Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Future Will Be Wrecked but Gorgeous: Chris Foss

From Wikipedia:
Christopher Foss (born 1946) is a British illustrator and science fiction artist, best known for his science fiction book covers and the illustrations for the original editions of The Joy of Sex.

His evocative science fiction book covers pioneered a much-imitated style featuring vast, colourful spaceships, machines and cities, often marked with mysterious symbols. Human figures are (almost always) totally absent. These images are suggestive of science fiction in general rather than depictions of specific scenes from books, and therefore can be -- and have been -- used interchangeably on book covers. During the 1970s, Foss's images of future technology had the same iconic "defining" quality that H.R. Giger's would have in terms of depictions of alien or future life forms.

Books featuring Foss illustrations include the 1970s British paperback covers for Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, the Terran Trade Authority, several Edmund Cooper novels, and E. E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman series. Some of the art he did produce was specific to the stories and some examples of this are the covers he did for the Grafton publications of the Demon Princes novels by Jack Vance in the late 1980's, Star King, The Killing Machine, The Palace of Love, The Face and The Book of Dreams.

In 1975 Foss was hired by director Alejandro Jodorowsky for an intended film version of the science-fiction novel Dune by author Frank Herbert. He delivered several conceptual studies published in the book 21st Century Foss, ISBN 90-6332-571-1, containing a foreword by Jodorowsky. The project failed. In 1977 Foss worked for several month on studies for the movie Alien (not being used in the movie) and also did some designs of the planet Krypton for the movie Superman. Some of his crystal structures for the planet were realized in the movie, although they were used as ice-structures.

Here's some of Foss's designs for Jodorowsky's Dune, from a Foss fan site

And here's Foss's official site.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Movies You Haven't Seen But Should: Phantom of the Paradise

From Wikipedia:

The story follows a music composer and singer named Winslow Leach (played by William Finley). Winslow's pop cantata "Faust" is stolen by Satanic record producer, Swan (played by Paul Williams). Winslow tries to get it back, and along the way falls for Phoenix, an aspiring singer (played by Jessica Harper). Swan orders his minions to frame Winslow for drug dealing.

In prison, after his teeth are removed and replaced with metal ones, Winslow goes berserk, escapes and tries to destroy Swan's record factory. His face is mutilated and vocal chords crushed in a record press accident. Winslow sneaks into Swan's concert hall and residence, the Paradise, and wears an owl-like mask and black leather costume so he can terrorize Swan's musicians.

Swan confronts Winslow, and offers the composer the chance to have his music produced and the return of his voice, in exchange for signing a contract in blood. Winslow agrees, on the condition that Phoenix is the lead singer.

Swan breaks the deal, seduces Phoenix, and puts a gay male prima donna named Beef (Gerrit Graham) in the lead of Winslow's "Faust". Winslow kills Beef, then learns that Swan made a Pact with the Devil years ago: Swan will live forever, with a youthful appearance, unless the videotaped recording of his contract is destroyed. Winslow's contract with Swan, in turn, says that that Winslow can't die until Swan himself has died.

Winslow Leach: "All art…"
[Swan has moved to the other side of the Phantom]
Winslow Leach: "All articles which have been excluded shall be deemed included." What does that mean?
Swan: That's a clause to protect you, Winslow.

And here it is, of course, on the IMDB

Sunday, March 23, 2008

With friends like this, does mankind really need enemies?

From comicbookcatacombs

"Warren Publishings venerable titles Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella all got their starts in the Swinging Sixties, but they continued to please throughout the Disco Decade of the Seventies, too. The 1979 Eerie Yearbook (regular issue #106) collected four mid-60's tales by writer Jim Stenstrum, and artists Richard Corben & Jose Ortiz that featured the amoral, freelance contract killer Hard John Apple; under the title "Hard John's Nuclear Hit Parade".

Set within a post-apocalyptic world following two religious wars that have virtually wiped out humanity, left the planet deserted and left the survivors struggling in a dog-eat-dog world, Eerie #106 presented an all-too common genre theme from those years, with one man trying to make a difference in a world that had already died aborning. I haven't had the issue in many years, but it made a a good impression on me at the time and I seem to remember Hard John going out with a real bang at the end - - - and taking the last remaining army with him."

