Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dark Roasted Weirdsville

Here's a brand new Dark Roasted Blend piece on huge musical instruments: magnificent pipe organs

The jokes pretty much write themselves: ‘organ,’ ‘blowing pipes,’ ‘wind,’ etc., etc., so on, so forth …. But the giggling stops when you start to investigate the history, science, and simple magnificence that has gone into the creation of some of the world’s most incredible pipe organs.

As with a lot of important technological – as well as artistic – achievements, trying to determine who made the first one of these things is a bit fuzzy. Some experts give the ancient Greeks most of the credit – specifically the genius Ctesibius of Alexandria. Those early Greek organs were simplistic compared to the height of organ science … stop giggling … but the basic principle is still the same: force air through a pipe and you get sound. Make the pipe smaller, tighter, and the note that comes out is higher. Make the pipe larger, wider, and the note that comes out is lower.

What’s interesting is that portable organs were not just created but common in certain parts of Europe during the Middle Ages. They were probably about as mechanically simple as Ctesibius’s early invention, but it’s still remarkable that the technology was there and transportable by horse and wagon.

But when you want to talk about big organs … I asked you to stop giggling … you have to talk about the permanently installed ones.

As with astronomical clocks, large organs quickly became the blockbusters of their time. If yours was a town of any notoriety then you pretty much had to have one – the bigger the better. The fact that they were used by churches, like the aforementioned fancy clocks, couldn’t hurt either, as they had the deep pockets to afford them.

Here’s another bunch of interesting organ facts … what are you? 12? … the organ created for Halberstadt, Germany was a monster for its time. Its bellows had to be worked ceaselessly by ten men – who were, no doubt, music fans. The technology is impressive today, and was simply astounding when it was created in (ready for this?) 1361.

Because the technology of a pipe organ is relatively simple, making them bigger was pretty much a matter of just scaling them up: bigger pipes, bigger air supplies, etc. While there were a lot of monster organs … now you’re just embarrassing yourselves … there are some that took the musical instrument from noteworthy to astounding.

One of the largest is still played today: created in 1911, the Kotzschmar Memorial Organ in Portland, Maine, is a beautiful piece of engineering as well as musical artistry. Although much of its technology is hidden – which is often the case with organs – what is visible is simultaneously elegant and powerful, which also perfectly defines the music of its haunting notes.

Another great organ … are you finished? … can also still be heard. Created in 1904 for the St Louis World’s Fair, the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ in Philadelphia is a monster among monsters. Everything about the instrument looks like it was designed not just to make sound but a LOT of VERY BIG sounds: it has not one, not two … but, to get to the point, 28,482 pipes set in 461 rows. Its keyboard looks more like something used to launch a space shuttle rather than create music. But the organ definitely creates music – on a scale commensurate with its standing as the second largest pipe organ in the world.

Okay, get your giggles, guffaws and chortles out of the way. You ready to hear about the world’s largest organ? Unfortunately – as with a lot of big organ claims -- you’re likely to be disappointed.

Next time you’re in Atlantic City, swing on by and check it out in the Boardwalk Hall. Built in 1932, the organ makes that beast in Philadelphia look like a sickly kitten. While the Wannamaker Organ boasts those 28,482 pipes, the Boardwalk Hall organ has – ready for this? – about 33,000 pipes. I say ‘about’ because even the owner/operators of the machine aren’t sure. Even the engineering for the organ looks like something that might have been built to power the Muzak in the Tower of Babylon elevators.

The Boardwalk organ holds a total of three Guinness World Records: largest pipe organ in the world, largest musical instrument, and – it must have been a literal blast to have been there when this was set – the loudest musical instrument ever constructed. When asked how he felt about winning this last award, the keyboardist was heard, barely, to answer “what?”

Alas, the organ remains … you were waiting for me to make another joke, weren’t you? Well, I would if we weren’t talking about such a legendary musical instrument. The Boardwalk organ, alas, is largely silent: having been damaged by weather, water, budget cuts, and poor attempts at repair, it can still be heard but at only a fraction of its true potential and power.

And there’s nothing funny about an organ that isn't operating at full capacity.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Seaman of the Sealed Car

In 1949 Don Haynes, a 39 year old truck driver, made a bet that he would spend the next 14 months traveling to each of the 48 states while welded inside his car. The car came equipped with a chemical toilet and phone (and, someone suggested, removable floorboards so he could occasionally sneak out). Haynes’ wife was pregnant at the time so when she delivered Haynes had the car lifted on a crane so he could check in on his wife and baby in their second floor hospital room. Unfortunately, Haynes gave up just three weeks short of completing his journey when he lost track of his advance publicity man. Later, he would embark on quest to collect pajamas from the governor of each state though he failed to complete this task as well, stopping after collecting 41. Haynes would return to the car throughout the 50s and 60s- in the late 50s he and wife his shut themselves in and traveled the country billing themselves as “The Nomads”- but what became of the “Seaman of the Sealed Car” after that is a mystery.

