Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween '10

Halloween has arrived at last. Merchants and broadcasters and advertisers are doing their best to stretch the damn thing out deep into October, something like the way Christmas has consumed December, and I say resist. One day is enough for Halloween. If we want more holiday, we North Americans should add Día de los Muertos to the festivities. It would be a fine cultural import. Early November seems like a good time to visit relatives in graveyards and feasting back home to their memory, complete with sugar skulls.

Japan has a multiday holiday to honor the departed: O-bon (お盆). The Kansai area celebrates O-bon in August. There were festivities and visits to grave sites. But mainly it meant that nearly everything shut down and that everybody had a week's vacation at the same time. Long-distance travel at the time was difficult at best, so each year I spend my mandatory week off poking around places I could reach on local trains. One year, I went to see the lighting of the Gozan-no-okuribi Daimonji in the hills outside Kyoto, which was a cool thing to see, but that's as far as I ventured during O-bon.

A Wall Street Journal blog posting (which may or may not be available now) includes this assertion regarding Halloween creep: "Many families started with parties last weekend, and will continue celebrating through Sunday night, extending what used to be a one-day holiday over more than a week. Moreover, some parents are taking time off of work [Friday] for school parties and parades, or on Monday to recover."

Oh, really? The blog is about how stressful it can be to raise a family while working in the money economy, too. (That isn't quite how the writer phrases it.) Oddly, there's no suggestion in this particular posting about how much less stressful it is let Halloween be a one-day holiday; or better, a two- or three-hour holiday. To paraphrase my eldest daughter, "The candy's the thing."

That and fond memories of one's own Halloweens. Some of my earliest memories of Halloween involve hearing stories, already current in the late 1960s, about poisoned candy or razor blades (or pins) in apples that were dispensed to unlucky children. My own favorite was, and is, the tale of kids who received chocolate Ex-Lax while trick-or-treating. As literal fact, the poison-candy stories are almost all nonsense. But since we moderns generally disbelieve stories of evil spirits roaming the land on All Hallow's Eve, we need some other kind of menace out there on October 31.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Over the Transom Thursday

Today was a November day of the dreary sort that just happened to be in October, but barely. Colder than it's been since April, overcast all day. As if to say, More to Come.

Got a letter from Quincy Adams Wagstaff Elementary School the other day, and it only goes to show how out of touch I am with the latest in pedagogic euphemisms. It included the following phrase, which was new to me: "[The groups] consist of students from 1st through 6th grade, as well as our self contained students." Hm. I'll overlook the lack of hyphen. It's the overall phrasing that intrigued me. Aren't all the students pretty much self-contained?

It didn't take much digging around to figure out that this is a replacement for "special needs," which of course was a replacement for earlier, wholly discarded words that have the magical power to ruin political careers (for example) if spoken aloud.

The silly season of the news cycle, traditionally late summer, is long over. An election, as we're constantly reminded, is nigh. So what's the deal with this story, as the Palm Beach Post headlined today: Is that a time traveler in Charlie Chaplin's "The Circus," circa 1928? As of late Thursday, according to Google News, so 447 "news" articles had been written about this harebrained subject. Then again, I suppose people are as tired of writing about the election the their readers are of reading about it, so time for something stoner silly.

An e-mail addressed to "Mr. Dees Stribling Business" recently told me that: "Scott Ginsberg is celebrating his tenth anniversary. He’s been wearing a nametag for ten years in a row. He has never taken it off. That’s right, ten years = three thousand, six hundred and fifty days = 87,600 hours = 5 million two hundred fifty six thousand minutes = 31 million 531 thousand seconds and counting. He’s the world record holder. He has even tattooed his nametag on his chest and is the only person in the world who has made a career out of wearing a nametag."

More conventionally, his career seems to be that of motivational speaker and author. He's got a gimmick; I'll give him that.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Great October Blow of 2010

More wind today. High gusts most of the day under a blue October sky. The top of my grill, a couple of plastic chairs and dozens of small branches were in motion in my back yard at various times this afternoon. Yuriko's office, some miles away in another suburb, lost power after 3 pm, and she came home early.

This storm was a record-breaking event, too, at least in terms of barometric pressure, something I wouldn't have thought of until I read about it. WGN weather guru Tom Skilling, who compared this storm to the great Armistice Day Storm of 1940 and the Edmund Fitzgerald Storm of 1975, wrote on the station's web site yesterday that "Chicago also broke its October low pressure this morning when the barometer at O'Hare International Airport fell to 28.99 inches at 7:12 a.m. The city's old October pressure record was 29.11 inches established on three occasions, most recently in 1959."

