Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tantalizing Tales of Tiny Towns

Midgetville is a name used to refer to real or legendary communities of midgets or collections of small "midget-sized" houses.

The "Midgetville" in Vienna, Virginia was a collection of six small cottages that were torn down in 2008. In 1882 the site was a small summertime resort that people visited when they wanted to escape the stressful lifestyle of Washington, D.C. In 1892 the area was purchased by Alexander Wedderburn. In 1901 the hotel burned to the ground, but a normal-sized two-story building was built around the same time at the corner of the property. In 1930, one of Alexander Wedderburn's sons, George, built six small Spanish-style cottages. A courtyard in the middle of the property was sometimes used as a fairground or a farmers' market. The Wedderburns briefly established the Wedderburn Music School on the site. The cottages were rented out but the place eventually became overgrown with ivy and trees. In 2002 the family signed a deal with contractors to tear the place down and develop the property. Though the proposal created some controversy, the Fairfax County, Virginia Board of Supervisors voted to approve the project. The cottages were all destroyed and the trees were removed in early 2008 to make way for "Wedderburn Estates."

Located near Milton, Jefferson Township, New Jersey has been the subject of urban legends about a Midgetville community. The houses are located on a secluded dirt road. There are at least six small houses with small doors, small windows and small furniture inside. Some have very ornate exterior decorations. There is one normal-sized house on the grounds, inhabited by an elderly, average height couple.

Rumor has held that Alfred Ringling, famous for the Ringling Brothers Circus, built a few small-sized houses that had four-foot doors. However the houses currently all appear to be built within the last 40 years and some are built with vinyl siding which was not available during Ringling's time. Visitors tell stories of hostile midgets who shoot guns at outsiders.

South of Dowling College, on the Great South Bay, exists what is widely known as "Midgetville." Now a private, gated community, all of the original buildings still exist, as they are registered historic in the Town of Islip. Built as a summer estate by William K. Vanderbilt at the turn of the 19-20th centuries, this now gated area at the end of the road was actually the farm portion of the estate. The Vanderbilts left the estate in 1926, and the farm buildings were turned into an artists' colony. Many of the buildings are gorgeous, normal-sized homes that were once barns and other farm buildings, but the Vanderbilts even built their chicken coops and pig houses in brick and stucco, so these short buildings were also converted into artist housing.Visitors tell stories of hostile midgets who shoot guns at outsiders.

An urban legend holds that with the success of the 1939 American musical fantasy film The Wizard of Oz, many of the little people who had acquired their wealth by playing the roles of the munchkins purchased lots in the La Linda development of Long Beach and built homes sized to suit their needs. La Linda affectionately became known as "Midget Town" and the proximity of the La Linda development to the studios allowed them to work many supporting casts in the movies from the 1940s on.

In fact, La Linda, originally the home of George H. Bixby, was subdivided in 1922 and most of the homes were built before 1938.

About 5 miles (8.0 km) South of Bob Hope's house near Cathedral City and about 2 miles (3.2 km) straight off of South Araby Road lies Midgetville. The town is populated with "angry" midgets who yell and shoot BB guns at normal sized people who wander near or try to invade the colony. The town has become a legend in Palm Springs and the surrounding area with several incidents occurring in the late 80s and 90s. Visitors tell stories of hostile midgets shooting outsiders.

There is a small community of midgets in Mississauga. They have an area fenced off with a short fence of course, short stop signs and also numerous cameras that were placed rather high. The cabins are extremely small and the doors are no higher than 4 feet. There are about 20-30 huts in this area. Many young people often wander into this area to see if this is real or fake, and their curiosity creates many stories such as: Rabid little people that growl if you come too close, or axe-wielding people at the gates. Their community is located close to Streetsville in the Creditview and Eglinton area.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dark Roasted Weirdsville

Here's a brand new Dark Roasted Blend piece on the art of science and the science of art:

It reads contradictory, conflicted: the art of science/science of art – the mixture of the logical and methodical with the imaginative and emotional.

But science and art – or, if you’d prefer, art and science – have held hands, if not close friends, for a very long time. Greek and Roman artists followed often strict guidelines considering the correct mathematical proportions of the figures in their frescoes and sculptures, Japanese woodblocks were as much about mechanical precision as they were about the subject being printed, the Renaissance was all about using science to bring a literal new dimension to painting, and then you have the work of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka.

