Thursday, 28 May 2009

Howard Finster - God's Last Red Light on Planet Earth

"One of 14 children, Howard Finster was born in Valley Head, DeKalb County, Alabama, on December 2nd, 1916, to Samuel William Finster, a sawmill lumberjack, and Lula Alice Henegar. At age three, Finster received the first of what would be many visions—his deceased sister, Abbie Rose, came to him on a floating stairway and told him that visions and other religious experiences would continue to play a vital role throughout his lifetime. At age 15, while riding on the back of a wagon, Finster received another vision in which God called on him to become a preacher. He soon began preaching at tent revivals all over Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. In 1940 he became pastor of Rock Bridge Baptist Church near DeSoto State Park and also preached at other small country churches, baptized new members, and washed the feet of churchgoers...

In 1961 Finster began to construct what would become his most famous accomplishment, the Plant Farm Museum House, or Paradise Gardens, as it is more popularly known, near his home in Chatooga County, Georgia. Finster filled the space, previously used as a community dump, with multifaceted constructions made with items he rescued from the trash.

These "found-object" sculptures and mosaics filled his new "Garden of Eden," as he termed the space. Structures include the Mirror House, Hubcap Tower, Bicycle Tower, Bible House, and the World Folk Art Church and feature items such as bicycles, old jewelry, shoes, medical equipment, and anything else he could salvage. All of the themes in Finster's garden environment are evangelical in nature and express his desire to bring his religious message to the public. He thus included hundreds of Biblical texts and mini-sermons in every space in the garden and its artworks. The garden quickly became a popular local tourist destination.

Finster continued preaching and working odd jobs until 1976, when he saw a vision of a face in a dab of paint on his thumb that commanded him to paint sacred art. He thereafter devoted his working life exclusively to painting and creating works of folk art. Many scholars and critics of art have compared his religious work to nineteenth-century tent-revival posters..."

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The Lonesome Death of Takako Konishi

"Cult film sparked hunt for a fortune," was the small headline that attracted my attention that morning back in December 2001. "A Japanese woman searched a remote area of America during a quest to find a briefcase containing almost $1m buried by a fictional character in the cult film Fargo."

According to the article, a 28-year-old woman had left Tokyo a month earlier to travel to North Dakota, in America's midwest. The police were called after she was spotted wandering around the outskirts of the state capital, Bismarck. When officers interviewed the woman, she showed them a "crude map" that was supposed to show the location where the money was hidden in the movie. A perplexed spokesman for the Bismarck police was quoted saying: "We tried to explain to her that it was a fictional movie, and there really wasn't any treasure."

But whatever the police said apparently didn't deter Takako Konishi from her strange quest, which ended with her pointless death. "A hunter later found her body in woodland," the story concluded, "near the village of Detroit Lakes, which lies on a road between Fargo and Brainerd."

(Part Two)

Can - Vitamin C

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Boston Corbett - The Man Who Killed John Wilkes Booth

"One vivid example of Boston Corbett's eccentricity took place on July 16, 1858. Perhaps as a tribute to the loss of his late wife, Corbett took a pair of scissors and castrated himself. He then went to a prayer meeting and ate a full dinner. He took a walk...

In 1878 Corbett moved to Concordia, Kansas. There Corbett lived in a dugout a few miles outside town; the site has been marked by a local Boy Scout troop. His home was nothing more than a hole in a steep hill with a brown stone front and a roof made of brush, clay, and clapboards...

In Concordia Corbett slept on a homemade bed and kept a variety of firearms. He purchased a flock of sheep. He won local respect for his ability to bring down crows and hawks. Sometimes he gave religious lectures which often turned into wild incoherencies...

On May 26, 1888, Corbett jumped on a horse that had been left at the entrance to the asylum’s grounds and escaped. He went to Neodesha, Kansas, and stayed briefly with Richard Thatcher, a man he had met during his imprisonment at Andersonville during the Civil War. He said he was heading for Mexico..."

Canals on Mars

"Some people went so far as to propose the idea that the canals were irrigation canals built by a supposed intelligent civilization on Mars. Percival Lowell was a strong proponent of this view, pushing the idea much further than Schiaparelli, who for his part considered much of the detail on Lowell's drawings to be imaginary. Some observers drew maps in which dozens if not hundreds of canals were shown with an elaborate nomenclature for all of them. Some observers saw a phenomenon they called "gemination", or doubling - two parallel canals.

Other observers disputed the notion of canals. The gifted observer E. E. Barnard did not see them. In 1903, Joseph Edward Evans and Edward Maunder conducted visual experiments using schoolboy volunteers that demonstrated how the canals could arise as an optical illusion,[1] since when a poor quality telescope views an object with many point-like features (e.g. sunspots or craters) they 'appear' to join up to form lines...

During the oppositions of 1892 and 1894, seasonal color changes were reported. As the polar snows melted the adjacent seas appeared to overflow and spread out as far as the tropics, and were often seen to assume a distinctly green colour. The idea that Schiaparelli's canali were really irrigation canals made by intelligent beings, was first hinted at, and then adopted as the only intelligible explanation, by Lowell and a few others. Newspaper and magazine articles about Martian canals captured the public imagination."