From Square America via s.a.'s wonderful Omnibus

Sunday, October 25, 2009

If this were play'd upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction

Robert Coates (1772–1848) was a British would-be-actor who became infamous for his mistaken belief in his own thespian prowess. His favourite part was Shakespeare's Romeo.

Robert Coates was born in Antigua in the West Indies as a son of a wealthy sugar planter. His lack of any skill in acting was obvious to his contemporaries. When he inherited the estate in 1807, he moved to Bath, England. He eventually drew the attention of the manager of the Theatre Royal, Bath and had begun to appear in plays in 1809.

Later he appeared in Romeo and Juliet in the part of Romeo - in a costume of his own design. The costume had a flowing cloak with sequins, red pantaloons, a large cravat and a plumed hat - not to mention dozens of diamonds - which was hardly suitable for the part. The audience cracked up with laughter.

Despite this apparent ridicule, Coates went on to tour the British Isles. If a theatre manager would hesitate to let him show his talents, he would bribe them. Managers, in turn, often called in the police in case things went seriously wrong.

Coates was convinced he was the best actor in business - or at least that is what he claimed. He forgot his lines all the time and invented new scenes and dialogue on the spot. He loved dramatic death scenes and would repeat them - or any other scenes he happened to take a fancy to - three to four times over.

Coates claimed that he wanted to improve the classics. At the end of his first appearance as Romeo he came back in with a crowbar and tried to pry open Capulet's tomb. In another of his antics he made the actress playing Juliet so embarrassed that she clung to a pillar and refused to leave the stage. Eventually no actress would agree to play the part with him.

The audience usually answered with angered catcalls and embarrassed jeering - and loads of laughter. His fellow actors would try to make him leave the stage. If Coates thought the audience was getting out of hand, he turned to them and answered in kind.

His fame spread and people would flock to see whether he really was as bad as they had heard. For some reason, Baron Ferdinand de Geramb became his foremost supporter. Even the Prince Regent (the future King George IV) would go to see him. In 1811, when he played the part of Lothario in The Fair Penitent in London's Haymarket Theatre, the theatre had to turn thousands of would-be spectators away. In another performance in Richmond, Surrey, several audience members had to be treated for excessive laughter.

Coates went on with his antics. Once, when he dropped a diamond buckle when he was going to exit the stage, he crawled around the stage looking for it.

Outside the stage Coates tried to amaze the public with his taste in clothing. He wore furs even in hot weather. He went out in a custom-built carriage with a heraldic device of a crowing cock and the motto While I live, I'll crow. In receptions he glittered from head to toe with diamond buttons and buckles. His predilection for diamonds of all kinds gave him the nickname "Diamond Coates".

After 1815 his performances decreased in frequency and his star eventually faded alongside his remaining fortune. He moved to Boulogne-sur-Mer, married and had two children, both of whom predeceased him. In old age he and his wife moved back to London.

Robert Coates died in London in 1848 in a street accident, when a Hansom cab hit him as he was leaving a performance at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. He was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I Could Paint That

Congo (1954–1964) was a chimpanzee who learned how to draw and paint. Zoologist and surrealist painter Desmond Morris first observed his abilities when the chimp was offered a pencil and paper at two years of age. By the age of four, Congo had made 400 drawings and paintings. His style has been described as "lyrical abstract impressionism".

Congo was born in 1954. He learned to draw near the age of two, beginning when zoologist Desmond Morris offered Congo a pencil. Morris said, "He took [the pencil] and I placed a piece of card in front of him. This is how I recorded it at the time, 'Something strange was coming out of the end of the pencil. It was Congo's first line. It wandered a short way and then stopped. Would it happen again? Yes, it did, and again and again'." Morris soon observed that the chimp would draw circles, and had a basic sense of composition in his drawings. He also showed the ability of symmetrical consistency between two sides of a sketch; when Morris drew a shape at one side of a piece of paper, Congo would balance the structure by making marks on the other half of the paper. Similarly, if a color on one side contained blue for example, he would add blue to the other side as well to keep balance.

He soon began painting; the patterns he made were never distinguished, pictorial images, but usually of a vague "radiating fan pattern" in the abstract impressionism style. Between the ages of two and four, he produced about 400 drawings and paintings.

Through that time, Congo developed a familiarity with his routine painting sessions with Morris. When a picture was taken away that he didn't consider complete, Congo would reportedly begin to scream and "throw fits". Also, if the ape considered one of his drawings to be finished, he would refuse to continue painting even if someone tried to persuade him to do so.