No, you haven’t heard of Leopold or Rudolf Blaschka – but you certainly should have. Unlike the Greeks and and Romans, the Japanese Ukiyo-e artists, Michangelo and Leonardo, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka aren’t well known outside of either esoteric or scientific circles.

Which is what makes them so remarkable: they mixed the staggering beauty of pure art with a precision and dedication worthy of great scientists.

Leopold and Rudolf were glass artisans – possibly some of the greatest, ever. But what they created weren’t just glass and goblets, lampshades and windows. Nope, Leopold and Rudolf created nature.

Simplified, here’s the story: Professor George Lincoln Goodale, of Harvard, wanted to teach botany. But the problem with teaching botany is that plants have a tendency to … well, die. Sure, you could preserve some specimens but lots of species just don’t look the same after being dried – the plant version of stuffed and mounted. Yes, you could try using paintings or even photography but plants are – and here’s a surprise -- three dimensional. So what Professor Goodale did was ask the Blaschkas to create glass plants to help him teach his students about real ones.

But the Blaschkas did more than just recreate plants: they created astounding works of not only scientific accuracy but pure, brilliant, art. Looking at even the simplest of their efforts is deceptive – a sign of their genius. Their reproductions don't resemble the original plants – they look EXACTLY like them, created by hand, in fickle and fragile glass. All from 1887 to 1936.

What’s even more impressive is how many they created: more than 3,000 models of some 850 species – many of which can be seen on display at Harvard while many others are being painstakingly restored.

But the Blaschkas didn’t stop at plants. Not to take anything away from their artistry, but plants are relatively simple subjects. In some cases the Blaschkas could even work from live, or recently plucked, models. But there are much more difficult subjects out there, creatures so rare and fragile that very few men have ever seen them in their delicate flesh – even more frail than the glass the Blaschkas used to recreate them.

When these reproductions were made, in the late 19th century, only a few marine explorers and a few lucky seaman had seen any of them. Octopi, urchins, sea cucumbers, anemones, jellyfish, cuttlefish – they were too rare, too fragile, to be seen outside of the sea. That is until the Blaschkas.

I wish there was some way to request a moment of silence. I wish there was some way to ask you to stop reading this and look at the pictures here and at other places of the web. I wish there was some way for you to have a nice glass of wine, put on some nice music – maybe Bach, who also mixed science and art – and just admire the care, the craft, and the pure art the Blaschkas created.

The Blaschka brothers left an inspirational legacy. Josiah McElheny – the recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant – is a kindred spirit to the Blaschkas, another mind-blowing artist who works in the whimsical and temperamental world of glass … and the disciplined domain of science.

McElheny’s works -- like that of the Blaschka brothers -- finds inspiration in the universe around us, particularly with one sculpture that depicts a key moment. In many ways this is a perfect place to stop: the Blaschka brothers created perfect artistic reproductions of nature to teach science, and McElheny created a sculptural interpretation of the ultimate act of creation, as discovered by science: the Big Bang.

The art of science, the science of art … in the end they are both looking for the same thing: a way to show the nature of everything.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Have A Seat

There are at least three Devil's Chairs located in cemeteries in the United States, associated with urban legends.

The Devil's Chair in Cassadaga, Florida is a graveside bench in the cemetery that borders Cassadaga and Lake Helen. Cassadaga has a reputation as a haven for occultists, mediums and other spiritualist sorts. Local legend perpetuates the Devil-as-good-ol'-boy image: one of the stories insists that if you leave an unopened can of beer on the chair, it will be empty by morning. Accounts vary; in some of them, the can's opened, in others, the beer is simply gone, like magic, through the unopened top. Furthermore, if you yourself sit in the chair, you run the chance of having a heart-to-heart with the Lord of Darkness, who is rumoured to show up anyone who dares to wait for him there.

The Devil's Chair in Guthrie Center, Iowa, is a cement-cast chair located in Union Cemetery. It's situated between two graves and is unmarked as belonging to either. Local legend attaches bad luck to it, intimating that to sit in the chair courts that bad luck for oneself. While the cemetery itself was established as a private burial ground in 1885, the legend of the chair only goes back for approximately thirty years.

The Devil's Chair in the Mary Immaculate Cemetery of Kirksville, Missouri is the work of a marble cutter, John C. Baird, and is involved in "numerous legends of a type widely replicated across the U.S., especially in rural and small-town communities, and beloved of young people.... Some versions say that something dreadful will happen to the person so bold as to be seated in it at midnight (or on a particular evening, such as Halloween) -- a hand will emerge from the grave and drag the impious one down to the underworld."