Somewhere, an atmospheric pressure nerd is excited. Somebody, somewhere has to be an air pressure nerd, for whom that 0.12-inch new record is like watching an Olympian shave a whopping 0.1 seconds off a world record. At least I hope so. Human variety should be a tent large enough to include all kinds of oddball passions.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Walkman of Yore

From beginning to end, today was the definition of blustery. After everyone else was asleep last night, I cracked open the window closest to my bed for a few minutes to hear the muffled roar. I got an earful. For all the bluster, no major tree limbs or sections of my back yard fence came down. Rain followed in the morning, then cold air pushed through. Majestic clouds raced across the sky in the early afternoon. Also, my empty garbage cans raced down the street.

I read today that the Walkman was dead, as in no longer produced. But that turned out to be in Japan only. Walkmen (-mans?) apparently are still being made in China for other markets, including the United States. Still, hearing about the putative end of the Walkman was like hearing about the death of a celebrity you hadn't realized was still alive.

I remember their introduction in this country. In the spring of 1980, it seemed that countless Walkmen, where there were none before, suddenly attached themselves to the ears of Vanderbilt students walking on campus. Young curmudgeon that I was, I considered them the height of frivolity (and I wasn't alone). I don't feel strongly one way or the other about personal stereos these days, but I never owned one. Still, I have a soft spot for cassette tapes, even now.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Take Knife to Pumpkin, Cut Holes

Not long ago, the real estate agent who participated in the sale of our house to us -- back in those dimly remembered pre-real estate crash days early in the 2000s -- gave us a couple of large pumpkins. He and his parter give away pumpkins in October to former clients and would-be clients. They also hire a Santa Claus to visit their office in December, complete with photographer to capture the moment. They are real estate pros, and don't want to be forgotten even among people for whom selling their house is a distant notion.

Sunday was gourd-cutting day. Ann insisted. No one else cared. So I set to work with a couple of knives, more-or-less following the lines she had drawn on one of the pumpkins. Now it has that jack o' lantern face. Its only distinction is a mouthful of toothpicks, because I mis-cut one of the "teeth" and needed something to hold that part back in place. Otherwise it's a completely traditional design.

Of course I wondered, just how traditional? After all, many things casually considered ancient traditions were invented by the Victorians, or maybe ad men in the early 20th century. Wiki quotes David Skal in Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween (2002), which sounds like a good book, on the subject.

"Although every modern chronicle of the holiday repeats the claim that vegetable lanterns were a time-honored component of Halloween celebrations in the British Isles, none gives any primary documentation," he writes. "In fact, none of the major nineteenth-century chronicles of British holidays and folk customs make any mention whatsoever of carved lanterns in connection with Halloween. Neither do any of the standard works of the early twentieth century."

"Vegetable lanterns" -- carved turnip, anyone? -- have been around a long, long time, but the association with Halloween might well be more recent, then. Or unique to North America in the 19th century, since that's where the pumpkins were from (but not any more).

Anyway, our vegetable lantern will be inside until shortly before October 31, to reduce the risk of squirrel attacks, and then outfitted with a scented candle for Halloween. One year I put a vanilla-scented candle in the pumpkin, and got a lot of favorable remarks about the smell from visitors that night.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Item From the Past: Temppeliaukio Kirkko & Bart Simpson

October 1994

I didn't take particularly good pictures of the Temppeliaukio Kirkko (Rock Church) in Helsinki. Better pictures are at this all-around fine site. But I'm posting mine anyway, because I have an image probably no one else has (not this one, the one at the bottom). Look carefully in the top pic and you'll see the cross.

Located in a part of Helsinki known as Töölö (and who doesn't love Finnish place-names?), the church is a late '60s creation by Finnish architects and brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen. I made lousy notes about my visit, along the lines of "visited Rock Church today."

But that's what the Internet is for, looking up stuff after the fact. The Sacred Destinations writer, Holly Hayes, has this to say: "The underground Rock Church is built inside of a massive block of natural granite in the middle of an ordinary residential square. From ground level, the shape resembles the ancient tomb at Newgrange, Ireland. But the structure is barely visible from outside, with only the copper dome poking out of the rock... inside, the church is circular and enclosed by walls of bare rock. The ceiling is a giant disc made of copper wire. The interior is lit by natural light streaming through 180 vertical window panes that connect the dome and the wall."

I stood in front of the church's entrance, turned around, and took a picture of the buildings in front of me. Only because the Minimarket window, a rectangle of pink set in gray -- and which promised Cool Drinks and Fast Food, in English -- was using Bart Simpson as its pitchman. Add the Coke sign, graffiti and black dog, and you've got a late 20th-century urban tableau. Or maybe just an array of things that happened to be there.

It's good to visit churches. It's also good to take in the detail of the streets.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ice Machines, Elevators & Key Cards

I wasn't the only one to write about our jaunt to Springfield earlier this month. Ann did a short report at school, with enigmatic illustrations.

