Monuments to Something – WIF Landmark Travel

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Mysterious

World Landmarks

The world is filled with ancient monuments built by master craftsmen in order to honor everything from kings and presidents to religious figures. And although most of these landmarks have been carefully studied and researched by scientists and historians, some are simply so old, incomplete, or obscure that we still don’t know very much about why they were built or what purpose they served. The following are 10 world landmarks that, whether by intention or simply due to the passage of time, continue to baffle the people who study them.

10. The Cahokia Mounds


Cahokia is the name given to an Indian settlement that exists outside of Collinsville, Illinois. Archaeologists estimate that the city was founded sometime around 650 AD, and its complex network of burial grounds and sophisticated landscaping prove that it was once a thriving community. It has been estimated that at its peak the city was home to as many as 40,000 people, which would have made it the most populous settlement in America prior to the arrival of the Europeans. The most notable aspect of Cahokia today are the 80 mounds of earth, some as high as 100 feet, which dot the 2,200-acre site. These helped create a network of plazas throughout the city, and it is believed that important buildings, like the home of the settlement’s chief, were built on top of them. The site also features a series of wooden posts that archaeologists have dubbed “woodhenge.” The posts are said to mark the solstices and equinoxes, and supposedly figured prominently in the community’s astronomical mythology.

The Mystery
Although scientists are constantly discovering new information about the Cohokia community, the biggest mystery that remains is which modern Indian tribe is descended from the residents of the ancient city, as well as just what it was that caused them to abandon their settlement.

9. Newgrange


Considered to be the oldest and most famous prehistoric site in all of Ireland, Newgrange is a tomb that was built from earth, wood, clay, and stone around 3100 BC, some 1000 years before the construction of the pyramids in Egypt. It consists of a long passage that leads to a cross-shaped chamber that was apparently used as a tomb, as it contains stone basins filled with cremated remains. The most unique feature of Newgrange is its careful and sturdy design, which has helped the structure remain completely waterproof to this day. Most amazing of all, the entrance to the tomb was positioned relative to the sun in such a way that on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, the rays from the sun are channeled through the opening and down the nearly 60 foot passageway, where they illuminate the floor of the monument’s central room.

The Mystery
Archaeologists know Newgrange was used as a tomb, but why and for who still remains a mystery. The painstaking design needed to guarantee that the yearly solstice event occurs suggests that the site was held in high regard, but other than the obvious hypothesis that the sun featured prominently in the mythology of the builders, scientists are at a loss to describe the true reason for Newgrange’s construction.

8. The Yonaguni Monument


Of all the famous monuments in Japan, perhaps none is more perplexing than Yonaguni, an underwater rock formation that lies off the coast of the Ryuku Islands. It was discovered in 1987 by a group of divers who were there to observe Hammerhead sharks, and it immediately sparked a huge amount of debate in the Japanese scientific community. The monument is made up of a series of striking rock formations including massive platforms, carved steps, and huge stone pillars that lie at depths of 5-40 meters. There is a triangular formation that has become known as “the turtle” for its unique shape, as well as a long, straight wall that borders one of the larger platforms. The currents in the area are known for being particularly treacherous, but this has not stopped the Yonaguni monument from becoming one of the most popular diving locations in all of Japan.

The Mystery
The ongoing debate surrounding Yonaguni centers on one key subject: is the monument a natural phenomenon, or is it man-made? Scientists have long argued that millennia of strong currents and erosion have carved the formations out of the ocean floor, and they point to the fact that the monument is all one piece of solid rock as proof that it was not assembled by a builder. Others, though, point to the many straight edges, square corners and 90-degree angles of the formation as proof that it’s artificial. They often cite one formation in particular, a section of rock that resembles a crude carving of a human face, as evidence. If they are right, then an even more interesting mystery presents itself: who constructed the Yonaguni Monument, and for what purpose?

7. The Nazca Lines


The Nazca lines are a series of designs and pictographs carved into the ground in the Nazca Desert, a dry plateau located in Peru. They cover an area of some 50 miles, and were supposedly created between 200 BC and 700 AD by the Nazca Indians, who designed them by scraping away the copper colored rocks of the desert floor to expose the lighter-colored earth beneath. The lines have managed to remain intact for hundreds of years thanks to the region’s arid climate, which sees it receive little rain or wind throughout the year. Some of the lines span distances of 600 feet, and they depict everything from simple designs and shapes to characterizations of plants, insects, and animals.

The Mystery
Scientists know who made the Nazca Lines and how they did it, but they still don’t know why. The most popular and reasonable hypothesis is that the lines must have figured in the Nazca people’s religious beliefs, and that they made the designs as offerings to the gods, who would’ve been able to see them from the heavens. Still, other scientists argue that the lines are evidence of massive looms that the Nazcas used to make textiles, and one investigator has even made the preposterous claim that they are the remnants of ancient airfields used by a vanished, technologically advanced society.

6. Goseck Circle


One of the most mysterious landmarks in Germany is the Goseck Circle, a monument made out of earth, gravel, and wooden palisades that is regarded as the earliest example of a primitive “solar observatory.” The circle consists of a series of circular ditches surrounded by palisade walls (which have since been reconstructed) that house a raised mound of dirt in the center. The palisades have three openings, or gates, that point southeast, southwest, and north. It is believed that the monument was built around 4900 BC by Neolithic peoples, and that the three openings correspond to the direction from which the sun rises on the winter solstice.