Saturday, November 21, 2009


The pseudonym P.M. (taken from the most common initials in the Swiss telephone directory, mostly spelled in lowercase, p.m.) is used by an otherwise anonymous Swiss author (born 1946), best known for his 1983 anarchist/anti-capitalist social utopian book bolo'bolo, published with the paranoia city verlag of Zürich.

The title of this book refers to the bolo, or an autonomous community corresponding to the anthropological unit of a tribe (a few hundred individuals). This would be the basic social unit in an envisioned utopian-ecological future; its name is an example of a word from the fictional auxiliary language (or rather, a basic vocabulary of about thirty words) called asa'pili, intended for use in a bolo-based global community, as follows:

ibu - "individual, person"
bolo - "community, village, tribe" (basic autonomous social unit of 300-500 persons)
sila - "hospitality, tolerance, mutual aid" (includes individual rights to taku, yalu, gano, bete, fasi, nima, yaka, and nugo)
taku - "personal property, secret" (right of each person to keep a footlocker of 0.25 cubic meters for inviolable storage of personal possessions; everything else is ultimately communal)
kana - "household, hunting party, family, gang" (closely-knit group of 15-30 people within a bolo)
nima - "way of life, tradition, culture" (also, the right to practice and advocate for one's chosen way of life)
kodu - "agriculture, nature, sustenance" (predominantly local — many bolos are to be self-sufficient in basic foodstuffs)
yalu - "food, cuisine" (predominantly prepared in units larger than nuclear-family households from locally-grown supplies)
sibi - "craft, art, industry" (oriented towards skilled handicraft methods, rather than mass production, with frequent personal relationships between individual makers and those who use their products)
pali - "energy, fuel" (local self-sufficiency lessens the need for high resource consumption)
suvu - "water, water supply, well, baths"
gano - "house, building, dwelling" (isolated single-family dwellings will be replaced by less wasteful buildings for kanas or bolos)
bete - "medicine, health"
nugo - "death, suicide pill" (every ibu has the right to commit suicide at any time, or to request aid in committing suicide if unable to do so on their own)
pili - "communication, education, language, media" (no centralized educational curriculums or one-way mass-media)
kene - "communal work" (localized initiatives to mobilize labor to accomplish necessary public tasks)
tega - "district, town" (loose self-governing affiliation of from ten to twenty bolos)
dala - "council, assembly" (forum for discussion and settlement of issues larger than a single bolo)
dudi - "foreigner, observer" (external delegates who participate in dalas outside their own district or region)
vudo - "city, county, trading area, bioregion" (about 400 bolos)
sumi - "region, linguistic area, island" (about twenty to thirty vudos, the "largest practical unity")
asa - "earth, world"
buni - "gift, present" (informal exchange of goods which largely replaces commercial trade)
mafa - "depot, warehouse" (organized reserves of basic items in case of collective or individual need)
feno - "barter agreement, trade relation" (more strictly reciprocal than gifts)
sadi - "market, stock market, fair" (commercial trade for high-value or non-local items, has a limited role in the overall economy)
fasi - "travel, transport, traffic, nomadism" (the right to travel everywhere at will; however, most travel will be local by low-energy methods)
yaka - "disagreement, war, duel" (the right to challenge other individuals or communities to a duel or melee under specified terms)
munu - "reputation" (more important than money in being able to cooperate productively with others)

All these terms (except munu) are accompanied by corresponding abstract glyphs, so that the concepts can be represented visually independently of any specific writing system. These words can be combined into modifier-modified compounds (with the two elements separated by an apostrophe), so that asa'pili means "world language", fasi'ibu means "traveler", vudo'dala means "county-level assembly", etc. Doubling a noun changes it into a collective or abstract noun, so that bolo'bolo means "all bolos, the system of bolos".

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Lost City of Z

For all you fans of Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, here's the city he was looking for:

The Lost City of Z is the name given by Col. Percy Harrison Fawcett, a British surveyor, to a city that he thought existed in the jungle of the Mato Grosso region of Brazil. This mysterious city is referenced in a document known as Manuscript 512, housed at the National Library of Rio De Janeiro by a Portuguese explorer (Bandeirante) who wrote that he visited the city in 1753. The city is described in great detail without providing a specific location. Fawcett allegedly heard about this city in the early 1900s and went to Rio De Janeiro to learn more, and came across the earlier report. He was about to go in search of the city when World War I intervened. In 1925, Fawcett and his son Jack disappeared in the Mato Grosso.

