Tuesday, September 15, 2009

White Women in History-Part II

Life was dangerous for White Women in Colonial History.

As I casually research colonial New England, I frequently come across mention of Indian raids, most explained as French supported hostage taking and scalping expeditions, and often characterized as acts of savagery natural to the native Americans perpetrating the raid.

One of the most famous stories of Caucasian colonial captivity is that of Susannah Johnson, who was abducted from her home in 1750 along with her husband, James, 14 year old sister Miriam, James and Susannah’s four children, and two other men, one a neighbor or cousin and the other possibly the Johnson’s hired man. Susannah was 9 months pregnant at the time of her capture, and went into labor while on her journey to the Abenaki camp.

Like Jane McCrea, Susannah was captured being stupid. Susannah and her family lived on the New Hampshire frontier in what was known as Number 4 (now Charlestown). The young family had arrived their during a war with the Abenaki, and lived with other settlers in the protection of the fort for three years. Tensions between the Abenaki and the English settlers abated over time, and the family left the fort to live on their farm property a few miles away. Rumors of another war with the Abenaki and French coming in the spring gave Susannah and her husband some cause to consider moving into the fort. But James, a career soldier who was presently making a good living in farming and trade with Native Americans, had recently come home with copius supplies that made the Johnson’s popular with the neighbors, and Susannah’s garden was still full of summer fruit to enjoy. It was August, and Susannah was heavily pregnant. Her vulnerability, the probably well known wealth of their house, and their distance from the fort made them very easy targets.

The morning of her capture, Susannah was sleeping naked (surprising as no one in colonial America was ever naked at any point) while her husband and two other men were hanging out downstairs, getting ready to go do some of that good old fashioned work I’ve heard so much about. The Abenaki raiders burst into the Johnson’s undefended home, quickly captured the men, and pulled Susannah, her sister, and their children from their beds. They got Susannah some clothes while they raided the house, and set off on the long walk back home with a laboring pregnant woman slowing them down and insufficient food. Not the world’s best planned kidnapping, but it worked out and no one had to be killed or ditched along the way…except for Scoggins the horse, who ended up dinner.

Susannah’s account of her time in captivity is sometimes held up as an example of the civility and kindness of the Abenaki people. It is also an example of the strange relations between the colonists, the British, the French, the Canadian colonists, and the Native American population.

A good account of this story can be found here:

Before splitting up the family (Susannah’s son was adopted fully by the Abenaki and did not return to his birth family for many years, the rest of the family ended up eventually in the hands of the French), the Abenaki allowed Susannah to live in their town and experience their way of live. She found them to be, in her words, “extremely modest, and averse to the airs of courtship”—which I guess means no one made a pass at her or anything. The town actually had two other white residents, an elderly Jesuit missionary and the tribe’s “chief,” Magouaouidombaouit a.k.a. Joseph-Louis Gill. Magouaouidombaouit was himself the son of captives from the New England colonies, and had married into a position of power within the tribe.

Because it was a time of peace between the English and French, the capture of colonists by native Americans to be sold to the French and often eventually back to the English was tolerated and not seen as the taking of prisoners of war. Susannah and her family passed into the hands of French government officials, and at no point on their journey did even missionaries make an effort to interfere with that transition. The taking of live prisoners for profit in piece time was preferable certainly to the delivery of body parts for reward in war time to most well meaning frontier French, I imagine.

While Susanna was only briefly adopted by the Abenaki before being ultimately sold to the French, other captives were adopted and integrated completely into a Native American family. Mary Jemison, for instance, was adopted by the Seneca, and stayed with them for about a year.


Mary gave the following account of the treatment of prisoners of the Seneca:

“I afterwards learned that the ceremony I at that time passed through, was that of adoption. The two squaws had lost a brother in Washington’s war, sometime in the year before, and in consequence of his death went up to Fort Pitt, on the day on which I arrived there, in order to receive a prisoner or oil enemy’s scalp, to supply their loss. It is a custom of the Indians, when one of their number is slain or taken prisoner in battle, to give to the nearest relative to the dead or absent, a prisoner, if they have chanced to take one, and if not, to give him the scalp of an enemy. On the return of the Indians from conquest, which is always announced by peculiar shoutings, demonstrations of joy, and the exhibition of some trophy of victory, the mourners come forward and make their claims. If they receive a prisoner, it is at their option either to satiate their vengeance by taking his life in the most cruel manner they can conceive of; or, to receive and adopt him into the family, in the place of him whom they have lost. All the prisoners that are taken in battle and carried to the encampment or town by the Indians, are given to the bereaved families, till their number is made good. And unless the mourners have but just received the news of their bereavement, and are under the operation of a paroxysm of grief, anger and revenge; or, unless the prisoner is very old, sickly, or homely, they generally save him, and treat him kindly. But if their mental wound is fresh, their loss so great that they deem it irreparable, or if their prisoner or prisoners do not meet their approbation, no torture, let it be ever so cruel, seems sufficient to make them satisfaction. It is family, and not national, sacrifices amongst the Indians, that has given them an indelible stamp as barbarians, and identified their character with the idea which is generally formed of unfeeling ferocity, and the most abandoned cruelty.”

Susannah Johnson, in her letters and journals, generally described the English acquisition and clearing of land for farming as preferable to the untamed wilderness. The pain and worry she felt when her husband was absent in times of conflict and the agony she would have experienced at his loss she and most other white settlers did not seem to apply to the Native Americans who had had war brought to their home.

Dimished greatly by diseases brought by early European traders, Native Americans of all tribes in the Northeast had already lost entire families. Hundreds of thousands of loved ones had already suddenly and gruesomely died, and thousands more would die in battle in the conflict between the French and English (during which Mary Jemison was captured). The idea of adopting prisoners, regardless of their race, makes a lot of sense in that situation. So too does the idea of torturing prisoners to avenge those lost.

But it was Jemison’s good luck to be adopted. While she would eventually choose to return to an anglo-American life, many other men and women who were captured and adopted would choose to remain with their tribe.

Women like Susannah Johnson, Elizabeth Hanson (a case similar to Susannah Johnson), Mary Jemison, and Mary White Rowlandson became famous for telling their exciting and romantic stories of time in captivity. These published works were of a genre known as “captivity narratives.” Mary White Rowlandson, a few years after her 3 month captivity at the end of King Philip’s War, “wrote” (with some help) the first of these narratives, titled for the 1682 American edition “A True History of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, A Minister's Wife in New-England: Wherein is set forth, The Cruel and Inhumane Usage she underwent amongst the Heathens for Eleven Weeks time: And her Deliverance from them. Written by her own Hand, for her Private Use: and now made public at the earnest Desire of some Friends, for the Benefit of the Afflicted”. Book titles used to be a lot longer.