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Graduation Ceremony is a Kick to the Nads: The School For Scoundrels

From Wikipedia:
School for Scoundrels or How to Win Without Actually Cheating! is a 1960 British comedy film, inspired by the lifemanship books of Stephen Potter.
The film stars Ian Carmichael as Henry Palfrey, a failure who attends the "School of Lifemanship", run by Dr. Potter (Alastair Sim), who teaches him how to win in life, and get the better of his rival (Terry-Thomas), through gamesmanship and various other underhand means.

Raymond Delauney: Hard cheese old boy!
Here it is on the imdb

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Films you should see but probally never will (untill now): Gizmo!

Gizmo! An amusing documentary that takes a loving look at oddball inventors and their often outlandish contraptions. Narrated by Howard K. Smi Thanks to "Gizmofan" for the youtube posting.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tony Stark is Just 'Spam in a Can.' Here's a Real Iron Man Genius

Forget Jon Favreau's multi-million dollar production, David Guivant created this intro to an Iron Man TV series with nothing but some good friends, a camcorder, Photoshop, and some real talent. Bravo!
Shot entirely in New Caledonia, South Pacific, this was made with 900 USD $ and recorded with a Sony Mini DV Camcorder. The Actors were shot on a black backgound and the lighting is from torch lights or Garden projectors, I don't have anything to record audio and to produce sound itself.

My actors are friends, students and teachers doing it for fun. No drama training at all.

What you see is 2D frame by frame animation, all done in photoshop. My main area is pre-production and graphics so the lack of dialogue don't really bother me at all.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Movies You Haven't Seen And Never Should: Night of the Lepus

Officer Lopez: Attention! Attention! Ladies and gentlemen, attention! There is a herd of killer rabbits headed this way and we desperately need your help!
From Wikipedia:
Night of the Lepus is a 1972 B-movie horror film in which giant mutant rabbits terrorize the Southwestern United States. The film was directed by William F. Claxton, written by Don Holliday and Gene R. Kearney, and starred Stuart Whitman as the main character, as well as Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun, and DeForest Kelley, best known for his performance as Dr. Leonard McCoy on Star Trek. It was adapted from the novel The Year of the Angry Rabbit written by Russell Braddon.

Rancher Cole Hillman is having problems with the rabbit population on his ranch, who are destroying his crops. College president Elgin Clark, as a favor to benefactor Cole, calls in zoologists Roy and Gerry Bennett, who create an (untested) serum for disrupting the breeding cycle of rabbits. However, their daughter Amanda has become attached to the uninjected rabbit that has become the serum's test subject, and switches it with an already-injected bunny. The injected rabbit gets away and breeds. The serum doesn't disrupt their breeding cycle, but does something worse: it causes the rabbits to become gigantic meat-eaters. When several people are slaughtered by the carnivorous carrot-munchers, Roy and Gerry attempt to find a solution before the whole of the American Southwest is overrun by giant rabbits.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Welcome to Weirdsville: Fear Itself

As the archetypal bumper-sticker proclaims: "Being Paranoid Doesn't Mean that They Aren't Out to Get You." In the world of the paranoiac, the world is nothing but a teetering rock slide: impending destruction always hovering just a moment away. Their world is one full of traps, deceptions, plots, conspiracies, and death where everyone is literally out to get you.

Some have suggested that a daily tablespoon full of this viewpoint can actually be a survival trait: In our capricious and elaborate world a certain degree of suspicion and caution will allow us to live to be frightened another day. Others suggest that this view is nothing less that narcissism stretched to a penultimate degree - that we are so special, so unique, that the universe and it's all-present Men in Black (with Black Helicopter and Satellite Brain-Ray Beam gift set) have no choice but to squish us flat.

But the real terror is lurking just beyond that. As anyone who has studied nature can attest, the world and all its creatures (great as well as small) really are out to get us.