In the late 1950s, he made appearances on the British television show Zootime, which was presented live from the London Zoo by Desmond Morris. He died at ten years of age in 1964 of tuberculosis.

Media reaction to Congo's painting abilities were mixed, although relatively positive and accepted with interest. Andalusian painter Pablo Picasso was reportedly a "fan" of his paintings, and hung one of the ape's pictures on his studio wall after receiving it as a gift.

On June 20, 2005, Congo's paintings were included in an auction at Bonhams alongside works by Renoir and Warhol—they sold for more than expected, while Renoir's and Warhol's did not sell. American collector Howard Hong purchased three of Congo's works for over US$26,000.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Do It Yourself: The Cathedral of Justo Gallego Martínez

Justo Gallego Martínez (also known as Don Justo) (born 1925) is a Spanish ex-monk who has been building a cathedral in the Spanish village of Mejorada del Campo, near Madrid, since 1961.

Martínez was a farmer. As a young man, he joined a Trappist monastery but had to leave in 1961, after eight years, when he contracted tuberculosis and his health deteriorated in the monastic regime. He began to build a cathedral on a plot of land he had inherited from his parents. He had promised, that if he recovered from the tuberculosis which had struck him down, he would build a shrine in honour of the Lady of the Pillar, to whom he had prayed.

There are no formal plans for the building. It has evolved over time in response to opportunity and inspiration. One inspiration has been the Cupola of St Peter's Basilica- in Vatican City.

The cathedral has been bequeathed by Gallego Martinez to the Bishopric of nearby Alcalá de Henares. He says that his building is dedicated to Nuestra Señora del Pilar ("Our Lady of the Pillar"), an advocation of Mary, mother of Jesus, whose main shrine is in Zaragoza.

The outline of building is 20x50 metre. An area of about 8,000m2 has been built. This includes a complex ensemble of cloisters, offices, lodgings and a library. The cathedral already has a dome (modelled on St Peters) rising to some 40 metres, some 12 metres in diameter -- whose steel girders were raised with the aid of his six nephews using pulleys.

Most of the building materials and tools he uses for construction are recycled. He uses both everyday objects and excess construction materials donated by construction companies and a nearby brick factory. For instance, the columns have been moulded with old petrol drums.

It is estimated that it may take another 15 to 20 years to complete the building.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Bone Dances of Shen Shaomin


Shen Shaomin (born 1959, Heilongjiang Province, China) is an artist based in Sydney and Beijing.

He has exhibited internationally in exhibitions including the 2006 Liverpool Biennial, Mahjong at Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland and Dialogue at East West Gallery in Melbourne.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Even Better Than The Real Thing .... (Part 2)

Thanks to Dark Roasted Blend and Gizmodo for picking up our post on the Silver Swan (and to Lee who sent me a great BBC link about the Swan). In the same vein as the remarkable Swan ... here's a duck:


The Canard Digérateur, or Digesting Duck, was an automaton in the form of a duck, created by Jacques de Vaucanson in 1739. The mechanical duck appeared to have the ability to eat kernels of grain, and to metabolize and defecate them. While the duck did not actually have the ability to do this - the food was collected in one inner container, and the pre-stored feces was 'produced' from a second, so that no actual digestion took place - Vaucanson hoped that a truly digesting automaton could one day be designed.

Voltaire wrote that "without [...] the duck of Vaucanson, you have nothing to remind you of the glory of France." ("Sans...le canard de Vaucanson vous n'auriez rien qui fit ressouvenir de la gloire de la France.")

Monday, October 12, 2009

Man, Nature ... and Alexis Rockman


Alexis Rockman (born 1962) is an American contemporary artist known for his paintings depicting the precarious relationship between man and nature. He has been exhibiting his work internationally since 1985, when he received a BFA in fine arts from the School of Visual Arts. His artworks are information-rich depictions of how our culture perceives and interacts with plants and animals, and the role culture plays in influencing the direction of natural history.

Believing that the past provides clues to the future, Rockman’s 8-by-24-foot mural, Manifest Destiny offers a view of the Brooklyn waterfront after catastrophic climate change. Consulting with experts in various fields, Rockman shows the haunting outcome 3000 years in the future past the ruins of the Brooklyn Bridge, following a sea-level rise caused by global warming. Included are the wrecks of a Dutch sailing ship and a 20th-century submarine, tropical plants and animals, and a two-tailed salmon resulting from genetic manipulation. Rockman's project suggests what the remote geological, botanical, and zoological future might bring, predicting the ecosystem of the area thousands of years ahead. This epic painting was first exhibited from April 2004 - September 2004 at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in Brooklyn, New York.

Rockman's 2004 journeys in Tasmania are recorded in the book Carnivorous Nights, with his accompanying artwork.