In Mary White Rowlandson’s case, the narrative had a very religious bent, as Mary was a Calvinist puritan and the wife of a minister. Rowlandson’s account emphasizes the frustratingly ridiculous puritan belief that the Native Americans we sent to the Americas as a sort of test to the good puritan people…a punishment sent by God at times and at others agents of Satan. Rowlandson’s captors did not torture her, but provided her with basic care and even a bible.

In all of these captivity narratives, we see the good, pure white woman being held by the savage native Americans, being treated with relative kindness by their captors, but ultimately held up as victims of exemplary strength who were able to remain chaste and keep their good Caucasian Christian values until their return to a good and polite society which considered them to be 2nd class citizens…thank goodness.

Of course women who chose to stay with their adoptive families didn’t get to publish books about that experience. Men and women were often observed living with Native Americans throughout the colonies, and at many other times in American history, to be as vague as possible.

Captivity narratives had two surges of popularity—during colonial period (particularly between King Philip’s War and the American Revolution), and during the conquest of the American West, as female settlers on the new frontier tempted more red men with their godly pure whiteness and such and so forth. *cough*. Later captive narratives were written about Frances and Almira Hall, Rachel Plummer, Fanny Wiggins Kelly, Minnie Bruce Carrigan, Cynthia Ann Parker, and others. But that’s another chapter of White Women in History.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A post is eminent

I promise you, I'm working on something. A new installment of "White Women in History." I've just been sidetracked. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Fleischer World, Part 1

This post is coming very late as I was attempting to finish this project in full before posting it. But frankly, it will be at least another week before I'm finished. So I've decided to post what I've done, and present you with the conclusion in a few days. And now, without further ado, the meat!

Oh, if only there were a Max Fleischer amusement park….

In 1936, Max Fleischer directed an animated short for the Chevrolet corporation. “A Coach for Cinderella,” while a piece of advertising, was also a pioneering piece of animation. By modern standards, though, it’s a pretty awful piece of story telling. Cinderella is aided by friendly gnomes/elves of some sort, who with the help of some little forest friends assemble a so-so dress for the attractive (and therefore good) young woman. They also throw together a car made of found, mostly vegetable items, which they put into a “modernizer.” The “Modernizer” transforms the car into a Chevrolet. I scoffed at this at first, but really this “modernizer” was a wise investment on the part of the gnomes. With the low cost of supplies, I’m sure the “Modernizer” paid for itself after pumping out only four or five Chevrolets. The gnomes could probably churn out, say, 30 or 40 little nature cars a day, making huge profits! They could even afford to provide housing and healthcare for all of their little forest friend employees.

Of course, what would likely happen is the executive and managerial gnomes would realize that it would be a greater benefit to them personally to pay their labor as little as possible, increasing profit margins and making room for multi-million dollar bonuses on the upper levels. Unions and labor laws would soon interfere with this process, so the executives look for other ways to keep profits growing even as sales levels remain more or less the same. The forest market is, after all, limited, with most families having perhaps two cars which they replace every 3-5 years, and not much population increase in areas where their cars sell best. Furthermore, the gnomes will have drained much of the supply of flowers, leaves, and fruits of sorts needed to construct the pre-modernized cars. And the danger of gathering these items (watch out for snakes!) has lead to high insurance and labor costs. So the executive gnomes/elves would likely find a forest nearby where labor laws were lax, and not only impoverished little forest creatures could be found, but also supplies unregulated by environmental protection laws. Meanwhile, rather than use their profits to fuel development, the executives continue to devote most of the profit to bonuses and advertising. Meanwhile, a group of Japanese gnomes in a forest not far away have developed a new, better modernizer that operates at half the cost and twice the speed, and produces a more fuel efficient car. These Japanese gnomes had been forbidden a military by international gnome laws, and had instead turned their attention toward developing commercial technologies. The Japanese gnomes even build modernizers in the other gnomes’ forest, since they have more space and will accept less money in the current economic climate than the Japanese executive gnomes’ native labor pool. This pleases the market gnomes/humans, and they start increasingly turning away from the cars they once so proudly produced, and buying the cars coming out of the Japanese modernizers. Cinderella’s gnomes ignore their shrinking market, and simply make production cheaper and cheaper, maintaining profits while decreasing quality. Eventually, the quality bottoms out and costs can simply not by cut any more. Sales are plummeting, and no profits were devoted to any kind of reserve funds. The first downturn in profits in decades sends investors running, and the gnomes creditors now have their hands out, looking for some return on what they’ve put in before it’s too late. But it’s already too late, and the gnomes are in too deep and have to be bought out by the labor unions and the gnome government. It’s all very sad.
Anywho, the cartoon (and it’s sequel, “A Ride for Cinderella,” are both now in the public domain and available on youtube.


Note, if you will, some of the similarities between this cartoon and the later Disney features Snow White and Cinderella. The plot similarities are obvious and unavoidable, of course. But check out the way the birds dress Cinderella, and even the song they sing while doing it. Seem a little familiar too you?

Max Fleischer was, after all, Walt Disney’s biggest rival, and most successful. Fleischer’s cartoons are as stylistically recognizable as Disney’s. While both animators (although Disney, particularly in the early years, really shouldn’t be credited without mentioning Ub Iwerks) created their share of anthropomorphic characters, Fleischer often took his creations in a weirder direction.


Fleischer is perhaps best known as the inventor of the rotoscope the creator of Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor Man. While he certainly did a lot of animation geared toward children, Fleischer catered a bit more directly to adult audiences than Disney did. Betty Boop was running around in little more than a slip in her first, pre-Hays code shorts. She even does a topless hula in Betty-Boop’s Bamboo Isle (she’s wearing a lei, so decency isn’t entirely abandoned). Fleischer was a natural fit for advertising to adults.

Disney’s ultimate triumph was his ability to produce a successful full length animated feature, namely “Snow White.” It would be years before Disney would have another major commercially successful feature length animated movie, but “Snow White” was profitable enough to hold him over during the lean years. Max Fleischer was a great artist, but “Snow White” scale success eluded him. But without Max Fleischer (and his brother Dave), there may have been no Disney corporation (more on that in my next post).

So, in a bit of a departure from the usual Hystoracle format, I’m going to imagine what I think would have happened if Fleischer the artist and Disney the visionary entertainer had somehow been a team, or perhaps one person…what might Fleischer Land have looked like? I’ve had two cups of coffee in the last hour, so we’ll see how long it takes for me to burn out.

The center of the park would be Metropolis. Fleischer produced the first superman cartoons.

Forgive my somewhat inferior artistic skills. An imagineer I'm not. And the scan quality.

Metropolis would feature an "Adventures of Superman" roller coaster/dark ride. The majority of the coaster would actually be underneath the park, where riders would be flying like Superman through a miniturized and therefore more expansive Metropolis, shooting between buildings and seemingly miles into the air. The coaster emerges only at one point, looping around the observatory. The coaster would be lit to match the exterior time of day. The loading/unloading area for the coast with be beneath the central Daily Planet offices. The building itself would multiple floors of gift shops, a tour of the offices of the Daily Planet and a restaurant on the upper floors boasting a view of the entire park.