David Grann's The New Yorker article "The Lost City of Z" (2005) was expanded into a book The Lost City of Z (2009) and a forthcoming movie. It was reported that an archaeologist, Michael Heckenberger, might have found the city at the site known as Kuhikugu. He had discovered clusters of settlements (20 settlements in all) with each cluster containing up to 5000 people and said "All these settlements were laid out with a complicated plan, with a sense of engineering and mathematics that rivalled anything that was happening in much of Europe at the time."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Holy Moses! Have a look!

Amanda McKittrick Ros (8 December 18602 February 1939) was a novelist born in Drumaness, County Down in Ireland. She published her first novel Irene Iddesleigh at her own expense in 1897. She wrote poetry and a number of novels. Her works were not read widely, and her eccentric, over-written, circumlocutory writing style is alleged by some critics to be some of the worst prose and poetry ever written.

Amanda McKittrick was born in Drumaness, County Down on 8 December 1860, the fourth child of Eliza Black and Edward Amlave McKittrick, Principal of Drumaness High School. She was christened Anna Margaret at Third Ballynahinch Presbyterian Church on 27 January 1861. In the 1880s she attended Marlborough Teacher Training College in Dublin, was appointed Monitor at Millbrook National School, Larne, County Antrim, finished her training at Marlborough and then became a qualified teacher at the same school.

It was during her first visit to Larne that she met Andrew Ross, a widower of 35, who was Station Master there. She married him at Joymount Presbyterian Church, Carrickfergus, County Antrim on 30 August 1887. She died after a fall in her home in 1939.

Ros was strongly influenced by the novelist Marie Corelli. She wrote: "My chief object of writing is and always has been, to write if possible in a strain all my own. This I find is why my writings are so much sought after." Her admirers included Mark Twain, Lord Beveridge, and Aldous Huxley. Her novel Irene Iddesleigh was published in 1897. It was reviewed by humorist Barry Pain who sarcastically termed it "the book of the century." Ros retorted in her preface to Delina Delaney by branding Pain a "clay crab of corruption," and suggesting that he was so hostile only because he was secretly in love with her. But Ros claimed to have made enough money from her second novel, Delina Delaney, to build a house, which she named Iddesleigh.

Belfast Public Libraries has a large collection of manuscripts, typescripts and first editions of her work. Manuscript copies include Irene Iddesleigh, Sir Benjamin Bunn and Six Months in Hell. Typescript versions of all the above are held together with Rector Rose, St. Scandal Bags and The Murdered Heiress among others. The collection of first editions covers all her major works including volumes of her poetry Fumes of Formation and Poems of Puncture, together with lesser known pieces such as Kaiser Bill and Donald Dudley: The Bastard Critic. The collection includes hundreds of letters addressed to Ros, many with her own comments in the margins. Also included are typed copies of her letters to newspapers, correspondence with her admiring publisher T.S. Mercer, an album of newspaper cuttings and photographs, and a script for a BBC broadcast from July 1943.

Nick Page, author of In Search of the World's Worst Writers, rated Ros the worst of the worst. He says that "For Amanda, eyes are 'piercing orbs', legs are 'bony supports', people do not blush, they are 'touched by the hot hand of bewilderment.'"

Aldous Huxley wrote that "In Mrs. Ros we see, as we see in the Elizabethan novelists, the result of the discovery of art by an unsophisticated mind and of its first conscious attempt to produce the artistic. It is remarkable how late in the history of every literature simplicity is invented." This is how she tells us that Delina earned money by doing needlework:

She tried hard to keep herself a stranger to her poor old father's slight income by the use of the finest production of steel, whose blunt edge eyed the reely covering with marked greed, and offered its sharp dart to faultless fabrics of flaxen fineness.

Her novel Delina Delaney begins:

Have you ever visited that portion of Erin's plot that offers its sympathetic soil for the minute survey and scrutinous examination of those in political power, whose decision has wisely been the means before now of converting the stern and prejudiced, and reaching the hand of slight aid to share its strength in augmenting its agricultural richness?

Page comments: "I first read this sentence nearly three years ago. Since then, I have read it once a week in an increasingly desperate search for meaning. But I still don't understand it."

The Oxford literary group the Inklings, which included such luminaries as C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, held competitions to see who could read Ros' work for the longest length of time while keeping a straight face.

