Monday, January 24, 2011

All That Glitters

Magnet # 444:  Map of California


Material:  Rubber


Purchased By:  Mom

Life looked bright indeed for California on this day in 1849 when gold was discovered there at Sutter's Mill.  News of the find eventually brought in over 300,000 prospectors from all of the world.  Most of them came from the United States, but plenty were from Latin America, Asia, Europe, and Australia.  They faced great difficulties in their searches, however - one in every twelve of the Forty Niners, as they came to be known, perished.  A few were able to strike it rich, but most often, the merchants made out better than the miners, many of whom saw modest returns for their troubles.  As time passed, the miners' profits dwindled substantially and those who made it there toward the end of the rush often ended up losing most of their funds.  Those who made it home usually had little more than they had left with.  But the boom was huge for California.  At the beginning, the area was mostly undeveloped wilderness but the population surge helped San Francisco increase its size 300 times over, improve travel conditions to the West Coast, and gain California statehood.

It was James W. Marshall who noticed the first specks of gold.  Born in New Jersey, he had made his way further and further West until he finally moved from Missouri to California.  There, he met John Sutter, the founder of Sutter's Fort, an agricultural settlement.  He employed Marshall for a time before the Mexican-American War broke out in 1846 and Marshall left to join the fight.  After the action came to an end, the two formed a partnership to construct a sawmill.  Marshall oversaw the project and when it was determined that the tailrace was not powerful enough to carry the water away from the water wheel, he decided to begin a project to increase the size of the tailrace.  One morning, he was having a look at the results and realized that there were a few shiny spots among the runoff.  He picked them up to have a closer look and when he tested them by flattening them with rocks, but was unable to break them apart, he realized they might be gold.  He shared his findings with his workers and they tested the material to prove it was indeed gold.  At that point, his main concern was operating the sawmill, but he allowed the men to look for gold on their own time.  He also brought some samples to show Sutter, who was able to identify them as very high quality gold, at least 23 carats.  For a time, no one believed that the discovery was real, even though San Francisco newspapers were reporting on it.  But when a shopkeeper from Sutter's Creek began showing off his findings in the town, people changed their minds.  Soon, eager fortune hunters were flooding into the area.  The gold rush proved to be disastrous for both Marshall and Sutter.  Their workers abandoned them to prospect and their land was overrun in the search.  They were unable to run the mill in the chaos the gold rush created.  In an effort to keep his land, Sutter deeded his land to his son, but he was unwilling to go along with his father's plans for it.  He eventually received a small pension from the government for the land and moved with his remaining family to Pennsylvania.  He passed away in Washington D.C. 1880 with very little to his name.  For a time, Marshall fared better, opening a vineyard but increased competition and taxes drove that enterprise under.  He also developed a dependence on alcohol and after a gold mine he had invested in failed, the state awarded him a pension for his role in developing it.  But when they stopped giving him funds, he ended up living in poverty, living in a tiny cabin and planting a garden just to survive.  He passed away in 1885 and five years later, a monument of Marshall himself was placed over his grave site.  It features him pointing to where he made the fateful discovery all those years ago.  It's funny, many might think that finding gold on your land would be great, but in this case, they'd be wrong.

Perhaps no party benefited more from the gold discovery than California itself, which is known as the Golden State.  To this day, it has maintained a reputation of being a place where one can strike it rich and reinvent their life.  Its motto is "Eureka," or "I have found it," and its seal features images from the Gold Rush.  Best of all, the experts believe there is still plenty more of the precious metal to be found in California and there are a good deal of sites where modern day treasure hunters can try their luck.  So go west if you're in the mood to hit the jackpot and give it a try.  The heydays of the California Gold Rush may be behind us, but the possibility to come upon the mother lode still exists out there.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Against All Odds

Magnet # 443:  Tillamook Rock Lighthouse Aerial Photo


Material:  Acrylic


Purchased By:  Me

Few lighthouses can produce such a fearsome image as Oregon's Tillamook Rock Light.  This one actually stands atop a gigantic rock over a mile out from shore and building it was an enormous challenge that wasn't without loss of life.  But it was clear that simply placing the structure on the Pacific Coast at Tillamook Head wasn't going to work - its light would have been obscured by fog there.  So an arduous undertaking was made to construct on the rock and over 500 days went into the task.  At the time of its completion in 1881, Tillamook Rock Light, or "Terrible Tilly" as it's known by keepers and locals, was the most expensive West Coast lighthouse ever built at $125,000.