A dark ride loading in the "Police Station" (with the spot lights on top) offers a different point of view. In "Jail Break," you are the villain, escaping prison in a stolen 1940s style police car. You race through the streets of metropolis, nearly missing pedestrians and causing general havok until you are apprehended by Superman and thrown (almost literally) back into the slammer.

Metropolis also boasts an arcade, a 1940's style diner, and a movie theater which shows Fleischer cartoons all day. Metropolis is also the first and last stop of trains traveling the Fleischer Railroad. The trainstation is taken up largely by a rest area and queue. Beside the train station, there is a large statue of Superman, marking the entrance to the stage show area, where Superman thwarts a train robbery every two hours.

Moving out of Metropolis and toward the entrance of the park is Sweethaven.

Home of Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, and Sweetpea, Sweethaven is built to resemble both a recreational boardwalk and working dock. The largest ride is a thrilling boat ride which plunges you beneath the docks (caution, you will get wet, etc.). Beneath the docks you are greated by splashing mermaids and frisky sea creatures.

Beside the boat ride is a giftshop and two floor seafood restaurant.

The second largest ride is a dark ride, "Olive Oyl's Escape." Olive Oyl and Sweet Pea evade Bluto in a small motor boat, traveling through the dark dock alleys beneath the cannery and Canned Spinach plant. In the end, Popeye comes to the rescue.

The only other ride is a classic carousel. The docks feature midway style games and food booths. The largest restaurant is Wimpy's, which of course serves hamburgers and cheese burgers. Performers dressed as Popeye, Olive Oyl, Wimpy and Bluto frequent all areas of Sweethaven. At the end of the docks (next to the carousel), parkgoers walk down a slope to the loading dock for the boat to Gulliver's Island.

Up soon, Gulliver's Island, a Toon Town area centered around Betty Boop, Bimbo, and Koko the clown, a forest divided between a pleasant Cinderella themed woodland and a dark haunted forest, and a seasonal, Rudolph centric North Pole.

Better images here.



Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Always let your conscience be your guide.

Today I will focus not on a ride cast off by Disney, but a person; a man who was a major influence on Walt and the Disney parks until his was banished from the Magic Kingdom and erased from the Disney record like some forgotten Stalinist the children must black out in their text books.

Cornelius Vanderbilt Wood, Jr. (called C.V. or occasionally Woody), was an oil magnate and developer who became associated with Walt Disney in the late 1940s. It was Wood, most believe, who scouted the location for Disneyland and sold Walt on not only obtaining the land (an orange grove in Anaheim), but also many aspects of the park’s design. Wood was only 32 at the time of Disneyland's opening. When it came to amusement parks, his later efforts would show, C.V. shared Walt’s eye for innovation in rides and attractions, but not, sadly, Walt’s luck.

Disneyland opened in 1955, and in 1956 Wood was excised from the Disney family. He is not mentioned in Disney’s own publications on the history of the park or Imagineering, he is not honored within the park by subtle tributes the way other major players in the park’s success have been. As far as Disney is concerned, Cornelius Vanderbilt Wood is a footnote at best, remembered by a handful of original park engineers and Disney cronies but forgotten in the Disney story.

Wood’s death in 1992 warranted a brief obituary in the New York Times, at least, and his name is whispered in the ever growing internet communities of Disney addicts.

There are several reasons given for the break between Walt and C.V.. Some believe C.V. was a crooked business man, and may have made some shady moves on Disney’s behalf, or, worse, been embezzling from Disney. Others site Disney’s megalomania, and his anger over C.V. taking too much public credit for the early success of Disneyland in the press. Wood billed himself as “the master planner of Disneyland” until Disney sued and stopped him from using the title. Still others claim that C.V. wanted to strike out on his own, and that Walt simply wasn’t thrilled with C.V.’s desire to open non-Disney parks. Whatever the reason, Disney never wanted anything to do with Wood again.

Perhaps Wood as a personality was simply too much of a contradiction to the myth of Walt. Wood was a slick, ambitious, unapologetic business man. People like to imagine that for Walt the profits brought by the Disney empire were simply secondary to the joy he would bring to the faces of millions of children and adults. Disney is obviously a huge, powerful corporation, but Walt was it’s soul, even if he was in actuality as much a businessman as an artist.

But don’t be too sad for C.V., he was still an extremely rich man who led a very fulfilling life, and may have continued to have an influence on Disney in spite of his divorce from the corporation.

When I picture C.V. Wood, I imagine the “Rich Texan” character from “The Simpsons,” a loud, cowboy hat wearing blowhard who seems to have access to a bottomless well of cash and credit, in spite of his constant involvement in rather shaky investments. Wood’s actual appearance was less grandiose, and he lacked a trademark cowboy hat, unfortunately. Wood was not entirely a stereotypical millionaire (he married a woman his own age, actress Joanne Dru, when they were both in their early 50s. She had been married thrice before, twice divorced and once widowed. Her third husband died in January of the same year she married Wood). But C.V. was a large personality and persistant. Here's a younger Joanne Dru, by the way.

After his departure from Disney, Wood formed Marco Engineering (according to his New York Times obit), a “consulting firm for the leisure industry.” Through Marco, Wood had a hand in the development of a number of successful resorts and theme parks. The most successful is probably Six Flags Adventure Park (or Six Flags Over Texas), which is the mother and the backbone of the Six Flags amusement park family. Six Flags, as amusement parks go, is probably Disney’s biggest competitor.

In 1961, according again to the New York Times obituary, Marco Engineering merged with the McCulloch corporation. Robert Paxton McCulloch was from an industrialist family, building his own success on a fortune inherited from his grandfather, electrical engineering pioneer John I. Beggs. McCulloch built companies in engine manufacture and aviation before making his name in chain saw production. He also owned an oil corporation and produced outboard motors. (I Wikipedia’d the dude, but it’s all backed up in several histories of Lake Havasu).

McCulloch purchased Lake Havasu and surrounding lands in Arizona as a testing ground for his outboard motors in 1963, and also opened a chainsaw factory there in 1964. But he also wanted to attract tourists, so he got into business with C.V. Wood.

Wood and McCulloch purchased London Bridge (not to be confused with Tower Bridge). London Bridge was, well, falling down, as it had been sinking into the muddy Thames for some time. The City of London was happy to unload it, and under Wood’s supervision, the bridge was transported stone by stone and reassembled in Lake Havasu, where it served as an adequate tourist attraction. C.V. also served as Lake Havasu’s city planner, providing it with English garden walks and themed shopping districts, largely overtaken now by less well planned developments.

This article has some nice bits from Mr. Wood himself, and he's cursing, which is something I like in my subjects.

