us today.

Wynne:  Thanks, Shawna. It's nice of you to invite us.

Gene:  This is the first interview we've done together.

My first question is, I think, an obvious one. Dr. Stevenson—

Gene:  Please, call me Gene.

And that's my first question. Why Gene when your first name is Daniel?

Gene:  Being a Jr., I chose to go by my middle name of Eugene—Gene—to separate my identity from my father's. He's also Dr. Daniel Eugene Stevenson, only in his case he's a medical doctor rather than a PhD. This was less confusing especially growing up when I was still living with my parents.

Wynne:  I was curious about that, too. I asked him the same question the second time we saw each other.

I understand the two of you met when Gene presented a program at the Willow Springs community center. How did that come about?

Wynne:  In addition to my duties as assistant librarian, I'm also responsible for scheduling the monthly programs at the community center. In the past, there had been numerous arts and crafts demonstrations, photographic exhibitions, and different talks about the local sports scene with emphasis on bicycling and skiing—both downhill and cross country. Even though bicycling and skiing are two of my favorite activities, I was looking for something that would provide more variety in our programs. We have an international best selling author living in Willow Springs who did a presentation about his newest novel focusing on the research he did to give the story authenticity. I decided to branch out and look beyond the local scene.

And that's where Gene entered the picture?

Gene:  Right. I was in my campus office between classes when I got a phone call from this absolutely charming woman wanting me to do a program at their community center. She told me I could talk about whatever I wanted but to keep in mind that it would be a varied audience of all ages. Her enthusiasm was totally infectious. All I could think of was the opportunity to meet this woman in person would be worth the trip to Willow Springs. We worked out a date that fit in with my schedule and everything immediately fell into place. That was a little over four years ago.

Wynne:  Gene's first program at the community center was about a Revolutionary War event that happened close to Willow Springs. His talk was a huge success, partly due to the topic being of local interest and partly because his presentation was both interesting and entertaining. That was on a Friday evening. The feedback was very positive. They all wanted him to come back and do another program. I called him that Monday and invited him to present a program on a regular basis, something that would work with his schedule, and he agreed.

Gene:  I was thrilled to hear from her. I had spent the weekend trying to figure out an excuse to call her, to ask her out…maybe having dinner. (chuckles) The distance between Burlington and Willow Springs, while not all that far, is definitely too far to claim 'I was just in the neighborhood' type of accidental meeting.

Obviously the two of you got together personally, separate from the community center programs. How did that—

Wynne:  I really wanted to see him again. That's why I took the initiative and called him the Monday after his Friday presentation. I wanted to establish an ongoing communication.

Gene:  The rest of it just sort of fell into place naturally. We started seeing each other on a regular basis although it was casual—just friends.

Kind of an opposites attract situation?

Wynne:  Well, I hadn't thought of it like that, but you're right.

Gene:  That's something that was in the back of my mind and as time passed it ended up in the front of my mind. Wynne is very athletic, enjoys all types of sports. I, on the other hand, had never been into sports.

Wynne:  We didn't have any problems finding things to talk about or to do. We'd have dinner, sometimes in Willow Springs and other times in Burlington. We went to concerts, plays, movies, art galleries…things like that. But always as just friends. Then about ten days before his most recent community center presentation, everything suddenly changed.

That sounds ominous. What happened?

Wynne: For starters, he told me he would be in town two or three days before his presentation. He referred to it as spending a couple of vacation days before his presentation. I was pleased to be able to spend that extra time with him, but he sounded…I don't know how to describe it…kind of distracted or unsettled. Then, to my shock, he showed up the next morning—ten days before his scheduled program.

Ten days early? That's certainly more than just a couple.

Gene:  (laughs) She wasn't the only one surprised. I woke up that morning and the decision to travel to Willow Springs that day popped into my mind. I packed my suitcase and headed my car in that direction. But being ten days early wasn't the only surprise when I arrived.

More surprises? Anything you'd care to share with us?

Gene:  (pauses as if to gather his thoughts) There was this man who made occasional trips to Willow Springs, apparently to visit Wynne. We had crossed paths in the past and she had introduced me to him. When I arrived this time, unexpected, there he was again.

A possible rival for Wynne's affections?

Gene:  That's what I feared. You'll need to read the book to discover who is was and why he continued to appear on the scene.

Wynne:  Gene wasn't the only one on the receiving end of a surprise…other than his arrival ten days early. He made an announcement…something he wanted me to help him with…that caught me totally off guard.

More surprises? Could you tell us about it?

Wynne:  (shoots sly glance toward Gene) No…you'll need to read the book.

Gene:  (laughs) I can tell you that Wynne wasn't the only one surprised. As the words came out of my mouth, I couldn't believe that I was actually saying them.

Wynne:  Then he handed me yet another surprise—actually it was more of a shock. For a week everything had been perfect, then three days before his program, he suddenly announced that he needed to return to Burlington right away. He assured me he'd be back in time for his presentation. He seemed very distracted, something I interpreted as being upset but I didn't know why. Everything was fine at lunch, or at least I thought it was, but by dinner everything seemed to have changed. I watched him drive away with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. It felt as if my heart was breaking, almost as if I'd never see him again.

