Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Man of Many Words

Magnet # 406:  Mark Twain Portrait, Quote

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

Two weeks after Halley's Comet had made its closest approach to the Sun in 1835, Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born on this day to a merchant family in tiny Florida, Missouri.  His birth many not have been as publicized as that of the famous celestial body, but over the course of his life, he would outshine even that phenomenon under the pen name of Mark Twain.  With his wit, humor, and unmatched ability to point out the hypocrisies and vanities of his time, he became the most beloved American writer of his day.  And some have gone so far as to call him the father of American literature.  It's hard to define just how important Mark Twain was to developing the literary identity of our country, but it would be tough to overestimate the noteworthy contributions that have appeared both during his life and since his death.

Clemens was born the six of seven children, but only four would live past childhood.  The family moved to Hannibal, Missouri just off the Mississippi River when he was four and it would later serve as the model for his fictional town of St. Petersburg.  There, his father worked as a judge until he died when Clemens was eleven years old.  For much of his childhood, he was confined inside due to poor health, but as he grew older, his condition improved.  He soon became a printer's assistant and by eighteen, was traveling to major cities for work.  Determined to learn more, he frequented public libraries by night, learning all he could from their books.  He soon moved back to Missouri, where he decided to become a steamboat pilot on the mighty Mississippi, working for two years to earn his license.  During this time, he persuaded his brother Henry to enter the field and Clemens had a peculiar dream where he saw his brother die.  A month later, his dream came true when the Pennsylvania exploded with Henry on it.  The tragedy both haunted Clemens for the rest of his life and inspired a long-lasting fascination for parapsychology in him.  Later, he branched out, traveling West to try his luck as a miner and working as a journalist.  In 1865, he had his first success with his story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."  By then, he had taken the pen name of Mark Twain, although it wasn't his first - he'd also tried out Josh and Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass.  Two years later, he was sent to the Mediterranean for his work, where he met Charles Langdon, who who showed him a picture of his sister, Olivia.  Twain reportedly fell in love just at the sight of her.  He met her a year later and for their first date, they attended a reading by Charles Dickens in New York City.  By 1870, they were married.  The couple's only son was their first child, Langdon, who die when he was only a year and a half old.  Over the next eight years, they had three girls and Twain's renown grew greater still.  In 1874, the family moved into a 19-room Victorian Gothic mansion that had been built for them in Hartford, Connecticut.  There, Twain wrote some of his greatest works - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, Huckleberry Finn, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.  But life wasn't always easy for him there.  Twain made bad financial investments with the considerable sum he had earned through his writings, most notably when he supported the Paige typesetting machine, which could rarely perform at peak and was passed over in favor of the Linotype.  To recover, the Twains boarded up their home and traveled the world as he raked in money giving lectures.  But when their daughter Susy returned to their home in 1896 and died there without them of spiral meningitis at twenty-four, it dealt her parents a blow from which they would never recover.  And Twain's depression only worsened when he lost his wife and another daughter.  By 1909, despite all of his literary success, he was ready to pass on, writing that Halley's Comet was on its way back and it would be the greatest disappointment of his life if he didn't go out with it.  He got his wish, passing April 21 of 1909, one day after the comet reached its perihelion and was closest to the Sun.  The United States and the world mourned his passing, and President Taft correctly predicted that Twain's work would be loved by many in the future, but he probably never imagined just how popular the writer would remain.

In his final years, Mark Twain wrote his autobiography, a work in which he frankly expressed his true feelings and pulled no punches.  Yet he realized that what he had to say might shame and embarrass those he loved, so he decided not to just wait until after he was dead to have them published, but to wait until 100 years after his death to release them.  The move might not have worked with some, but it proved to be an incredible success for Twain.  And we're living at just the right moment - the first of the three volumes was released on November 15 of this year and has met with considerable success. And it's given Twain the singular honor of being a bestselling author in three centuries - the 1800s, the 1900s, and the 2000s.  In the coming years, we'll find out all of what Twain had to get off of his chest with his final work.  Even after his last words are released, it's pretty unlikely that the literary world will ever be done with Mark Twain - in fact, it's been suggested that he was not just an American but the American.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Piping Up

Magnet # 405:  Scottish Bagpipes

Material:  Rubber

Purchased By:  Me

Scotland observes its official national day, St. Andrews Day, tomorrow.  It's held in honor of its patron saint, Saint Andrew, even though he never traveled there during his lifetime.  He was the brother of Saint Peter and they were both fishermen and Apostles.  Legend holds that Andrew was martyred by being tied to an X-shaped cross and that he requested that he not be hung on the same sort of cross as Christ, as he didn't consider himself worthy of that honor.  The X-shape has consequently come to be known as his symbol.  He died in the Greek city of Patras and has gone on to become that nation's patron saint, as well as that of Romania, Russia, and, of course, Scotland.  It's believed that some of his relics were later were transferred from Constantinople to the city of St. Andrews in Scotland in the 700s under divine guidance.  But his popularity really caught on there thanks to Oengus mac Fergusa, king of the Picts, who on the eve of a battle against the Angles in 832 A.D. is said to have made a vow of allegiance to Saint Andrew if he led his troops to victory.  And the next morning, when the clouds above the battlefield seemed to form an X-shape, he took it as a sign that he had the support of Saint Andrew.  When Oengus won the skirmish, despite having a force smaller than his opponents, he made good on his word.  Saint Andrew was named the Patron Saint of Scotland and a blue flag adorned with a white X resemblent of the sky that morning was later created, and it remains the national flag of Scotland to this day.

It's a safe bet that there will be plenty of bagpipes on hand to life the spirits at St. Andrew's Day festivities all over Scotland.  In fact, when the events were kicked off by the First Minister, the head of the government, at Edinburgh Castle on Friday, the Red Hot Chili Pipers provided the music.  These unique instruments certainly help give Scotland a sound all its own that's recognizable worldwide.  St. Andrews Day is actually the beginning of the Scottish Winter Festivals, which will continue all the way until January 25th, when Burns Night brings them to a close.  During this time, over 60 events will be held across over the nation, and some historic sites will be free of admission.  But as far as I can tell, in Scotland, the St. Andrews day celebrations tend to be fairly typical and tame.  That's certainly not the case throughout the rest of the world.  For some reason, in Germany, Austria, and parts of Eastern Europe, a belief has developed that the night before St. Andrew's Day is one of the best times for a young woman to find out who her future husband will be.  All sorts of unusual traditions are held to determine his identity - they might write the names of potential suitors on pieces of paper and put them under their pillow - the first one they pull out in the morning is their future husband.Or they might put the papers in dough and see which one rises to the top when baked.  Some light Easter candles and bring them to a fountain at midnight, hoping St. Andrew will let them glimpse the man they will marry in the waters.  To determine his profession, they might drop hot lead or wax into water to see what shapes form.  And if they drop a clog behind their shoulder and it lands pointing to the door, it's said to be a sign that they will marry that year.  But parts of Austria practice the most unusual ritual - there, the young women unclothe themselves, drink wine, and kick a straw bed while performing a spell to attract their future husbands.  That sure makes online dating sound a lot less complicated.  I have to wonder how these unusual festivities have sprung up over the years, but I guess they're just another facet of St. Andrews Day.  And no matter where the revelers may be tomorrow or how they observe it, I hope this particular holiday is the start of something great for them, be it a new chapter of their lives or a lively season of celebration.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fearful Symmetry

Magnet # 404:  William Blake's When the Morning Stars Sang Together

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

British artist, poet, and creative visionary William Blake was born to a hosier in the Soho district of London on this day in 1757.  As a child, he attended very little formal school and was taught at home by his mother, who had six other children.  It was then that he was introduced to the Bible, which would become one of the most important sources of inspiration in his later years.  For a short time, he studied at a drawing school run by Henry Par and when his growing talent became undeniable, his supportive parents sent him away from the family shop to apprentice with James Basire, an established engraver from a family of traditional engravers.  While there, he studied and made many images of London's gothic churches.  The pair worked together for seven years, but little is known about their personal interactions.  Some think that Basire's adherence to antiquated styles may have caused some friction between them, as Blake would soon venture far from established artistic traditions.  In 1779, he was accepted into the Royal Academy, but he quarreled with its president over a variety of issues, including the style of art that was currently fashionable.  Blake tended to prefer the more Classical styles of Michelangelo and Raphael.  But he also connected with other, more radical students.  For the rest of his life, they would be the sort of people whose company he would keep.  And by 1782, Blake had met and married the woman who would become his trusted companion and assistant for the rest of his life - Catherine Boucher.  She comforted him when he had been rejected by another and he fell in love with her.  When they wed, she couldn't even sign her name on the marriage certificate and had to mark it with an 'X' instead.  But Blake would teach her how to read and write and how to engrave.  Not only would his wife help him print his work, she would also keep him from giving into despair during difficult times.  The pair never had any children and it's believed that Catherine was infertile.  But that did allow Blake to become very prolific, producing volumes of work.  He even created his own artistic process - relief etching, which allowed him to print text and images together.  The exact method he used to create with this process is not known, but he certainly left plenty of examples behind.  Some of Blake's most famous volumes of work include Songs of Innocence and Experience, The Book of Thel, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and Jerusalem, but that's hardly all that he produced.  He also worked using intaglio engraving.  He encountered a bit of scandal in 1803 when he fought with a solider who accused him of slandering the King.  He was brought to trial on charges of treason, but they were dropped when they proved to be laking nearly any merit.  The offending soldier later found his way into Blake's art in a rather unflattering manner.  Blake worked faithfully for the rest of his life on his art, even wrapped up in it on the very day of his death.  On his deathbed in 1827, he sketched a portrait of his wife, who grieved beside him, sang hymns, and swore he would always be with her.  One witness claimed that it his death was more like that of an angel than a man.  His wife held that she spoke with him often before she passed herself about four years later.  On that day, she was almost joyful and called out to her husband that she would be with him soon.  They were buried together at Bunhill Fields, but the exact location of their grave has been lost over the years.