The Mystery
The monument’s careful construction has led many scientists to believe that the Goseck Circle was built to serve as some kind of primitive solar or lunar calendar, but its exact use is still a source of debate. Evidence has shown that a so-called “solar cult” was widespread in ancient Europe. This has led to speculation that the Circle was used in some kind of ritual, perhaps even in conjunction with human sacrifice. This hypothesis has yet to be proven, but archaeologists have uncovered several human bones, including a headless skeleton, just outside the palisade walls.

5. Sacsayhuaman


Not far from the famous Inca city of Machu Picchu lies Sacsayhuaman, a strange embankment of stone walls located just outside of Cuzco. The series of three walls was assembled from massive 200-ton blocks of rock and limestone, and they are arranged in a zigzag pattern along the hillside. The longest is roughly 1000 feet in length and each stands some fifteen feet tall. The monument is in astonishingly good condition for its age, especially considering the region’s propensity for earthquakes, but the tops of the walls are somewhat demolished, as the monument was plundered by the Spanish to build churches in Cuzco. The area surrounding the monument has been found to be the source of several underground catacombs called chincanas, which were supposedly used as connecting passageways to other Inca structures in the area.

The Mystery
Most scientists agree that Sacsayhuaman served as a kind of fortress of barrier wall, but this has been disputed. The strange shape and angles of the wall have led some speculate that it may have had a more symbolic function, one example being that the wall, when seen next to Cuzco from above, forms the shape of the head of a Cougar. Even more mysterious than the monument’s use, though, are the methods that were used in its construction. Like most Inca stone works, Sacsayhuaman was built with large stones that fit together so perfectly that not even a sheet of paper can be placed in the gaps between them. Just how the Incas managed such expert placements, or, for that matter, how they managed to transport and lift the heavy hunks of stone, is still not fully known.

4. The Easter Island Moai


One of the most iconic series of monuments in the Pacific islands is the Moai, a group of huge statues of exaggerated human figures that are found only on the small, isolated island of Rapa Nui, or Easter Island. The Moai were carved sometime between 1250 and 1500 AD by the island’s earliest inhabitants, and are believed to depict the people’s ancestors, who in their culture were held in the same regard as deities. The Moai were chiseled and carved from tuff, a volcanic rock that is prevalent on the island, and they all feature the same characteristics of an oversized head, broad nose, and a mysterious, indecipherable facial expression. Scientists have determined that as many as 887 of the statues were originally carved, but years of infighting among the island’s clans led to many being destroyed. Today, only 394 are still standing, the largest of which is 30 feet tall and weighs over 70 tons.

The Mystery
While there is a fairly solid consensus on why the Moai were erected, how the islanders did it is still up for debate. The average Moai weighs several tons, and for years scientists were at a loss to describe how the monuments were transported from Rano Raraku, where most of them were constructed, to their various locations around the island. In recent years, the most popular theory is that the builders used wooden sleds and log rollers to move the Moai, an answer that would also explain how the once verdant island became almost totally barren due to deforestation.

3. The Georgia Guidestones


While most of the mysterious monuments on this list only became that way as centuries passed, the Georgia Guidestones, also known as American Stonehenge, are one landmark that was always intended to be an enigma. The monument, which consists of four monolithic slabs of granite that support a single capstone, was commissioned in 1979 by a man who went by the pseudonym of R.C. Christian. A local mason carefully crafted it so that one slot in the stones is aligned with the sun on the solstices and equinoxes, and one small hole is always pointed in the direction of the North Star. Most interesting, though, are the inscriptions on the slabs, which an accompanying plaque describes as “the guidestones to an Age of Reason.” In eight different languages, the slabs offer a strange ten-point plan to ensure peace on Earth that includes vague proclamations like “prize truth–beauty–love–seeking harmony with the infinite,” to very specific commands like “maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.” Comments like this one have made the Guidestones one of the most controversial landmarks in the United States, and they have long been protested and even vandalized by groups that would like to see them demolished.

The Mystery
For all their controversy, very little is known about who built the Guidestones or what their true purpose is. R.C. Christian claimed he represented an independent organization when he commissioned the landmark, but neither he nor his group has spoken up since its construction. Since the monument was built during the height of the Cold War, one popular theory about the group’s intentions is that the Guidestones were to serve as a primer for how to rebuild society in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust.

2. The Great Sphinx of Giza


Sphinxes are massive stone statues that depict the body of a reclining lion with the head and face of a human. The figures are found all over the world in different forms, but they are most commonly linked with Egypt, which features the most famous example in the form of the Great Sphinx of Giza. Incredibly, the statue is carved out of one monolithic piece of rock, and at 240 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 66 feet tall, it is considered to be the biggest monument of its kind in the world. Historians largely accept the function of the Sphinx to have been that of a symbolic guardian, since the statues were strategically placed around important structures like temples, tombs, and pyramids. The Great Sphinx of Giza appears to be no different. It stands adjacent to the pyramid of the pharaoh Khafra, and most archaeologists believe that it is his face that is depicted on that of the statue.