Alexis Rockman works and lives in New York City.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Ambrose Bierce: HERMIT, a person whose vices and follies are not sociable


The Hermit's Cave, situated on Scenic Hill on the outskirts of the town of Griffith, New South Wales, Australia, is in fact a complex of stone structures covering an area of 16 hectares.

These structures include shelters, terraced gardens, water cisterns, dry-stone walling and linking bridges, stairways and paths that stretch intermittently across more than a kilometre of the escarpment. The complete structure and landscape was created single-handedly by reclusive Italian migrant Valerio Ricetti who made this place his home between about 1929 and 1952 during that time creating his own private "utopia" using the natural landscape and materials found in the area.

The site is recognised for being a rare example of an Australian hermit's domain and is listed on the New South Wales State Heritage Register.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

One of Our Favorite Heroes: Beryl Markham

Beryl Markham (26 October 1902 - 3 August 1986), was a British-born Kenyan horse trainer and adventurer. She was a record-breaking aviatrix in the pioneer days of aviation, and is primarily remembered as the author of the memoir West with the Night.

Beryl Markham was born Beryl Clutterbuck on October 26, 1902, in the village of Ashwell, in the county of Rutland, England, the daughter of Charles and Clara Clutterbuck. When she was four years old, her father moved the family to Kenya, which was then British East Africa, purchasing a farm in Njoro near the Great Rift Valley. Although her mother disliked the isolation and promptly returned to England, Beryl stayed in Kenya with her father, where she spent an adventurous childhood learning, playing and hunting with the natives. On her family's farm, she developed a knowledge of, and love for horses. As a young adult, she became the first licensed female horse trainer in Kenya.

Impetuous, single-minded and beautiful, Markham was a noted non-conformist, even in a colony known for its colourful eccentrics. She married three times, but accounts of her life indicate that she was not a faithful spouse. Her unconcealed 1929 affair with the Duke of Gloucester, the son of George V, led her husband's brother, Sir Charles Markham, to threaten the British Royal Family with naming the prince in an embarrassing divorce suit. The Windsors promptly cut the romance short; Beryl was bought off with a capital trust of £15,000 from the Duke's own funds, from which she drew a modest annuity for the rest of her life.

She befriended the Danish writer Karen Blixen during the years that Blixen was managing her family's coffee farm in the Ngong hills outside Nairobi. (In the film rendering of Blixen's memoir, Out of Africa, Markham is represented by an outspoken, horse-riding tomboy named Felicity.) When Blixen's romantic connection with the hunter and pilot Denys Finch Hatton was winding down, Markham started an affair with him herself. He invited her to tour game lands on what turned out to be his fatal flight, but Markham declined because of a premonition from her flight instructor, Tom Campbell Black. Sara Wheeler, in her biography of Finch Hatton, notes that she believes stories that Markham was pregnant by him at the time of his crash.

Largely inspired by the British pilot Tom Campbell Black, with whom she had a long-term affair, she took up flying. She worked for some time as a bush pilot, spotting game animals from the air and signaling their locations to safaris on the ground. She also mingled with the notorious Happy Valley set, but was never a full-fledged "member" of the decadent crowd.

Markham is often described as "the first person" to fly the Atlantic east to west in a solo non-stop flight, but that record belongs to Scottish pilot Jim Mollison, who attempted to fly from Dublin, Ireland to New York City in 1932. Low visibility forced Mollison down in New Brunswick, Canada, but he was still able to claim the Atlantic east-to-west record (a westbound flight requires more endurance, fuel and time than the eastward journey because the craft must travel against the prevailing Atlantic winds).

When Markham decided to take on the Atlantic crossing, no pilot had yet flown non-stop from Europe to New York, and no woman had made the westward flight solo, though several had died trying. Markham hoped to claim both records. On September 4, 1936, she took off from Abingdon, England. After a 20-hour flight, her Vega Gull, The Messenger, suffered fuel starvation due to icing of the fuel tank vents, and she crash-landed in Baleine on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia (her flight was, in all likelihood, almost identical in length to Mollison's). In spite of falling short of her goal, Markham had become the first woman to cross the Atlantic east-to-west solo, and the first person to make it from England to North America non-stop. She was celebrated as an aviation pioneer.

Markham chronicled her many adventures in her memoir, West with the Night, published in 1942. Despite strong reviews in the press, the book sold modestly, and then quickly went out of print. After living for many years in the United States, Markham moved back to Kenya in 1952, becoming for a time the most successful horse trainer in the country.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Promotion Of A Shameless Variety

Please excuse the advertisement but couldn't resist sharing the news that M.Christian has a new book out: a collection of his science fiction stories!
"Unique and truly fascinating," writes Mike Resnick! M. Christian isn't as good as his peers say - he's better! This "best of" collection, featuring the cream of his fantasy, horror, and science fiction stories, is a dazzling achievement.