While Blake enjoyed very little success during his own life, his work has gone on to inspire and captivate future generations.  Even when patrons bought Blake's art, they most often did so to support him, not because they felt it had great artistic merit.  But Blake had a unique perspective on traditional religion, illustrating iconic Biblical tales as well as creating his own divine characters, and his world, which is unlike any other, has intrigued many more creative minds.  Nearly all of his life, he claimed to see visions of God that inspired him creatively.  Some have even called him mad, but claimed to find his insanity more interesting than other writer's sanity.  Perhaps what ostracized Blake from his own world but endeared him to the future is that he was a truly man ahead of his time.  He was eager to challenge traditional religious conventions, the government's restriction of sexuality, and the institution of slavery, as well as other established, but questionable, practices of his time.  And while that may have made him unpopular in his day, it endeared him to audiences who grew to share his views with time.  Blake is now regarded as one of the most important figures of the Romantic Age, but given his truly individualistic approach to life and art, it's difficult to really tie him down to any artistic movement.  He was unusual enough to ensure that there will never be another William Blake, but I imagine many more artists will be compelled to incorporate parts of his creations into their own work.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Breaking Away

Magnet # 403:  The Breakers Illustration

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

William Henry Vanderbilt and his wife Maria gave birth to their first son on this day in 1843. They named him Cornelius Vanderbilt II after his grandfather, who had created the family's vast fortune through the shipping and railroad industries.  Better known by his nickname "the Commodore," he had become the richest man in the world at the time of his death and left his family with a vast fortune.  And as he grew up, Cornelius Vanderbilt II came to lead his generation of the Vanderbilt family both in business and personal life.  In 1885, he was named head of New York Central Railroad and the family's other related railroad lines.  He was known as a dedicated worker, but when he suffered a stroke in 1896, he began to take on a less active role in the family business.  He married Alice Claypoole Gwynne, a fellow Sunday School teacher at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church, in 1867 and they had six children together.  And when their first child died of typhoid fever while at Yale, they later had Vanderbilt Hall built in his honor.  It's home to the Vanderbilt Suite, perhaps the most lavish college dorm room in the nation.  It features a marble fireplace, dark wood paneling, and even a chandelier and it's an honor for a student to be selected to live there.  The couple also lost a son when the RMS Lusitania went down and disinherited another when he married against their wishes.  Their youngest son, Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt, was left the majority of their estate and though he tried, he was never able to reconcile with his disinherited brother.  He became the father of Gloria Vanderbilt, who would later become famous on her own merit as an artist and pioneer of the designer blue jean industry.  And she, in turn, gave birth to Anderson Cooper, who's become a highly respected CNN anchor.  Interestingly, while Cooper was a student at Yale, he lived at the Vanderbilt Suite, and he's done an admirable job making the most of the opportunities he's been given because of his impressive lineage.  It certainly seems like Vanderbilt's descendants are maintaining the high standards he strove to achieve for so much of his life.

I was able to tour the Breakers, the home Cornelius Vanderbilt left behind in Newport, earlier this year, and it was simply incredible.  While it may not be quite as impressive as the Biltmore, the home his younger brother George created in Asheville, North Carolina, it was also just a summer cottage for his family, not a permanent residence.  That was located on New York City's Fifth Avenue, but it's since been lost because of demolition.  But this home still stands as a testament to the glory of the Vanderbilts during the Gilded Age.  It was completed in 1893 and named after the nearby waves.  After Alice Vanderbilt passed, she left the property to her daughter Gladys, who had loved it the most.  It was partly because of her efforts that it came under the care of the non-profit Preservation Society of Newport County, but the family is still able to maintain the top floor as a private summer home, and they own all of the furnishings in the mansion.  I certainly didn't have a clue that anyone was perhaps living just above me while I wandered around the Breakers.  There was just so much else to keep my attention - fountains, carvings, statues, staircases, and stunning views certainly come to mind.  While this place has an opulence that stands out even amongst some of the most impressive Gilded Age homes Newport has to offer, it also manages to remain elegant without becoming gaudy.  It's easy to see why it has become the most popular tourist attraction in all of Rhode Island, taking in around 300,000 visitors every year.  And this magnet, nice as it is, just doesn't do this majestic structure justice - you should experience it for yourself.  For those of us who will never know what it was like to be a Vanderbilt during the Gilded Age, this may be the closest we'll ever get.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Words To Eat By

Magnet # 402:  Thomas Jefferson Quote

Material:  Acrylic

Purchased By:  Me

I hope you've all had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Given the occasion, a quote from one of our Founding Fathers certainly seemed appropriate.  And considering that this particular Jefferson statement regards food, I'm not sure that there are any better for this somewhat gluttonous holiday.  This advice was among the "Canons of Conduct," as some have dubbed them, that the third President would pass on to friends, family members, and admirers.  Some he borrowed from historic sources, while he came up with others himself.  We know of at least two letters he sent out with a list of these Canons of Conduct - one, which listed twelve, went to his granddaughter, Cornelia Jefferson Randolph, while another of only ten was later sent to Thomas Jefferson Smith, a newborn that had been named in his honor.  Others words of wisdom he imparted on these lists included "Never trouble another for what you can do yourself" and "Take things always by the smooth handle."  Of course, he would have done well to better adhere to "Never spend your money before you have earned it" in his own life, as when he passed away, he left his estate such a terrible state of debt that nearly all of his possessions were auctioned away.  But not all of that fault lay in his premature spending.  Regardless, Jefferson's Canons of Conduct is pretty much timeless, and is worth taking into consideration even now.  And this quote certainly seems like sage advice regarding what is perhaps the United States' most overindulgent celebration.  While Thanksgiving may have started off as a way to give thanks for survival, time has evolved it into an opportunity to consume epic amounts of calories, as traditional dishes have taken a decadent turn - fried turkeys and chocolate pecan pies are a couple that spring to mind.  And if you've been cutting back on what you're consuming or just don't want to be miserable for hours after the meal, this really is the time to let Jefferson's words direct your actions.  I admit, I tried to be good this Thanksgiving, and I really felt that I had pulled it off, as I wasn't stuffed at the end of the meal.  But my actions caught up with me nonetheless.  The dish I had the most of was sweet potato casserole, my favorite, and I think it just had more butter in it than my system could handle.  And combined with other rich side dishes, like macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and a vegetable casserole, it sent my body into a pretty sad state.  I spent the rest of the day and the next one lying on the couch, barely able to move.  Luckily, I'm better now.  Still, I guess it proves that we don't just need to be cautious about how much we consume, but also just how much butter, oil, and other fattening add-ins, are included in it.

Despite my later sufferings, I had a great time this Thanksgiving.  I was able to attend a large dinner with neighbors and it was an interesting change to celebrate with so many people.  There were a wide range of ages assembled, and while we ate in three rooms, people often shifted from one table to the next.  It was certainly a change from the quieter Thanksgivings I've had with just my family, but it was fun to be part of such a lively occasion, and to see people who are dear to me that I don't get to be around often.  They even had little place markers made for each one of us on miniature Pilgrim hats that must have taken some time to create and we got to take them home - that was so cute!  I've also been able to include a small excursion in my Thanksgiving holiday to Monroe County, Alabama.  It's home to Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, and we visited the courthouse that inspired part of her novel there.  And we also had a nice time touring the nearby Rikard's Mill Historical Park.  I'm glad that we were able to venture out and enjoy the lovely weather, and that my physical difficulties seem to be behind me.  I guess it's just a reminder for me to be more careful when Thanksgiving comes around next year - while it's great to indulge in some of our favorite dishes during the meal, it's just not worth paying for our actions for the rest of the day, and especially on future ones!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