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Poor Edward

"The story always begins the same way. Edward Mordake is said to have been heir to one of the noblest families in England. He was considered a bright and charming man – a scholar, a musician and a young man in possession of profound grace. He was said to be quite handsome when viewed from the front – yet, on the back of his head there was a second face, twisted and evil...

It has been said that the eyes would follow spectators and its lips would ‘gibber’ relentlessly and silently. According to legend it would smile and sneer as Edward wept over his condition. While no voice was ever audible, Edward swore that often he would be kept awake by the hateful whispers of his ‘evil twin’.

The story has always concluded with young Edward committing suicide at the age of twenty-three. The method of his death also differs, sometimes poison does him in and in other versions a bullet ‘between the eyes of his devil-twin’ puts him out of his misery. In both versions Edward leaves behind a letter requesting that the ‘demon face’ be destroyed before his burial, ‘lest it continues its dreadful whisperings in my grave."

Friday, 22 May 2009

JR in Rio

"JR’s Arcos da Lapa (Lapa Arches) exhibit is part of JR’s ongoing WOMEN project, where he documents the faces of women across the globe. JR has been highlighting the challenges and violence faced by women in troubled countries across the world from Sierra Leon and Cambodia, to Brazil, Morocco and India. Armed with his 28mm camera, JR directly confronts issues often pushed aside and rarely documented, especially in such a unique and visually arresting manner. Spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe JR’s effect."

- Juxtapoz Magazine.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

HMS Erebus & HMS Terror

"The fate of Franklin in 1845, his two superbly equipped ships carrying two years' worth of supplies, including barrels of lemon juice to ward off scurvy, his 129 men who starved, froze and were poisoned to death in the ice, and the suggestion that some survived for a time by cannibalism, haunted the Victorian imagination.

A record 32 rescue expeditions were sent, spurred on by his formidable widow, Jane.

Inuit witnesses described Englishmen dying where they fell in the ice, apparently without ever asking how the natives survived such extreme conditions.

Rescue expeditions brought back papers recording the death of Franklin, abandoned clothes and equipment, caches of supplies including poorly sealed tins of meat that may have killed many of the men, and eventually skeletons..." - The Guardian

Franklin's Lost Expedition (Part One)

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Kowloon Walled City

"1966 saw the Cultural Revolution in China and the Communist flag was briefly raised in the city. Official attempts to remove it were met with more rioting. British policy came to regard the Walled City as something of a hornets nest — best not to be kicked unless absolutely necessary. In the meantime, the Kowloon Walled City continued to develop and regenerate within itself. Buildings twelve stories high sprouted up without any adherence to planning law. Businesses blossomed — without the slightest concessions to legislation or taxation. Every nook and cranny within its tiny acreage was expanded out, and crammed into, until its intricate labyrinth of thoroughfares and pathways received not a ray of sunlight, even at high noon. The health authorities kept away. So the City just developed its own legion of ad-hock clinics and dental surgeons. In the absence of telephone and utilities companies, the City’s inhabitants just by-wired their own electricity and connections. The same nick-it-yourself approach applied to plumbing and water. As a result, a tangled network of pipes and wiring dripped and hissed above the city’s dark, dank walkways. Cheap amenities for the residents, and, considering the extremely limited access, either in or out of the compound — a potentially catastrophic fire-hazard.

For years, the Kowloon Walled City became a no go area. In the control of Triads and drug dealers, with an estimated population in excess of 30,000. Many residents were illegal immigrants; exempt from extradition, encased within its walls. A lone European venturing into its midst would most probably never be seen again, no Chinese went in without appropriate reason. Only after Margaret Thatcher had signed away Hong Kong’s sovereignty did its future landlords, the communist Chinese, have the ability to finally evacuate the Walled City’s stubborn population between 1988-92 and then destroy its derelict, decrepit, rat infested shell. It was only in these final years of gradual abandonment that a few journalists, photographers and investigators were able to wander unchallenged, around the Walled City’s uncharted labyrinths and give embellished accounts. Two of them were photographers: Greg Girard and Ian Lambot, who spent four years exploring the City. The vast collection of photographs they amassed during this time can be seen in their book City of Darkness: Life in Kowloon Walled City."

Spring-Heeled Jack - Terror of London

"It was at 1 Bearbinder Lane, on the 21 February around 8:45 in the evening, at the home of one of the areas most well to do families, that the most infamous Spring Heeled Jack encounter occurred.

Jane Alsop, the 18 year old daughter of the then invalid John Alsop and his wife, was at home with her two sisters, when she heard an urgent ringing of the bell at the gate. On investigating it, a black cloaked figure in the path exclaimed, "I'm a policeman. For Gods sake, bring me a light, for we have caught Spring-heeled Jack here in the lane". Jane went to fetch a light for the man. She returned with a candle and as she was handing the light to the man, it shone on his face and she 'realised that it was Spring Heeled Jack'. The man is then said to have grabbed the candle and cast off his cloak, revealing him to be wearing a white oilskin-like coverall and large helmet which fitted him very tightly. His face was 'most hideous and frightful' according to Jane, and his eyes glowed a fiery red. Without warning he spat balls of a blue and white fire into her face, stunning her, before grabbing her neck and proceeding to assault her with his metallic claws. She attempted to run back into the house but he held her firmly in head lock and began tearing into her flesh and clothes with his claws...