Only M. Christian could have imagined what happens when a boy's uncle blows Tibetan days powder in his face, or when a woman gave birth to a new species … but not one of flesh and blood, or when the Goddess of the Road gave the gift of beauty to a mortal man.
You will find these and eleven other unforgettable tales from the man Stephen Dedman, author of The Art of Arrow Cutting and Shadows Bite, hails as "A chimera, an amazing combination of tour guide and magician. Whether he's writing science fiction, horror or fantasy, he can take you to places you've never imagined, show you sights no-one else will get to see, introduce you to some fascinating people, and guarantee that the trip will be memorable from start to finish."

Among the contemporary classics featured in Love Without Gun Control are:

Some Assembly Required
The Rich Man's Ghost
Medicine Man
Buried & Dead
Nothing So Dangerous
Shallow Fathoms
Constantine in Love

M. Christian's fantasy and science fiction has appeared in Talebones, Space & Time Magazine, Skull Full Of Spurs, Graven Images, Horror Garage, Song of Cthulhu, and other science fiction, horror, and fantasy publications.
  • "Speaks with a totally unique and truly fascinating voice. There are a lot of writers out there who'd better protect their markets: M. Christian has arrived!" - Mike Resnick, Hugo and Nebula Award winning science fiction author

  • "M. Christian's stories squat at the intersection of Primal Urges Avenue and Hi-Tech Parkway like a feral-eyed, half-naked Karen Black leering and stabbing her fractal machete into the tarmac. Truly an author for our post-everything 21st century." - Paul Di Filippo, author of the Steampunk Trilology

  • "Writes like dream whether he's creating fantastic visions or ghastly nightmares. With this collection, you get both!" -- Paula Guran, DarkEcho

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

YOU Think You Have Too Much Stuff ...


Homer Lusk Collyer (November 6, 1881March 21, 1947) and Langley Collyer (October 3, 1885 – March 1947) were two American brothers who became famous because of their snobbish nature, filth in their homes, and compulsive hoarding.

The brothers are often cited as an example of compulsive hoarding associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), as well as disposophobia or 'Collyer brothers syndrome,' a fear of throwing anything away. For decades, neighborhood rumors swirled around the rarely seen, unemployed men and their home at 2078 Fifth Avenue (at the corner of 128th Street), in Manhattan, where they obsessively collected newspapers, books, furniture, musical instruments, and many other items, with booby traps set up in corridors and doorways to protect against intruders.

Both were eventually found dead in the Harlem brownstone where they had lived as hermits, surrounded by over 130 tons of rubbish that they had amassed over several decades.

he Collyer brothers were sons of Herman Livingston Collyer (1857–1923), a Manhattan gynecologist who worked at Bellevue Hospital, and Susie Gage Frost (1856–1929); the Collyer family traced its roots to a ship that supposedly arrived in America from England a week after the Mayflower. They had a sister, Susan, who died as an infant in 1880. The family was descended from the Livingston family, an old and well established New York family with roots going back to the 18th century. They were well educated and both sons attended Columbia University, which had just relocated to its present-day Morningside Heights campus, about a twenty-minute walk from the Collyer house. Homer obtained a degree in admiralty law, while Langley earned a degree in engineering (though Columbia University claimed it had no records of his attendance), and made attempts at being an inventor. Langley also played the piano and became a self-styled musician with long, flowing hair, which was a rarity in this era. Over the years, as both brothers' eccentricities intensified, Langley tinkered with various inventions, such as a device to vacuum the insides of pianos and a Model T Ford adapted to generate electricity.

Dr. Herman Collyer, with his wife and two sons, moved into their residence in Harlem in 1909, when Harlem was an upper class neighborhood that was quickly becoming home to some of New York's wealthier residents. Dr. Collyer was known to be eccentric himself, and was said to frequently paddle down the East River in a canoe to the City Hospital on Blackwell's Island, where he occasionally worked; and then carry the canoe back to his home in Harlem after he came ashore on Manhattan Island. He abandoned his family around 1919, a few years before he died. No one knows why Dr. Collyer abandoned his family, or whether his wife moved with him into his new home at 153 West 77th Street when he left behind his house in Harlem. Nevertheless, Homer and Langley Collyer stayed in the family house after their father left. Dr. Collyer died in 1923, and Mrs. Collyer died in 1929. After their parents died, the Collyer brothers inherited all of their possessions and moved them into their house in Harlem.

When Dr. Herman Collyer originally moved to Harlem, it was a fashionable neighborhood. As the neighborhood's character changed, the brothers became an anachronistic curiosity and withdrew from the world.