To Stop the Raging Waters

Magnet # 401:  American Falls by Night Photo

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Darlene

If you've ever witnessed the majesty of the American Falls at Niagara Falls in person, you'd have a hard time believing that anyone could ever stop its waters.  But that's just what happened back in 1969 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blocked the flow of the Falls from June to November.  They did so to study the rockfall, clear out any items blocking the Falls, and do their best to ensure that the American Falls would not die out in the future.  This had all stemmed from a newspaper article that sensationalized the possible death of the Falls in 1965.  Public outcry forced the local government to take the matter very seriously, creating a full-time board to determine how to prevent the Falls from drying out.  For one day in November of 1966, the Falls were blocked and a significant amount of tree trunks, rocks, and even a 10-ton pontoon boat were cleared out.  But that one stoppage was not enough, and less than three years later an even greater effort was made to dry out the Falls.  A giant cofferdam was erected from the mainland to Goat Island, which separates the American Falls from Horseshoe Falls, and nearly all water was diverted to Horseshoe Falls, which became even more impressive from the extra water power.  The stream of water at the American Falls was reduced to a trickle and when authorities made it to the river bed, they discovered the bodies of a man and woman they hadn't even realized were there.  Ironically, they later found the woman was wearing a gold wedding band with the words "forget me not" engraved inside.  It must have been quite a shock for visitors during that time to witness the nearly dry rocks at the American Falls, particularly when the engineers were walking around in them.  And the Falls became packed with curious onlookers, many of whom climbed in themselves.  In fact, at some times there were so many visitors grabbing rocks and wandering around that local police officers had a difficult task clearing them out.  Yet the engineers continued on, testing the flow of the waters with dye, installing a water spray system, and removing debris out of the riverbed and from the face of the Falls.  Their work came to an end tomorrow, November 25, when the dam was taken down and the waters began to cascade over the falls once again.  A small ceremony was held to mark the occasion.  And before December was over, the water flow had resumed to its usual course.  In June of 1973, voters were allowed to weigh in on what else, if anything, would be done at the American Falls.  The majority responded to just let nature take over and leave them alone.  And that's just what has happened, as the Falls have continued, uninterrupted, ever since.

Even though they're often overlooked in favor of Horseshoe Falls, which boasts a unique crescent shape and about 90% of the Niagara River water flow, the American Falls are still quite an impressive sight.  At well over a mile long across and a drop of up to 170 feet, these Falls are impressive enough on their own to overshadow many other waterfalls in the country.  And while the Horseshoe Falls can be obscured by heavy mists, that doesn't tend to be as much of a problem with these Falls.  It also has another nearby waterfall, Bridal Veil Falls, to add to its splendor.  But it's funny, just about the only time the American Falls has received more attention than its counterpart was when it was dammed up.  Few cared about the extra water coming over Horseshoe Falls, but nearly everyone was fascinated by the dry riverbed.  And back in 1860, a tradition was begun for a visit by the Prince of Wales that has allowed the Falls to be appreciated in a whole new manner - lighting them up at night.  For that first display, Bengal lights, which are used to call for help at sea, were brought in, but by 1879 electricity was being used.  The American Falls were the first to have a variety of colors on display in 1892.  And by 1925, permanent lighting had been installed.  I visited Niagara Falls with my family when I was growing up and was able to take in the nightly spectacle for myself.  We even had dinner at a restaurant and sat at the balcony to get a better view of the Falls.  I really had a great time watching the colors change.  And it's funny - while I remember seeing the American Falls all lit up in every shade imaginable at night, I don't recall seeing those at Horseshoe Falls by night.  If you've never seen this amazing place yourself, it's absolutely worth taking in, especially once the Sun has set.  It's good to know that if the American Falls, and perhaps even Horseshoe Falls, is ever threatened again, there are measures we can take to ensure their survival.  Considering just how incredible they are, it's worth doing all we can to keep them around for future generations.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Be Happy, Not Crabby

Magnet # 400:  Annapolis Letters, Crab

Material:  PVC

Purchased By:  Me

Maryland's capital city of Annapolis also became the first city in the future state to be incorporated on this day in 1708.  That was when it received a charter from Queen Anne of England, in whose honor it was renamed. The British settled the area in 1649 and it went through a series of somewhat overcomplicated names, including Town at Proctor's, Town at the Severn, and Anne Arundel's Towne.  Thanks to the importation of slaves into its port, the establishment there grew very wealthy.  By the mid 18th century, Annapolis was home to a number of wealthy residents who turned it into one of the colonies' most elegant cities.  It only grew in importance after the American Revolution, becoming the temporary capital of the newly-formed United States.  And even though it was eventually replaced as the nation's capital, it became Maryland's capital.  Over the years, nearby Baltimore became the state's largest and most industrialized city, allowing Annapolis to maintain a sense of small town charm.  Many of its historic buildings are still standing and are open to the public, including its State House, which is the oldest state capitol in continuous legislative use.  A trip there can give travelers a sense of what it would have been like to live in the colonies.  I certainly enjoyed my time there, although there are some historic homes I missed out on touring that I might like to check out in the future.  And returning to downtown Annapolis wouldn't be tough on me at all - it really was a relaxing place and I liked the fact that it was compact enough to tour on foot.  But leaving was a little tough - one street on the outskirts of town shifted a little and it took me about half an hour before I could figure out where I was going.  At least I've gotten a GPS system to help me out if I'm there again.

So, yes, in case you haven't noticed, today I'm posting my 400th magnet.  And even though this one ties in with a historic event that occurred on this day, I still think it's appropriate for the occasion.  Annapolis was where I toured my first state capitol building just over a year ago.  I just went inside to have a look around and stumbled into taking a tour.  And I liked it so much that I decided to tour the next state capitol I saw in Dover, Delaware.  That city is also where I was introduced to the concept of Capitol Collectors, folks who travel all across the country to tour every state capitol.  I certainly hadn't intended to become one of them during my visit to Annapolis, but I have nonetheless.  So far, I've made it to thirteen state capitols and have plans to stop by plenty more.  It's been really interesting comparing them, and Annapolis' State House, with its multiple Tiffany stained glass windows and marble seemingly everywhere, is easily one of the nicest I've seen.  It also has a historical significance that not every Capitol can claim, as it was where George Washington resigned his commission of the Continental Army in 1783.  And getting a taste of what it had to offer made me want to check out other state capitols.  I went to Annapolis partially to get magnets to post here, but I ended up taking a path I never would have imagined myself on thanks in part to my stay there.  I suppose it's evidence that publishing this magnet blog has had an effect on my life, even if it's a small one.  But over the last 400 posts, I've certainly learned many new facts - maybe even around one a day.  And, yes, I have plenty more ready to post up here.  At this point, I'm estimating I have over 700 magnets.  I'm definitely looking forward to sharing many more of them up here, one at a time!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mile High Thrills

Magnet # 399:  Denver Skyline

Material:  Pewter

Purchased By:  Dad

Located a full mile above sea level, Colorado's capital and most populated city, Denver, tends to dwarf much of its competition.  The gold rush played a major role in its development, as prospectors flooded into the area.  The first American settlement established there, Montana City, didn't last very long before its prospectors abandoned it.  But tomorrow marks the anniversary of the day in 1858 when General William Larimer, a land developer who came from Kansas, staked his claim on the area.  He named it Denver City in honor of James Denver, the governor of the Kansas Territory.  Larimer had hoped to gain political power with this move, but he was unaware that Denver had retired from the position by then.  Years later, he paid a couple of visits to the city, but was disappointed that its residents didn't pay much attention to their city's namesake.  As for Larimer, he worked hard to develop Denver City and bring in new citizens, selling tracts of land throughout the Rocky Mountains.  Of course, quite a few of them were acquired at gambling tables around the region, which brought in a rather rowdy crowd.  While very little gold was found in Denver City itself, discoveries in nearby areas kept the settlement alive.  Eventually, it was combined with nearby Auraria and Highland and incorporated.  And by 1861, the Territory of Colorado had been formed.  It would take another four years until Denver City was named Territorial Capitol, and when that finally occurred, its name was shortened to Denver.  And when Colorado became the 38th state in 1876, Denver remained its capitol.  By that point, the city had taken on a somewhat rough crowd, but thanks to a silver rush, it was also experiencing an economic boom.  Lavish buildings were springing up all over town, and many were so overdone that they were simply gaudy.  And sin was also bringing in a considerable deal of commerce.  Gambling halls and bordellos ranging from the elegant to the seedy were hard at work to separate the hard-working, but gullible, miners from their findings.  And the authorities were paid off by the crime bosses to ignore most of these enterprises.  It became so out of control that Denver earned the reputation of having one of the most tawdry areas in the nation.  But when the Silver Market collapsed, resulting in the Denver Depression of 1893, all of the vice came to an end.  The city entered a time during which it struggled to survive, but a discovery of gold nearby helped them to recover.  But the leaders of Denver were careful to no longer solely rely on mining to support their economy, and built up other industries as well.  And while Denver is once again a place of prosperity is no longer associated with gaming and prostitution, it has not remained completely scandal free.  It has the dubious reputation of being the only Olympic host site to go back on its word after being selected.  In 1970, it was chosen as the site for the Winter Games to coincide with the state's centennial celebration and the nation's bicentennial anniversary.  But Colorado voters, some of whom were concerned with environmental issues, refused to allocate public funds to underwrite the pricey event and Denver's leaders were forced to tell the International Olympic Committee they would have to go elsewhere.  The 1976 games were held at Innsbruck, Austria after Whistler in British Colombia also turned them down.  Ever since, Denver has experienced some backlash when attempting to make another Olympic host bid.  Regardless, it has become one of the most prosperous cities in the West and draws in crowds of visitors and new residents every year.