The Mystery
Despite its reputation as one of the most famous monuments of antiquity, there is still very little known about the Great Sphinx of Giza. Egyptologists might have a small understanding of why the statue was built, but when, how, and by who is still shrouded in mystery. The pharaoh Khafra is the main suspect, which would date the structure back to around 2500 BC, but other scientists have argued that evidence of water erosion of the statue suggests that it is much older and perhaps even predated the dynastic era of the Egyptians. This theory has few modern adherents, but if true it would mean the Great Sphinx of Giza is even more mysterious than previously believed.

1. Stonehenge


Of all the world’s famous monuments, none has gained as much of a reputation for pure, simple mystery as Stonehenge. Stonehenge has been inspiring debate among scholars, scientists, and historians since the Middle Ages. Located in the English countryside, the landmark is believed to date back to 2500 BC, and consists of several mammoth pieces of rock arranged and piled on top of one another in what appears at first to be a random design. The site is surrounded by a small, circular ditch, and is flanked by burial mounds on all sides. Although the rock formations that still remain are undoubtedly impressive, it is thought that the modern version of Stonehenge is only a small remnant of a much larger monument that was damaged with the passing of time, and it is largely believed that the building process was so extensive that it could have lasted on and off for anywhere from 1500 to 7000 years.

The Mystery
Stonehenge has become renowned for puzzling even the most brilliant researchers, and over the years the many gaps in the history of its construction, the nature of its use, and the true identity of its builders have become known as “The Mystery of Stonehenge.” The Neolithic people who built the monument left behind no written records, so scientists can only base their theories on the meager evidence that exists at the site. This has led to wild speculation that the monument was left by aliens, or that it was built by some eons-old society of technologically advanced super-humans. All craziness aside, the most common explanation remains that Stonehenge served as some kind of graveyard monument that played a role in the builders’ version of the afterlife, a claim that is backed up by its proximity to several hundred burial mounds. Yet another theory suggests that the site was a place for spiritual healing and the worship of long dead ancestors.


Monuments to Something

WIF Landmark Travel

Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #256

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #256

…The plight of the Negro community has not changed, yea, surely worsened by the continuing Great Depression, as the world-wide economic downward spiral is called…

Blessings III by John Holyfield

Blessings III by John Holyfield

The death of Princess Olla has never left the mind of A.O. Campbell, not merely because of the manner in which she died. Laura Bell was like a mother to him, going back to the days of his lengthy visits to San Luis Lake and that dear German couple, the Endlichoffers. These people were like family to him and seeing that his parents Willy and Amanda lived only long enough to see the Great War end, (plus a year or two), Princess Olla was his family. Oh yes, there are sisters Agnes and Francis, whom he has set up in a house in Tallahassee. And he has Hosea. Oh my, Hosey, now there is a relative for you, as in, ‘You can choose your friends, but family chooses you’.

And then there are Maggie Lou and the girls. They make sure he keeps busy. He can scarce afford not to, with three females perfecting the art of spending money. The result: he has been beguiled by the lucrative, if not, illegal, world of abortion.  ‘Somebody else will do them if’n I don’t,’ he says to himself. ‘With less skill and care,’ he adds.

   And then there is his dream of building his own hospital. He can see it there on the empty lot next to their house on Virginia Street, just a few steps from where Laura Bell was left for dead.

dream

The plight of the Negro community has not changed, yea, surely worsened by the continuing Great Depression, as the world-wide economic downward spiral is called. This is like telling a starving man that he needs to go on a diet. These impoverish people’s health suffers as bad as or worse than their jobless quagmire. And with the number of black doctors increasing yearly, what better a place to come to the aid of their own? Care would be given, regardless of ability to pay. A.O. wants to provide a place for black doctors to practice outside the present restrictive structure, to make an absolute difference in the lives of the needy.

Where will the money come from? Dream high and tread lightly.


Alpha Omega M.D.

6th Avenue Unemployment Agency by Abraham Harriton

Episode #256


page 238

Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #225

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #225

… So at home, so at ease is the doctor with a virtual stranger, that the sofa/bed goes unused this January night in Atlantic City….

comfort of strangers

George Lewis’ body language implies that the ten dollars is waived for a completely different something. He ushers her to his leather couch, where again, Maggie Lou mysteriously offers no blatant resistance.

In the ensuing ten minutes, he unfastens her gartered nylons, pulls down her panties, lifts up her dress, and initiates intercourse. There is no explaining this impromptu tryst, although her husband is so dedicated to his medicine that their shared intimate moments are, perhaps, a temporary casualty of the influenza; attention deficits being a verifiable negative factor in a marriage, though not a good excuse. So she allows this middle aged white man to have his way with her, absolutely unaware of the consequences.

Meanwhile Caption-001 So at home, so at ease is the doctor with a virtual stranger, that the sofa/bed goes unused this January night in Atlantic City. What is it about, being a thousand miles and five days away from your real home, that can justify infidelity? Never once does he mention his Maggie, neither is he asked. But there is no denying the passion that is shared, given and taken by equally lonely souls, even though a chance for future relations are unlikely; absolutely unaware or caring of the consequences. “May I stop by tonight? I must be leavin’ tomorrow mornin’, unless my brother doesn’t turn up, then I would be goin’ today.”

“I would be hurt if you didn’t.” It is hard to turn down the pleasures of the flesh. “I will pray you find him.” She allows herself to pursue what will be false hope beyond the next 24 hours.