Later in the 1840s came the first Penny Dreadful to feature Jack, also entitled 'Spring-Heeled Jack, the Terror of London' which appeared in weekly episodes and was written anonymously; it too made Jack a villain, and drew as much from the play as it did reality. A Penny Dreadful from 1843,'The Old Tar and the Vampire' had featured a mysterious fiend called 'Jack' who leapt around the streets of the east end of London, and set at least one person alight with his pyromaniacal skills, but he was not overtly identified with Spring Heel Jack.

In 1863 another play, 'Spring-Heel'd Jack: or, The Felon's Wrongs', was written by Frederick Hazleton. Between 1864 and 1867 'Spring-Heeled Jack, the Terror of London' was reissued in a rewritten version. 1878 saw the third Penny Dreadful which appeared in 48 weekly instalments, probably written by George A. Sala or Alfred Burrage under the pseudonym of Charlton Lea. It kept the same title, but totally transformed the story. Jack is no villain in these stories; he uses his powers to right wrongs, and save the innocent from the wicked. Here he is in fact a nobleman by birth, cheated of his inheritance, and his amazing leaps are due to compressed springs in the heels of his boots. He is dressed in a skin-tight glossy red outfit, with bat's wings, a lion's mane, horns, talons, massive cloven hoofs, and a sulphurous breath; he makes spectacular leaps, easily jumping over rooftops or rivers, and is immensely strong.

One interesting aspect of the later fictional stories is how they arguably manifest the first notion of the 'superhero'.The basic image survives in the prototypes of the spooky 'masked crimefighters' of a later age, such as the Shadow, and even more so in their more famous culmination. As an heir of a wealthy family, who initially seeks revenge for some wrong done, disguising himself in a tight jumpsuit with a bat like cape and a pointy eared cowl, and using sophisticated gadjets he has invented to give him superhuman abilities, Jack is not too dissimilar to another well known character of almost exactly a century later, who appears to have been particular influenced by him."

- Steve J Ash

Dylan Thomas - Under Milk Wood

"To begin at the beginning:

It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless
and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched,
courters'-and-rabbits' wood limping invisible down to the
sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea.
The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine to-night
in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat
there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock,
the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows' weeds.
And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are
sleeping now..." - Under Milk Wood - Play for Voices

Monday, 18 May 2009

The Lost World of Doggerland

"Pilgrim Lockwood, the skipper of a British fishing trawler named Colinda, wasn’t quite sure what to make of the thing his nets had scraped up from the bottom of the North Sea. Just over 21 centimetres long, it was made of antler with a set of barbs running along one side. Back on land, Lockwood gave the artefact to the ship’s owner, and it eventually made its way to a museum in Norwich, UK. It turned out to be a prehistoric harpoon point dating to the Mesolithic period, between about 4,000 and 10,000 years ago.

That was 1931, and archaeologists studying the artefact, which became known as the Colinda point, began to realize that hunter-gatherers would once have roamed across a vast plain that connected Britain to the rest of Europe. But they had no idea what the plain looked like or what life would have been like for the harpoon’s makers. Now researchers have drawn the first map of that lost world, sketching out a 10,000-year-old landscape filled with marshes, rivers and lakes. It turns out that the region they call Doggerland may have been a sort of paradise for Mesolithic people." - Laura Spinney,

Also: Reclaiming Doggerland.

Screamin' Jay Hawkins - I Put A Spell On You

"Well we partied and we partied, and somewhere along the road l blanked out. Then ten days later, they told me, he says, "Here, learn this. It's on the market, it's selling, you've got a hit record." So l said, "What's it called?". He said, "It's 'Spell'". l said, "Oh, oh, 'Spell'". So I played it and I listened and I said, "No that wasn't me." He said, "Yes it was". Then he showed me weird pictures which l destroyed right quick and l got the negatives and I destroyed them. And I'm glad, because it was horrible. I made parts of "I put a spell on you" laying on my back on the floor, with the microphone in one hand and a bottle in the other. And everybody was going crazy. Mickey "Guitar" Baker was on guitar - he lives in Paris, France now - he was stoned out of his head. Sam "The Man" Taylor was on tenor sax and you've never seen a drunken saxophone player who couldn't put his lips on his own mouthpiece; you should have seen that, it was really a comical thing. But nonetheless, we did that and the other side, "Little demon", then we made "You made me love you" and "Darling please forgive me". Then we came back the next day, and we did that album called AT HOME WITH SCREAMIN' JAY HAWKINS."