Even though I've never been to Denver, I do know of a few places I'd like to check out if I ever make it there.  Obviously, I'd like to tour the Colorado State Capitol.  From what I can tell, it's one of the few state capitols that offers tours of its Dome on a regular basis.  I have yet to make it up to one of the domes and would really like to do so.  I bet the views from there would be fantastic!  And the nearby Denver Art Museum has an extensive collection from impressive artists that includes one of my favorites, William-Adolpe Bouguereau.  I love getting to see his work in person and am always eager to view another.  And Denver also has a spot that's supposedly one of the more haunted places in the country - Cheesman Park.  In the city's earlier days, it started out as a graveyard, but all of the bodies were moved to make room for a more palatable attraction.  And if that didn't upset the ghosts that are said to now frequent the spot, an unscrupulous undertaker who divided bodies into multiple children's caskets after digging them up to increase his pay certainly must have.  The park is now said to be more than a little creepy after dark, but it is free to the public.  It would be great to get a spooky magnet from there.  And when I get hungry in the Mile High City, I'll be sure to head over to the Buckhorn Exchange, Denver's oldest restaurant.  It opened back in 1893 and served many of the city's most famous figures and even President Theodore Roosevelt when he visited the area.  Despite their long history, they're on the cutting edge of the food industry, offering unusual game like elk, buffalo, and sometimes ostrich and yak on their menu along with more traditional beef and fish dishes.  I'd certainly be curious to try one of those out and have a look at their rustic decor.  It certainly sounds like Denver has plenty of fun attractions to check out and given that it's a capitol city, it's definitely on my list of places to visit, so I guess it's just a matter of time until I make it there.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Run Of the Mill

Magnet # 398:  Mabry Mill in Snow Photo

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

Although not many know Edwin Boston Mabry by name, there are plenty of travelers who are familiar with the landmark he left behind - the Blue Ridge Parkway's Mabry Mill.  He was born on this day in 1867 in Patrick County, Virginia and grew up to be a strapping, hardworking individual who stood nearly six feet tall.  After his first marriage ended in divorce, he met the woman who would truly prove to be his match - Lizzie DeHart, a powerful, big-boned woman 5'10 tall who weighed between 200 and 300 pounds.  And when these features were combined with her dark complexion and handsome face, they made her into a very impressive woman.  The pair wed in 1891 and after that Uncle Ed, as he was known, spent some time working at coal mines in West Virginia until they had enough to buy the home of a family that was moving West.  There, Uncle Ed built a blacksmith shop, a woodworking shop, and turned them into the gristmill and sawmill they would become known for.  With the help of a friend, he constructed and mounted the wheel, even though the site was not a great choice for a mill.  Undiscouraged, he dammed the creek to create a pond and waited for periods of heavy rains to help him make use of his wheel.  He even bought nearby land to increase his water power.  The meal he ground there soon earned Mabry the reputation of the best grinder in the county.  His tricks were to keep his rocks sharp, the process slow, and check his product every so often to make certain it maintained his high standard.  He worked tirelessly, grinding corn, creating and repairing wagons and machines, sawing wood, shoeing horses, and performing all sorts of services for the community, most often taking his payment by keeping part of the goods he worked on.  He was a determined man and was always building onto his shop, improving it.  In the meanwhile, his wife, whom he called "Boss," had the run of the old log cabin they had purchased.  She was a hearty country woman unafraid to get her hands dirty.  In the kitchen, Lizzie undertook all manner of tasks - churning butter, canning sausage, drying berries, and beans, baking biscuits and cornbread, and cooking up pots of apple butter.  She kept a garden outside and also raised livestock, along with a pack of as many as 18 cats that she loved.  The couple never had any children.  But she didn't leave Uncle Ed alone in his shop - in fact, she became so talented at grinding corn that some said she was better than her husband.  And if he was too busy to care for other jobs, like mowing, Lizzie would do it herself, or assist him at his work.  In the mid 1910's, Uncle Ed built a new two-story, tin roofed home with a long porch in the back, doing nearly all of the work himself.  But by the 1930's, some sort of illness or stroke turned the proud man into a cripple.  Both he and Lizzie continued on the best they could, but their home eventually fell into disrepair.  And when her beloved husband passed away in 1936, Lizzie was never the same.  At last, she moved in with family until her death in 1940.  By then, the government had bought part of their land to incorporate into the Blue Ridge Parkway and Lizzie was very pleased to learn that the Park Service was going to restore the mill and make it one of the scenic stops along the drive.  Fortunately, she never learned that, against advice, they also tore down the home her husband had so lovingly created and replaced it with a log cabin that, to them, added a rustic touch.  This act infuriated some locals, who were also upset that the Lizzie was rarely mentioned at Mabry Mill after it became a tourist attraction.  The couple is buried a couple of miles away from their former home at the DeHart-Mabry-Richardson Cemetery in Virginia's Floyd County.

As many as three million people a year now visit the scenic mill the Mabrys left behind, but I'm not sure if many even know the story of the hardworking couple behind it.  I've certainly appreciated learning about them.  Perhaps someday I'll venture up there to have a look for myself and find out just how much is said about the Mabrys and, of course, take in the scenic views.  Located at milepost 176.2 of the Blue Ridge Parkway, it's one of the landmark's most photographed sites, and is lovely no matter what the season.  It's also home to a restaurant and a gift shop.  Even though Edwin and Lizzie Mabry didn't leave behind any direct descendants, it's nice to see that some of the home they worked so hard to create still stands and keeps a part of them alive to visitors from all over the world, even those who've never heard their names.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Welcome Back, Potter

Magnet # 397:  Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - Dark Arts

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

Harry Potter is back and am I glad to see him!  I admit, I don't visit the local cinema very often, but I've always made an exception in his case.  As I imagine you've already heard, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I hits theaters today and it's easily one of the most eagerly anticipated films of the year.  This particular installment comes from the seventh and final book of the series and has been divided into two parts.  This decision goes all the way back to 2004, when producers considered splitting Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth novel in the series, which featured whopping 734 pages in its U.S. version, in half.  While that idea was ultimately rejected, it was clearly not forgotten.  According to the producers, the split was made with the final novel because the story is just so dense, but the U.S. version of this one is 759 pages, just barely more than the fourth book.  And the studio claims that this is a way to celebrate the incredible franchise with an extra hour and a half, but plenty of more jaded folks out there realize this is another way to milk more money out of a franchise that's almost come to an end.  Still, I don't mind.  I have really gotten into these films and I'm happy to have one last hurrah with the series to look forward to.

It's kind of funny that the only Harry Potter magnet I have is from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, because it's still my favorite film of the series.  And, no, I haven't read all of the books, but I have listened to the audiobook version of the first two novels.  The incredibly talented Jim Dale narrates all seven of them, and has won two Grammy Awards for his efforts.  If you like Harry Potter and haven't tried enjoying the series this way, you're definitely missing out.  Anyway, I tend to like the fourth film best because it's really the one that begins the main characters' transition into adulthood.  The tone grows notably darker in this one and it will only become moreso in the future.  They start to struggle with feelings of attraction and rejection, and it's also the first film movie when one of the Hogwarts students dies.  Plus, there's plenty of gripping action, as Harry fights a dragon, saves his friend Ron from the watery depths, and faces a maze that's much more sinister than it seems as part of the Triwizard Tournament.  The event also brings in wizarding schools from France and Russia, and having a glimpse of other magical cultures really intrigued me.  Every time I watch another Harry Potter film, I compare it to this one and they never beat it in my estimation.  But today's release may change my mind.