Really? What was that all about?

Wynne and Gene in unison:  You need to read the book. (laughter)

Well, I guess there's nothing left to say except thank you Wynne and Gene for being my guests.

BLURB:

Dr. Daniel Eugene Stevenson, Jr., professor of history at the University of Vermont, is a popular guest speaker at the Willow Springs Community Center. But that's not the only reason he keeps returning to the small town. He's strongly attracted to the assistant librarian who coordinates the programs. So far, they've been good friends, but his upcoming scheduled talk provides the perfect opportunity to take their friendship to a serious commitment. He's just not sure if the other man he's seen her with is only a friend or someone special in her life.

Wynne Buchanan is looking forward to a certain shy professor's community center presentation about a murder committed in Willow Springs almost a century ago. Their friendship these past four years has meant the world to her, but every time she thinks they're moving toward a serious relationship, he pulls away. She's determined to find out why during his upcoming visit, because she's hoping for more…so much more.

HOPING FOR MORE by Shawna Delacorte, contemporary romance novella, is part of the Deerbourne Inn series from The Wild Rose Press   www.thewildrosepress.com 

Scheduled for release on Wednesday, December 16, 2020, in ebook at:

Amazon buy link:    www.amazon.com/Hoping-More-Deerbourne-Shawna-Delacorte-ebook/dp/B08KTY29YD/    

And other online vendors.

Excerpts and other information available on my website:  www.shawnadelacorte.com   

Saturday, December 5, 2020

HOPING FOR MORE new release

HOPING FOR MORE by Shawna Delacorte is a contemporary romance novella scheduled for release on Wednesday, December 16, 2020, from The Wild Rose Press as part of their Deerbourne Inn series.

The Deerbourne Inn is a bed and breakfast in the fictional town of Willow Springs, Vermont, population of a little over 3000. My main characters are:  Wynne Buchanan—assistant librarian at the Willow Springs library along with scheduling the monthly program at the community center, and Dr. Daniel Eugene Stevenson, Jr.—professor of history at the University of Vermont in Burlington and popular guest speaker at the Willow Springs community center.

G-Excerpt #1:

Wynne Buchanan hurried across the hall to the head librarian’s office. Looking up from the papers scattered across his desk, Don Flanagan motioned her in. “What can I do for you?” He extended a teasing grin. “Is my assistant librarian having a problem she can’t handle?”

A soft chuckle escaped her throat. “No problems here. I just wanted to go over a couple of things with you before I entered everything into the computer.” She gestured toward the stack of papers in front of him. “Is this a bad time?”

“No. I need a break from this headache. I’m working on our requirements for the upcoming budget meeting.” He moved several file folders aside. “What’s up?”

“I just talked to Gene Stevenson. He emailed me the information for his talk at the community center, along with the handout he’ll be using. It’s scheduled for Friday evening before the Mad River Garden Party on Saturday.”

Don perked up at the mention of Gene Stevenson’s name. “What’s Dr. Stevenson have in store for us this time? I always enjoy his presentations. Since he’s a history professor, he always chooses some historical event for his talks, usually something that happened right here in Vermont or at least in New England. It makes for an interesting topic. People have a connection to the area where the event took place. You can always count on his presentations being well researched. And, to his credit, he also manages to make them both interesting and entertaining.”

“This time his topic is very local. It’s about a murder that happened right here in Willow Springs in 1931—a young woman named Martha Cotter. That should bring in a good crowd.” Wynne’s excitement bubbled inside her, sending an emotional warmth flowing through her veins. “He really is fascinating.” A tender smile turned the corners of her mouth, but she quickly hid it. “Uh, I mean he’s a fascinating speaker. People enjoy his talks.”

“Yes, people enjoy his talks.” Don nodded as he shot her a knowing look. “And some people more than others?”

BLURB:

Dr. Daniel Eugene Stevenson, Jr., professor of history at the University of Vermont, is a popular guest speaker at the Willow Springs Community Center. But that's not the only reason he keeps returning to the small town. He's strongly attracted to the assistant librarian who coordinates the programs. So far, they've been good friends, but his upcoming scheduled talk provides the perfect opportunity to take their friendship to a serious commitment. He's just not sure if the other man he's seen her with is only a friend or someone special in her life.

Wynne Buchanan is looking forward to a certain shy professor's community center presentation about a murder committed in Willow Springs almost a century ago. Their friendship these past four years has meant the world to her, but every time she thinks they're moving toward a serious relationship, he pulls away. She's determined to find out why during his upcoming visit, because she's hoping for more…so much more.

HOPING FOR MORE by Shawna Delacorte, contemporary romance novella, is part of the Deerbourne Inn series from The Wild Rose Press   www.thewildrosepress.com 

Available in ebook at:

Amazon buy link:    www.amazon.com/Hoping-More-Deerbourne-Shawna-Delacorte-ebook/dp/B08KTY29YD/    

And other online vendors.

More excerpts and other information available on my website:  www.shawnadelacorte.com