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Sun Ra - Space is the Place (1974)

"Shortly after the tape ran out, Sun Ra began asking the Denver Post reporter about Denver. Specifically, he wanted to know about "breatharians": people who exist solely by breathing pure air; Sun Ra had heard that some such people supposedly lived in or near Denver where the high altitude made for particularly good air. Sun Ra said he was considering asking certain members of the Arkestra who ate too much to become breatharians. I mention this because, as most readers will suspect by now, Sun Ra had a dry sense of humor, and it was - and is - difficult to know how he meant some of his remarks."

Full Interview

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Fantomas Lives!

"He carries out the most appalling crimes: substituting sulfuric acid in the perfume dispensers at a Parisian department store, releasing plague-infested rats on an ocean liner, or forcing a victim to witness his own execution by placing him face-up in a guillotine. Fantômas is the master of a thousand disguises and the leader of a vast army of "apaches" (street thugs). His spies and henchmen are everywhere, spreading the seeds of chaos and terror. Fantômas is anyone and no one, everywhere and nowhere, waging an implacable war against the very bourgeois society in which he moves with such ease and assurance.

Fantômas's crimes are scenes of sublime horror: a rebellious henchman is hung in a huge bell as a human clapper, smashing from side to side and raining blood, sapphires and diamonds onto the street below. Masked bandits brandishing revolvers crash a city bus through the walls of a bank, sending money flying everywhere. Under grey Parisian skies, a horse-drawn cab gallops down the road, a wide-eyed corpse as its coachman. Fantômas strips the gilded gold from the Invalides dome each night; he poisons his victims with deadly bouquets; he crashes passenger trains and destroys steamships. And he escapes justice every time."

"and mothers' mothers..."

The Disappearing Poet

"It is almost half a century since San Francisco police found a 1954 Plymouth Savoy on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge. On Tuesday, July 19, 1955, a highway patrol reported that the car, belonging to a Weldon Kees, had been discovered with the keys in the ignition. Two of Kees’s friends, Michael Grieg and Adrian Wilson, went to search the apartment of the missing man. There they found, among other things, his cat, Lonesome, and a pair of red socks in a sink. His wallet, watch, and sleeping bag were missing. So was his savings-account book, although the balance, which stood at more than eight hundred dollars, would remain that way. There was no suicide note.

Nobody has seen or heard from Weldon Kees since Monday, July 18, 1955..."

(From The New Yorker)

The Tunguska Event

"At around 7:15 AM, Tungus natives and Russian settlers in the hills northwest of Lake Baikal observed a huge fireball moving across the sky, nearly as bright as the Sun. A few minutes later, there was a flash that lit up half of the sky, followed by a shock wave that knocked people off their feet and broke windows up to 650 km (400 mi) away. The explosion registered on seismic stations across Eurasia, and produced fluctuations in atmospheric pressure strong enough to be detected by the recently invented barographs in Britain. Over the next few weeks, night skies over Europe and western Russia glowed brightly enough for people to read by. In the United States, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Mount Wilson Observatory observed a decrease in atmospheric transparency that lasted for several months.

Had the object responsible for the explosion hit the Earth a few hours later, it would have exploded over Europe (most probably Scandinavia) instead of the sparsely-populated Tunguska region, producing massive loss of human life and changing the course of human history..."

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Under the Banner of King Death

"I am sorry they won't let you have your Sloop again, for I scorn to do any one a Mischief, when it is not for my Advantage; damn the Sloop, we must sink her, and she might be of Use to you. Tho', damn ye, you are a sneaking Puppy, and so are all those who will submit to be governed by Laws which rich Men have made for their own Security, for the cowardly Whelps have not the Courage otherwise to defend what they get by their Knavery; but damn ye altogether: Damn them for a Pack of crafty Rascals, and you, who serve them, for a Parcel of hen-hearted Numskuls. They villify us, the Scoundrels do, when there is only this Difference, they rob the Poor under the Cover of Law, forsooth, and we plunder the Rich under the Protection of our own Courage; had you not better make One of us, than sneak after the Arses of those Villains for Employment?"

Pirate Utopias and the first Black Flag from Do or Die.

Monday, 11 May 2009

The Sunken Cathedral

"This piece is based on an ancient Breton myth in which a cathedral, which is submerged underwater off the coast of the Island of Ys, rises up from the sea on certain mornings. Sounds can be heard of priests chanting, bells chiming, and the organ playing, from across the sea. Accordingly, Debussy uses certain harmonies to allude to the plot of the legend, in the style of musical impressionism."


"In April 1821, a medical gentleman in Edinburgh, aided by a landscape painter, fashioned a turnip into the nearest resemblance to a human skull which their combined skill and ingenuity could produce. They had a cast made from it, and sent it to Mr G. Combe, requesting his observations on the mental talents and dispositions which it indicated ; adding, that it was a cast from the skull of a person of an uncommon character..."

- The History of Phrenology on the Web.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Nikola Tesla - The Lost Wizard

"La Grande Horizontale" - Lola Montez

"Famous (but bad) dancer; mistress to many, including Franz Liszt and Alexandre Dumas; acquaintance of Balzac, Victor Hugo, George Sand, Lamartine; intimate of kings and prime ministers; de facto ruler of Bavaria as King Ludwig I declined; belle of the California gold rush; would-be Queen of Lolaland...