C.V.’s own Amusement parks, however, were less of a success. The longest lasting (excepting Six Flags) was Pleasure Island in Boston, Mass. Now where have we heard that name? Oh yes, Disney used the same title for the adult entertainment/shopping section of its Disney World Resort. “Pleasure Island” was the name of an Island in Pinocchio where frolicking was encouraged but had horrific consequences. Disney did not connect the Pinocchio story to the imagineered lore of their own Pleasure Island. There have been a number of “Pleasure Island” themed amusement parks since the 1950s…Wood’s seems to be the earliest I’ve found. A comedy movie of the same name was released in 1953. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Girls_of_Pleasure_Island

Pleasure Island operated in Wakefield, MA for 10 years, from 1959 to 1969, during which time is was never a big financial success. It changed owners regularly. But it was a popular and well attended tourist attraction, and has inspired a number of internet communities. http://friendsofpleasureisland.org/tidbits/index.htm
Nevertheless, it lacked the staying power and the financial stability of the Disney parks.
Here’s a fantastic flyer given to visitors in 1962:

My favorite, though, of Mr. Wood’s amusement parks was probably his most expensive, most devistating failure. Freedomland, U.S.A. In “Freedomland,” you can really see the influence C.V. may have had on the layout and appearance of Disneyland (and Disney World, consequently). Located in the Bronx, NY, in what is now Co-Op City, Freedomland opened in 1960 and closed in 1964.

Freedomland was a large park mapped out in the shape of the united states, with each area of the country themed. The northeast was called “Old New York,” and featured faux antique car rides through a miniature New England, Tug Boats in the New York portion of the Great Lakes, horse drawn streetcars and surreys to the Chicago section, a “Political Pep Rally” show (which featured an oompa band, an “1880s Tammany Speech,” suffragettes and a bank robbery), and even a brewery.

West of “Old New York" was Chicago, themed around the way it appeared at the time of the 1871 fire. The fire would be reenacted in a live show every 20 minutes. There was also a “steamboat” cruise around the Great Lakes (the two boats even featured calliopes). One of the two boats, The Canada, has been refurbished by "Connecticution"* Billy Frenz, who is renting it out for private events.

The Chicago section also included an “Indian Village," complete with "natives" sitting in tee-pees and selling their wares.

Southwest of "Chicago," you could visit the site of the mass genocide of the natives you just bought a leather wallet from. The "Great Plains" featured 19th century military outposts, horsedrawn wagons, a merry-go-round pulled by mules, a shooting gallery, and the ill-fated stage coach ride that concluded with a staged robbery, and a farm exhibit sponsored by the Borden dairy company and featuring Elsie the cow. (The Borden company, founded by Gail Borden, actually opened the first condensed milk factory in Burrville, a part of my home town. The Borden company also owned Elmer's glue. Elsie and Elmer were their cow and bull mascots. The original Elsie was bought from a Connecticut farm near Burrville).

The western border of Freedomland was "San Fransico" in 1906. There was a Northwest Fur Trapper ride, on which guests were guided in a boat down a river by a trapper guide. There was shopping and entertainment in the Chinatown and Barbary Coast districts, as well as a mock Fisherman's Warf, and a "Hollywood Arena" with animal and circus style acts. Pacific harbor seals were on display in the Seal Pool. There was also a dark ride simulating the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Southward you would find the "Old Southwest," a wild west, gay '90s themed area with staged shoot outs, a mine train, a "burro trail" with donkey rides, "Casa Loca" (a crooked house, an example of which can now be seen in the Enchanted Forest at Lake George), a heard of Texas Longhorns, and an Opera House and Saloon.

Circle back through the south east and you would find yourself in "New Orleans" during a permanent Mardi Gras. There were civil war reenactments, pirate themed boat rides and attractions, spinning top and carousel rides, yet another shooting gallery, a see through house of mirrors (the mirrors were two way, so the people walking by outside could see the people lost within. "Danny the Dragon" was a major attraction, and was later acquired by Storytown in Lake George (by Charley Wood, who I wrote about earlier).

Eastward was the "Tomorrowland"-esque Satellite City, where Florida is the future! "Space Rover" was a 250 seat theater in which guests could experience a simulated journey into space. There was a detailed reproduction of the Cape Canaveral control room where guests could watch a simulated rocket launch. Special exhibits were in rotation, and entertainers and dancers came to play the "Moon Bowl." One fan site lists "Paul Anka, Count Basie, Dick Clark, Brenda Lee, Patti Page, the Everly Brothers, the Benny Goodman Orchestra, the Harry James Orchestra, Xavier Cougat and Abbe Lane, Ricky Nelson, the Lennon Sisters, Bobby Rydell, Bobby Darin, and the stars of 'Car 54, Wear are You?', Fred Gwynne and Joe E. Ross" as having appeared at the Moon Bowl.

A park this large and with this number of attractions was unlike anything else on the east coast, and was heavily publicized as the east coast answer to Disneyland. The northeast, however, has a number of drawbacks sunny southern california lacks. For one, it would be impossible to keep the park fully open year round, leading to stretches without income. Snow and ice could damage rides, which would need maintainance and repair to get them open in the spring.

Not long after the park's opening, the first in a string of disasters took place. One of the stage coaches in "Chicago" overturned, injuring several park goers and even breaking the spine of one. Law suits were, of course, filed. Traffic jams caused by the influx of park goers made the park less than popular with the city. Then, not long after the stage coach disaster, the front office was robbed by four men of $28,836. Park attendence began to drop after the first year, and expensive changes were made to attract youngsters. Eventually, the land became more valuable than the park, and it was sold off to the group who would construct Co-Op city. The Bay Plaza Shopping Center is also on this land. The rides were sold off to other amusement parks, like Cedar Point and Story Town, and the survivors are for the most part now in storage.

Wood moved on to the Lake Havasu project, which he would tell Uri Geller, of all people, was perhaps his proudest accomplishment. Geller describes C.V. in his blog (I know, Uri Geller has a blog. And he looks FANTASTIC for his age, by the way) as being a sweetheart. "Every minute with C.V. was a pleasure. It was like spending time with a favourite uncle."

Still, C.V. Wood died in 1992 relatively unremembered by the public, as least compared to Disney and even Robert McCullough. But when you're a millionaire who can make some damn fine chili, who cares?

Scroll down a bit in this blog for some wonderful pics of Freedomland. The Freedomland flyer comes from this site.


Also some great pics of the concept drawing for Disney from Look Magazine. The finished park had a lot of differences. Could some have been attributed to Wood?


A site on another Wood influenced park, Magic Mountain.

Wood's winning Chili recipe.

Dressed as a king for the cook off.

(black and white photos from the LIFE magazine on line archives)
*People from Connecticut (like myself) are officially called, I believe, Nutmeggers. I'm not particularly fond of this term, and prefer to use "Connecticution," or "Connecticuteer."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

You can never go back

(A little tourist history)

Truthfully, the Daniel Dunglas Home began to bore me. I couldn’t even finish his biography, as it was just the sort of thing one would expect. I’m not sure exactly what I hoped to get out of it beyond the usual babblings of a typical fake psychic. Ho-hum.