Congress first appropriated $50,000 for the construction of a lighthouse at Tillamook Head in 1878, but when that area was found to be unsuitable, a survey was made the following year on Tillamook Rock.  It was determined that access to the rock was very difficult, even impossible at times, but the government was undeterred.  For the third survey, John Trewavas, who had assisted in the construction of the Wolf Rock Lighthouse in Cornwall, England, which was similarly perched on a similarly treacherous rock, was brought in.  Even with his experience, Tillamook Rock proved to be too dangerous - while he was attempting to land there, a large wave swept him into the sea.  And though his assistant jumped in after him, his body was never recovered.  The public began to demand the project be abandoned, but Charles A. Ballantyne was brought in to oversee it.  After failing to find any locals willing to work with him, he was forced to bring in a group of quarrymen who had never heard of the Trewavas tragedy.  Ballantyne kept them as far from the locals as possible, hoping they would remain unaware of what had previously occurred at Terrible Tilly.  It wasn't long, however, that they got a taste of the site's horrors for themselves.  In January of 1880, a storm rolled in and the waves began to crash above the surface of the rock.  They claimed most of the men's tools, food, and work spaces, and they were forced to stay in their shelter and huddle together to survive.  Sixteen days later, help arrived and they received the supplies they so desperately needed.   Even after this crisis, work continued and in May, the top of the rock had been leveled enough to make it  possible to begin the lighthouse itself.  All of the materials used to construct it had to be brought in by boat and dragged up the cliffs, so that was a rather difficult task itself.  But the truly awful incidents were over at the rock and on this day in in 1881, the Tillamook Rock Light shone across the waters for the first time ever.  What many had considered impossible was now a reality and the reputation of the lighthouse spread across the nation.  Trewavas was the only death to occur with the structure's creation.

Although it may have had a lighthouse built upon it, Terrible Tilly was by no means tamed.  The team of four keepers assigned to it were forced to be isolated from civilization, live in cramped accommodations, and be exposed to some of the harshest weather conditions imaginable.  When a phone line was installed to connect them with the outside world, it didn't last long until a storm cut it loose.  And with the structure constantly taking a beating from the fierce nearby waters, repairs to it became almost a constant undertaking.  Life there took a toll on workers both physically and mentally.  Feuds arose, and some refused to speak to one another, opting instead to pass notes.  There was even a rumor that one of the men had tried to kill his superior by putting ground glass in his food.  In its first two years alone, it went through four head keepers.  But work there continued on, even after the Fresnel lens was destroyed in one of the worst storms ever in 1934.  All in all, Terrible Tilly was used for 77 years before being deactivated in 1957, when it had become the most expensive lighthouse to operate in the nation.  Two years later, it was sold to Las Vegas investors who just sold it off themselves.  In the 1980s, it was converted into the Eternity at Sea Columbarium, where people could pay thousands of dollars to have their ashes interred.  However, only about 30 urns were placed there before its new owners lost their license.  The fate of the structure remains to be seen.  But this is one site that is nearly impossible to reach - it's only accessible by helicopter, and is off-limits when seabirds are nesting.  So if you want to check it out, having a look at Cannon Beach, Ecola State Park, or a boat on the water may be your best option.  But I have a feeling it's not yet over for this storied lighthouse, whose very existence defies the elements. With all of the lives, effort, and time that has gone into creating and maintaining the Tillamook Rock Light, it almost has an obligation to be around for a very long time, defiant of the fearsome waters that surround it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Cheesier, the Better

Magnet # 442:  A Cheesy Vermont Magnet


Material:  Rubber


Purchased By:  Me

Yes, there are some events that are worth mentioning on here pretty much every year and Cheese Day is easily one of them.  It's coming up tomorrow, so here's your chance to stock up on some of your favorite varieties.  I know my love of this particular dairy item is well documented on this blog, so it's a safe bet I will be celebrating the occasion.  I'm just not sure yet which cheeses I'll be having.  In the past few months I've been craving a selection of them, like on a platter, so maybe I'll put one together for the special day.  Of course, that could be expensive and leave me with plenty of leftovers, so I'm not sure if that's a great idea.  I wonder if there are any places around that can sell me a decent pre-made cheese platter.  But given my aversion of blue cheeses and Swiss, it might be tough for me to find one that would work.  Well, I'm sure I'll figure out something in time for the celebration!