Some of their attacks are easy to defend against. Into daily battle we go, armed to the teeth with antibiotics and the unshakable knowledge that:

  • if we cross against DON'T WALK we'll be turned into chunky salsa
  • milk the consistency of raw cement is not good
  • playing on the freeway is bad
  • sticking our fingers into electrical sockets is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime thrill
With those bits of arcane law filling our grey matter, we in know how to survive to see tomorrow. Yet there are creatures on this globe that can snuff us out like a cheap candle in a stiff wind.

I don't mean the cartoon ferocity of the lion, tiger, or bear (or my) who proclaim their dangerous potential with a growl, roar, or screech. These critters lurk in dark silence, ready to strike with either the barest of warnings or none at all, and with absolutely fatal venom.

Some you've heard about, and so sit there and scoff. Yeah, big deal: rattlesnake, cobra, black widow - either you can hear them coming, avoid going to India, or simply not stick your hands into dark places. "Ha!" I write at your smug, assumed knowledge of nasty things. "Ha!" I write at your ignorance of the real terrors that are lurking out there, ready to strike. Rattlesnake, cobra, and black widow are nothing but annoyances: fatal only to the truly stupid or very sick. Dangerous, sure, but deadly to only Darwin Award winners.

But there are others, nasty little things as viscous and deadly as they are quiet and unassuming. Say, for instance, you happen to be happily walking through the low surf merrily picking up and discarding shells, looking for just the right one to decorate your desk back at the office. With no warning at all, however, you feel a sharp sting from one of those pretty shells, a sting that quickly flares into a crawling agony. With that quick sting, the cone snail's barbed spear has insidiously injected you with one of the most potent neurotoxins in existence. Nerves short-circuited by this infinitesimally small amount of juice, in seconds the agony of where the stinger struck has faded into a heavy numbness. A relief, perhaps, but then it spreads and moments later the paralysis has seized the entire limb. Then the breathing troubles start ... and then, simply, your heart stops beating. Yes, there are antivenoms available, but, frankly, with something that can kill in less than four minutes you'd have to carry it in your back pocket to survive. It wasn't just for their fondness for these pretty shells that lead the CIA to develop a weapon using this venom to dispatch enemies.

We'll be back to the ocean in a few paragraphs, but for the next dangerous denizen we have to visit the steaming Amazon. Now I know what you're thinking, "Gee, what would I be doing out there in the jungle primeval?" To that I say that you're not paying attention to the lesson: it isn't so much that these things are where they are, but that they exist to begin with, and carry their lethality in such innocent packages.

That frog over there, for instance, that tiny, brilliantly colored tree frog. Doesn't he look like some kind of Faberge ornament, there against that shocking vermilion leaf? Wouldn't such a natural jewel look just gorgeous in a terrarium back home?

Pick him and you could be dead in a matter of minutes. One second frolicking in the undergrowth, the next spasming and foaming on the jungle floor. No stinger, no bite, no venom: just the shimmering slime covering his brilliant body. The natives in these here parts capture these poison arrow frogs (carefully) and coat their blowgun darts with that slime - and knock full grown monkey's out of the trees with a single strike.

Back in the windswept sea, sharks announce their presence with a steady da-dum, da-dum, da-dum of background music; rattlesnakes ... well, they rattle; lions, and tigers, and bears (oh, my) as said roar and bellow. These dangers are loud, almost comical: they parade their danger. But as paranoiacs know, these are nothing but part of the grand deception: they make us believe that everything fatal comes with sirens of intent, or brilliant warning labels. The real monsters are more devious than that; they lurk on the other side of invisibility, never make a sound, a kill you faster than the sounding of that first note in a shark's theme song.

Cone shells can be avoided, and brilliant frogs warn of their fatality, but this last terror does not roar or display its danger at all. Let's take one final swim, shall we, this time off the coast of Australia? Incredible blue waters, shimmering sandy beaches, shrimps on the barbie... Skin divers rave about the Australian coast … those, that is, who never let their guard down for an instant.