The whole thing got me pack to thinking about showmanship and nostalgia, not just for the people we have lost but the things we have lost. The relatively recent convention of a spoiled, happy childhood has created a few generations now of people who want to go back into a sort of warped, blindingly bright childlike state of wonder (I posit, in a completely unsubstantiated bit of sociological analyses). Whether playing parlor games with the dead or drugging yourself down the rabbit hole, the best you can get is the macabre version of child hood the adult mind creates from the memories of a world where everything seemed to impossibly large and so much more colorful than it is now. The best you can get is an approximation of the exhilaration one feels when experiencing something unfamiliar.

Imagine what it must have felt like to be able to register, say, the color blue for the first time as an infant. It’s impossible to remember or to recognize, but I like to imagine it didn’t feel all that different from the first time you tasted soft serve vanilla ice cream. Or the first time you held someone’s hand and knew it meant more than it did when you crossed the street with someone. As you get older those moments get fewer and farther between, and the thrills you get from learning or finding new things diminish as your mind builds a wider bank of comparable experiences. The Pacific ocean is impressively vast and blue but not so different from the Atlantic of your memories. The feeling of kissing someone new is exciting, but not that different from the first time you kissed at all.

That New England resort town will always be more beautiful in your mind. You feel a tiny bit of the old thrill when you go back, only everything is smaller and let perfect then you imagined.

And how could you possibly regain that feeling from things once wonderous but now familiar? How do you extract thrills from a story that’s old as soon as it’s told? And, most importantly, how do we make sure our children feel the same exhilaration? And how, Mr. Capitalist, do you build this feeling and sell it? One solution is to build and market the perfect childhood of our imaginations. Ice cream mountains, talking animals, giant flowers, magical powers, a place where that New England town really is as perfect as you remember…that place that for any child or child at heart would be the happiest place on earth! Amplified enough to make an adult feel like a child, and a child feel like a god.

As a child, going to Disney world was like ecstacy. It was as if someone had reached into my head and extracted all the best parts of my imagination. It didn’t matter that it was artificial. I could see it and touch it, and it was all that I dreamed it would be.

Some of it is still the same. Things, sadly, are more blunt now…there are most plots to fill in the gaps once filled by child park goers, more stories to explain the hows and whys so the little dullards don’t have to think too much. Lots of stimulation, exposition, constant motion, to meet the visual and mental expectations set by bad television. And of course, more marketing than ever.

So to ease my wounded corporately co-opted soul, I’m going to talk about some the history of some Disney rides, some historical references found there in, and any number of things that have nothing to do with that long introduction up there. It’s my blog, you ain’t grading it, I can ramble if I want to.

I’m going to focus on some pieces of my own childhood experience that I can never return to: once popular but now defunct or drastically altered Disney rides.

I’m going to start, of course, with Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

Kenneth Graham’s “The Wind in the Willows” was published on October 8, 1908, and by the 1940s was considered a classic piece of children’s literature in Britain, and was a limited success in the United States. Disney first adapted a piece of Graham’s work, in a way, in the “Reluctant Dragon” feature. “The Reluctant Dragon” was actually a sort of tour of the Disney animation studio with a story attached. Robert Benchley, as himself, arrives at the studio with the goal of pitching an animated adaptation of “The Reluctant Dragon” to Walt. Along the way, he chit chats with animators and watches story boarding sessions and ani-mat previews. Finally, he catches up with Walt, previewing his new feature—wait for it—“The Reluctant Dragon.” Benchley and Disney watch a short segment of the imagined film.

A television version of “The Wind in the Willows” was produced in 1946 by the BBC for television, dramatized by A.A. Milne of “Winnie the Pooh” fame. A “Winnie the Pooh” themed ride now occupies the space once housing “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.”

Disney first adapted “The Wind in the Willows” as part of a double feature released in 1949, “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.” The other half was of course an adaptation of the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Most roles in the “Mr. Toad” feature were voiced by experienced British actors. Basil Rathbone, most famous for his portrayal on film and radio of Sherlock Holmes, voiced the narrator. J. Pat O’Malley, a television character actor with hundreds of credits, voiced Cyril Proudbottom. O’Malley also voiced Colonel Hathi (the Elephant) in “The Jungle Book” almost 20 years later, and did uncredited voice work as the horseman in “Mary Poppins.” Eric Lore, a successful British comedic film actor, voiced J. Thaddeus Toad. John McLeish, a stock voice actor at Disney who was most often cast as a narrator (in “Goofy Gymnastics,” for instance), voiced the prosecutor. Claud Allister, another British character actor, voiced rat (and also Sir Giles in “The Reluctant Dragon”).

Mole, on the other hand, was voiced by Collin Campbell, a layout and background artist at Disney studios with no other voice credits. Angus MacBadger was voiced by Campbell Grant, a Disney animator and story developer who also did no other voice work. Grant was involved in production on Snow White, Pinocchio, and Fantasia. Mr. Winky was voiced by Oliver Wallace, a Disney composer and music director/composer for the film.

The feature was directed by career Disney men James Algar and Jack Kinney (brother of long time television and cartoon writer Dick Kinney).

The story as told by Disney, for those unfamiliar, is as follows:

J. Thaddeus Toad, a financially strapped and manic aristocrat, becomes, through a series of events involving gypsies and escape from enforced incarceration by friends, obsessed with motor cars. Mr. Toad procures a motor car, but is subsequently arrested for auto theft, and, though innocent, is wrongly convicted based on the testimony of Winky the Bartender and a group of Weasels (weasels always = evil. These same weasels were resurrected for “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”). Toad traded the deed to Toad Hall for the car, and now Winky and the Weasels have happily taken over the premises while Toad sits in jail. Toad is busted out by his friends (Rat, Mole, Badger) and the group sneak back into Toad hall. After the ensuance of some hilarity, the deed is recovered, Toad’s name cleared, and all is again right with the world. Only now Mr. Toad is obsessed with air planes. Incorrigible!

In 1955, six years after the moderately profitable release of the film, Disneyland opened in Anaheim. One of the original rides at the park was a ride based on the Wind in the Willows feature, called, of course, “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.”

“Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” was a “dark ride.” A “dark ride” is simply an amusement ride that takes place in an enclosed, artificially lit space. A “fun house” is a simple version of a “dark ride,” typically. Disney took the concept of the amusement park fun house and turned up the special effects. Disney produced many of the best dark rides, including “The Haunted Mansion” (recently rehabbed with new attic scene), “Pirates of the Caribbean” (recently rehabbed with Jack Sparrow) and “It’s a Small World” (rehabbed at Disneyland this year with wider boats for fat people and Disney characters like Nemo, Jasmine and Aladdin, Stitch, and Ariel inserted into some scenes, so you remember which products to buy afterward. Also, minus rainforest, plus patriotic tribute to America! Taste the patriotism, fat Americans!).

“Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” was a simple dark ride, featuring mostly flat character representations and limited animatronics. But what the ride lacked in flash is made up for in pace and humor. The Disneyland version still exists and is still a popular draw in it’s original location (the front was renovated to look like a castle in the early 1980s when Fantasy Land was overhauled). The Disney World version was also operational for that park’s opening in 1971. The Disney World version was not only longer and more elaborate, but also had two separate, adjacent queues and loading areas which lead to two different versions of the ride.

Toad Hall -> Trophy Room -> Kitchen -> Gypsy Camp -> One Way Street -> Town Square -> Winky's Pub -> Keg Room -> Blackout -> Rain Room -> Train Tunnel -> Hell

Toad Hall-> Library -> Blackout -> Barnyard -> Barn -> One Way Street -> Town Square -> Jail -> Prison -> Shireland -> Train Tunnel -> Hell

“Mr. Toad,” like the untamed version of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” had a little something for the adults and the kids. Barmaids with cleavage! Shoot outs between the weasels and the cops! Gypsies! And, of course, Satan!

The “Hell” scene was, of course, not in the movie and was added to the ride because…well…um…

I have been searching and searching for the imagineers responsible for the Walt Disney World ride design, to no avail as yet. Responsible for the aesthetics would be those responsible for the character and background design in the movie. Walt Disney himself, James Algar and Jack Kinney, story designers Winston Hibler (story for Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan, among other classics, lyrics for “Following the Leader” from Peter Pan), Homer Brightman (story for Cinderella, and over 100 shorts and tv features), Ted Sears (story for Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Sleeping beauty…co-wrote “following the leader, animator on several shorts in the early 30s), Harry Reeves (story for Cinderella, quite a few shorts and tv spots until 1955), and Paul Girard Smith (a long time screenplay and punch up guy).

“The Merrily Song” that played ad nauseum during the ride was composed for the movie by Frank Churchill, Charles Wolcott, Larry Morey, and Ray Gilbert.

Imagineers at Disney at the time of the original ride’s construction in 1955 included John Hench, Dick Irvine, Herb Ryman, Claude Coats, Marc Davis, Blaine Gibson, Fred Joerger, Harriet Burns, Bill Martin, Rollie Crump, Roger Broggie, Bill Evans, Harper Goff, Bill Cottrell, Bob Jolley, Wathel Rogers, Yale Gracey, I believe.

I’ve had about all I can take of Mr. Toad. I’ll leave you with a ride through video. Enjoy!

Track 1:

Coming up....20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, some other defunct rides, and some triumphs of imagineering like, say the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Friday, April 3, 2009

I see dead people, you see dead people, we all see dead people.

19th Century America saw some gruesome trends. An obsession with figures like Jane McCrea, and the subsequent theft and probably sale of many of their bones, was one such trend, reflective of the medieval European obsession with the bones of saints. The obsession with death and the dead was a big part of the spiritual movements that began shortly after the start of the industrial revolution (and amplified after the civil war). I described a bit before the effect this had on middle and upper class health attitudes and practices. Those movements have had a long lasting effect on the way we eat and advertise. And with those movements, came a great deal of fraud in the form of “snake oil” salesmen, and woefully misguided advice from eccentrics like Dr. Kellogg.

Many of the same people engaging in the health and sanitarium movements were also attracted to popular physics and mediums, and new religious groups that supported the use of psychics and mediums, such as the Theosophists and the Society for the Diffusion of Spiritual Knowledge.

The Fox sisters (Leah, the very gifted Kate, and Margaret, young ladies from Hydesville in upstate New York), who were frequented by believers like poor Sojourner Truth (who also received yogurt enemas from Kellogg), most frequently employed “rapping” (a tactic common in séances, particularly after the Fox sisters’ success). The rapping effect, according to Margaret Fox’s public demonstration and confession, was produced at times by tapping and cracking her toe and ankle joints. She and her sisters were able to do this loudly enough that it could be heard throughout a large room. In a house without a great deal of ambient noise (all of our modern conveniences make a lot of it), this rapping would be sufficiently loud to frighten and convince the attendees of a séance. Dim lighting and the willingness of the attendees to be convinced were sufficient to make the sisters extremely popular. But Kate and Margaret were also alcoholics and a bit self sabotaging. Margaret took short term money for her confession, effectively ending long term cash flow for herself and her sister, who was a more talented performer and successful “psychic.”

The Fox sisters, with the help of their Quaker friends, were largely responsible for the birth of the American “Spiritualist” movement.

It’s easy to dismiss Victorian spiritualists as fools, and unfortunately their apparent susceptibility to, in hindsight, obvious fraud, damages the reputation of many figures who were otherwise known to be intelligent and progressive, and who are responsible for the Women’s movement and the abolition of slavery. But sometimes it seems big hearted, “do gooder” types are the most susceptible to this sort of exploitation. While creepy, the desire to communicate with deceased relatives and historical figures is kind of sweet, in a way. I guess. Mostly it’s macabre.

I’m sympathetic, I suppose, in that I imagine these intelligent and religious people in a rapidly changing world, obsessed with the novelty of scientific observation and technology, seeking to blend two worlds together. If one firmly believes in a soul and an afterlife, certainly one would want to use the new and exciting scientific methods to prove those things exist. Visitors to mediums like the Fox sisters often called themselves “investigators”(much as “ghost hunters” do now). It was a pastime of the rich to play scientist in the world of ghosts, and to try to find, with all the proper witnesses and documents, the best possible proof of the existence of ghosts. Combine those beliefs with the grief that follows the sort of young death that was rare enough (compared to even 100 years prior) to be somewhat unexpected and tragic but common enough to create a huge market of young grieving mothers and fathers and widows/widowers. It was very easy for two groups to find an audience with these people; the well intentioned but deluded, and hucksters. Sometimes, between these groups, there were grey areas. Lie long enough, you’ll start to believe it yourself.

Psychics who were simply seers, giving straightforward predictions of the future or messages from the dead were out of vogue. Audiences didn’t just want answers and comfort, they wanted a show. If you were going to be rich and famous post the Fox sisters, you needed to bring something new to the table—something frightening and entertaining.

There are many different kinds of psychic ability, you see. A medium in the Victorian era helped him or herself acheive greater fiancial success if they could develop several of these skills. These types of “psychic ability” became popular and were named at different times. So I’m using the modern names, and will try to highlight those that are particularly popular among Victorian audiences. I gathered these from a few different sources, and the list isn’t complete I’m sure.