Pretty much all of the shooting for both films of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is in the bag at this point.  It was treated as one movie when it was shot, and when the filming came to and end on June 12th of this year, the three main actors were brought to tears.  But additions have been necessary since then, so more scenes have been shot, many for the Epilogue.  One of the most disturbing occurrences during production was when the young actor who served as Harry's stunt double suffered a spinal injury from a fall during an aerial scene.  He's been left paralyzed and in a wheelchair, likely for the rest of his life.  I wish him and his family the best and hope the studio and producers will look after him properly.  I imagine these final films will leave them with plenty of funds to do so.  I've already heard that this first installment is a great one, and I'm really looking forward to seeing it for myself.  But I have a feeling it's going to be a long wait until the final half of this film makes it to theaters on July 15, 2011.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Total Recall

Magnet # 396:  California State Capitol Photos

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Patricia

The eyes of the world were on the California State Capitol in Sacramento on this day in 2003 as Arnold Schwarzenegger was sworn in as Governor on its west steps.  The event marked the end of one of the most surreal elections in American history - the recall of Democratic Governor Gray Davis.  Davis had been in office since 1999 and had won a second term, but it would only last ten months.  The state was having economic difficulties, had suffered a series of blackouts during the California energy crisis, and concerns had arisen regarding Davis' campaign contributions.  There were those who felt he had engaged in corrupt behavior by repaying his donors with political favors, and they were busy sharing their opinion.  Unlike many states, however, California had a process that would allow them to prematurely rid themselves of the leader many believed to be incompetent.  Back in 1911, they had passed a law that allowed recalls of the Governor if their opponents received enough public support.  Unlike an impeachment, the politician in question during a recall need not commit a crime to be removed from office, only loose the support of the voting public.  California is one of only 18 states to have such a process and prior to then, 117 attempts had been made to unseat one of its governors, but all of them had failed.  Even Ronald Regan had been subjected to a recall effort.  But the voters were particularly worked up this time, and the recall process caught on with them.   In less than half a year, the almost 900,000 signatures necessary to qualify for a recall election had been gathered.  At that point, potential candidates began coming forward in droves.  They ranged from experienced politicians to celebrities to everyday citizens with no government background.  The requirements were considerably minimal - potential candidates had to gather 65 signatures from member of their political party and pay a $3,500 nonrefundable fee - and they made it that much easier to run.  One of the most notable moments was when Arnold Schwarzenegger visited Jay Leno on The Tonight Show and announced his intent to run.  But he was hardly the only famous figure to throw his hat in the ring.  During this time, a friend of mine back home was lamenting about how the rest of the country was laughing at Alabama thanks to then-Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court Judge Roy Moore's quixotic fight to keep a monument of the Ten Commandments on display.  I had to point out that I hadn't heard much of it in the news over here - everyone was too busy joking about who would become the next Governor of California.  And who could blame them?  With child actor Gary Coleman, adult film star Mary Carey, Penthouse publisher Larry Flint, and columnist Arianna Huffington, who listed "mother" among her accomplishments on the ballot, all entering the race, the election quickly spiraled out of control.  Seven of the most ridiculous contenders even appeared on Who Wants to Be Governor of California? - The Debating Game, a debate that was treated like a game show and aired on GSN, or Game Show Network.  When it was time to vote on October 7, the ballot featured a whopping 135 candidates to choose from.  Davis became the second Governor in the history of the United States to be successfully recalled.  Schwarzenegger won soundly and went on to become the state's 38th Governor.  As he had a vast fortune of his own, he opted not to accept the Governor's salary of $175,000 per year.  He won a second term that will come to an end next year, and term limits prevent him from running again.  Schwarzenegger's time in office hasn't been without controversy of its own - earlier this year, one watchdog group named him among the 11 most corrupted governors in the nation.  Still, it seems unlikely that 2011 will mark the end of his political career and many are wondering if his next move won't be a run for the Senate.

Given that I'm trying to tour all of the state capitols someday, I'd certainly like to make it to the California State Capitol.  But I guess I won't make it there in time to get a photo of Schwarzenegger's name above the Governor's office.  It's the oldest one West of the Mississippi and is supposed to be very attractive, situated on 40 acres of the Capitol Park, which features several memorials.  Few state capitols can claim so much undeveloped nearby land.  Another unusual feature of the building is a set of recreated office buildings that appear as they might have around the turn of the century.  There's even a Governor's office filled with telegrams and newspapers concerning the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.  In fact, the entire building was renovated as part of an involved and expensive project in the mid 1970s.  The historic structure narrowly avoided being entirely demolished and replace with a twin-tower high rise on the same grounds.  The people of California refused to let that happen, however.  Thanks to their efforts, this place remains open for future generations.  And until I make it out there, at least I have this magnet - I really like how it features an aerial image of the Capitol's exterior - so often, the Capitol pictures on my magnets are shot at ground level.  I imagine that this Capitol is like its unique state and its most memorable Governor's election and that the memories of it will stay with me long after my visit.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sweets Of the Season

Magnet # 395:  Downtown Asheville Photo

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

If I could be anywhere today, I'd pick Asheville, North Carolina where the 18th Annual National Gingerbread House Competition is underway at the historic Grove Park Inn.  Okay, maybe I'd better wait until Wednesday, when all of the entries go on display for the public to see.  For the moment, I'm pretty sure the event is closed.  But until then, I'm sure I could find plenty of ways to stay entertained in this idyllic spot along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Asheville has topped all sorts of lists, from the best place to live to the top arts destinations, and with its laid-back demeanor, creative vibe, and scenic beauty, it's easy to understand how it can appeal to so many people.

The National Gingerbread House Competition has consistently grown in popularity ever since it was introduced in 1993 and now draws in competitors and audiences from all over the country.  It's open to all ages, with awards given in Adult, Teen, Youth, and Child categories.  There will also be a new prize given to the entry that comes the furthest distance from Asheville.  Last year's Grand Prize winner, Jodi Stowe of Polkville, North Carolina, created an elegant, intricate bird cage that featured two turtledoves.  While it strayed from the normal entries, it was still a home to the pair of birds and the judges appreciated her creative take on the theme.  She won a two-night stay at the Grove Park Inn and three thousand dollars which she and her husband intended to use to adopt a child from China.  All told, she spent around 150 hours on her creation - the Adult First Place winner, who created an incredibly detailed North Pole Library, figured she put in around 600 hours.  But the designer to look out for will likely be Ashley Howard of Winter Springs, Florida.  She took the Grand Prize with the first gingerbread house she'd ever made in 2006 and won again in 2007.  Her 2008 entry made it to Third Place and she took 2009 off, entering instead in the National Wedding Cake Competition.  However, she's expressed her intent to enter again this year, and I imagine her creation may again set the standard.  The competitors can get very resourceful with their use of materials - some might include marzipan, bits of cereal, coconut, ice cream cones, and even strips of gum.  But they have to ensure every part of their entries, except the base, are edible - in fact, the judges will break off a tiny piece and sample it as a confirmation.  The houses will be brought in no later than 8:30 this morning and the judging begins an hour later - that part is not open to the public.  The judges are a panel of twelve individuals with extensive cooking and artistic experience. Quite often, they're authors with their own books or editors who have worked for food-themed magazines.  I'm sure their task today will not be an easy one.  Still, at 5 o'clock, the winners of this year's event will be announced in the Grand Ballroom - I think ABC's Good Morning America will report on them tomorrow morning.  I'm certainly eagerly anticipating the results.

With its very artistic feel and community, Asheville is the perfect city to host such a unique event.  The area was settled back in the 1784 and despite setbacks, had grown to a thousand residents by 1790.  What had started off as Morristown was incorporated as Asheville, after North Carolina Governor Ashe, in 1797.  It became popular with an affluent crowd, particularly when George Washington Vanderbilt II had his Biltmore Estate constructed there in the late 1800's.  Even now, it continues to be a favorite among the wealthy, along with diverse other groups who both live there and visit, eager to take in its charm.  I've been to Asheville twice over the past two years, and really enjoyed myself both times.  When I went with my parents last year to see the Biltmore Estate during our trip to the Great Smoky Mountains, it was somewhat overcast, but we still had a nice time.  We were able to check out Broadway Street or Biltmore Avenue, which is a very popular spot filled with shops and restaurants, even though it can't settle on one name.  There, we ate at Suwana's Thai Orchid, which wasn't terribly impressive with its decor, but served some pretty fantastic Thai cuisine.  My Mom and I both got Pad Thai, and she's still talking about how much she liked it.  From there, we headed over to the Biltmore Estate.  What can I say about it?  It's amazing - this is America's largest private residence and if you like historic homes and haven't been there, it should top your list of places to visit.  That night, we stopped by the McDonald's at the nearby Biltmore Village.  It's justifiably been called the most opulent McDonald's in the world - to meet with the regulations of the elegant community, some changes have been made to this particular location.  Its Golden Arches are made of real gold leaf and its exterior is a subdued facade of wood and brick featuring columns.  Inside, there's more columns, framed art, marble, a fireplace, vaulted ceilings, and even a grand piano that serenades the customers.  And yet, the food served there is the same as that of nearly every other location.  Check it out if you're curious and in the area.  For this year's trip, I was on my own and stopped by the North Carolina Arboretum on the outskirts of town.  It was lovely and the weather was sunny and much more pleasant so I had a better chance to enjoy what so many people love about Asheville.  While I didn't get a chance to eat, I did make it over to Mast General Store on Biltmore Avenue - or Broadway - where I picked up this magnet.  From there, I ventured over to the Grove Park Inn, which is particularly nice even on an everyday basis.  I can only imagine just how amazing it would be filled with these incredible gingerbread houses.  Maybe I'll be able to check them out someday.  And if you're interested in seeing them for yourself, they'll be on display until January 2nd.  It's as good an excuse as any to venture over to this lovely city.  Asheville is a wonderful place to pass a low-key afternoon shopping or enjoying its impressive attractions.  I've certainly enjoyed my time there and look forward to future visits.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Enter Mothman