When a man annoyed her, Lola typically would slash him across the face with the whip she always carried. On one occasion when a lover proved to be disappointing, she fired her pistol at the luckless romeo as he dodged ricocheting bullets while escaping down the street with his pants around his knees. But, on first meeting, she was charming, very charming...

In St. Petersburg, Russia, Lola got a "private audience" with the Czar, and then received from him 1,000 rubles for services provided...

In Dresden, she got the composer Franz Liszt, and the two of them enjoyed a burning passion, until Lola became jealous of the attention Liszt received from his legion of admirers. To upstage him, she burst in upon a banquet he was holding for royalty, and leaped up upon the table to dance among the dishes, spilling consommé into the lap of a duke.

At last Liszt (who had a reputation as the great lover of the age) was so completely worn out by Lola, that as she slept, he locked her in their hotel room and fled. At the front desk he left a generous sum of money for the furniture he knew she would smash when she awoke...

The severest charge against her involved the mysterious disappearance of one of her lovers from aboard a ship which was anchored in harbor at Fiji. Some native witnesses mentioned a man being tossed overboard from one of the better cabins, but nothing could be clearly proven. It seems that most other passengers had been driven off by the raucous noise coming from Lola's cabin, so there was a shortage of reliable witnesses of suitable station... Charges against her of ritual murder, performed in connection with a Black Mass held in the jungle of a nearby island, were considered to be specious, although no conclusive evidence of any sort was discovered."

(Thanks to Fiona Burns for this).

John Carter of Mars

The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe

"The next certain information about Poe is October 3, 1849, when Joseph W. Walker sent the following note to Dr. J. E. Snodgrass: “Dear Sir, — There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan’s 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, and I assure you, he is in need of immediate assistance, Yours, in haste, Jos. W. Walker.” Ryan’s 4th Ward Polls, also known as Gunner’s Hall, was a tavern (such places were often used as election places, and voters were regularly rewarded with drinks). There appears to be no foundation for the tradition that Poe was found in a gutter, although it is at least possible that Walker came across Poe on the street outside, and helped Poe into the nearby public house to wait for the arrival of his friend. Dr. Snodgrass and Henry Herring (Poe’s uncle) came and found Poe in what they presumed was a drunken state. They agreed that he should be sent to the Washington College Hospital, and arranged for a carriage.

At the hospital, Poe was admitted and made as comfortable as the circumstances permitted. Over the next few days, Poe seems to have lapsed in and out of consciousness. Moran tried to question him as to the cause of his condition, but Poe’s “answers were incoherent and unsatisfactory”. Neilson Poe tried to visit him, but was told that Edgar was too excitable for visitors. Depending on which account one accepts, Poe died at about 3:00 a.m. or 5:00 a.m. on October 7, 1849. Moran gives his last words as “Lord help my poor soul” or, even more improbably, “He who arched the heavens and upholds the universe, has His decrees legibly written upon the frontlet of every human being and upon demaons incarnate”. Moran also claims that on the evening prior to his death, Poe repeatedly called out the name of “Reynolds.” Substantial efforts have been made to identify who Reynolds may have been, with unimpressive results. At least one scholar felt that Poe may have instead been calling the name of “Herring” (Poe’s uncle was Henry Herring).

Poe’s clothing had been changed. In place of his own suit of black wool was one of cheap gabardine, with a palm leaf hat. Moran describes his clothing as “a stained, faded, old bombazine coat, pantaloons of a similar character, a pair of worn-out shoes run down at the heels, and an old straw hat.” J. E. Snodgrass offers a more detailed description: “a rusty, almost brimless, tattered and ribbonless palmleaf hat. His clothing consisted of a sack-coat of thin and sleazy black alpaca, ripped more or less at several of its seams, and faded and soiled, and pants of a steel-mixed pattern of caseinate, half-worn and badly-fitting, if they could be said to fit at all. He wore neither vest nor neck-cloth, while the bosom of his shirt was both crumpled and badly soiled. On his feet were boots of coarse material, and giving no sign of having been blackened for a long time, if at all”. Moran also quotes Capt. George W. Rollins, supposedly the conductor of the train, as noting two men who appeared to be following Poe..."

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Letter A by Blu

Joshua I, Emperor of the United States of America

"To today's San Franciscan, the name "Emperor Norton" conjures up images of a colorful, but homeless street person, accompanied by a couple of dogs, who ordered bridges to be built and governments dissolved; an insane man revered by the San Franciscans of the late 19th Century. His story is far more complex than most San Franciscans know.