Paddling in the crystal sea, enjoying the cool waters, the warm sun, it's easy to miss this monster, especially as it's almost as clear as the ocean. Chironex fleckeri doesn't sound terrifying, does it? Chironex fleckeri: a tiny jellyfish found off the coast of Australia and southeastern Asia. Only about sixteen inches long, this jelly's tentacles carry thousands of nematocysts, microscopic stingers activated not by ill-will but by a simple brush against shell, or skin. Do this and they fire, injecting anyone and anything with the most powerful neurotoxin known. Stories abound of swimmers leaping from the cool Australian seas, skin blistered and torn from thousands of these tiny stingers, the venom scalding their bodies and plunging them into agonizing shock. The sting of a chironex fleckeri, also called the sea wasp, has been described by experts as horrifying torment.

Luckily it doesn't last long. Take that to heart dear, innocent reader, as you dog paddle through the ocean, walk on the beach, or trek through the forest: safe in your ignorance that the world doesn't hide terrifying, hideous deaths. The hideous agony of sea wasp's sting doesn't last long.

Not long at all. In fact, the burning pain is over in just about the time it will take you to read this last paragraph (and you don't have to be a phenomenally slow reader), not even enough time to reach shore and call for help. Maybe as the venom works itself into your system, causing your nervous system to collapse, you'll realize that paranoiacs are right: that there really are dangerous things out there, things that'll kill you by pure reflex, by just crossing their paths. Thirty seconds isn't a long time, not long at all. But sometimes life, and death, lessons can come in very short periods.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

One of Our Favorite Heroes ... er, Villains?

From Wikipedia:
Diabolik is a fictional character, an anti-hero featured in Italian comics. He was created by sisters Angela and Luciana Giussani in 1962. His stories appear in monthly black and white digest-sized booklets. The character was inspired by several previous characters from French and Italian pulp fiction, primarily Fantômas.

Diabolik is a ruthless master thief. He typically steals from criminals (and has no issue with killing them if need be, but rarely, if ever, kills the innocent or the police), and has a set of lifelike masks which he uses to fool his opponents, assuming every identity at his will. He seems to have a deep knowledge in many scientific fields, including chemistry, mechanics and computers. In his first appearances, Diabolik was a more straightforward villain who did not hesitate to murder anyone in order to accomplish his deeds. He was later given a more “Robin Hood”-like persona and was shown stealing essentially from criminals, in order to soften the series’ violence and amorality.

He was raised as an orphan on a secret island hideout of a criminal combine, where he learned all his criminal skills, including developing his special masks, before killing the head of the combine. Diabolik’s true name had never been revealed in the series, and he doesn’t know it himself. Diabolik took his name from a dangerous black panther that the head of the combine killed on the secret island. From issue #3 of the series, Diabolik is aided by his “moll,” Eva Kant, who has gained an increasing role as his partner.

Diabolik always drives a black 1961 Jaguar E-type. Graphically inspired by the actor Robert Taylor, he usually wears a skintight black body suit that leaves only his eyes and eyebrows (very distinctive ones) exposed when going “into action.” Diabolik does not use firearms: his main weapons are the daggers he throws with uncanny ability, as well as a small dart gun with knockout darts. Eva drives a white Jaguar, and unusually goes into action wearing a heavy sweater and pants, no mask and no revealing clothing. The stories are set in a fictional town, Clerville, loosely inspired by Geneva, Switzerland.

Diabolik’s main opponent is Inspector Ginko, known only by his surname, a fierce police officer who is always thwarted by astute tricks devised by Diabolik. The only other stable character is the noblewoman Altea, Ginko’s fiancee.

Don't forget the film, staring John Philip Law and Marisa Mel

And even toys!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light, Jack Kirby ... and the CIA?

From LordofLight.Com:

In the winter of 1979, after more than a year's preliminary development and $500,000 in pre-production fund-raising, spanning potential sites from Reno, Nevada, to Toronto, Canada, then Mirabel, Quebec -- 1000 acres were finally leased for a Theme Park called ScienceFictionLand, set to be built in Aurora Country just outside of Denver, Colorado. The Park's buildings were to be based upon the production designs and sets of the film, Lord of Light, designed by Jack Kirby and Barry Geller.