Northrop Frye said of Ros's novels that they use "rhetorical material without being able to absorb or assimilate it: the result is pathological, a kind of literary diabetes".

A poet as well as a novelist, Ros wrote Poems of Puncture and Fumes of Formation. The latter contains "Visiting Westminster Abbey," which opens:

Holy Moses! Have a look!
Flesh decayed in every nook!
Some rare bits of brain lie here,
Mortal loads of beef and beer,
Some of whom are turned to dust,
Every one bids lost to lust;
Royal flesh so tinged with 'blue'
Undergoes the same as you.

As of 2004, none of her works are in print. Her books are rare and first editions command prices of $300 to $800 in the used-book market. Belfast Central Library has an archive of her papers, and the Queen's University of Belfast has some volumes by Ros in the stacks.

The Frank Ferguson-edited collection, Ulster-Scots Writing: An Anthology (Four Courts, 2008) includes her poem, 'The Town of Tare'.

On 11 November 2006 as part of a 50 Year celebration, renowned librarian Elspeth Legg hosted a major retrospective of her works, culminating in a public reading by 65 delegates of the entire contents of 'Fumes of Formation'. The theme of the workshop that followed was 'Suppose you chance to write a book', Line 17 of 'Myself' from page 2 of Fumes of Formation.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Congratulations! It's A -


Mary Toft (née Denyer; c. 1701–1763), also spelled Tofts, was an English woman from Godalming, Surrey, who in 1726 became the subject of considerable controversy when she tricked doctors into believing that she had given birth to rabbits.

Toft became pregnant in 1726, but later miscarried. Apparently fascinated by a rabbit she had seen while working, she claimed to have given birth to parts of animals. Local surgeon John Howard was called to investigate, and upon delivering several animal parts he notified other prominent physicians. The matter came to the attention of Nathaniel St. André, surgeon to the Royal Household of King George I of Great Britain. St. André investigated and concluded that Toft was telling the truth. The king also sent surgeon Cyriacus Ahlers to see Toft, but Ahlers remained sceptical. By now quite famous, Toft was brought to London and was studied at length. Under intense scrutiny, and producing no more rabbits, she eventually confessed to the hoax and was subsequently imprisoned as a fraud.

The public mockery which followed created panic within the medical profession. Several prominent surgeons' careers were ruined, and many satirical works were produced, each scathingly critical of the affair. The pictorial satirist and social critic William Hogarth was notably critical of the gullibility of the medical profession. Toft was eventually released without charge and returned to her home.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Sad Story of O Alemán

Manfred Gnädinger (Dresden 1940 - Camelle, 28 December 2002) a.k.a. Man or O Alemán was a German hermit and sculptor who lived in the village of Camelle, on the Costa da Morte, in Galicia (Spain). He lived a very simple and natural life, building sculptures on the beach where he lived and tending to his small garden. In November 2002, when the oil spill of the Prestige destroyed his sculptures and the ecosystem of the area he lived in, it is thought that Man let himself die of melancholy and sadness, thus becoming a symbol of the destruction unleashed by the oil spill.

Man arrived in the small village of Camelle in 1962, from Boehringen in the south of Germany. His whereabouts before this period are unknown, although he was described as having been well-dressed and educated when he arrived. It is said that he went mad after falling in love with the teacher of the village and being refused. A few years later, after becoming sensitized to ecological issues, he built himself a small hut on the beach of the village, next to the Atlantic Ocean, and spent the next forty years in this place, where he quickly became a curiosity of the village. Inhabitants referred to him in Galician as O Alemán (the German), then just "Man", a name he eagerly accepted for its symbolism. Tall, with a long beard, and dressed only with a loincloth in any weather, he would swim out in the Ocean, even after he was fifty years old. He had no electricity or running water in his hut, and was a strict vegetarian, eating only from the small organic garden he had created.

Man executed colorful sculptures out of stones, driftwood, animal remains and other elements washed up by the sea, which sometimes reminded people of Gaudí's work. Tourists would come to visit the open-air museum he had created where the sculptures integrated into the natural landscape. Man's only source of revenue was a small fee (1 as of 2002) he would ask from everyone visiting the Museum of the German. Man would also ask visitors to do drawings for him in small notebooks. Dozens of such notebooks were found after his death with hundreds of drawings.