Meanwhile Caption-001“Completely forgot you be comin’, Alfrey. Where’d you stay?”

          A.O. Campbell would not leave town without seeing his brother, regardless of his encounters the night before; daylight has a way of ferreting out the dark side of human nature. “I found a place down the street, no big deal, Hosey,” completely understating the perks of his overnight stay.

 “Good to hear!” Hosey slaps his younger brothers on the back, nearly depositing him face down on the front porch of his “hotel”. “Come on in.”

  A.O. feels secure enough to venture inside, something he ran from the previous eve. It is already mid-morning and Hosey’s girls are beginning to stir, having completed their graveyard shift duties. One of them looks familiar. She acknowledges their familiarity. “Why, hello there sugar pie.”

“I see you’ve met Flo.” He nods timidly. “Dint you offer Alfrey a room?”

“I sure did, Hosey, but he ran off with some Latin before I could get him inside.” She was actually offended by his turning her down, not knowing he enjoyed the same favors in  decidedly better surroundings, without the threat of sexually transmitted disease.


Alpha Omega M.D.

infidelity too by David Mark Lane

infidelity too by David Mark Lane

Episode #225


page 210

Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #223

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #223

… a small shrine to Mary Mother of God and her son Jesus. Votive candles are apparently lit around the clock, two of which burn devotedly now…

Virgin Mary and baby Jesus

Camille Diaz does not push for more, preferring to keep A.O. talking. “You don’t sound like a Northeasterner Alpha, so where are you from?”

“Florida…Tallahassee to be exact, I’m on staff at Florida A & M Hospital.” He senses a trend, so he guesses the next question, “I was comin’ back from a meetin’ in Boston, but I’m here in Atlantic City to see my brother. He told me to find him on Melrose Avenue – you see what I found instead.”

open-and-closed-signs    “And I found you.” She is warming to this diminutive, quiet, somewhat dashing man; and being so far from home, that warmth feels good to him.

As is the diner pot roast warm, the company is satisfying. An hour passes, then another when the waitress brings them back to reality, “We close at nine, you two. Here’s your bill.”

Nine o’clock? Daylight had long since faded, leaving A.O. wondering privately if he could still get a room. Camille has already decided to offer, “I would be offended if you didn’t stay at my apartment. It’s not big, but it’s cozy… good heat.”

  “I,” he hesitates, thinking of his young wife, who has been absent from any of their discussion; not wearing a wedding ring for purposes of sterility, “… suspose that would be the prudent thing to do, seein’ the lateness of the hour.”

Red light-001  Red light-001So, around a couple more corners and down another block, they arrive at a brick building with twenty mail boxes. She checks the one labeled 3D, extracts a Sears catalogue and a letter and they are off to the third floor. She keys the lock and they enter the three roomed apartment; a kitchen/living room combination and a bedroom and a bathroom, the bedroom having floor length red fringe for a door. It is very well kept, populated by largely antique furniture and a small shrine to Mary Mother of God and her son Jesus. Votive candles are apparently lit around the clock, two of which burn devotedly now. It is a well meaning gesture, if not a bona fide fire hazard.

You have a very nice place, Camille. It’s very comfortin’ to be in the company of another believer.”

     The woman is busily preparing for an overnight guest, amassing a set of bedding to convert her sofa, after applying her stove’s flame to a teapot and turning on her radio, which emits a wealth of Latin melodies. She disappears into her bedroom, reentering in loungewear, with a robe draped over her arm, handing it to her wayfaring boarder.

“You need to get out of that suit, Alpha. I started a bath for you – how do you like your tea?”

  “Hot, maybe if you have some lemon.” He is getting the royal treatment. And to think he had planned on staying with his brother, rubbing elbows with hookers and probably roaches.


Alpha Omega M.D.

Luis German Cajiga

Episode #223


page 208

Ponce, Fink, Bean, Ross, Henry & Pilgrims – WIF Folklore

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Tales From

American Folklore

That Are

Completely Misunderstood

American folklore is a vast treasury of stories and tales which have been passed down through time, often altered in the retelling. Some are based in fact, some were created as fiction and are now accepted as fact, and some are simply tall tales. In some cases, political or personal enemies slandered their contemporaries, and their falsehoods are now accepted as history. In others, the public perceptions created beliefs which are largely unchallenged today, despite their being wrong both then and now.

Some stories became accepted as true because of locations taking financial advantage of them, along the lines of “George Washington Slept Here” signs on old inns and homes, despite the lack of supporting provenance. Others lodge in the consciousness through repetition in film and literature. Here are 10 tales of American folklore which have come to be misunderstood as historical fact, and how they became that way.

10. Betsy Ross and the design of the American flag

Betsy Ross was a seamstress in Philadelphia who legend and folklore assigns the credit for the design and creation of the American flag, consisting of a constellation of stars in a blue field, and 13 alternating red and white stripes. Those who support the belief, which has been widely debunked, have recently used the premise that there exists no proof that she didn’t. They are correct. But there is perhaps less to prove that she did. There is substantial evidence to establish that Betsy sewed flags for the Continental Navy (actually for the Navy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania). But the first documented record of her creating what became the Stars and Stripes did not appear until the 1870s, coincident with America’s centennial, when it was reported by her grandson.