The real Emperor - Joshua Abraham Norton - is one of contradictions and myths. He was rational man who could speak about any intelligently about politics and science, was a great chess player, and was quite inventive, but believed he was the Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. He issued proclamations, collected taxes, attended sessions of government, rode free on public transit, had free tickets to theater, and sold his own currency; but lived day to day as a pauper in raggedy clothes. He was a successful businessman who lost a fortune as the result of a business deal gone badly and ultimately lived off the kindness of San Franciscans, but owned no dogs and was never homeless...

n July 1860, Norton ordered the Republic of the United States to be dissolved for an "Absolute Monarchy." His proclamation read:

"We are certain that nothing will save the nation from utter ruin except an absolute monarchy under the supervision and authority of an independent Emperor."

In 1869, he abolished the Democratic and Republican parties. King George III would have been proud...

In reality, Norton was now living off the kindness of his former business acquaintances and Freemasons. He was bone thin, with raggedy clothes. Norton would take their help of the occasional 50 cent piece for lunch or rent, but to save face, he simply referred to it as a tax, and recorded his tax collections in a notebook. He then began to visit local businesses, as often as monthly, to collect taxes, which some gave out of fondness for the Emperor.

Unlike a certain fabled emperor, this Emperor had clothes - but these were hardly the clothes of an emperor. He wore all manner of well-worn uniforms given to him by the Army at the Presidio or purchased from the auction houses along Pacific Street on the old Barbary Coast. On informal occasions Norton would wear a soft hat called a kepi and a coat of either blue or grey; he was after all, the Emperor of all the States.

For formal occasions, he had built himself an outfit of a stained and worn a Union officer's coat, enhanced with epaulets of tarnished gold and a boutonniere in the lapel, a tall beaver hat adorned with ostrich plume, a cavalry sword on his hip and an twisted knotty wood walking stick with ornate handle and a silver plate engraved Norton I, Emperor U.S. When it rained, he carried a tri-colored Chinese umbrella."

Friday, 8 May 2009

The first (and last) flight of Franz Reichelt

Known, with some irony, as "The Flying Tailor," the plucky Austrian created the first coat-parachute hybrid. Reassuring the authorities that he planned to use a mannequin in the test flight, he instead bravely leapt from the Eiffel Tower and floated gracefully to the ground. Having patented his invention, Reichelt became a household name and a multi-millionaire within days. Today, the "Reichelt suit" is a popular (and fashionable) form of travel for commuters and pleasure-seekers alike.

Dance Marathons of the 1920s and 1930s

"Dance marathons were both genuine endurance contests and staged performance events. Professional marathoners (often pretending to be amateurs) mixed with authentic hopeful amateurs under the direction of floor judges, an emcee, and the merciless movement of the clock to shape participatory theater. Both grim spectacle and vaudeville-based amusement, dance marathons offered an inexpensive chance for audiences “to be entertained and while away time”. They also offered audiences the Depression-era novelty of feeling superior (and feeling pity) toward someone else...

Special endurance events were heavily advertised and drew large crowds. “Stumbling, Staggering, On They Go! Who will be the next to be carried off the floor?” promoter Rookie Lewis advertised of a 1936 dance marathon in Fife (The Tacoma Times, July 21, 1936). The local press kept a death-watch as contestants dropped out...

Intense fatigue sometimes led contestants to "go squirrelly," especially during the wee hours of the morning. “Fatigue brought them to a state resembling a coma, a state which seemed to offer relief from the soreness of the day’s travail. During these episodes, contestants hallucinated, became hysterical, had delusions of persecution … acted out daily rituals: they talked to an imaginary companion, grinned vacantly, and snatched objects from the air” (Calabria, p.77). For the audience, watching contestants go squirrelly offered a queasy thrill."

Thursday, 7 May 2009

New York Mining Disaster 1941

Why doesn't anyone write pop songs about industrial catastrophes anymore?

Peg Leg Sam - Born for Hard Luck

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The Turk

Controlled Impact Demonstration - NASA

As Slow As Possible

"It was another milestone — well, inchstone — in the performance of "Organ2/ASLSP," a version of the John Cage composition titled "As Slow As Possible". And slow means slow. The piece, which began on Sept. 5, 2001, is not scheduled to end until 2640. But there will probably be a break after the first movement, which lasts a mere 71 years...

The performance is in keeping with Cage's efforts to explore the boundaries of performance and how music exists in time and space. The change of notes prompted philosophical musings among some listeners, many of whom lingered for more than an hour after the chord change.

"It brought back the idea about time, and how time's changed," said Frank Edelkraut, 47, of Hamburg. Others compared it to cathedral-building.

"It's sort of like in the Middle Ages, when the people building the foundations of those really big churches knew they would not be able to finish the church," said Werner Kuhlemann, 53, of Hildesheim..."

(From The New York Times)

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Lessons of Darkness - Werner Herzog

He May Be A Communist

Philippe Petit - Sydney Harbour Bridge

Van Gogh's Ear

"In Van Gogh's Ear: Paul Gauguin and the Pact of Silence, Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans claim it was the sword attack, not Van Gogh's madness, that led him to commit suicide two years later.

The prevailing theory is that the Dutchman, who painted Sunflowers and the Potato Eaters, almost bled to death after slashing his own ear with a razor in a fit of lunacy on the night of December 23, 1888.