On 17 November 2002, the oil tanker Prestige split in half and sank in the Atlantic Ocean, after having had a huge leak in its tanks. A few days later, Man woke up to find his life ruined by an oil spill. Tons of oil had washed up on the beach where he lived. Most of his sculptures were irremediably destroyed and the oil even reached his house. Man was absolutely devastated, his whole life work destroyed before his eyes, and the natural environment where he lived heavily polluted for years to come. A month later, he was found dead in his hut. He had circulatory and respiratory problems, but most local people believe that he died of melancholy and sadness at the sight of the complete and utter destruction of his life by the oil spill. The Camelle authorities organized and paid for his funeral, and hundreds of locals attended.

Thousands of birds and fish died in the aftermath of the oil spill, but Man was the only human victim. His life and his death are remembered as a symbol of the destruction unleashed by the Prestige. His museum, which he donated to the city before his death, can still be visited in Camelle.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Kramp 4th of July Heritage Loaf

People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing

Florence Foster Jenkins (July 19, 1868 – November 26, 1944) was an American soprano who became famous for her lack of rhythm, pitch, tone, and overall singing ability.

Born Florence Foster on July 19, 1868, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to Charles Dorrance Foster and Mary Jane Hoagland, Jenkins received music lessons as a child, and expressed a desire to go abroad to study music. Her wealthy father refused to pay the bill, so she eloped to Philadelphia with Frank Thornton Jenkins, a medical doctor. The two divorced in 1902. She earned a living there as a teacher and pianist. Upon her father's death in 1909, Jenkins inherited a sum of money which allowed her to take up the singing career that had been discouraged by her parents and former husband. She became involved in the musical life of Philadelphia, and later New York City, where she founded and funded the Verdi Club, took singing lessons, and began to give recitals, her first in 1912. Her mother's death in 1928 gave her additional freedom and resources to pursue singing.

From her recordings, it is apparent that Jenkins had little sense of pitch and rhythm and was barely capable of sustaining a note. Her accompanist can be heard making adjustments to compensate for her tempo variations and rhythmic mistakes. Her dubious diction, especially in foreign language songs, is also noteworthy. Nonetheless, she became tremendously popular in her unconventional way. Her audiences apparently loved her for the amusement she provided rather than her musical ability. Critics often described her work in a backhanded way that may have served to pique public curiosity.

Despite her patent lack of ability, Jenkins was firmly convinced of her greatness. She compared herself favorably to the renowned sopranos Frieda Hempel and Luisa Tetrazzini, and dismissed the laughter which often came from the audience during her performances as coming from her rivals consumed by "professional jealousy." She was aware of her critics, however, saying "People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing."

The music Jenkins tackled in her recitals was a mixture of the standard operatic repertoire by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Giuseppe Verdi and Johann Strauss (all of them well beyond her technical ability), Lieder (including works by Johannes Brahms and Joaquín "Quinito" Valverde's Clavelitos [Carnations], a favorite encore), and songs composed by herself or her accompanist, Mr. Cosmé McMoon, who reportedly made faces at Jenkins behind her back to get laughs.

Jenkins often wore elaborate costumes that she designed herself, sometimes appearing in wings and tinsel, and, for Clavelitos, throwing flowers into the audience while fluttering a fan and sporting more flowers in her hair. After each performance Cosmé McMoon would collect these flowers from the auditorium in readiness for redistribution at the next one.

After a taxicab crash in 1943 she found she could sing "a higher F than ever before." Instead of a lawsuit against the taxicab company, she sent the driver a box of expensive cigars.

In spite of public demand for more appearances, Jenkins restricted her rare performances to a few favorite venues, and her annual recital at the Ritz-Carlton ballroom in New York City. Attendance at her recitals was always limited to her loyal clubwomen and a select few others – she handled distribution of the coveted tickets herself. At the age of 76, Jenkins finally yielded to public demand and performed at Carnegie Hall on October 25, 1944. So anticipated was the performance that tickets for the event sold out weeks in advance. Jenkins died a month later. She had lived with her manager for 36 years, St. Clair Bayfield, an American stage actor.

Her career was the subject of a 2004 play, Souvenir, by Stephen Temperley; the Broadway singer Judy Kaye commented that "It's hard work to sing badly well. You could sing badly badly for a while but you'll hurt yourself if you do it for long."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Workman's Friend

William John Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, 5th Duke of Portland (12 September 18006 December 1879), styled Lord William Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck before 1824 and Marquess of Titchfield between 1824 and 1854, was a British aristocratic eccentric who preferred to live in seclusion. He had an underground maze excavated under his estate at Welbeck Abbey near Clumber Park in North Nottinghamshire.