That gentlemen, William Canby, presented a paper around the time of the Centennial claiming Betsy had created the American flag. His sources were entirely family oral tradition. Betsy was presented as an example of patriotism and ambition to young girls of the Gilded Age as a result. However, other than the claims of Canby, and the resultant years of the story being repeated ad nauseum, there is no evidence that Betsy Ross created the American flag, and no record of her ever presenting it to George Washington. There is a record of a team of Philadelphia flag-makers presenting him the Union Flag, which contained a Union Jack in the blue field and which Washington raised above his headquarters in Cambridge, but the same record does not mention Ross by name.

9. Ponce de Leon wasn’t seeking a Fountain of Youth

Juan Ponce de Leon is widely believed to have sought in vain for a mythical Fountain of Youth in Florida, which today has many establishments using the legend to attract tourists. But it is only a legend, one in which Native Americans told the Spaniard that the key to immortality and perpetual youth could be found in Bimini. De Leon first came to the Americas as part of the second expedition of Christopher Columbus and by the early 1500s he was Governor of the Spanish settlements in Puerto Rico, acquiring significant wealth through his Royal appointment. Diego Columbus, brother of Christopher, succeeded in deposing him as governor in 1511, and de Leon decided to explore lesser known areas of the Caribbean.

His legal battles with the Columbus brothers and their allies left him with several political enemies, and it was one of these who first linked de Leon with the Fountain of Youth. De Leon made several voyages to the coast of Florida, and charted it as far south as the Keys, finally attempting to establish a permanent settlement there in 1521, after the death of his patron, King Ferdinand. Wounded in battle with natives resenting the Spanish trespass, he traveled to Cuba, where he died. A biography by Gonzalo Fernandez printed in 1535 was the first to claim de Leon had been in search of the Fountain of Youth (as a cure for impotence); later biographers picked up the unverified tale, and the legend was born. Nothing contemporaneous with the life of the explorer mentions either the search or the mythical fountain.

8. The Pilgrims didn’t land at Plymouth Rock

There were many chroniclers of the voyage of the Mayflower and the landing of the Pilgrims both on Cape Cod and later at what became Plymouth Colony, and still later Massachusetts. None of them mentioned landing on a rock. Indeed, it would have been exceedingly strange for an accomplished seaman to choose a rocky outcropping as a place to land a wooden boat laden with passengers in rough weather. The New England coast in December is seldom placid, and the Pilgrims had already landed on other sites, were concerned about the weather, and were in search of a safer location.

Over a century after the landing Plymouth Rock entered the annals of the colony, when a church elder named Thomas Faunce claimed that his father had told him the rock now known as Plymouth Rock was where the colonists first stepped ashore. The story took hold in the settlers’ collective imaginations. By the time of the Revolution it was a symbol of freedom, and a misguided attempt to move it to a place of honor near a liberty pole resulted in its being broken in two. The bottom half of the rock remained in the ground, the top later suffered another accident and was broken in two again. In 1880 what remained of the top was reunited with the bottom (using cement) and 1620 was carved into its face.

7. George Washington didn’t throw a dollar across the Potomac

Many myths exist about George Washington and a few have at least a passing reflection of basis in truth. Throwing a dollar across the Potomac isn’t one of them. The Potomac at Mount Vernon is almost one mile across. The US did mint two silver dollars of differing design in the 1790s, today known as the Flowing Hair and Draped Bust dollars. In Washington’s day they were scarce, and Spanish dollars (the famed Piece of Eight) were still in wide circulation throughout the new nation. Washington didn’t throw one of those across the Potomac either. The story of the cross-river toss was born out of another story, which featured another river and another item thrown.

According to George Washington Parke Custis, Washington’s step-grandson, the river was the Rappahannock, the site the Washington family home near Alexandria, and the item was a rock about the size of a silver dollar. But Custis heard the story from family lore. Charles Wilson Peale also told a story of Washington’s ability to throw an iron bar a prodigious distance, a popular game among young men before the Revolutionary War to test themselves against one another. Washington was also reported to have thrown a rock to the height of Virginia’s Natural Bridge. So, while he never tossed a dollar across the Potomac, he evidently had a throwing arm of considerable strength.

6. John Henry was not a steel driving man, but a composite of several men

John Henry, according to folklore, was a steel-driver drilling holes in rock to fill with explosives, part of the construction of railroads in the Appalachians. His legend is that he raced against a steam driven machine and won, only to collapse and die of exhaustion at his victory. Several locations in America claim to be the site of the race. The Coosa Mountain tunnel in Alabama is one such site. The Lewis Tunnel in Virginia is another. Yet another is the Greenbrier Tunnel near Talcott, West Virginia. Other sites which have been suggested as that of the legendary race between man and machine are Oak Mountain in Alabama, in Kentucky, and even in Jamaica.

John Henry first appeared in song, sung by the men swinging sledge hammers and handling the rods driven into rock. There were several different versions of the song depending on the area of the country but they all shared a central truth. The hard, physical labor of men with no other job prospects was gradually being eliminated by machines. Many of those workers were former slaves, or the sons of former slaves, and they sang of their woes as they worked, as had been done on the plantations of the south before the Civil War. John Henry was a legend they created out of other men they had known, the hardest worker no longer among them.