The top pic is Young Abe Lincoln reading a book. The bottom is Ann and the rest of us in the theater watching "Lincoln's Eyes," one of the two audio-visual shorts that the Abraham Lincoln Museum offers its visitors. Off at the right is one of its special effects: smoke from Civil War cannon fire. These things must have made an impression on her.

So did the hotels. In fact, if I remember my own childhood right, simply staying in a hotel or motel was big fun. Ann completely enjoyed the pools this time, but also the lesser pleasures of getting ice from the ice machine, riding the elevator, and opening the door with the key card, something I never did as a lad in the age of metal motel keys.

Note that the teacher, who wrote some praise in red ink, did not correct the misspelled "different" and the one-letter-off "museum." I don't want to read too much into that, but I suspect that it rests on an assumption that any correction at this age will discourage the wee writer from writing. I believe that's an erroneous assumption, because it makes no distinction between harshly berating a little kid for a small mistake, a counterproductive strategy, and more usefully pointing out the mistake without rubbing her nose in it. So I make certain to point out the mistakes. Ann doesn't need to be a professional writer or editor later in life, but she does need to know how to write and edit.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site

About 20 miles northwest of Springfield is Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site. New Salem, Illinois, was a village on the banks of Sangamon River from the 1820s to the 1840s. It would be completely forgotten but for one thing: Lincoln lived there.

It was mostly forgotten anyway until William Randolph Hearst became intrigued with the site and bought it in 1906, and soon conveyed it to the Old Salem Chautauqua in trust. Later, that group donated it to the state with the understanding that the 19th-century buildings be rebuilt as close as possible to their original locations. Eventually, during the Depression, that happened.

I have to like a collection of "19th-century" buildings built by the CCC. As a matter of fact, the CCC seems have done a fine job.

The day we visited, October 10, was warm and breezy, and the many trees were still more green than brown or yellow. A number of enormous oaks grow on the site, and the wind made them spit their acorns at passersby. I told Ann that one thing kids of the 19th century did to entertain themselves was throw acorns at each other. She wasted no time in using the acorns that way herself, except that no kids she knew were with us. So she threw them at me.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Oak Ridge Cemetery War Memorials

At some distance from the Lincoln tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery are a number of large Illinois war memorials. The World War II Illinois Veterans Memorial intrigued me most, maybe because it featured a large white globe as its centerpiece. Two wings of black granite -- two short walls, really -- extend outward from the globe. One wing is devoted to the European theater, the other to the Asian theater.

Major battles and other events are carved into each granite wing in chronological order, with the earlier events further away from the concrete white globe and the later ones closer to it. Each battle or event is lettered and numbered, like so: ... Cherborg E15; Saint Lo E16; Southern France E17... and ... Leyte Gulf P22; Luzon P23; Manila P24 ...

On the globe, which is a sizable 12 feet in diameter, metal buttons are fixed to the locations of all of the events listed on the wings, each marked with the relevant letter and number. Button E17, for instance, really is in southern France on this globe. As you'd expect, the buttons can be found in quite a few places and at far distances from each other. It really was a world war.

At first I thought the Illinois Korean War Memorial was merely in the shape of a bell, with bronze servicemen poised on four sides of it. Then I learned it is a bell, or rather a carillon, because it started playing "The Marine's Hymn" in bells and then "Anchor's Aweigh." I didn't stay long enough, but I expect "The Army Goes Rolling Along" and "The Air Force Song" and maybe even "Semper Paratus" (Coast Guard) got their due.

All those songs, and lesser-known military service songs, can be heard at this Navy Band web site. I didn't know the Seabees had their own song -- the aptly named "Song of the Seabees" (link plays the song when opened).

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield

The Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site is a small part of Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. Oak Ridge is a hilly, verdant site, rich with mature trees and stones and statuary, a place well worth visiting even if Lincoln weren't there. But he is there, and claims that it's the second-most visited cemetery in the country after the Arlington National Cemetery, and it's plausible. Another source puts the visitor total of Oak Ridge at 375,000 each year.

People have visited in numbers ever since a crowd came for the tomb's dedication 136 years ago this month, and the place also attracted unsavory characters in the form of unsuccessful grave robbers not long after Lincoln's internment. Even on Sunday morning a week ago, a steady trickle of visitors came to commune with Lincoln.

Curiously, the tomb was in the news in a minor way over the weekend we visited, for plans to install a heating and air-conditioning system based on geothermal technology -- becoming a green tomb, in other words. Not many tombs have HVAC needs, but this one does have interior spaces with climate control. As a geothermal system, out-of-sight underground pipes will be main component. A better choice than putting solar panels on the obelisk, I think.

Oak Ridge is a large cemetery, so Lincoln and his family are hardly alone. From a position in front of the Lincoln tomb and facing away from it, the John Riley Tanner tomb is easy to see, a grey and stony presence. I had to go over and look at that, too. Tanner was the 21st governor of Illinois. When Gov. John Peter Altgeld commited political suicide by pardoning the surviving Haymarket Riot prisoners, Tanner was the beneficiary, unseating Altgeld in 1896.