He was the second son of William Henry Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, the 4th Duke of Portland, and his wife Henrietta. He was baptised at St George's Church, Hanover Square, on 30 September. One of nine children, he was known by his second Christian name, John, as all the male members of the family were named William. He was the brother of Charlotte Denison, future wife of John Evelyn Denison, 1st Viscount Ossington.

Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck was educated at home rather than at school. Known as Lord John Bentinck, he served in the army from 1818, entering it as an Ensign in the Foot Guards and later transferred to the 7th Light Dragoon Guards in 1821, where he became a Captain, the 2nd Life Guards in 1823. He reportedly suffered from lethargy due to his "delicate health".

In 1824 he became the Marquess of Titchfield following the death of his elder brother William Henry Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, and the Tory MP for King's Lynn, a seat traditionally held by a member of his family. He remained an MP until 1826, when he surrendered his seat on grounds of ill-health to his uncle Lord William Bentinck.

From 1824 to 1834 he also held the rank of Captain in the Royal West India Rangers, on half pay. (a sinecure, since this regiment had been disbanded in 1819[1]). After leaving the army, he spent some time in Europe, his health being occasionally poor, including short term memory loss and sciatica.

On 27 March 1854 he succeeded his father as 5th Duke of Portland. Although the title also gave him a seat in the House of Lords, it took him three years to take his seat, not taking the oaths until 5 June 1857. He showed little interest in taking an active role in politics, although he supported the Whigs and Robert Peel. From 1859 until his death he was also Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire.

The Duke's major building operations and developments at his estate of Welbeck Abbey in which he took an active involvement appealed strongly to the popular imagination. They cost an enormous sum of money and employed thousands of men from the local area, both skilled and unskilled. While there were occasional labour disputes over wages and hours, the Duke was on very good terms with his many employees and earned the nickname "the workman's friend".

The Abbey's kitchen gardens covered an area of 22 acres (8.9 ha), surrounded by high walls with recesses in which braziers could be placed to assist the ripening of fuit. One of the walls, a peach wall, measured over 1,000 ft (300 m) in length.

An immense riding house was constructed, 396 ft (121 m) long, 108 ft (33 m) wide, and 50 ft (15 m) high. It was lit by 4,000 gas jets. Like many other contemporary British aristocrats, the Duke was fond of horses — his stables held 100 horses but he never rode them in his riding house.

When roller skating became popular, the Duke had a rink installed near the lake for the benefit of his staff, whom he encouraged to use it.

The Duke had all the rooms of Welbeck Abbey stripped of furniture, including tapestries and portraits, which he had stored elsewhere. He occupied a suite of 4-5 rooms in the west wing of the mansion which were sparsely furnished. By 1879 the building was in a state of disrepair, with the Duke's rooms the only habitable ones. All the rooms had been painted pink, with bare parquetry floors and no furniture apart from a commode in one corner.

The Duke had a complex of underground rooms and tunnels constructed. The tunnels under the estate were reputed to have totalled 15 mi (24 km), connecting various underground chambers and above-ground buildings. They included a 1,000 yd (910 m) long tunnel between the house and the riding house, wide enough for several people to walk side by side. A more roughly constructed tunnel ran parallel to this for the use of his workmen. A 1.25 mi (2.01 km) long tunnel ran north-east from the coach house, to emerge at the South Lodge, which was supposedly wide enough for two carriages. It had domed skylights and by night was illuminated by gaslight. A tunnel was supposed to have run all the way to Worksop railway station, though there is no evidence for this claim. This and other tunnels are shown on the Ordnance Survey Explorer map of the area, though only the largest can be readily seen on aerial photographs (Multimap).

The underground chambers - all of which were painted pink - included a great hall 160 ft (49 m) long and 63 ft (19 m) which was originally intended as a chapel, but which was instead used as a picture gallery and occasionally as a ballroom. The ballroom reportedly had a hydraulic lift that could carry 20 guests from the surface and a ceiling that was painted as a giant sunset. However, the Duke never organized any dances in the ballroom.

Other subterranean rooms included a 250 ft (76 m) long library, an observatory with a large glass roof, and a vast billiards-room.

The Duke was very introverted - he did not want to meet people and never invited anyone to his home. His rooms had double letterboxes, one for ingoing and another for outgoing mail. His valet was the only person he permitted to see him in person in his quarters - he would not even let the doctor in, while his tenants and workmen were told never to acknowledge his presence (a workman who saluted him was reputedly dismissed on the spot) and they received all their instructions in writing.