5. Manhattan was not sold to the Dutch by gullible Native Americans for $24 and change

A longstanding bit of American folklore which has acquired the authority of history is that Dutch settlers, led by the crafty Peter Minuit, purchased Manhattan Island from an Indian tribe for a collection of beads and other trinkets, worth about $24. The story at once displays the duplicity of the European settlers and the trusting nature of the Indians, who from that point on were doomed to continuous fleecing by the onrushing settlement of the whites. The truth of the matter is that the tribe with whom the Dutch negotiated, the Manahatta, didn’t own the land which they sold in the first place. Enterprising Dutch settlers had already established a fur trading and lumber camp on the tip of the island, and along streams to the north.

To protect the fledgling settlements from the depredations of roaming tribes, the Dutch approached the Manahatta, offering to purchase the lands they already occupied. The Indians didn’t live or hunt on the lands, and thus had no objection to taking Dutch goods in exchange for what was already a fait accompli. The actual value of the transaction, in today’s money, was several thousand dollars, which seems low until it is considered that the Indians sold the Dutch land for which they had no claim. Basically the Manahatta carried out the equivalent of selling their neighbor’s house and making off with the profits, leaving the Dutch to deal with an unhappy true owner.

4. The legend of Mike Fink may have been based on the adventures of several men

Mike Fink was a real person who in life and after his death took on the legends and tall tales told of other riverboat men, along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Born in Fort Pitt in 1770, he moved down the Ohio River sometime after the American Revolution and the Indian Wars in the Ohio Country ended. Although he is linked in legend to the Ohio River, there is evidence that he actually operated a freighting business along the Great Miami River of Ohio. There he carried products from the farms of Ohio to Cincinnati, and returned upriver carrying needed merchandise from the wharves of the growing city.

The river towns and frontier settlements were rough and ready places, and stories of Fink, who was well known for his size and prodigious strength, appeared up and down the Ohio, and carried along its many tributaries during his lifetime. Activities of other rivermen and travelers were related in taverns and inns, with his name attached to give them extra flavor. He undoubtedly related more than a few himself. Over time the less admirable facets of his nature made him appear as an undesirable character. When Disney featured him in a film with Davy Crockett during the Crockett craze of the 1950s, Fink was rendered little more than a buffoon. His name is still well-known along both sides of the Ohio, though few could say who he really was.

3. Paul Revere never finished his famous midnight ride to Concord

There were riders from Boston and Charlestown on the Massachusetts roads on the night of April 18 (and into 19), 1775, alerted by the famous signal from Old North Church of two lanterns, warning that the British were coming by sea. The signal was sent by Paul Revere, not to him, before he was carried across the Charles River to mount a horse locally known for its speed. From there, he is known in legend (thanks to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) for alarming “every Middlesex village and farm.” According to Longfellow it was “two by the village clock” when Revere arrived in Concord. But in truth he never made it to Concord at all. The British captured him outside of Lexington, confiscated his horse, and he walked back to the village.

The Sons of Liberty had a well-established chain of riders and church bells to spread the alarms, which had been exercised previously, and when Revere arrived in towns such as Somerset and Medford, the local militia companies sent out riders of their own. It was the sound of the bells spreading the alarm, as well as some gunshots meant to rouse the militia in Lexington, which encouraged the British patrol that captured Revere to confiscate his mount and return to the relative safety of the approaching British column, rather than confront the aroused village on their own. Revere was just one of many riders along the roads that night, several of whom alerted the village of Concord.

2. The Law West of the Pecos, Judge Roy Bean, was hardly a hanging judge

Judge Roy Bean ran a saloon in Val Verde County, near the Rio Grande River in Texas. He gained appointment as the local Justice of the Peace, and hung a sign on his business establishment which read “Law West of the Pecos.” He did have some acquaintance with the law, having been arrested himself for assault, petty theft, public drunkenness, and threatening to kill his wife. After his appointment as a Justice of the Peace was verified by Texas authorities, he used his new status to run a competitor in the saloon business out of town. He based his judicial decisions on a single law book, once letting a murderer free because he “could find no law against killing a Chinaman” in his reference.

Bean became part of the legend of the Old West, known as a hanging judge, in the sense that all who appeared before him as defendants were likely to be found guilty, and likely to receive the maximum punishment allowed. In truth he only ordered two convicted men to be hanged. He usually fined miscreants the amount of money they had on their person at the time of their appearance, which he kept for himself. As a Justice of the Peace he conducted weddings, announcing “May God have mercy on your souls” following the vows. He also granted divorces, though he had no legal authority to do so.

1. Isabella’s jewels didn’t fund the voyage of Columbus, Italian lenders did

Christopher Columbus attempted to obtain funding from several different sources, including the Kings of France and Portugal, before he approached Isabella and Ferdinand with his project. When he did, they at first turned him down. It took nearly two years of persuasion and negotiation for Columbus to obtain the support of the Catholic Monarchs, as they are known today. The longstanding and pervasive myth that Isabella pawned or sold her jewels to fund the voyage is false; the funding came from the royal treasury, which obtained them through loans from numerous sources, including Italian bankers from Genoa and Florence doing business in Seville.