I knew nothing about Tanner, so I looked him up, scanning Wiki first, and it's a curious entry. Clearly a sympathetic writer had a hand in the article: "He was one of the most remarkable governors of the late nineteenth century," is the second line. I checked the bibliography, and with one exception, a reference work published in 1978, every source cited is from 1920 and earlier. Does that mean there's an opportunity for some enterprising historian to dust off Gov. Tanner, if indeed he's so remarkable?

Highly visible at the entrance to Oak Ridge Cemetery is the stone of Roy Bertelli, known for one thing -- his stone in the cemetery.

Part of the Bertelli monument says "Mr. Accordion" and features an image of an accordion cut into the stone (hard to see in my pic, but not this one). Apparently the late Mr. Bertelli erected the stone to annoy the management of Oak Ridge, though it isn't clear from the Roadside America account why the cemetery didn't succeed in stopping him. Anyway, there it is, within accordion-hearing distance of Lincoln's tomb.

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Item From the Past: Fall Photos

Fall, 2006.

I see that the leaves are carpeting our front-yard grass again. Seems to happen with startling regularity in October. Time to put the girls back to work. They're bigger now, of course, but jumping in a pile of leaves is still a possibility.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lincoln's Clutter

Writing in Slate, which I linked to yesterday, Andrew Ferguson recalled talking to Bob Rogers, head of BRC Imagination Arts, the firm that designed the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, about one of the exhibits in the pre-presidential wing of the museum. One that I liked, in fact. Reading this, I like it even more.

"The museum is heavily weighted toward depictions of Lincoln's family -- on the assumption that this will be appealing to families of tourists," Ferguson asserted. "That's why they devoted an exhibit room to the Lincoln boys raising hell in their father's law office.

" 'We got the scene from [Lincoln's biographer and law partner William] Herndon, and we're true to his account — up to a point,' Bob said. 'What Herndon really says is, when he walked in the office once, he caught one of the boys pissing on the hot stove in the middle of the room. So I asked the people in Springfield, "Hey, can we do this? It's true to history!" I begged 'em. I said, "We can do it tastefully. We'll have the kid's back to the visitor, we get recirculating water going so you see the piss spraying out, we use colored water, we get a fogger so we see the steam rising from the hot stove, you hear the sssssss, we get an aromascape so you can smell it." Jesus! How great would that be!' "

As you might think, the museum did not depict one of the Lincoln boys pissing on a hot stove, as funny and contrary to our notions of the 19th century as that might have been. Or how universal to it is for boys, for that matter. I have vague recollections of my mother saying that certain lads made the radiator hiss when my family lived in a place that had them in the early 1960s. Anyway, the decision not to portray that little-known moment in Lincoln history is probably a wise one, since people tend to fixate on things like that to the exclusion of everything else: "Guess what we saw at the Lincoln Museum!"

Instead, the boys are in the office, arranged as if one were about to throw something at the other, who was swinging a broom in his hands. One of them, a small Tad Lincoln I think, is standing on a large table. Their father is lying on a nearby couch, reading a newspaper and ignoring their shenanigans.

But I didn't like it so much because of the boys. They could have been elsewhere. What I liked was the extreme clutter of the Lincoln-Herndon law office, as depicted by the museum. Papers, some loose and some tied in bundles, are everywhere -- on the table, on the floor, jammed into a desk, stuffed in the pockets of Lincoln's coat. Books and newspapers are piled here and there, and scattered around are quill pens and ink wells and other mid-19th-century office equipment.

I believed it instantly, more than the bland depiction of things at the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices State Historic Site, which I visited in 1997. There's too much tidiness there (see this good collection of pictures). Lincoln had better things to do than spend his time organizing things. Namely, read. On the couch. Herndon said in his biography: "When he reached the office, about nine o'clock in the morning, the first thing he did was to pick up a newspaper, spread himself out on an old sofa, one leg on a chair, and read aloud, much to my discomfort. Singularly enough Lincoln never read any other way but aloud."

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum

Fall returned today to northern Illinois after a string of summer-like days, including all weekend during our visit to Springfield and environs. In fact it nearly touched 90° F. each day, making it like a summer trip. So ducking into the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in downtown Springfield on Saturday turned out to be a good way to avoid the heat.

The museum has both attracted the ire of some Lincoln scholars and others for spiking an educational venue with entertainment, while simultaneously attracting an enormous number of visitors -- reportedly more than 2 million since it opened in 2005. Someone's coming to town to see it; the Springfield MSA has a population of a little over 200,000. While Lincoln scholars are a house divided on the subject of the museum, tourists have voted with their admission-paying feet.