Burglars tried to break into the house because of unfounded rumors of valuables, and teenagers developed the habit of throwing rocks at the windows. As the brothers' fears increased, so did their eccentricity. They boarded up the windows, and Langley set about using his engineering skills to set up booby traps. After their gas, telephone, electricity and water were turned off in 1939 because of their failure to pay the bills, the brothers took to warming the large house using only a small kerosene heater. For a while, Langley attempted to generate his own energy by means of a car engine. Langley began to wander outside at night; he fetched their water from a post in a park four blocks to the south (presumably Mount Morris Park, renamed Marcus Garvey Park in 1973). Langley would also walk miles all over the city to get food, sometimes going as far as Williamsburg, Brooklyn to buy as little as a loaf of bread. He would also pick food out of the garbage and collect food that was going to be thrown out by grocers and butchers to bring back to his crippled brother. He also dragged home countless pieces of abandoned junk that aroused his interest. In 1933, Homer, already crippled by rheumatism, went blind from hemorrhages in the back of both of his eyes. Langley devised a remedy, a diet of one hundred oranges a week, along with black bread and peanut butter.

In 1932, shortly before Homer Collyer went blind, he purchased the property across the street from their house at 2077 Fifth Avenue, with the intent of developing it by putting up an apartment building. But after he went blind, any plans of making money off the real estate venture fell through. Since the Collyer brothers never paid any of their bills, the property was repossessed by the City of New York in 1943 to pay back all of the income taxes that the Collyers owed to the City. Langley protested the repossession of their property, saying that since they had no income, they should not have to pay income taxes ...

... on March 21, 1947, an anonymous tipster phoned the 122nd Police Precinct and insisted there was a dead body in the house. A patrol officer was dispatched, but had a difficult time getting into the house at first. There was no doorbell or telephone and the doors were locked; and while the basement windows were broken, they were protected by iron grillwork. An emergency squad of 7 men eventually had no choice but to begin pulling out all the junk that was blocking their way and throw it out onto the street below. The brownstone's foyer was packed solid by a wall of old newspapers, folding beds and chairs, half a sewing machine, boxes, parts of a wine press, and numerous other pieces of junk. A patrolman, William Barker, finally broke in through a window into a second-story bedroom. Behind this window lay, among other things, more packages and newspaper bundles, empty cardboard boxes lashed together with rope, the frame of a baby carriage, a rake, and old umbrellas tied together. After a two-hour crawl he found Homer Collyer dead, wearing just a tattered blue and white bathrobe. Homer's matted, grey hair reached down to his shoulders, and his head was resting on his knees.

Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Arthur C. Allen confirmed Homer's identity and said that the elder brother had been dead for no more than ten hours; consequently, Homer could not have been the source of the stench wafting from the house. Foul play was ruled out: Homer had died from the combined effects of malnutrition, dehydration, and cardiac arrest. By this time, the mystery had attracted a crowd of about 600 onlookers, curious about the junk and the smell. But Langley was nowhere to be found.

In their quest to find Langley, the police began searching the house, an arduous task that required them to remove the large quantity of amassed junk. Most of it was deemed worthless and set out curbside for the sanitation department to haul away; a few items were put into storage. The ongoing search turned up a further assortment of guns and ammunition. There was no sign of Langley for weeks.

On March 30, false rumors circulated that Langley had been seen aboard a bus heading for Atlantic City. A manhunt along the New Jersey shore turned up nothing. The police continued searching the house 2 days later, removing 3,000 more books, several outdated phone books, a horse's jawbone, a Steinway piano, an early X-ray machine, and more bundles of newspapers. More than 19 tons of junk were removed from the ground floor of the three-story brownstone. The police continued to clear away the brothers' stockpile for another week, removing another 84 tons of rubbish from the house. Although a good deal of the junk came from their father's medical practice, a considerable portion was discarded items collected by Langley over the years.

On April 8, 1947, workman Artie Matthews found the body of Langley Collyer just 10 feet from where Homer died. His partially decomposed body was being eaten by rats. A suitcase and 3 huge bundles of newspapers covered his body. Langley had been crawling through their newspaper tunnel to bring food to his paralyzed brother when one of his own booby traps fell down and crushed him. Homer, blind and paralyzed, starved to death several days later. The stench detected on the street had been emanating from Langley, the younger brother.

Both brothers were buried with their parents at Cypress Hills Cemetery, Brooklyn.

Police and workmen removed 130 tons of garbage from the house. What was salvageable fetched less than $2,000 at auction; the cumulative estate of the Collyer brothers was valued at $91,000, of which $20,000 worth was personal property (jewelry, cash, securities, and the like).