The main source of the loans was the Bank of St. George, based in Genoa, with branches across Europe. The bank was operated by the powerful Genoese Centurione family, rivals of the Medici family. Security for the loans which funded Columbus was speculative, based on the expected riches he would bring back from his voyage. They were serviced, that is the interest on them was paid, through an increase in taxes in Western Spain. Christopher Columbus’s voyages to the New World were paid for in a surprisingly modern way, not by the Queen of Spain pawning her jewelry.


Ponce, Fink, Bean, Ross, Henry & Pilgrims –

WIF Folklore

Tape, Teflon, Velcro, Virility and Mastercard – WIF Simple

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Simple Technologies

That Changed

the World

There are numerous examples of breakthroughs that humans have used or discovered in their existence that have catapulted us to the top of the food chain. The wheel, the steam engine, the printing press, etc. These advances are known to most people, and we realize that without those things existing, we’re still in the dark ages.

But there are also lots of little blips on the timeline throughout human history of simpler things between the lines. These technologies may not have the same lustre as the heavy hitters, but if you tried to imagine your daily life without these things being developed and perfected, you would quickly see that they’re every bit as important. Here are some simple technologies that changed the world in profound ways.

10. Duct Tape

That sticky grey tape that seems to hold most of the world together these days draws its history back to the Second World War. The military used the tape to keep their ammunition boxes sealed, but quickly found that there were tons of other uses for it. What began as medical tape was found to have incredibly adhesive qualities as well as inherent waterproofing, which led to soldiers calling it “duck tape,” referring to a duck’s wicking feathers.

Once the war ended, soldiers returned home and began buying houses en masse. They also took lots of jobs with construction companies, and told their bosses about this incredibly sticky tape they used during the war. The tape was used for all sorts of HVAC applications, but mostly for holding ductwork together. So “duck tape” became “duct tape,” but in 1998, a test of common HVAC sealing materials was conducted. Duct tape came in dead last. Quack.

9. Teflon Pans

When scientists in the 1930s developed a new kind of polymer that was superbly heat resistant and uber-slippery. They used it in war, because that’s just what was going on at the time. But it took until the ‘60s when they decided that it would be great for keeping food from sticking to pans.

And it wasn’t just pans–the non-stick coating known as Teflon changed the home kitchen for good by also being applied to muffin and cake tins as well as cookie sheets. Clean up was a breeze. The coating could handle high heat. The only thing they were kind of bad at was not killing people. The workers that produced Teflon were basically poisoned by the material, and that sickness was passed on to lord knows how many consumers. One of the components in Teflon that was responsible wasn’t banned until 2014.

8. Smoke Detectors

Think of all the things you probably take for granted in our homes in the present day, and smoke detectors are likely near the top of the list. Those little gadgets have saved countless lives, yet you hardly notice them until their batteries run low. They’ve become standard and required in homes these days, so it’s hard to imagine a time when they weren’t around. And they happened by accident.

In the 1930s, a scientist in Switzerland was trying to make a device that detected poison gas in the air. While it failed to pick up the presence of the tested poison, when he lit a cigarette, the smoke did trip the alarm. It took until the late 1960s before they found their way into homes, and have now cut fire-related deaths by half.

7. Viagra

A little blue pill that’s only been around for twenty years shouldn’t have such an impact on the world that it’s had, especially since it’s not cured any major disease, instead letting men experience the wonder of full erections. But Viagra has basically changed sex around the world.

In 1991, testing began on what would become Viagra, but it was developed with the intention of lowering blood pressure. But during the studies, there was a certain side effect that the men involved could not ignore. The development of the drug headed in the direction of restoring sexual health to men, and within ten years, 200,000 prescriptions a week were being filled. It changed the way men confronted diminishing sex drives. It also helped unknown diseases related to erectile dysfunction become treated when men came to the doctor seeking Viagra.

6. Credit Cards

A fixture of every wallet known to man, the credit card is simultaneously boosting the economy and bankrupting countless people with no financial acumen. The concept of “pay us later, we’re sure you’re good for it,” and then tacking on insane interest amounts is a fairly new concept. At least in card form. But they’re ubiquitous now, with around 18 billion in use.

In 1949, businessman Frank McNamarawas at a restaurant and realized he had forgotten his wallet. This made him envision a kind of card that could be used at multiple businesses. He started Diners Club the next year, and within the next decade, more and more banks started making their own credit cards. Fast forward to present day, and Americans alone possess over a trillion dollars in credit card debt. So in less than a hundred years, we’ve done some damage, haven’t we?

5. UPC Codes

You’ve seen that little box of black lines on the side of every product you buy, even more so when you’re struggling to find them in the self-checkout line. The UPC code (Bar Code) gets scanned, the price shows up, and it’s a pretty expedient process. But how did that get to become the norm?

In 1948, Joseph Woodland (who had actually worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the first nuclear bomb) was responding to a query from a local store owner about how to speed up the process of buying products in his store. Woodland thought about Morse Code and its simple way of giving lots of information with dots and lines, so he made that his inspiration. His innovation could describe an item and its price all at once, instead of the snail’s pace of non-automated operations that most stores suffered through. The only thing that held back progress was the lack of computers readily available to read the code, so it took until 1974 when the technology began to roll out to stores nationwide.