Much has been written about the place. A lot of interesting commentary, in fact, far above my poor power to add or detract. The museum web site itself has a lengthy list of articles, and there are these two (July 4, 2007 and July 5, 2007) by Andrew Ferguson in Slate. Roadside America, as usual, has an interesting description.

I can only speak as a middle-aged presidential history enthusiast when I say that I thought the place was... not bad. Pretty good, in fact. The subject of Lincoln is a deep well, and even the most text-skinny Lincoln museum ought to be able to teach me something, which it did, and show me some things I'd never seen before, which it also did. But the museum isn't really for me. I'm fine with a more traditional museum approach, because if I have time I'll read some text and linger over objects. Sometimes the noisy razzmatazz at this museum drove me away from an exhibit.

Still, there was much to like. The decision to use life-sized figures throughout the museum probably sticks in the craw of academics more than anything else, but the figures get your attention in a way other items do not. Sometimes they were arrayed in remarkably effective ways, especially in a re-creation of the 1862 Cabinet meeting during which President Lincoln sprung the Emancipation Proclamation on the other members ("By the way, gentlemen...") and the presidential box and its occupants at Ford's Theatre on that infamous night in 1865.

A short video called "The Civil War in Four Minutes" (One Second = One Week) was hypnotic as it depicted the ebb and flow of Union- vs. Confederate-controlled territory on an electronic map, punctuated by pops of light and sound to mark major battles, with a counter for the dead on each side spinning ever higher as the casualties mounted.

In some ways, the museum drew inspiration more from an old-fashioned vernacular approach to historical presentation than a (post)modern academic one, to put it in a way that an academic might. I thought of that standing in front of a large, semicircular painting depicting Gettysburg. At the left was a scene from the battle, Pickett's men reaching the Union lines just before they had to retreat. In the center was the burial of the dead, and on the right was Lincoln speaking to the crowd at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863.

Not the most skillful painting I've ever seen, but it evokes the place and time. I imagine that this kind of panoramic painting used to be fairly common, at least in pre-movie days. Maybe some would travel around with a circus or other show in the 1890s, say. "Step right up, ladies and gentlemen! See a world-famous re-creation of the immortal Battle of Gettysburg!"

Next came a series of smaller paintings, done in a near-photorealistic style, depicting events in late 1864 and early 1865: Lincoln's re-election; the passage of the 13th Amendment by Congress; Lincoln's second inauguration; Lincoln's astonishing visit to Richmond on April 4; Lincoln asking the band to play "Dixie"; the surrender of Lee at Appomattox; and Lincoln's last speech, made from a White House window on April 11. These evoke the rush of events, but also inspire dread. A sign that says "Ford's Theatre" points the way to the next room.

A room called Treasures featured a traditional display of objects with descriptive text -- and it was the only room of its kind in the museum. I liked it. Among other things, there was an effigy Lincoln doll from the election of 1860 that somehow survived being burned. I like to imagine that a little girl, not caring about politics, took a fancy to the thing and hid it. There was also a campaign biography of Lincoln, a drawing of the Wigwam (the temporary structure in Chicago in which the Republicans nominated Lincoln), a life mask of the president, and one of his stove-pipe hats. He wore a size seven and one-eighths.

The museum could have used a little more of this kind of display. Also, I'd like to have seen an entire third wing to complement the two main wings that deal with Lincoln before he was president and Lincoln while he was president, respectively. I want to see displays about Lincoln after he was president -- his apotheosis, to use a word that the museum probably would not use.

Such a wing might include montage of many the monuments and places named after him. Or a hundred depictions of him in art. Or a wall of books, each about Lincoln, because there are that many. Or continuous clips from movies and TV, including both the good and the ridiculous (remember his appearance in the original Star Trek? He died by spear that time). Or Lincoln used for commercial purposes. Or the way foreigners use Lincoln, from his statue in Parliament Square in London to Lincoln pachinko parlor paintings in Japan. (I swore I saw that; it's entirely plausible; but maybe I was dreaming.) Better yet, some of all of these.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Statuesque Mr. Lincoln

As soon as you pass through the turnstile at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, there's an immediate photo-op, clearly designed to be such.

The group includes the president, of course, but also Mary Todd Lincoln and their three living sons at the time they moved into the White House. Though derided as "rubber" Lincolns, they're actually sculpted foam coated with fiberglass, and then painted, clothed and fitted with a mix of real and synthetic hair. They're definitely not animatronic, which was a relief, because they and the other rubber Lincolns are linchpins of the museum.

Across the street from the museum is Union Square Park, which features a bronze presidential Lincoln on a bench, by Mark Lundeen. He appears to be looking at some notes, including one that says, "With malice toward none."