Magnet # 394:  Mothman on Car

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

Around this time forty-four years back, some very unusual occurrences were going on in and around the small community of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. And perhaps the most noteworthy occurred tomorrow, November 15 of 1966. Two young couples and a family member were out for the night and had traveled all over the area.  As they drove past the abandoned West Virginia Ordnance Works factory, which had produced TNT during World War II, they came upon a curious sight - it seemed as though there were two red lights glowing inside.  Intrigued, they pulled over to have a closer look, only to discover that the lights were the eyes of a terrifying manlike figure with rather large wings.  They sped away, only to have the creature chase them, even when they sped up over 100 miles per hour.  It left them alone once they crossed city limits and the horrified group went to the sheriff's office to report their ordeal.  The story might have been dismissed, but one small detail brought them a degree of credibility - they mentioned seeing a fallen German Shepherd beside the road during their flight, but it was gone when they later returned.  As it turned out, days earlier in the town of Salem,  over 90 miles away, a contractor named Newell Partridge had claimed to see a similar beast in the yard of his home.  His dog, Bandit, a German Shepherd, had gone after it and he hadn't seen it since, and never again would.  Others were also coming forward, telling about their run-ins with the figure, from seeing it to hearing its eerie screech, and before long, the city was in a fever pitch.  The press caught wind of the story and one reporter dubbed the monster "Mothman," as the Batman television series was popular at the time.  The name stuck and thrill seekers started flooding the area, particularly the former TNT factory, hoping to come upon Mothman themselves.  And they weren't alone.  Some citizens also saw what they believed to be "Men In Black," clandestine government agents connected to the bizarre, around their city.  A couple may have even paid a visit to Mary Hyre, the local correspondent for The Messenger, an Athens, Ohio newspaper.  She was at the center of the Mothman investigations and may have even had a prophetic dream about a disaster that was soon to come.  When she died suddenly in 1970, some wondered if her connection to the strange happenings hadn't doomed her.  In fact, there's even a Mothman Death List that includes her and others who were tied to the creature.

The Mothman phenomenon came to a head just over a year later, during the Christmas season.  On December 15 of 1967, Point Pleasant's Silver Bridge collapsed.  In a horrible twist of fate, the traffic lights were malfunctioning, packing the bridge with rush-hour traffic, so many more went down with it than might have under normal conditions.  The tragedy took 46 lives.  Soon, people were connecting Mothman to the event.  Some say they saw it hovering around before the collapse - others blamed it for the tragedy.  But there were those that felt Mothman had come as a harbinger to warn of the impending doom and perhaps save a few residents of Point Pleasant.  One story holds that a young girl spotted it outside of her bedroom window the night before, studying her with its unnatural eyes.  Her family was preparing to leave on a trip the day of the accident, and they would likely have soon been stuck on the Silver Bridge.  But her father suffered a headache so severe that he had to rest.  It wasn't long before he recovered, only to learn of the fate he and his family had narrowly avoided.  In the aftermath of the collapse, reports of Mothman sightings began to subside, but there are those who still claim to see it even now in Point Pleasant.  While its existence will likely never be explained, there are all sorts of theories about Mothman.  Perhaps it was an animal that was mutated by the chemicals at the TNT plant, the place it seemed to frequent.  Or it could have been a supernatural entity that has warned of pending dire circumstances all over the globe, even at Chernobyl.  Another line of thought is that it is a Thunderbird, a large bird-like creature that appeared in Native American culture.  It might have been summoned by a curse made by Chief Cornstalk, who had gone to warn American soldiers that another Indian tribe was planning an attack, only to be killed for his efforts.  There are those who have tried to pass it off as a Sandhill Crane or a weather balloon, but few have accepted that explanation.  And some have written it off entirely as a sort of mass hysteria.  But Point Pleasant is still gripped by the figure, which continues to fascinate audiences.  In fact, a film called The Mothman Prophecies, based on a book of the same name, hit theaters in 2002 and portrayed Mothman as almost an esoteric force that never really appears in tangible form.  It's more of a psychological thriller than a monster film, and it doesn't really do an accurate job depicting the stories of Mothman that those who claimed to encounter it circulated.  Still, it's much better than the ridiculous television movie Mothman that aired earlier this year on Syfy.  Here, it gruesomely slaughters a group of youngsters who accidentally killed one of their own and covered it up. I hope a more accurate Mothman film will one day be filmed that shows the creature but manages to refrain from becoming ridiculous.  And here's one suggestion for such a production - don't explain how this cryptid came to be.  Much of Mothman's appeal is its mystery - mess with that and risk losing the interest of fans of the unknown everywhere!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Know the 'Noog

Magnet # 393:  Chattanooga Landscape, Choo-Choo

Material:  Wood, Laminated Paper

Purchased By:  Lindsay

Tennessee's fourth largest city, Chattanooga, was incorporated on this day in 1838.  It had been officially settled by the Cherokee Indians as Ross's Landing in 1816 and became an important part of the Cherokee Nation settlement.  But when they were forced to relocated to Oklahoma as part of the Trail of Tears, eager Americans flooded into the area, taking advantage of its prime location off of the Tennessee River.  Soon, it was renamed, but oddly enough, its new name was even more indicative of the location's Native American heritage.  It's believed to be derived from the Muskogee words for rock and dwelling place.  Business went pretty well there thanks to the commerce the river brought in, but when the railroad reached Chattanooga in 1850, its economy really took off.  It was a meeting point for Northern produce and Southern cotton, both of which helped the town to thrive.  After the Civil War, part of which was fought there, Chattanooga became even more industrial, transforming into a major railroad hub and manufacturing center, earning it the nickname of the "Dynamo of Dixie" by the 1930s.  Unfortunately, the same progress that fueled the city also marred its scenic beauty and industrial pollutants clogged the air and covered the nearby areas.  It was declared the city in the dirtiest air in the country in 1969.  Combined with economic downturn, this dire situation could have doomed the city.  But both its wealthy citizens and government have worked hard to restore the historic waterfront and clean the area up.  A new life has been breathed into Chattanooga with its new image and thriving businesses.  And the rest of the United States has taken note - it's won national awards for being an ideal location in which to live, including coming in eighth on Forbes magazine's list of 100 largest metropolitan areas which offer the best "Bang For Your Buck."  It's great to see how life has turned around for this somewhat idyllic spot.

Given that it's pretty close to Alabama, I traveled to Chattanooga, or the 'Noog, a few times both when I was growing up and more recently.  With its scenic waterfront, towering nearby Lookout Point, and underground caverns, it's home to quite a few impressive attractions.  Lookout Mountain is technically in Georgia, but it's actually a suburb of Chattanooga.  It's home to two noteworthy attractions - Ruby Falls and Rock City, and I visited both when I was a child.  Ruby Falls is actually inside the mountain and is a 145-foot high waterfall surrounded by scenic limestone rock.  And Rock City is located on the top of the mountain - it's a site filled with unusual rock formations, gardens, Fairyland Caverns, Mother Goose Village, and Lover's Leap, which offers some pretty stunning views.  Of course, I also remember coming across some of the "See Rock City" ads painted on barns all over the region when I was growing up.  Nowadays, a combination ticket to the two attractions and the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway is also available.  My Mom and I also enjoyed going down another local mountain on alpine slides together.  Back then, I was small enough to fit on one with her and it was really fun!  And while I don't remember most of the restaurants I've eaten at in Chattanooga, there is one that's stuck in my mind - the Acropolis.  My folks and I came upon it during our trip to the Great Smoky Mountains last year.  While we had planned on eating there, we had no idea where to stop.  My Mom spotted a nice looking mall and suggested we get off of I-75 there.  And the Acropolis was the first restaurant we all agreed upon.  They have an extensive menu - you can either go with Mediterranean cuisine or have more typical American fare - and their prices are very reasonable.  I particularly enjoyed their garlic mashed potatoes.  We liked it so much that we even stopped back on our way home, which just happened to be Free Cookie Friday.  They have an on-site bakery that offers some delicious cookies that are pretty different from oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip.  On their website, http://www.acropolisgrill.com/index.php, they mention that they're currently celebrating their 15th anniversary.  With their great food and pleasant atmosphere, it's easy to understand why.  I recommended it to a friend of mine here in Savannah before she headed out on a road trip and she really liked it, too.  During that trip, we also stopped by the Tennessee Aquarium, which was built back in 1992.  It was really nice and had two different buildings for visitors to explore.  The nearby Visitor's Center was also great and had a nice selection of magnets at bargain prices.  I will definitely stop by this great city the next chance I get, and that might not be a long wait.  My friend Lindsay is also pretty fond of Chattanooga - heck, she bought me this magnet there - and has been talking about doing a Stock Party, where artists and models get together to take photo reference, at Rock City for awhile.  I hope it happens - this place is just so much fun to visit.  And I even know a great place we can head to for dinner afterwards.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Have It All

Magnet # 392:  Hilton Head Mellow Mushroom Pizza Advertisement

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  N/A - given to me, free

Dial up your favorite pizzeria and place an order, everyone - this is National Pizza With the Works Except Anchovies Day!  I have no idea how this one came about, but it sounds like a good excuse to me.  Of course, I tend to think less is more with my pizza toppings - maybe I should have posted on September 5, which is Cheese Pizza Day.  Still, there's nothing wrong with trying some unusual additions to your pizza, and this is a great day to do it.