The Producer's vision (in 1979) was to include computer-controlled rides, magneticaly levitating cars operated by voice command, billboard-sized Holography, a bullet-train from Japan, and many other venues for children to envision the future. The park was heralded in the press as the first theme park ever to become a center for new technologies invented, developed, and presented to the public solely on an entertainment basis. Commercial applications of new technologies would further act as continuing revenue for scientific, educational, and research foundations set up by the parent company. The creation of the Theme Park ScienceFictionLand was also the Producer's plan for the funding of the film, Lord of Light.

Fortune 500 companies around the world had been contacted to act as sponsors. Internationally acclaimed scientists, architects, and engineers were intrigued and several had begun work on Research and Development. Future Technologists like Buckminster Fuller, Paolo Soleri, and Ray Bradbury were enlisted to come in as consultants. Even 3M had already expressed interest in building a 1/2 mile high Floating Heated Dome (based upon Buckminister Fuller's original designs for air-conditioning NYC during its 1960s World Fair) over the entire park. The film's financing was contingent upon the development of the themepark.

From the Business Development section: "During the period of 1978-1980, (the last time the project was publically promoted and prior to the CIA story covered elswhere on this site), professional associations included: a seasoned financial manager who managed four Studio heads, a Major Studio promise of distribution, an Oscar-winning actor's promise of participation, an Oscar-winning Makeup Special effects director's employment, the employment of the creative artist/designer responsible for 50% of the Comics Industry, two of the world's top science fiction writers consulting, two of the world's leading achitects, and last but not least the personal involvement of one of the world's most famous inventors.It was described as a property whose vast resources both creative and financial talent appreciated."

Production funding began to materialize but was stopped due in no small part to the publicity regarding the actions of the project's supervising producer who was charged with security violations and caught plotting secret real estate purchases with the local mayor and city council. All were later convicted; the Producer's innocence was immediately proven in court and he was completely exonerated.

Strangely, coincidentally, the project's troubles came to public light (after a raid on our production offices in Denver by the FBI-backed DA's office) on almost the exact days the CIA/Agent Mendez admits to coming up with his Film Cover Story (Argo Productions) and shortly afterwards purloining the Lord of Light production drawings and script. It was the Lord of Light larger-than-life science fiction script and production designs, created by Kirby and Geller, which proved to be the foundation for the success of the CIA's mission. (see Mendez story below. Bravo TV's film clip, where Mendez explains the details of how he used the production designs and scripts as his cover, is available upon request). Our existing interim financing (about 1/3 of the film's budget) was frozen at the banks in late December, 1979, just around the time the CIA was organizing it's "Production." The End.

It took almost two years for the Producer to restructure the original investment partnership using two of the top legal firms in the Western United States, completely clearing and protecting the book rights beyond any legal question. Nothing has been done with the Lord of Light Project since that time.

Our Chief of Makeup Special Effects in 1979 was the revered Oscar Winner, John Chambers (Planet of the Apes, etc.). John had briefly mentioned to me he'd done some "special" makeup work for the Government, months before. In actual fact, John was the CIA's true Master Disguise creator for quite some time, spanning many covert operations. According to the article below CIA Operative Mendez (who wrote the article) received the Lord of Light development package from "Jerome" -- John Chambers -- about a week after the raid on our Denver offices. The Lord of Light material was stolen ("appropriated" ) by CIA Agent Antonio Mendez to form a phony Hollywood film company called Studio Six Productions.

By using Geller's script and the Jack Kirby / Barry Geller production drawings from the Lord of Light project, the happy ending of the the operation (called an "exfiltration") resulted in the successful rescue of six Americans hiding in the Canadian Embassy during the Iran Crisis. John Chambers died just after the release of Mendez's book admitting the events, and few people in the industry know of all the dedicated work he'd accomplished for his government.

These facts only became known to us in 2001, when we were approached by Bravo Television for permission to use some Lord of Light Production drawings for a filmed interview on Mendez by Errol Morris' First Person, where Mendez openly admitted the theft of the script and production drawings for his cover. The video is copyrighted by Bravo and is available from us upon request.

Regardless of anything that may or may not have occurred and the means which the CIA used, we nevertheless applaud the success of Mendez's mission, John's heretofore unknown and unsung patriotism, and the safe return of six American lives.