He is said to have wrapped it in cloth and handed it to a prostitute in a nearby brothel.

However, the new work from experts in Hamburg offers a very different version.

Gauguin, an excellent fencer, was planning to leave Van Gogh's "Yellow House" in Arles, southwestern France, after an unhappy stay.

He had walked out of the house with his baggage and his trusty épée in hand, but was followed by the troubled Van Gogh, who had earlier thrown a glass at him.

As the pair approached a bordello, their row intensified, and Gauguin cut off Van Gogh's left earlobe with his sword – either in anger or self-defence.

He then threw the weapon in the Rhône. Van Gogh delivered the ear to the prostitute and staggered home, where police discovered him the following day, the new account claims."

From The Telegraph

Monday, 4 May 2009

Man-Faced Fish

"The original and only recipe. Beware of spurious and piratical imitations."

Purification Tonics, Nipple Shields and Asthma-Curing Cigarettes ("Agreeable to use, certain in their effects, and harmless in their action, they may be safely smoked by ladies and children")- the curious world of Victorian advertising.

Music Out of the Moon

"Notoriously taciturn first man on the moon Neil Armstrong reveals his choice of fly-time music in a book that's just been published. And his musical tastes open up undreamt of connections to Russian government research projects, Soviet agents and Communist propaganda films. Moon Dust by Andrew Smith is a new study of how the lives of the Apollo astronauts were changed by their lunar experience. Most of the nine surviving astronauts agreed to be interviewed for the book, but true to form the first man on the moon did not. But in an email exchange Armstrong identified the cassette of "strange electronic-sounding music" that fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins had reported him taking to Luna. The cassette in question was transcribed from Neil Armstrong's own LP of Music Out of the Moon featuring Dr Samuel Hoffman."

(From On an Overgrown Path).

Dance the Tarantella

"From Italy it spread to ... Prussia, and one morning, without warning, the streets were filled... They danced together, ceaselessly, for hours or days, and in wild delirium, the dancers collapsed and fell to the ground exhausted, groaning and sighing as if in the agonies of death. When recuperated, they swathed themselves tightly with cloth around their waists and resumed their convulsive movements. They contorted their bodies, writhing, screaming and jumping in a mad frenzy. One by one they fell from exhaustion...

Many later claimed that they had seen the walls of heaven split open and that Jesus and the Virgin Mary had appeared before them."

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Kittinger's freefall from the edge of space

(via Boards of Canada)

From Hell

"I was not codding dear old Boss when I gave you the tip, you'll hear about Saucy Jacky's work tomorrow...Catch me when you can Mishter Lusk"

The Mole People

"Many tunnel people are solitary loonies not unlike the guys you see living aboveground in cardboard boxes in any large American city. In a few cases, though--this is where it gets truly weird--sizable communities have coalesced, some allegedly numbering 200 people or more, complete with "mayors," elaborate social structures, even electricity. Toth describes one enclave deep under Grand Central with showers using hot water from a leaky steam pipe, cooking and laundry facilities, and an exercise room. The community has a teacher, a nurse, and scampering children. "Runners" return frequently to the surface to scavenge food and such, but others--the real "mole people"--routinely go for a week or more without seeing the light of day.

Sounds almost homey, eh? Like hell. According to Toth, most of the people living in the tunnels are alcoholic, addicted to drugs, or mentally ill. They're terrorized by roving gangs, ravaged by illness, hassled by cops, and preyed upon by each other. The majority live like animals. In one memorable passage, Toth describes a fellow who traps "track rabbits"--raccoon-size rats--which he kills by slamming against a wall, roasts over a fire, and eats."

The Sound of the Big Bang

"The Big Bang sounded more like a deep hum than a bang, according to an analysis of the radiation left over from the cataclysm.

Physicist John Cramer of the University of Washington in Seattle has created audio files of the event which can be played on a PC. "The sound is rather like a large jet plane flying 100 feet above your house in the middle of the night," he says." (from New Scientist).

Killing the Tsar

"In addition to traces of bullets and blood found in cellar room, investigators of Namiotkine and Sergueiev discovered different graffitis on wallpaper. Some of them were insults against the Romanov family and obviously written before the execution when the room hosted red guards of Ipatiev house. Others were drawings showing Rasputin and Czarina in pornographic attitude.

The following words were also found on cellar room wall :

"Belsatzar ward in selbiger Nacht Von
seinen Kuechter umgebracht"

which means in English :

"Balthazar was, in this same night
killed by his slaves"

Some Thoughts on the Common Toad

"At any rate, Spring is here, even in London N.1, and they can’t stop you enjoying it. This is a satisfying reflection. How many a time have I stood watching the toads mating, or a pair of hares having a boxing match in the young corn, and thought of all the important persons who would stop me enjoying this if they could. But luckily they can’t. So long as you are not actually ill, hungry, frightened or immured in a prison or a holiday camp. Spring is still Spring. The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureau¬crats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it."

The Watts Towers

H. H. Holmes

"Because it was a boarding house, the Castle had a reception room, a waiting room and several rooms for residents. Aside from those and some hallways, the house was comprised of secret chambers, trap doors, hidden laboratories and rooms devoted to killing people.