Somewhere in Chicago there's supposed to be another copy of this statue, but I haven't seen it. Colorado-based Lundeen, according to the Springfield Journal-Register, "is perhaps most known for his statue of the mythical Mighty Casey baseball slugger, which stands at several major league ballparks."

Not far away in Union Square Park is a standing Lincoln called "A Greater Task," by John McClary of Decatur, Illinois. I would have called it "Lincoln Caught in the Rain, But Still Going on With His Speech." Persistence, that was Lincoln's middle name.

It isn't McClary's only Lincoln. In fact, he's a Lincoln specialist among sculptors. According to his web site, his most recent work is "a life-sized sculpture of Lincoln in bronze... created on commission by the University of Illinois Library and the Gerda B. Morteson Center for International Library Programs, and now [residing] in the Russian State Library for Foreign Literature in Moscow." (The Red Lincoln?)

At the Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site, there are statues a-plenty of Lincoln, especially ones by Daniel Chester French and Gutzon Borglum, both of whom carved somewhat more iconic Lincolns in other parts of the country. This is a Borglum Lincoln in front of the tomb's entrance. To me it looks like the president has a bad cold.

The nose is shiny from contact with a constant stream of hands. It's placed so high that children can't reach it, though they try: I caught a group of kids in this pic trying to reach the nose. Ann had a different solution. She asked that I lift her up, and I did.

There are more Lincoln statues at Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site, which is about 20 miles from Springfield. My camera ran out of power, but not before I got a shot of the rail-splittin', book-readin' Young Abe Lincoln, who lived in New Salem for some years.

The site's web site says: "This statue, entitled 'The Resolute Lincoln,' was sculpted by well-known Lincoln sculptor Avard Fairbanks. The statue depicts Lincoln at a pivotal time in his development, where he resolves to put down the ax and pick up the book. It is meant to reflect the changes that Lincoln went through while at New Salem. The statue, a gift from the National Society of the Sons of Utah Pioneers, was dedicated in 1954."

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Palms Grill Cafe, Atlanta, Illinois

More than five years ago, Ann and I traveled to St. Louis to attend my nephew Sam's graduation from Washington U. She was all of two years old then, so there's little chance she remembers any of it, even Atlanta, Illinois' own Hot Dog Man, pictured at this site yesterday. Now that we've been back, as a seven-year-old she might have some lasting notion of it. Likewise but even more so for her mother and sister. We all took a look at Hot Dog Man.

So did a Japanese family who happened to be there at the same time as we were on Friday afternoon. I didn't ask them, but I suspect they were following some kind of Route 66 itinerary. Hot Dog Man must be in all the Route 66 books now.

They weren't the only ones out following old U.S. 66 on Friday, just the only ones I saw in Atlanta. Historic 66 parallels the main Chicago-Springfield-St. Louis highway, I-55, as a two-lane road much of the way, so close that it's easy to see from I-55. Sometimes we passed a vintage car, or in one case a convoy of four or five vintage cars, heading southward on Historic 66. By vintage I mean 1940s or '50s models. Somehow no one feels enough Dust Bowl nostalgia to outfit an auto to look like Tom Joad's jalopy, but maybe someone has done that on the Oklahoma-to-California section of Historic 66.

Atlanta was on U.S. 66, but when the town was bypassed by I-55, one impact was the demise of a downtown restaurant called the Palms Grill Cafe, opened in 1934. It was not there when I passed through town in 2005. But it is now, revived from the commercial dead and reopened last year. According to various sources, the intention was to re-create it as closely as possible to its '30s appearance.

"When it first opened, the Grill (as the locals call it) was known for its home-cooked meals, BINGO, and weekly dances in the back room, which is now filled with additional tables," says Illinois Adventures, a web site that promotes central Illinois tourism ("the Land of Lincoln proves it has more to offer than cornfields and that windy city up north," it says).

"Schoolchildren frequented the restaurant for its 45-cent plate lunches and travelers stopped there while they waited to catch the bus. The restaurant doubled as a bus stop, and people waiting to hop on would flip the switch for the light at the bottom of the Grill’s large neon sign to let drivers know they were inside."

Just an aside: a 45-cent lunch in 1934 or even a few years later was a modest price, but not exceptionally cheap. The equivalent in buying power in 2010 would be $7.33, or roughly what a basic meal at the restaurant now costs, including drink and maybe tip.

Illinois Adventures continues: "The restaurant, which re-opened on April 28, 2009, looks much like the original — right down to the position of the small, square tables on the left and the L-shape bar with its spinning stools on the right. It’s a no-nonsense sort of place, with just a hint of nostalgia evident in the white-painted tin ceiling overhead, the old-fashioned cash register sitting next to a modern one, and the glass bottles of Coca-Cola served from a cooler behind the counter."