For more detail on how the King of Comics, a Lord of Science Fiction, and the CIA were involved in freeing American hostages from Tehran: Wired.com.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Great Grandma's Umbrella is Acting Kinda Weird: Kasa-obake

From Wikipedia:
Karakasa (唐傘 "Chinese umbrella"), or Kasa Obake, are a type of Tsukumogami, a form of Japanese Spirit that originate from objects reaching their 100th year of existence, thus becoming animate. Karakasa in particular are Spirits of Parasols (umbrellas) that reach the century milestone. They are typically portrayed with one eye, a long tongue protruding from an open mouth, and a single foot, generally wearing a geta.
A Karakasa also makes a memorable appearance in Takashi Miike's fantastic Yôkai daisensô (Great Yokai War):

Monday, March 3, 2008

Welcome to Weirdsville: Never Forget

Trumpeting, though no one alive can hear her; thundering down the shimmering vanishing point of the old steel rails, though no one living can feel her massing footfalls; her massive ectoplasmic essence prowls the afterlife tundra of the railway yards, maybe she tries to pull the living, so inaccessible, weeds that struggle through the creosote stained ties, between the fissures of cracked concrete; maybe she tries to bathe in the town reservoir, though the water flows through her ghostly form.

Though the real world is denied her perhaps it feels her presence nonetheless: Do some people stare at peanuts and feel the awe and laughter of unseen audiences? Do others feel the elusive memory of hot savannas, the coughing call of hungry lions? And some unfortunate few, do they feel the bite of links around their necks, the mass of great weight parting their noble spines, blanking the world of the living, passing them onto that other sphere of the dead?

This is all speculation - all fantasy and conjecture. Truthfully, I don't know if she prowls the spectral side of town, have no idea if the residents feel her presence in cotton-candy, big top dreams of circuses, or African visions of the wild. Hypothesis and imagination, sure, but I do know one thing as an absolute certainty - wherever Big Mary resides, whatever she is doing now, as her fabled nature describes, she has never forgotten what the people of Erwin, Tennessee, did to her.

Most obviously, it isn’t something the little town likes to be reminded of. I’ve heard if you go poking around the railway yards, digging in slag pits and under massive piles of old rail ties, the local citizens get rather uncomfortable, almost testy: they don’t want to be known as the town that lynched the elephant.

Still, that’s just what happened - and the bones of Big Mary are there somewhere.

1916 was a big year for hangings, especially in Tennessee. Strange fruit hung from a lot of trees, but none stranger than that other import from Africa.

As a star of the Charlie Sparks World Famous Show Mary's record was - to be fair - not exactly spotless. Some remember 18, others swear just two men had been killed by the African cow elephant. But whatever her past raps may have been, the cold hard fact remains that what was done to Mary was definitely unusual, and no doubt cruel.

Billed as “the largest living animal on earth” - claiming to be even bigger than P.T. Barnum’s Jumbo - Mary was the star of Sparks’ third-rate circus. In brilliant fly bills, she was touted as being able to flawlessly play 25 tunes on musical horns, and even bat .400. Of the other pachyderms in the show, she was the stand-out favorite: a mammoth diva.

Which is why Sparks' decision still makes people scratch their heads: If Mary was so valuable ($20,000, not a small sum in those days) when why was she given Red Eldridge as a handler: man who just days before had been a janitor in the nearby town of St. Paul, Virginia? Even discounting the wisdom of hindsight, it does seem extremely puzzling that Sparks should give control of a known-to-be-unpredictable elephant to a man whose job history could best be described as ‘bum’. A divergent thought springs to mind, a Machiavellian knot of suspicion: A failing circus, a temperamental elephant, and a ‘disposable’ handler: nothing like putting down a 'murderous' elephant for gobs of publicity.

It's without a doubt that Mary had a hand ... er, ‘foot’ - in killing Eldridge. In this case there is no one-armed man, no figure on the grassy knoll: if we have to doubt the incident that took place in the town of Kingsport, Tennessee, it is not whether Mary murdered her handler, but rather the extenuation circumstances that led to it.