One of them, which the media dubbed "the Vault," was a walk-in room with iron walls and gas jets that Holmes controlled from his bedroom. There was a dumbwaiter for lowering bodies and a "hanging chamber." He had a medieval torture rack in the basement, and a greased chute that went from the roof to the basement so he could dump bodies. He had a maze he sent his victims through and a terrifying "blind room."

Several rooms were airtight and without windows--one of them fitted with iron plates, another lined with asbestos. There was an asphyxiation chamber with gas jets that could be turned into blowtorches, perhaps to roast people alive.

When the police inspected the Castle after Holmes was in jail, they were horrified. It was beyond belief--for any century, but especially the 1800s."

Electrocution of Topsy, Luna Park, Coney Island 1903

l'Inconnue de la Seine

"During the first decades of the 20th century, copies of a young woman's death mask were widely sold in France and Germany and hung on the walls of many homes. Enchanting all with her "smile of sublime satisfaction," the mask was known as the Inconnue de la Seine, and inspired a remarkable number of literary works, especially during the 1920s and 1930s. The story was that around the turn of the last century, the body of a young woman was recovered from the Seine near the quai du Louvre...

In the The Savage God. A Study of Suicide Al Alvarez writes: "I am told that a whole generation of German girls modelled their looks on her," to add in a note: "I owe this information to Hans Hesse of the University of Sussex. He suggested that the Inconnue became the erotic ideal of the period, as Bardot was for the 1950s. He thinks that German actresses like Elisabeth Bergner modeled themselves on her. She was finally displaced as a paradigm by Greta Garbo."

Gloomy Sunday

"The newspapers of the world were quick to report other deaths associated with Seress' song. One newspaper covered the case of a woman in North London who had been playing a 78 recording of Gloomy Sunday at full volume, infuriating and frightening her neighbors, who had read of the fatalities supposedly caused by the tune. The stylus finally became trapped in a groove, and the same piece of the song played over and over. The neighbors hammered on the woman's door but there was no answer, so they forced the door open - only to find the woman dead in her chair from an overdose of barbiturates. As the months went by, a steady stream of bizarre and disturbing deaths that were alleged to be connected to Gloomy Sunday persuaded the chiefs at the BBC to ban the seemingly accursed song from the airwaves. Back in France, Rizzo Seress, the man who had composed the controversial song, was also to experience the adverse effects of his creation. He wrote to his ex-fiancée, pleading for a reconciliation. But several days later came the most awful, shocking news. Seress learned from the police that his sweetheart had poisoned herself. And by her side, a copy of the sheet music to Gloomy Sunday was found."

Lope de Aguirre, the Wanderer

From his letter to the King of Spain.

"In the year 1559 the marquis of Canete entrusted the expedition of the river of the Amazons to Pedro de Ursua, Navarrese, or rather, a Frenchman. He delayed the building of the boats until the year 1560 in the province of the Motilones, in Peru. The Indians are called Motilones because they wear their head shaved. These boats were made in the wet country, and upon launching most of them came to pieces. We made rafts, left the horses and supplies, and took off down the river at great risk to our persons. We then encountered the most powerful rivers of Peru, and it seemed to us to be a fresh water sea. We traveled 300 leagues from the point of launching.

This bad governor was so perverse and vicious and miserable that we could not tolerate it, and it was impossible to put up with his evil ways. Since I have a stake in the matter, excellent King and lord, I will say only that we killed him; certainly a very serious thing. We then raised a young gentleman of Seville named Don Fernando de Guzman to be our king, and we made an oath to him as such, as your royal person will see from the signatures of all those who were in this, who remain in the island of Margarita, in these Indies. They appointed me their field commander, and because I did not consent to their insults and evil deeds they tried to kill me, and I killed the new king, the captain of his guard, the lieutenant-general, his majordomo, his chaplain, a woman in league against me, a knight of Rhodes, an admiral, two ensigns, and six other of his allies. It was my intention to carry this war through and die in it, for the cruelties your ministers practice on us, and I again appointed captains and a sergeant major. They tried to kill me, and I hung them all.

We went along our route down the Maranon river while all these killings and bad events were taking place. It took us ten and a half months to reach the mouth of the river, where it enters the sea. We traveled a good hundred days, and traveled 1,500 leagues. It is a large and fearsome river, with 80 leagues of fresh water at the mouth. It is very deep, and for 800 leagues along its banks it is deserted, with no towns, as your majesty will see from the true report we have made. Along the route we took there are more than 6,000 islands. God only knows how we escaped from such a fearsome lake! I advise you, King and lord, not to attempt nor allow a fleet to be sent to this ill-fated river, because in Christian faith I swear, King and lord, that if a hundred thousand men come none will escape, because the stories are false and in this river there is nothing but despair, especially for those newly arrive from Spain...

Son of your loyal Basque vassals, and I, rebel until death against you for your ingratitude.

Lope de Aguirre, the Wanderer

May 25th, 1953