We had lunch there on Friday. How could we miss that, especially since it's across the street from Hot Dog Man? Other details of my own observation include a blue-and-white Public Telephone sign, a Felix the Cat clock and a Roberts Milk clock, art deco lamps hanging from the ceiling, two coffee makers, a soft-drink dispenser of a modern variety, a stainless-steel double-headed milk shake mixer, and a microwave oven, something the place surely would have had in 1934 if it could have. Each table, and the counter too, sported six-inch or so plastic palm trees. We put ours on the napkin dispenser. The restaurant wasn't crowded, since we'd arrived at about 2, but we still heard the clink of plates and silverware, the occasional crunch of ice and the clatter of kitchen utensils, since the kitchen wasn't fully hidden.

The short-order cook had some talent. Some of us ordered lunch items such as sandwiches, but others ordered breakfast. I was in the breakfast camp, having a nicely done ham-and-cheese omelette. It came with hash browns. This Atlanta, at least, is north of the invisible grits-hash brown line that spans the nation from the East Coast to some unmarked spot on the Great Plains. But it's probably not that far north of the line.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Springfield '10

A few weeks ago we got e-mail from a major airline. Being on their e-mailing list is a legacy of my family's trip to Japan last year, when they all signed up for the airline's frequent flyer program. The reasoning at the time was eh, why not? I nearly trashed the e-mail, but noticed that it claimed that the miles earned by each member of my family last year were due to expire at the end of 2010. Round-trip to Japan represents a fair number of miles, but I figured not enough to get you more than a quarter of a domestic flight (after which you'd be ejected with a parachute, which would cost extra).

Then I found out we actually had enough miles to book three no-charge hotel nights. Not top-drawer hotels, but reasonable limited-served brands in a variety of places. We didn't need much more prodding than that to take a short trip, especially over the elongated Columbus Day weekend, which our school district thoughtfully made even longer by scheduling parent-teacher meetings on Thursday and Friday -- and ours on Thursday.

But where? Some deliberation followed. Eventually we decided on Springfield, Illinois. It's out of town but not too far; not overwhelmingly large, nor too small for a couple of days' visit; we hadn't been in years; and the place has more than enough to see. We used two of the three nights, driving down Friday and returning today.

When you go to Springfield, as an ordinary tourist anyway, the thing to do is Lincoln. Served up with a little more Lincoln on the side. And maybe another helping of Lincoln after that, just to be sure. Sure of what? That you've experienced enough Lincoln. The main industry of the town might be state government, but not many casual visitors are going to come to town to catch a meeting of the Illinois Cemetery Oversight Board, for instance (created just this year because of this scandal).

No, people come for Lincoln. Springfield makes it easy enough, since he seems to be everywhere. While walking down one of the city's streets yesterday, I wondered what kind of project it would be to take a camera in hand and photograph every image of Lincoln visible in downtown Springfield. My guess is that it would be a long task resulting in hundreds photos: not just official items such as statues and plaques, of which there are many, but also the proliferation of Lincolns associated with shops and shop windows, advertising and even handbills with cartoonish but recognizable Lincolns.

To help satisfy the desire for Lincoln and further promote him, the State of Illinois did an unusual thing in the 2000s. It developed the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. I've been curious to see this place since it opened in 2005, and now I have. That was the main course. For our sides, we also managed to visit the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, the Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site and Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site, which isn't far from Springfield, in Menard County.

So we went for Lincoln, like everyone else. But for all that, he wasn't quite the whole trip. We got to see this guy too. He's tall, but he's no Lincoln.

We also paid a visit to the empty tomb of Mr. Accordion. More about which in the coming days.

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Waiting for 10-10-10

No posting until 10/10/10. Got a lot to do between now and then. And what's supposed to happen on 10/10/10? A few years ago, various souls were atwitter about 06/06/06, some apparently serious and some apparently not. Billy Preston died that day, which I suppose was a bad thing, but it doesn't count as the Apocalypse.

One more thing about Sputnik -- actually the Korabl-Sputnik I satellite, also called "Sputnik IV." Not the basketball with antennae launched in 1957, but a different artificial moon launched in 1960. A part of it crashed into Manitowoc, Wisconsin, in 1962, and apparently there's a small memorial to that fact. If only I'd known that the last time I passed through Manitowoc, I could have looked for it.

The last episode of the fourth season of Mad Men will be Sunday after next. In a burst of enthusiasm for weekly TV programming we haven't felt in at least a decade, Yuriko and I have been watching regularly since the first episode of the season in July. Mostly we haven't been disappointed. In the series' internal chronology, it's now late summer 1965 or maybe even September -- so shouldn't the season finale occur during the Great Northeastern Blackout in November?

At this juncture the Fate of the Agency is on the line, and Being in the Dark would be a good way to orchestrate a cliffhanger end for the season. How could Mad Men resist that? I sound like I'm mocking the show, but not really. Sometimes metaphor pokes through the stories in all-too-obvious ways, but usually not. Then again, the show also does unexpected things, so there's no telling whether the blackout will even be mentioned. Or maybe it will be in the penultimate episode, like the Kennedy assassination was in the third season.