4. Barbed Wire

Two problems faced the American West as it grew and expanded: cattle were getting loose and trampling precious crops, and there wasn’t enough wood in those regions to build fences. The Homestead Act of 1862 made it so many people could get vast tracts of land for next to nothing, so it was important that they be able to work that land and have secure properties.

Enter Joseph Glidden of Illinois, who patented barbed wire in 1874. It wasn’t without its growing pains, as the wire trapped dumb cows by the thousands, and cowboys hated their herds being restricted by the artificial borders. And those very borders that marked a person’s property also screwed over Native Americans, as these practices left them with even fewer claims to their ancestral lands. The Homestead Act required that a person build a home and work the land for five years before it would become theirs to own. The barbed wire was a metaphorical and physical realization that their way of life was over.

3. Velcro

Zippers were still very much the rage in 1941, when Swiss engineer George de Mestral came upon an idea while walking his dog in the woods one day. He noticed how his clothing and his dog were covered in sticky burrs, the pointy little things that always prick your fingers are you’re removing them. Under a microscope, he saw how the curved hooks of the burrs met with his clothing in an almost perfect marriage. Zippers were no longer the only game in town.

Zippers tended to jam all the time. Velcro, as it would come to be in 1955 (from the French words “velour” and “crochet”) didn’t have that problem. Though originally implemented in clothing, it’s now used in everything from sporting equipment to NASA craft. And whoever began using it in little kids’ clothing should eventually get their own medal.

2. Daylight saving time

Ok, so maybe not exactly a technology, but the advent of daylight saving (it’s not “savings”, by the way) time has changed a lot about our modern world. First started in Germany in 1916 as a way to enjoy the sunshine and to conserve electricity, it began to catch on in other countries around the world soon after.

In the United States, it was started in 1918 as a wartime practice. It was repealed the next year after farmers protested; the next few decades saw back and forth fighting and different start times for daylight saving across the country. Finally in 1966, the Uniform Time Act made time, uh, uniform across the country. The central concept, energy conservation, doesn’t really seem to be a benefit though. The stuff that uses the most electricity in our homes are things that get used the more we are home, if that makes sense. It seems that the money that gets boosted into the economy by people enjoying more leisure “daytime” in the evening is enough to keep the practice in use.

1. Transistors

Think of the devices that power your everyday life: smartphones, computers, tablets, etc. They all have one thing in common at their very core, and that’s the very simple transistor. The development of the transistor signaled the developmental shift from hardware to software, and it’s why technology has surged light years ahead since its inception.

A transistor is merely a type of semiconductor that either amplifies signals or switches them. Invented in 1947, it was a device far ahead of its time, and as computing devices grew and became more efficient, so too did the transistor. Computers got smaller and became household items, while transistors shrunk down to the size of a few nanometers. Those tiny transistors are one of the only unchanged (aside from size) building blocks of the entire digital age.


Tape, Teflon, Velcro, Virility and Mastercard –

WIF Simple

Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #128

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #128

…Caught in a lie, the manager nervously shuffles unrelated papers, “Oh my, yes, here you are… from Tallahassee, Florida, lovely area, Florida…

Pan American Mailing Card

…eth·nol·o·gy – the study of the characteristics of various peoples and the differences and relationships between them…

Ethnology

Herbert Love, with his typically calm demeanor, steps in to ask, “If President McKinley were to reserve rooms, would you ask him for a deposit?”

“Preposterous! We do not have time for this nonsense.”  

“Please answer the simple question.”

 “If he were to stay here, which is unlikely, no we would not.”

  “I recommend you check your records closely, because these rooms were reserved by the White House. If you would like, ring up the Statlers Hotel and speak to the President’s chief of staff.”

Caught in a lie, the manager nervously shuffles unrelated papers. “Oh my, yes. Here you are… from Tallahassee, Florida, lovely area, Florida. You have the entire eighth RightlyProudfloor, our best rooms. How did we miss that, O’Reilly? Please have dinner on us, uh, uh this evening for your inconvenience.”

   “No sir, we has promised to eat with the Presidint, we has,” chimes in a rightly proud and vindicated Willy Campbell.

  “Perhaps to-to-tomomorrow?” he stammers.

  “We like our grits with pork gravy,” punctuates John Ferrell, emboldened by leverage.

  “Grits, pork, yes, anything else?”

  “Yes, as a matter of fact,” says Harv, finishing what he started, “we would like Mr. O’Reilly here to serve us.”

  “But I’m not schedul–” He is cut short.

 “Yes you are. I will take over for you while you train for waiting tables,” corrects the manager.

Palace of Horticulture

The Palace of Horticulture

This is quite a study in prejudice; North and South, white and black. Suitable and that which is definitely not, is what the Pan-American Exposition is all about. In a rapidly shrinking world, the importance in understanding cultures of other countries and principalities may be the only thread that can hold a delicate weave together.

What is keeping the United States concurrent? There is a lot to be said for the greatest democracy the world has known, knowing what the alternatives are. The cries for freedom, religious and personal, as set forth in the Constitution, are reverberating from coast to coast, Canada to Mexico… with the possible exception of the Hotel Niagara lobby.

Do they live in a perfect world? No, but human beings are, with their sinful nature irrevocably in place, far from it. God created a perfect planet, giving it day and night, water and land and creatures for each. Then came man. There goes perfection.


Alpha Omega M.D.

“Put me off at Buffalo!”

Episode #128


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