Astral Projection – The ability to leave the body in spirit form and travel somewhere else. This is handy if you are finally settled into bed, but suddenly realize that you may have forgotten to lock the front door. You can go check in spirit form, so you don’t have to waste your time getting out of bed right after you’ve settled into a comfortable position. If you’re really good at it, you could in theory lock the door.
Aura Reading – Reading Auras.
Automatic Writing – This I’ve actually done to freak out my friends, entirely fraudulently. This was done sometimes by Victorian psychics. Typically, the non-dominant hand is used, and, while in a trance or trance-like state, the psychic allows his or her arm to be used by spirits to right messages for the living. I plan to write dirty limericks, when I am dead.
Channeling – This is the ability “mediums” use to allow the dead to vocalize through them. There are two types of channeling: direct voice, which employs psychic ability to give the spirits the power to speak somehow, and trance speaker. Trance Speaking is the most well known form of channeling, as the medium allowed the spirit to use the mind and body of the medium to speak. Some psychics took this as far as claiming temporary possession by a spirit. This was very popular among Victorian audiences, and of course very easily faked.
Clairaudience – This is tricky. It is the ability to hear the immediately inaudible. For instance, the psychic can hear a conversation taking place miles away. Psychic eavesdropping.
Clairvoyance – The ability to see things obstructed from view. Clairvoyance is not the ability to tell the future. Clairvoyants can see things in the physical world that are at a distance, behind a wall, under the bed, etc etc. This was a common ability claimed by Victorian psychics.
Clairsentience – The ability to sense thoughts/feelings/memories in another. If you forget where you put your keys, a Clairsentient could recover the memory, or sense how sad you were about losing your keys.
Divination - Fortune telling and other attempts to predict our AMAZING FUTURE. The reading of taro cars, etc, falls into this category. This has been popular for thousands of years, ‘cause everyone wants to know about the future!
Dowsing – Using a divining rod, other sticks, pendulums, magic objects to find water or lost objects.
Empathy – Like Troy on Star Trek TNG. You can sense the feelings of others.
Intuition – Women have it, I’ve heard.
Levitation – Look at you! Way up high! In the air! In the sky! You are the luckiest boy in the world. This was much appreciated by victorian audiences.
Mind Over Body – I’m keeping this on the list because of the influence Buddhism had on Theosophy and other branches of Spiritualism. It’s basically the ability to suppress one’s own thirst, hunger, exhaustion. Some people consider this a psychic ability.
Precognition – Seeing the future! But on your own, not through divination, and usually only a little bit.
Psychometry/Materialism – The ability to touch an object and sense events, people, feelings, locations, etc the object was associated with.
Pyrokinesis - You can start fires WITH YOUR MIND! I doubt this would have been popular in any firetrap victorian house.
Telekinesis/psychokinesis - Moving objects using your mind. Very popular with the victorians, a neat "parlor trick."
Telepathy - The ability to communicate with another person with your mind, but without your mouth.

One of the best and most convincing of these performers was Daniel Dunglas Home (March 20, 1833-June 21, 1886), a Scottish emigrant descended from a line of “seers,” for whom psychic ability may have taken a back seat to more impressive feats. He thought happy thoughts (probably…I think that’s how it works) and flew.

Home was a clairvoyant, he channelled spirits, he dabbled in telekinesis, and he levitated like nobody's business. Because we don't have photographs or videos of these levitations, it's difficult to say how he did it exactly. He certainly had assistants, and typically performed in dimly lit environments (despite his own declaration that all seances should be performed in the light.

Home was the author of a handful of books, including an autobiography which you can get online on google books titled "Incidents in my life." Home was one of a number of psychics who saught to debunk the work of others in his profession he believed to be frauds. Home did not believe, according to his book "Lights and Shadows of Spiritualism," that spirits could be called forth and manifest in a solid form. Florence Cook, for instance, a young British medium who became famous in the early 20th century, claimed to be able, once conveniently hiding in a closet, to be able to call forth Katie King, a "spirit" who looked a lot like Cook and was so strongly manifested that she was able to touch seance attendees. The "ghost" of Katie King is pictured, in her spooky ghost costume.

Home also believed that seances held in darkness left too much opportunity for trickery. Yet, of course, Home too kept the lights low.

I'll be reading Daniel Dunglas Home's books, and passing the savings on to you. I'll also ramble a little about what psychics and magicians intersect.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

White Women in History: The Death of Jane McCrea

White folks love their white women in distress, the more virginal and helpless the better. Perhaps the most famous example of this love in American history is the adoration and use of Jane McCrea.

I had some difficulty researching this subject, as most writing on Jane McCrea still buys at least partially into the myths surrounding her death, and a lot of the books and websites that mention her were created by white supremacists. I had to quickly close a lot of links once swastikas started showing up on my webpage.

The legend of Jane McCrea is as follows:

Jane McCrea, a tall, pretty young woman engaged to a Loyalist who had joined the British Army in the Adirondacks, had left her brother’s home in Saratoga to join her fiancé in the north. She was staying temporarily in Fort Edward, not far from Fort Ticonderoga.

On July 27, 1777, McCrea was killed just outside of Fort Edward. Indians allied with the British (specifically General Burgoyne) raided the village outside of the Fort, captured McCrea and scalped her. Her scalp was recognized by her hostess in Fort Edward and fellow companion, Sarah McNeill, in the hands of a brave.

The story of McCrea’s murder quickly spread and bolstered the rebel cause, leading to General John Burgoyne’s defeat in the battle for Saratoga.

This story inspired John Vanderlyn’s famous painting, “The Death of Jane McCrea.”

I have seen this painting in person many times, as it hangs at the Wadsworth Atheneum. It’s a beautiful painting, if propagandistic.

In the painting we have, of course, two hulking, merciless savages, and one extremely pale, nicely dressed, shapely young victim. And her boob is about to pop out, just to give the image a little sexual oomph.

It’s impossible to know anything about McCrea personally. She was engaged to a loyalist, but her siblings joined the rebel army. It’s impossible to know if she had a firm opinion on which rich white men would control the land she called home. She was a human being and likely had an opinion, but her “loyalist” stance was mostly confirmed by the man she fell in love with. I’ve loved a republican…love can override political differences. But in choosing to follow her husband to Canada she had effectively chosen her side in life. In death, she would be recruited by the other.

McCrea was born in either 1751 or 1752, according to most sources, and was therefore about 25 when she died.

A far more probable account of Jane McCrea’s death was given in Plymouth Magazine by David R. Starbuck. (www.plymouth.edu/new/magazine/issue/story.html?id=243&print1) Fort Edward was not being raided, as most of it’s inhabitants would have fled to Albany in anticipation of the coming battle. Only Jane McCrea and Sarah McNeill remained behind. McCrea, I imagine, stayed because her husband was stationed nearby and she imagined that he would send for her. Burgoyne sent some American Indian “contractors” (I guess you could call them) to retrieve the two women. McCrea and McNeill saw the American Indian’s coming and, like any god fearing white woman would, hid in the basement.