For those of you who've never heard of Mellow Mushroom, it's a pizza chain that's mostly found in the South.  Two Georgia Tech students and one from the University of Georgia started it back the the 1974, opening the first location in downtown Atlanta near the Yellow Jacket campus, and it became very popular with the college crowd.  While it's no longer there, the chain still has plenty of other restaurants for its customers to choose from - in fact, it has over 100 in 15 different states.  It's even gotten as far as Denver, Colorado and Tempe, Arizona.  What sets this chain apart from its competitors is its fun, eccentric style.  It has a very laid-back atmosphere and when it went into franchising, its owners hired a local Atlanta artist to produce a psychedelic design scheme a little reminiscent of the 70's and Grateful Dead artwork.  It's been featured on everything from the walls to the menus.  He also created some cute characters for the restaurant, like Dude Shroomington, Melody Mushroom, a trio of tiny mushrooms known as "The Funguys," and Mel O. Mushroom, who appears on this magnet.  In fact, the chain is rather generous in giving away free magnets - this is one of three different designs I have. Of course, their pizza is also pretty tasty.  Their dough is made from top quality wheat flour, spring water, and no sugar.  It has a great texture and taste.  They also have a wide variety of selections for sauce and toppings, so you have no shortage of choices for your pizza.  Even if you don't like pizza, they have other offerings like salads, calzones, and hoagies.  I've been to several locations and run across the Mellow Mushroom in places like Asheville, North Carolina, Birmingham, Alabama, and Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  But both my folks and I agree that the best Mellow Mushroom we've eaten at is the one in Hilton Head, South Carolina.  There, they really don't skimp on the ingredients - in fact, they often put so many toppings on that it's almost tough to see the pizza underneath them.  We once mentioned how impressed we are with it to a waitress there.  She really appreciated the compliment - in fact, she got teary-eyed and said that she'd worked at other locations, and this one is by far her favorite.  So if you're in the neighborhood, stop by and give it a try.  But you can also check out http://www.mellowmushroom.com/menu#/locations to see if there's one closer to you.  If you're a fan of pizza and you've never sampled this unique chain's offerings for yourself, you're missing out.

Even if you don't want the works - minus anchovies - on your pizza, perhaps this might be a nice opportunity to try one that differs from the norm.  There's Barbecue Chicken, Southwestern, Buffalo Chicken, Thai, Cheeseburger, Greek, Jamaican Jerk Chicken - the possibilities are almost endless.  One of the best pizzas I've had recently was at Bottoms Up Pizza in Richmond, Virginia's Historic Shockoe Bottom district.  There, I tried an ingredient I'd never had on pizza before - crabmeat.  It came on the Chesapeake pizza with sweet onions and a white sauce and was delicious.  And the crust was particularly good - it was almost closer to french bread than regular pizza crust.  The restaurant is located not far off I-95 so if I'm passing by again, I'll definitely stop by.  Regardless of what you order, this is definitely one celebration that's too good to pass up.  So head out or order in and support your local pizza place - I'm sure your taste buds will thank you.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Caffeine State Of Mind

Magnet # 391:  Washington Rainbow Trout

Material:  Wood, Laminated Paper

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

This marks the anniversary of when Washington achieved statehood in 1889.  To date, it's the only state that's been named in honor of a founding father of our nation - and it's pretty unlikely there will ever be another.  Sure, there's Madison, Wisconsin and Jefferson City, Missouri and, later, Jackson, Mississippi and Lincoln, Nebraska were both named after presidents, but those are all capitol cities.  And while attempts were made to name another state after Benjamin Franklin in what later became Tennessee and several prospective states tried to name themselves after Thomas Jefferson, they never came to be.  Some even tried to name Wyoming after Lincoln.  But when the settlers of the Washington Territory finally joined the rest of the Union, one of its most important early leaders received a singular honor he had earned through hard work and considerable sacrifice.

It's believed that the first European to reach what would become Washington was Spanish explorer Juan Perez, who landed his there while sailing the coast in 1774.  Soon, other Spanish ships were traveling to the area in an effort to curtail the Russians from claiming land to the South of their holdings in Alaska.  British ships also ventured there, including Captain George Vancouver who surveyed Puget Sound and named it after one of his officers.  But when the United States won its independence, its leaders were also eager to claim the area.  American Captain Robert Gray was sent by a Boston company to engage in fur trading there in 1792.  And in 1805, the Lewis and Clark expedition entered the area.  But the British weren't going to give it up easily, sending a Canadian explorer to explore the area.  Both nations set up fur trading operations in the region, while Spain eventually ceded their claims there to the United States.  After the War of 1812, Britain and the United States couldn't come to an agreement as to how to divide up the area and decided instead to establish it as the Oregon Country, which they both controlled.  Of course, that didn't work and the increasing tensions finally prompted the two nations to set their boundary at the 49th parallel.  At first, the land that would make up Washington was part of the Oregon Territory, but in 1853, the Washington Territory was formed.  People streamed into the area hoping to find gold like that was in nearby territories, but when they had no luck, stayed to work as farmers or loggers.  Most settlers were concentrated in the eastern part of the territory or the Puget Sound area, where Seattle was founded in 1853.  When Washington first applied for statehood, its constitution included women's suffrage and prohibition, but it was forced to remove them to received approval and become the 42nd state.  In just over twenty years, they were able to pass an amendment that allowed their women to vote much sooner than the rest of the country.  It was an early indication of the progressive mentality that would drive the Evergreen State.

I've never been to Washington, but it sounds like a pretty lovely place to visit.  Between its scenic coastline and lush rainforests, and even some semidesert land, it has considerable diversity in its natural wonders.  Olympic National Park, in the northwestern part of the state, boasts one of the densest rainforests anywhere in the world and receives some of the most rainfall in the United States.  It also extends all the way to the Pacific Ocean, where very little rain ever falls.  But travelers who want to be awed by towering peaks can head for Mount Rainier National Park just outside of Seattle, which is home to many glaciers and wildflowers, or Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, which was established after its 1980 explosion.  And in Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands are home to over a hundred islands and visitors there can see orcas, dolphins, harbor seals, sea lions, and sea otters.  Of course, for those who'd like to stick to more developed areas, there's Seattle and its iconic Space Needle which draws in our a million visitors each year.  It's also home to the Pike Place Market, where both Starbucks and Seattle's Best Coffee opened their first stores within a block of each other.  In fact, for coffee lovers, the Evergreen State is the place to be.  It's filled with all sorts of coffee shops, both chain and independents, in nearly every place where its citizens can be found.  Those folks love their coffee!  So get your own perk and check out this lovely destination - with all of its diversity, you should have all sorts of unique and exciting experiences.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Time Of Triumph

Magnet # 390:  Arc De Triomphe, Paris

Material:  Resin

Purchased By:  Dad

Some big events will be going on worldwide tomorrow, November 11th.  As you may know, this was when World War I came to an end with the signing of the Armistice with Germany near Compiegne, France in 1918.  It was agreed upon at five in the morning, and came into effect at 11 AM in Paris, which has come to be known as "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month."  With the horrors of war finally behind them, nations all over the globe broke out in festivities that many still commemorate.  In the United States, Veterans' Day has come to be held on this day.  It's a holiday when all military veterans are honored and came about in 1954, when Congress and President Dwight Eisenhower signed it into effect, changing Armistice Day into a celebration of veterans of every American war.  The campaign to make this inclusion of all soldiers was led by a Kansas shoe store owner.  Other nations, such as the United Kingdom, Bermuda, Canada, and Australia mark this occasion with an event known as Remembrance Day.  And although the United Kingdom observes two minutes of silence on November 11, its most important events are held on Remembrance Sunday, the second Sunday of the month.  Poland actually has its Independence day on the anniversary of the end of the war, as that nation was unified after centuries of separation thanks to the Allied victory.  And there are still some nations that hold Armistice Day on November 11, most notably Belgium and France.

While Paris' Arc de Triophe predates Armistice Day, it has become an important symbol of the celebrations.  It was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806 when he had just the Russians and Austrians at Austerlitz and was enjoying his greatest fortunes.  Still, the massive structure took a considerable amount of time to complete and two whole years just to lay down its foundation.  In 1810 when Napoleon brought his new bride Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria back to Paris with him, they passed under a preliminary wooden version of the Arc.  But work on it eventually came to a halt after Napoleon's fall and it wasn't finished until 1836.  And in 1840, when the remains of the former Emperor were brought back from Saint Helena, they were taken through the Arc a final time.  And after World War I had come to an end, several noteworthy events took place at the Arc.  The French forces held a parade their to celebrate their victory.  In August of 1919, French aviator Charles Godefroy flew his plane through the structure, albeit without official permission.  But the stunt was photographed and filmed, and the whole world was made aware of it.  On a more somber note, as part of 1920's Armistice Day observances, the Tomb of the Unknown Solider from World War I was interred beneath the Arc.  Initially, it had been planned to place the body at the Pantheon, but an overwhelming amount of support for the Arc surfaced, and the change was made.  By the time the Nazis invaded in 1940, they were well aware of the significance of the monument and had photographs of their soldiers marching in a parade taken there.  And by that same token, when the Liberation of Paris was achieved in 1944, the Allies held a victory march there.  Nowadays, the Arc de Triomphe is the center of ceremonies in Paris on Armistice Day, with many officials visiting it and a small horseback parade venturing forth from it.  And it's supposed to be a pretty interesting site to visit during the rest of the year.  Visitors enter it through an underpass and can either take an elevator or a set of 284 steps to reach the attic of the Arc, which features information about it and a gift shop.  They can also make it to the very top for a panoramic view of the city.  It's amazing that so much can be held there - the Arc is certainly bigger than it might appear!