The exact turn of events are hazy, and in some cases conflicting, but they all converge and agree on some very firm points. Mary was being led to a pond near where the circus was camped to bathe with the other elephants, Eldridge - as usual - was poking Mary with his elephant stick, trying to get her to toe the line, when Mary struck at her handler. ‘Why’ is one of those cloudy issues: Was Mary in pain from an infected tooth? Did she simply have a bad day? My favorite theory is the most heartrending: that Mary had simply moved towards a discarded watermelon rind.

Keeping in mind the bias of the press towards this incident - even in 1916 people really didn’t want the doubt of lynching a basically innocent pachyderm - one of my favorite accounts is from the Johnson City Staff: “trunk vice-like about his body, lifted him 10 feet into the air, then dashed him with fury to the ground ... and with the full force of her beastly fury is said to have sunk her giant tusks entirely through his body. The animal then trampled the dying form of Eldridge as if seeking a murderous triumph, then with a sudden ... swing of her massive foot hurled his body into the crowd.”

No defense was offered for Mary; no jury of her peers deliberated the evidence, the circumstances; no judge passed sentence on her, seeking justice. Maybe Big Mary was guilty of the crime she’d been accused of, maybe there were explanations, more evidence that needed to be heard - or perhaps it was just a slow week, and the killing of an elephant was just the thing to liven things up a bit.

Her guilt, and her punishment, was taken for granted. Mary had to die, and it was as simple as that. But how do you kill a five ton elephant? It had been done before, and would be done again by guns and even electrically by Thomas Edison, but this was Tennessee, damnit: ‘and in these here parts we don’t take on this new-fangled way of doin’ things. Down here, we need to put a feller down; we just put a rope around his neck and do the job the old-fashioned way.’

Decided in good ol’ boy fashion, Mary was to die for her crime. Sparks, in a gesture of true compassion, didn’t make Big Mary perform the day she was killed but he did guarantee mourners at her execution by making a huge announcement of the event, and offering attendance for the touching fee of zilch.

So Mary was taken to Erwin, and there she was chained by one leg to a rail directly beneath Derrick Car 1400 on September 13, 1916. The crane on the Derrick car was used for lifting locomotives free of their rails so it was thought it could handle the task of lynching Big Mary. 5,000 people crowded the rail yards that day, perhaps munching on the treats Mary had been given when she was the star of the show or, to give an even bigger, bitter taste of irony, maybe some of slack-jawed yokels watched and ate sweet, sweet watermelon as Mary was prepared for death.

Like all really good executions, Mary’s was botched right at the start. A chain was looped around her neck, and from there to the boom of the derrick. The crowd was hushed, or maybe they just chanted “kill her. Whatever, quiet or bedlam, the end of Mary’s life was at hand. The signal was given, and the crane started to work. Slowly, ponderously, the African cow elephant was lifted ... two feet off the ground, probably swinging furiously ... three and then came the sound of breaking bones, snapping ligaments: the roustabouts had failed to unchain one of her legs from the rail.

Unusual? Definitely. Cruel? Her sentence had been to hang, not to be quartered. The chain, much too narrow of the job, snapped. She was smashed down onto creosote darkened ties, oil-fouled gravel. Screaming in pain - for her hip had been broken and one leg had been painfully wrenched - she thrashed around till one carnie, either stricken with conscience or seeing a chance to impress his buddies, climbed poor Mary like a minor, thrashing mountain, and attached another chain.

Then the sentence was successfully carried out: in agony, swinging her great legs, her mighty trunk, perhaps bellowing out a pitiful cry, the 10,000 pounds of Big Mary was hauled literally from this earth.

After she was dead, after the last citizen of Erwin, Tennessee had their fill of seeing her great body slowly swinging beneath the steel arm of Derrick Car 1400, Mary was finally lowered. Her tusks, it was said, were cut from her body. Her grave was then prepared: a massive pit somewhere out along the boxcars and rails, a vault for her gray remains.

Somewhere in the real yards of Erwin, Tennessee the bones of Big Mary rest - a sore point for the little town, a part of its history the residents would rather soon forget. But for Mary, wherever she is now, there is a certainty, an absolute that is definite despite all conjecture and oral history: Big Mary will never, ever forget.