His business with his solicitors, agents, and the occasional politician was handled by post. The Duke maintained an extensive correspondence with a wide-ranging network of family and friends, including Benjamin Disraeli and Lord Palmerston. He is not known to have kept company with any ladies, and his shyness and introverted personality increased over time.

His reclusive lifestyle led to rumours that the Duke was disfigured, mad, or prone to wild orgies. However, contemporary witnesses and surviving photographs present him as a normal-looking man.

He ventured outside mainly by night, when he was preceded by a servant lady carrying a lantern 40 yards ahead of him. If he did walk out by day, the Duke wore two overcoats, an extremely tall hat, an extremely high collar, and carried a very large umbrella behind which he tried to hide if someone addressed him.

If the Duke had business in London, he would take his carriage to Worksop where he had it loaded onto a railway wagon. Upon his arrival to his London residence, Harcourt House in Cavendish Square, all the household staff were ordered to keep out of sight as he hurried into his study through the front hall.

He insisted on a chicken roasting at all hours of the day, and the servants brought him his food on heated trucks that ran on rails through the underground tunnels.

The Duke died on 6 December 1879 at his London residence, Harcourt House. He was buried in a simple grave in Kensal Green cemetery in north London. As his younger brother, Henry William, had died without male issue on 31 December 1870, the title of Duke of Portland devolved upon his cousin, William Cavendish-Bentinck.

The department of Manuscripts and Special Collections, The University of Nottingham holds a number of papers relating to the 5th Duke: the 5th Duke's personal and political papers (Pw K) are part of the Portland (Welbeck) Collection; and the Portland (London) Collection (Pl) contains papers relating to the estate business of the 5th Duke, and to the "Druce Case".

The Portland Estate Papers held at the Nottinghamshire Archives also contain items relating to the 5th Duke's properties.

In 1897 a widow, Anna Maria Druce, claimed that the Duke had led a double life as her father-in-law, a London upholsterer by the name of Thomas Charles Druce, who had supposedly died in 1864. The widow claimed that the Duke had faked the death of his alter ego Druce to return to a secluded aristocratic life and that therefore her son was heir to the Portland estate. However, her application to have Druce's grave in Highgate Cemetery opened to show that the coffin buried in it was in fact empty and weighted with lead was blocked by Druce's executor and the case became the subject of continuing and unsuccessful legal proceedings.

When it was discovered that Druce's children by a former wife were living in Australia, Anna Maria Druce's claims were backgrounded and the case was taken up by George Hollamby Druce from 1903 onwards, who set up a company to finance his legal proceedings in 1905, and in 1907 even instituted a charge of perjury against Herbert Druce, Thomas Charles Druce's younger son, for having sworn that he had witnessed his father's death in 1864. Evidence of a fake burial was given by a witness named Robert C. Caldwell of New York and others, and it was eventually agreed that Druce's grave should be opened. This was done on 30 December 1907 and Druce's body was found present and successfully identified. Two witnesses were charged with perjury, and another witness and Anna Maria were confined to asylums.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

My Nipples Explode With The Light


English as She Is Spoke is the common name of a 19th century book credited to José da Fonseca and Pedro Carolino, which was intended as a Portuguese-English conversational guide or phrase book, but is regarded as a classic source of unintentional humour.

The humour appears to be a result of dictionary-aided literal translation, which causes many idiomatic expressions to be translated wildly inappropriately. For example, the Portuguese phrase chover a cântaros is translated as raining in jars, whereas an idiomatic English translation would be raining buckets.

Mark Twain said of English as She Is Spoke that "Nobody can add to the absurdity of this book, nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow; it is perfect."

It is widely believed that neither of the authors credited with the work could speak English, and that a French-English dictionary was used to translate an earlier Portuguese-French phrase book O Novo guia da conversação em francês e português, which had been written by José da Fonseca alone. The Portuguese-French phrase book is apparently a competent work, without the defects that characterise English as She Is Spoke.

In 2002, Alexander MacBride of the UCLA Department of Linguistics suggested that it is more likely that the Portuguese-English book was an unauthorised translation by Pedro Carolino of the Portuguese-French book, without the involvement of José da Fonseca, than a joint effort by the two.

Stephen Pile mentions this work in The Book of Heroic Failures, and comments: "Is there anything in conventional English which could equal the vividness of 'To craunch a marmoset'?"