To all of you veterans here in the United States who are bring honored tomorrow, thanks for the hard work and sacrifice.  And keep in mind, there are some national restaurant chains offering free meals to you, like Applebee's, Chili's, Hooters, Golden Corral, and McCormick & Schmick's.  Most of them will have a limited menu to choose from, but hey, it's still free!  And that's not all of the perks that will be available to veterans - they can get a free doughnut from Krispy Kreme or a free six inch sub from Subway, but not all of those chains' locations are participating, so call first to verify.  Lowe's and the Home Depot are also offering ten percent discounts to military personnel and their families.  Plus, Colonial Williamsburg, Knott's Berry Farm, and over 100 National Park Service locations are waiving admission fees for military members.  It's nice to see so many generous merchants honoring those who have defended our country.  So if you qualify, head on out and take advantage of some of tomorrow's specials - considering what so many veterans have sacrificed for our country, you've earned it!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

There's Magic In the Air

Magnet # 389:  Sights of Gatlinburg

Material:  Pewter

Purchased By:  Me

Tennessee's "Gateway to the Smokies" is the place to be tomorrow as it kicks off its 21st annual Galinburg Winter Magic Program.  Each day after sunset, the city will go up in a spectacular display of over three million LED lights.  For the first night, a fireworks display will start the festivities at dusk.  Later, there will also be some great entertainers performing in several locations on the Downtown Parkway.  Musical groups The Grassabillies, Steve Brown and Hurricane Ridge, and The Holloway Sisters and Boogertown Gap are all scheduled to appear, as well as belly dancers and, appropriately enough,  magicians. And if the onlookers there get a little cool as temperatures drop during opening night, they can stop by the yearly Chili Cookoff to warm up.  There, eight bucks admission will get them a spoon, a ballot, and the opportunity to sample kettles of chili from over 20 different vendors.  They'll vote on the People's Choice Award, but a variety of awards in categories ranging from Best Booth Presentation, Most Unique Chili Name, and Best Apron Design to, of course, Best Taste will also be given.  And in nearby Pigeon Forge, tonight marks the beginning of the 21st annual Winterfest Kick Off at Patriot Park.  This display will feature over five million lights all along their stretch of the Parkway.  Sounds like this is one of the best times to visit Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

While Native Americans such as the Cherokee had been in the area that would become Gatlinburg for centuries, the first person of European descent to settle there was actually William Ogle, a settler from South Carolina.  He wasn't able to stay long, though.  After building his cabin there, he returned to the Palmetto State to bring back his family, but passed away before they could leave.  Eventually, his widow came with her brother's family and they built another log cabin that still stands.  Over the years, more settlers steadily set up home in the area, including some who had fought in the Revolutionary War and were given their land in return for their military service.  The story behind Gatlinburg's name is somewhat interesting.  A settler named Radford Gatlin owned a general store there, and when a post office was opened inside it in 1856, they logically named the town after him.  But he was hardly a founding member of the town named after him - he'd only been there two years at the time of its naming.  Plus, he was often at feud with his neighbors, particularly when he tried to divert the town's main road.  But the last straw was when Gatlin supported the Confederate cause in a town that mostly favored the Union as the country neared the Civil War.  By 1859, Gatlin had been driven out of town, but oddly, none of the locals ever rid it of his name.  Following the Civil War, the logging industry became progressively more prevalent in the area and the threat of deforestation increased.  Fortunately, the movement began to turn the Smoky Mountains into a National Park and one Gatlinburg businessman, Andrew Huff, who actually owned a sawmill, helped advance the cause.  He built the town's first hotel, which proved to be a wise move when the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established in 1934.  Gatlinburg's location as the closest city on the Tennessee side of the park has earned it the nickname of the "Gateway to the Smokies" and brought in droves of tourists.  And there are plenty of attractions, restaurants, and souvenir shops there waiting for them - Gatlinburg's Downtown Parkway is packed with all sorts of businesses, many with rustic mountain facades.  And this time of the year, the scenic mountain city is perhaps at its most charming, when it's aglow for the holiday season.

Don't worry if aren't able to check out the lights right away - they'll be appearing for a pretty long time.  I'm not sure when the Gatlinburg Winter Magic ends, but Pigeon Forge's Winterfest runs through February 28.  And even if you can't make it out there for the festivities this year, there may very well be some great light displays and Winter-themed events going on closer to you.  I always find venturing out to have a look at lights and decorations is a great way to get into the holiday spirit.  So have a look at your local newspaper, or maybe check out their online site, grab the family, and hop in the car - now's the time to get ready for the season!

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Giant Discovery

Magnet # 388:  Giant Panda Bear

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Gina

Giant panda bears are so beloved in China and worldwide nowadays that's hard to imagine there was ever a time when their very existence came into doubt.  But back in the early 1900's, the Western world had never seen pandas and had to take the word of the Chinese that they were even real.  For centuries, the rulers of China had considered them to be rare and noble creatures and they were referred to in ancient books.  The burial chamber of the mother of Emperor Wen of Han had included a panda skull, while other royalty had presented the animals to other Asian nations as a gesture of goodwill.  The West was first introduced to concept of the Giant panda on March 11, 1896 when a local hunter gave French missionary and naturalist Armand David, who was living in Beijing at the time, the fur of one.  Even then, many claimed that such a creature was a hoax and the hunt raged to prove it was, in fact, real.  The animal became a sort of Bigfoot during that time, an elusive figure sought by the world.  And tomorrow, November 9th of 1927, was the day when the first Giant panda was ever captured and the world could no longer question its existence.

Since the reality of the Giant panda bear was confirmed to the Western world, it has gone on to become very popular and even a symbol of China, replacing the dragon.  About a decade after its discovery, a Giant panda cub was taken out of China by a German zoologist and it went on to live at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo.  Eager crowds came in droves to see him, even celebrities like Shirley Temple and Helen Hayes.  Unfortunately, he passed away in 1938 and his body is now on display at the Field Museum of Natural History.  Luckily, by then the zoo had taken in another panda.  And London was able to acquire five of the creatures as well that year, but due to increasing tension and wars, they ceased to be sent around the world temporarily.  But the Panda diplomacy, as its been called, was revived in the 1950s as China began to renew its contact with the rest of the world.  In 1972, a pair of two Giant pandas were sent to President Richard Nixon after his visit to the People's Republic of China, the first ever made by a United States president.  They were housed at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. and drew in a crowd of 20,000 on their first day and well over a million during their first year.  The gift inspired British Prime Minister Edward Heath to request a pair of Giant pandas for his own country when he traveled to China in 1974.  Within weeks, they had arrived at the London Zoo.  Since then, China has become more regimented in exporting the animals, only making them available to other nations as part of a 10-year loan.  The nation receiving the pandas may pay as much as a million dollars a year in fees for the privilege of housing them and any cubs born to them legally belong to China.  With around 280 pandas residing at zoos, there aren't many countries around the world with them on display at their zoos, but Australia, Japan, Spain, Thailand, Austria, Germany, Scotland, and Mexico all have them.  Here in the United States, the National Zoo, the San Diego Zoo, the Memphis Zoo, and Zoo Atlanta are the only four places to see them.  And just this month, a cub was born at Zoo Atlanta.  It's the only panda birth of 2010, but the third to be created between the two pandas housed there, all products of artificial insemination.  The public won't be able to view the newborn on display until Spring of next year, but if you're curious to check it out, have a look at the zoo's online "PandaCam."  And, per Chinese tradition, it won't be named until it's 100 days old.  When the youngest panda in the world is finally put before the public, I may have to venture up to see it myself.  While creating this post, I've realized that I have yet to see a Giant panda for myself and I think I'd really enjoy it.

We've certainly come a long way since that first Giant panda was caught in 1927.  The adorable creature become a symbol of conservation worldwide, and great effort has gone into ensuring its survival.  It's current status is endangered and as many as 3,000 may be out in the wild.  Many believe that the attention that's gone into saving them has really paid off.  But it's not only been important in bringing increased awareness to the plight of all endangered species.  The finding of the Giant panda has made it part of a group of animals that, despite the doubt of naysayers, have been proven to exist.  Others in this category include the platypus, Komodo dragon, Lowland Gorilla, coelacanth, and okapi.  These creatures were once considered to be cryptids, creatures who some believe exist, but the scientific community does not recognize.  Often, when they're discovered, people tend to forget their former murky status.  But the Giant panda and its fellow former cryptids certainly put forth an intriguing question - just what else it out there in the wild, waiting to make its debut to the rest of the world?