Items removed from the house included baby carriages, a doll carriage, rusted bicycles, old food, potato peelers, a collection of guns, glass chandeliers, bowling balls, camera equipment, the folding top of a horse-drawn carriage, a sawhorse, 3 dressmaking dummies, painted portraits, pinup girl photos, plaster busts, Mrs. Collyer's hope chests, rusty bed springs, the kerosene stove, a child's chair (the brothers were lifelong bachelors and childless), more than 25,000 books (including thousands about medicine and engineering and more than 2,500 on law), human organs pickled in jars, 8 live cats, the chassis of the old Model T Langley had been tinkering with, tapestries, hundreds of yards of unused silks and fabric, clocks, 14 pianos (both grand and upright), a clavichord, 2 organs, banjos, violins, bugles, accordions, a gramophone and records, and countless bundles of newspapers and magazines, some of them decades old. Near the spot where Homer died, police also found 34 bank account passbooks, with a total of $3,007.18.

There was also a great deal of garbage. The house itself, having never been maintained, was decaying: the roof leaked and some walls had caved in, showering bricks and mortar on the rooms below. The house was eventually deemed a fire hazard and razed.

Some of the stranger items were exhibited at Hubert's Dime Museum, where they were featured alongside Human Marvels and sideshow performers. The morbid centerpiece of this display was the chair in which Homer Collyer had died. The Collyer chair passed into the hands of private collectors upon being removed from public exhibit in 1956. As time went by it acquired a reputation of being cursed, due to the misfortunes of its owners. Today, the Collyer Death Chair is maintained in the holdings of a collector of oddities named Babette Bombshell of Orlando, Florida.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Harsh Realm!


Grunge speak was a hoax created by Megan Jasper, a sales representative for Sub Pop Records. Under pressure from a reporter for The New York Times who wanted to know if grunge fans had their own slang, Jasper, 25 at the time, told the reporter a set of made-up on-the-spot slang terms that she claimed were associated with the Seattle grunge scene in the early 1990s. The information given by Jasper appeared in the sidebar of a November 15, 1992 feature article of the New York Times. The sidebar, titled "Lexicon of Grunge: Breaking the Code", also mistakenly said that Jasper was working for Caroline Records.

In truth, there was no particular slang language used in the Seattle grunge scene. Many had in fact resented the assumption by the Times that they even had a slang, as well as the claim that it was "coming soon to a high school or mall near you".

Thomas Frank of The Baffler, a journal of cultural criticism, demonstrated that the list was a hoax. He revealed that Jasper had purposely misled the Times as well as the British magazine SKY magazine as a prank. Jasper had been sick of the attention that reporters were paying to people involved in the Seattle grunge scene, and thus pulled the prank to get back at them for their questioning.

The Times demanded that Frank fax over an apology for claiming it had printed false information, believing that it was Frank who was the hoaxer. Frank instead sent a letter standing by the story. "When The Newspaper of Record goes searching for the Next Big Thing and the Next Big Thing piddles on its leg," he wrote, "we think that's funny." Frank considered the article to be part of an attempt by mainstream culture to co-opt the grunge scene and felt that the Times had gotten what it deserved.

Shortly after the release of The Baffler's story, some people in Seattle began selling and wearing t-shirts with the words "lamestain" and "harsh realm" printed in the same font as the famous banner of the Times. The words themselves never caught on as actual slang within the grunge scene (though "score" and "dish" are in use elsewhere). One of the terms, "harsh realm", was used as the title of a science-fiction comic book and a short-lived 1999 television series based on it, and was used by characters in the The Dirty Pair comics written and drawn by Adam Warren as part of their futuristic slang (where it had the same definition as the one Jasper created for the term). The events of Jasper's prank would also be documented in the 1996 film Hype!, a documentary about the grunge scene of the early 1990s.

During the interview, Jasper made up the following terms and their definitions:

  • bloated, big bag of blotation - drunk
  • bound-and-hagged - staying home on Friday or Saturday night
  • cob nobbler - loser
  • dish - desirable guy
  • fuzz - heavy wool sweaters
  • harsh realm - bummer
  • lock - agreement
  • kickers - heavy boots
  • lamestain - uncool person
  • pain ride - bus trip
  • plats - platform shoes
  • rock on - a happy goodbye
  • score - great
  • swingin' on the flippity-flop - hanging out
  • tom-tom club - uncool outsiders
  • wack slacks - old ripped jeans
  • mickey sticks - older music fan

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Go Forth, My Creation, And Crush The Medici!


Leonardo's robot refers to a humanoid automaton designed by Leonardo da Vinci around the year 1495.

The design notes for the robot appear in sketchbooks that were rediscovered in the 1950s. It is not known whether or not an attempt was made to build the device during da Vinci's lifetime. Since the discovery of the sketchbook, the robot has been built faithfully based on Leonardo's design; this proved it was fully functional, as Leonardo had planned.

The robot is a warrior, clad in German-Italian medieval armour, that is apparently able to make several human-like motions. These motions included sitting up, moving its arms, neck, and an anatomically correct jaw. It is partially the fruit of Leonardo's anatomical research in the Canon of Proportions as described in the Vitruvian Man.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Dark Roasted Weirdsville

Here's a brand new Dark Roasted Blend piece on keeping very special time: beautiful astronomical clocks and such.