I don't remember hearing about the blackout when it happened, but I certainly heard about it later. Even in fiction: it seems to play a part in the Night Gallery episode that I remember called "Eyes," which starred Joan Crawford and was directed, remarkably enough, by a 23-year-old Steven Spielberg. I had to look up those details; even Joan Crawford would have meant nothing to me as an eight-year-old.

Even more remarkably, the episode is posted here and elsewhere as three separate parts, but who knows for how long. I watched "Eyes" for the first time in 40 years or so this evening, and I can see why it stuck with me. Night Gallery, having the misfortune to dwell in the shadow of The Twilight Zone, is definitely underrated.

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Monday, October 04, 2010


Fall is in the air. It better be, since it's October. Early Sunday morning, the heater kicked in, and did so again in the small hours this morning as frost gathered outside. The trees are now a mix of green with yellow and brown added, but yellow and brown are going to be the majority in a week or so. Late last week I even saw geese fly by in standard V formation, heading south. How much more autumnal can you get?

Naturally, at this time of year my thoughts turn to Sputnik. Apparently the 50th anniversary a few years ago inspired the creation of a documentary called Sputnik Mania, which has interesting trailer at least. Once upon a time, my eighth grade English teacher, Mr. Allen, challenged us kids to name a word that had come into the English language in a single day. Some smart aleck (maybe me) suggested "quiz," but he said that story of street urchins writing the word all over Dublin sounded like blarney, and I'll go along with that.

No, he said the word was "sputnik." On October 4, 1957 -- only 17+ years earlier, but impossibly long ago for 13- and 14-year-olds -- suddenly everyone knew what a "sputnik" was. Briefly, it seems, it was a synonym for "satellite." That can be seen in the Sputnik Mania trailer during a moment that shows English-language newspaper headlines reporting the explosion of the rocket meant to carry the U.S. Navy's Vanguard satellite into orbit on December 6, 1957. OH DEAR!!! screams the (UK?) Daily Mirror U.S. SPUTNIK BLOWS UP ON THE GROUND!!! Other headlines tell of Flopnik and Phutnik.

That usage didn't last, of course. English speakers weren't about to cede such an important word to the Russians, not when the Latinate satellite was available (note also that "artificial moon" has gone by the wayside, too). My American Heritage New College Dictionary tells me, curiously, that the root meanings of satellite and sputnik are about the same. The Latin satelles means "attendant, escort" (and is probably Etruscan in origin, of all things), while sputnik is generally translated "fellow traveler" -- of the Earth, not of the Communist Party -- with Indo-European roots ksun ("with") and pent ("tread," "go"). But let's not get too pedantic. No one is considering subscribing to sputnik TV as an alternative to cable these days.

In case that's not enough sputnik, there's always the unlikely combination of rockabilly and space in the song "Sputnik" by Jerry Engler and the Four Ekkos, which includes lyrics along these lines: "Oh! We're gonna get our kicks/ On a little ol' thing called a sputnik/I said spoo-spoo-spoot-a-nick-a-chick!" The song is here, complete with a video featuring of a rocket program unrelated to the first satellite. More (there's always more) about the song and songwriter is here, at a site promising "Cold War Music from the Golden Age of Homeland Security."

Or, you can listen to the beep-beep-beep.

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Sunday, October 03, 2010

Item From the Past: Beaches of the Florida Panhandle

I didn't spend much time on the beach in Florida in early October 2007, when I visited WaterColor and Seaside. (See Seaside, Florida, Part 1; Goin' to the Chapel; and Last Photo Series.) Maybe part of the reason was an unwelcoming attitude on the part of municipal officials.

I found a public access path not too far away and accessed the astonishingly white beaches of northwest Florida for a few minutes, without encountering Security Enforcement. This summer, I wondered about these beaches, and how many tar balls might have found their way onto the vividly white sands in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon's noxious gift to the Gulf of Mexico.

It's hard to know exactly what has happened on exactly that small bit of the Florida coast, short of visiting in person at the right time. Check the Seaside web site and there doesn't seem to be a peep about oil, which is no surprise, since the site has a chamber of commerce vibe to it, even if no actual chamber is involved. The site's motto: More than a way of life, a way of living! Huh?

This interactive map suggests that some oil visited the 30A corridor, Florida 30A being the road that runs next to the coast in this area. It was published by ESRI to show off its GIS software. This Facebook page, The Oil Spill and South Walton/Scenic Hwy 30A, also offers some clues.

In any case, I visited the beach along Seaside three years ago.

The place certainly had its charms.

But even if I'd had a trip scheduled for this year, I would have gone. To see tar balls for myself, if there were any to be seen.

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