The men entered the house where they knew the women would be, and found them in the basement, where they were probably having all kinds of womanly hysterics. The men reportedly dragged McCrea and McNeill out of the basement by their hair. Now, it is likely that these men spoke limited English, and these women had of course no reason to learn anything of the native languages of the people whose land they were presently living on. So we have two freaked out women who think they are being captured, and some Native Americans just trying to earn the paycheck promised to them if the two women were retrieved. So, after much confusing back and forth, the men grabbed the ladies by an unbruisable part and hauled them out of the house.

No one is exactly sure what happened next. Starbuck leans toward the theory that some other Indians showed up, having heard about the reward and hoping to turn the women over to Burgoyne themselves, and in the kerfuffle that followed Jane was killed. The Indians claimed (but who would trust them? Am I right? Sure they were there, but being tan can skew one’s perception of reality) that McCrea was killed when Americans opened fire on the Indians in transit with McCrea. This is certainly possible, as there may have been rebels remaining in the Fort Edward area who recognized the Indians as British allies, and therefore a target. They also may have been attempting, ill advisably given the accuracy of musket fire, to defend the two women who appeared to be being held hostage. Other historians claim it could just have been a stray bullet. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, McCrea’s body was found with several bullets in it. With a dead woman on their hands, and the potential loss of any reward at all, the men posthumously scalp McCrea and pass her scalp off as one taken in a raid the British would have approved of.

Or maybe in the confusion, signals got crossed and McCrea was scalped because someone thought that was why they were going to get her. McCrea’s scalp turned up in the British camp among others, where it was recognized by David Jones (McCrea apparently had some memorable blonde hair). Jones somehow recovered her body (somewhere near the memorial below) and had it buried south of Fort Edward.
Another very different account (http://www.mohicanpress.com/mo08011.html) claims that McNeill and McCrea were indeed captured when they were discovered at McNeill’s house near Fort Edward. The British allied Indians were patrolling the area capturing white stragglers and were unaware that McCrea and McNeill (who foolishly stayed in Fort Edward alone believing their connection to the troops would keep them safe) were loyalists and therefore on the “same team.” The Huron “Le Loup” hopes to ransom the young woman, but this plan is thwarted when Indians sent by McCrea’s fiancé show up to claim her. An argument ensues, and Le Loup spitefully kills McCrea and scalps her.

Indians were questioned but no one was punished in connection with the death, possibly to avoid losing the allegiance of the Huron. Angered colonists blamed Burgoyne (and, by extension, the cruelty of the British Empire and its use of such savage natives) for McCrea’s death, and many may have joined the rebel militias because of this outrage. The use of Indians by the British was also discouraged from this point forward by the government back home, where Edmund Burke (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/85362/Edmund-Burke) denounced their use.

A loyalist woman is killed most likely due to some accident or misunderstanding, and she becomes a martyr to the Revolutionary cause. Go figure. McCrea’s death becomes a popular inspiration for art and fiction (such as James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans). As a result, McCrea would never rest in piece. Many of her bones, including her skull, have been stolen. She has been moved from grave to grave (at one point sharing coffin space with Sarah McNeill, who died of natural causes in 1799). Starbuck’s article gives an interesting account of one of McCrea’s multiple exhumations.

Another thing I found interesting was that in many stories, McCrea is described as tall (for example: http://www.americanrevolution.com/JaneMcCrea.htm) , when in fact she was only between 5’ and 5’4”, according to the last examination of her remains (which were genetically tested and confirmed as related by mitochondrial DNA to the oldest living McCrea descendant). It’s hard to say if she was beautiful, but if her husband recognized her scalp she likely had some awesome hair. Roy Lichtenstein didn't paint her as blonde, though.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day

I'm going to touch on the Lake George theme, but focus today on some American Irish history, something warm for my NYC friends to think about as we walk home tonight through the puke of a thousand tourist fratty assholes.

The first 200 or so years of colonial American history are filled with a lot of religious tension. The reformation was still fairly young, and sentiment toward Catholics among settlers was strongly negative. The ill feelings had tempered since the publication of the Geneva bible (a mere 60 years before the establishment of the Plymouth colony), a time when it was widely believed among protestants that the end times were near and that the pope himself was the anti-christ. James the First had replaced the Geneva Bible with, of course, the King James version, and established diplomatic relations with a number of Catholic countries (Puritans and Puritanism in Europe and America By Tom Webster, page 304). But the Puritans, being “the hotter sort of protestants,” (Webster, 305), maintained the belief that the Pope was the Antichrist.
The Pope and Catholics in general were the embodiment of evil in the eyes of the Puritans, and the French and their Native American allies were agents of the devil, attacking the godly New England colonies.
But in non-Puritan English colonies (Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina), Catholicism was tolerated among Irish settlers, who formed largely forgotten and often unfairly maligned settlements of their own on the frontiers of the east coast. (The Scotch-Irish in America, by the Scotch-Irish Society of America, 1901).

The French and Indian war, however, brought tensions between Irish Catholic settlers, subjects in an English colony, and their protestant government to a head. Irish men were drafted to fight along side Englishmen who considered their faith to be evil and, in some colonies, illegal. Some Irish soldiers moved to Canada of their own free will and joined the Catholic French army, while others chose to remain in Canada and fight for the French after capture. Therefore both the French and English had Irish battalions. (The Catholic Encyclopedia, by Charles George Herbermann, page 148).

Many Irish remained thereafter in the province of Quebec, and that is why my maiden name is Barry.

Relations between English and Irish soldiers fighting on the same side however could easily be improved with the employment of alcohol. On St. Patrick’s Day in 1757, the Irish soldiers at Fort William Henry on Lake George “were paying homage to their patron saint in libations of heretic rum, the product of New England stills; and it is said that John Stark’s Rangers forgot theological differences in their zeal to share the festivity. The story adds that they were restrained by their commander, and that their enforced sobriety proved the saving of the fort. This may be doubted; for without counting the English soldiers of the garrison who had no special call to be drunk that day, the fort was in no danger until twenty-four hours after, when the revelers [sic] had had time to rally from their pious carouse.” (Montcalm and Wolfe, by Francis Parkman, 1884). Parkman fairly revises the telling of the story, which implies that the drunken Irish could have been responsible for the downfall of the fort, had a good English officer not stepped in and kept them from being a bad influence.

The Fort was not taken on March 18, 1757, the attack being thwarted by responsible, sober watchmen who heard the French troops coming across the ice in the night.

St. Patrick’s day was also used by the British army to recruit Irish immigrants during the revolutionary war. In New York City in 1779, Catholic “Volunteer” soldiers marched to the Bowery for a St. Patrick’s day feast in an effort to encourage Irish enlistment (The Wearing of the Green, by Mike Cronin and Daryl Adair, 2006, page 11).

I’m going to continue to research this as I know very little about the Irish presence in America before the great migrations of the 19th century.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Don't die in a boating accident!