Because that’s what everything was to them, many believe early man saw the universe as a living thing. Each flash of lightning, every star in the sky, the rain that fell, the ground beneath their feet – everything around them was part of some huge, living and breathing creature.

But then that changed. The Greeks, and their intellectual ancestors, looked at the world and while they saw life they also began to see a mechanism to it all, a precise and ordered regularity.

Alhough we know the ancient Greeks were extremely intelligent, just how smart was hinted at in 1901 – and then confirmed many yearsnlater. At first the hunk of rusted iron that was pulled from the sean near the African island of Antikythera was just a curiosity, a bitmof archeological weirdness. It was only decades and decades later that modern science was finally able to pry apart the secrets of ancient science. Very, very ancient science.

The Antikythera device, as it’s called, is a meticulous and precise assembly of 72 gears – a simply staggering work of craftsmanship.nWhat’s even more astounding is that scientists think the device wasman astronomical calculator: an elaborate, incredibly accurate computer that was built in 150 to 100BC.

What’s even more chilling -- as well as exciting – isn’t that the Antikythera devicemexisted but that it could very wellmbe the first hint at how technologically advanced the ancient workmengineers were. The device is certainly miraculous but it was also a common working machine; not a rarity but instead what could be something that navigators used everyday. Who knows what other mechanisms and devices have yet to be found?

A few hundred years later the universe was still a mechanical place but the engineering that went into creating machines to predict and understand it became even more complicated and elaborate. Clocks got a shot in their developmental arm because they – when used with star charts and sextants – were essential navigation tools. It wasn’t long until clock mechanisms were used to track not just the hours, minutes and seconds of commerce and shipping but also the stars and planets in the sky.

One of the more incredible astronomical clocks – and there arem certainly a lot of very incredible examples of such things – is the legendary Prague Astronomical Clock. To say that it’s elaborate would be a ridiculous understatement. The clock is an insanely complicated instrument to not only tell the time but also to track the movements of the stars and planets – at least the ones they knew about in the 1400s when the clock was built. It's easy to think that making something as complicated as the Prague clock was a one time, supremely rare thing. Although the clock wasn’t a common working gizmo like the Antikythera device, it also used technology and craftsmanship that existed in many other Medieval cities – and even, a century or so later, insanely miniaturized to the point where, if you were rich, you could carry what was basically a tiny version in your pocket.

While complicated, one of the greatest things about the Prague clock is that it isn’t just a working clock; it almost deserves to be called a monumental kinetic sculpture. It ticks and tocks and ticks its tocks in ways, to quote from the Bible, that are “a wonder to behold.” So wondrous, in fact, that you can find computer models online demonstrating just how elegant and beautiful the mechanism is – which says a lot that we use 21st century technology to appreciate the skill of a 1400 clock maker.

Another beautiful example of astronomical clock engineering is the famous Wells Cathedral clock. Begun a few years before Prague’s, the clock is another accurate and heavenly (literally as well as figuratively) mechanism. Like its Prague kin, the clock is a beautiful as well as accurate view of the world as an enormous clockwork machine, a carefully assembled, meticulously crafted, creation.

Unfortunately, the growing ubiquitousness of these clocks’ technology spelled their doom. As more and more people could afford to carry watches there was less and less of a need for a huge, central – and, naturally, elaborate, town hall clock. It simply didn’t make financial sense to keep building them – which is a sign that humanity's growing, view of the world was mechanical: tocks and tocks as well as dollars and sense.

What’s ironic is that with the coming of the 21st century – and, living in a world ruled by the careful calculations of software -- humans are starting to understand, and even plan to use, the uncertainty of a quantum universe: an existence where things are never quite what they seem and chaos is part of How Everything Works.

Still, the incredible Antikythera device, the Prague and Wells Cathedral clocks, are beautiful in their antique mechanisms – as well as the nostalgia of when the world was as precise and orderly as the back and forth swing of a pendulum.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Could Have Been Worse ....

Spirit of America is the trademarked name used by Craig Breedlove for his land speed record-setting vehicles ...

... both FIA & FIM records were broken in October 1964 by Tom Green and further extended by Art Arfons. Breedlove returned to Bonneville with Spirit and pushed the record over 500 mph (800 km/h), setting it at 526.277 mph (846.961 km/h) on October 15, a record that stood for almost two weeks. In setting the new record, at the end of his second run, the Spirit lost its parachute brakes, skidded for five miles (8 km), through a row of telephone poles and crashed into a brine pond at around 200 mph (300 km/h). Breedlove was uninjured. This feat earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for longest skid marks. The Spirit was recovered and taken by the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago as an exhibit.