I just couldn't resist picking up this cute magnet when I was shopping at Morse Farm in Vermont last year.  In case you haven't noticed, the cheese is in the shape of the state - nice touch.  Given the Green Mountain State's interest in producing so much of its own food and drinks as well as its abundance of dairy cows, it has some of the nicest artisanal cheeses in the nation.  In fact, it has over forty cheese manufacturers, and even offers a Vermont Cheese Trail.  I imagine some of the most diehard dairy lovers must try to hit every stop on the route.  And while I didn't have the opportunity to travel it myself during my stay there, I did at least order a cheese plate as an appetizer when I dined at Montpelier's Main Street Grill and Bar.  They were kind enough to substitute another cheese for the blue cheese that came with the plate.  All of the varieties were very fresh and I enjoyed every one.  They had a nice selection of both hard and soft cheeses and the bread that accompanied them was also delicious and very fresh.  That appetizer may have been the highlight of my meal.  I also sampled some cheeses at a few other stops I made in Vermont, and they were delicious, too.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to drop by any of the locations on the Vermont Cheese Trail, not even the Cabot Creamery Cooperative, which was just off my route, but I didn't realize I was passing by it at the time.  This company ships their cheeses all over the nation, so it would have been fun to check out their Visitors Center in Cabot, Vermont.  There, tourists can see how their offerings are produced and sample the many variations of their award-winning "World's Best Cheddar."  Personally, I'd be curious to try their Seriously Sharp variety, which is aged for ten months - for comparion, their mild only ages two to three months.  It might be more than I can handle, but I'd still like to give it a shot.  If I ever make it back to the area, I'll have to put this attraction on my itenerary.

While Vermont may be a great destination for cheese lovers, it's hardly the only one.  Wisconsin leads the nation in cheese production and is known for its cheddar, and New York and California also produce a good deal.  And, of course, there are plenty of nations around the world that are known for their gourmet cheeses.  France has over 1,000 different varieties of cheese, 56 of which are classified, regulated, and protected by their laws.  And in nearby England, cheese is also a big deal - let's not forget that Cheddar was the birthplace of one of the most beloved types of all.  And plenty of other European nations, like Italy, Switzerland, and Spain, are fantastic places to try out cheese.  But some parts of the world are sadly lacking in the dairy delight, like Eastern Asia, where it's almost never included in any dishes.  It's believed to be partially due to the fact that many of the natives there are lactose intolerant, but I'd sure like to see how nations like China, Japan, and Thailand would handle cheese.  And even if you can't hit the road this Cheese Day, try stopping by your local store to see what cheeses they have to offer from around the country and the globe.  Whether you indulge in an old favorite or try out a brand new variety, this is a great time to unwrap a slice or block and ascend into dairy heaven!

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Marble Maiden

Magnet # 441:  Marble House Photo


Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell


Purchased By:  Me

When most women turn thirty-nine, they're probably impressed if their husbands buy them some expensive jewelry or perfume, and I guess some are lucky if they get any present at all.  But, let's face it, the Vanderbilts aren't most women.  So when Alva Vanderbilt reached that particular age on this day in 1892, she received perhaps the gift of the century from her husband, railroad magnate William Kissam Vanderbilt.  He presented her with Marble House, the most opulent mansion on Newport, Rhode Island's Bellevue Avenue.  It reportedly cost him $11 million dollars to create the residence, of which over half went to paying for the marble alone.  I'm not sure if he could find a ribbon large enough to wrap around it, though.

The Gilded Age high society certainly produced some colorful characters, but I'm not sure if any were a match for the woman who finished life as Alva Erksine Belmont.  She was born Alva Smith on this day in 1853 to a moderately wealthy merchant family in Mobile, Alabama.  She was the youngest in her family, and by the time she was born, all but one of her siblings had died.  As she grew up, Alva spent some of her summers in Newport, Rhode Island, a place that would become very important to her as an adult, and was educated at a private boarding school in Paris.  Her family eventually moved to New York City, where her lifelong friend introduced her to William Kissam Vanderbilt, one of the heirs of the Vanderbilt empire.  They wed in 1875 and Alva set out to improve the status of the Vanderbilt family, elevating it higher than it had ever previously reached.  She commissioned Richard Morris Hunt to design a palatial home for them on Fifth Avenue using the French Renaissance style and threw a masquerade ball that supposedly cost three million dollars in honor of its completion.  Not only did the event mark the Vanderbilt's official acceptance into high society, it also set the standards of elite parties to a new, far more extravagant level.  Hunt also designed two more homes for the couple, their retreat on Long Island and, of course, Marble House.  They had three children together, and their single daughter, Consuelo, may have received the most attention from their mother.  Alva was hard on her, forcing her to wear a steel rod to improve her posture and even using a riding crop to whip her.  But with years of plotting, she was able to make her daughter a duchess, marrying her off to a British royal and cousin of Winston Churchill who had fallen on hard times.  Their marriage didn't last and neither did Alva's.  In 1895, she decided to divorce her husband, citing adultery as the cause, to set an example that other women could follow.  In those times, no women who had risen in society so far as she had would dare end her marriage.  Her actions may have shocked her circle, but Alva would not remain single.  Less than a year later, she wed Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, a divorcee who had been a bachelor for quite some time and owned a mansion just down the street from Marble House.  Later in life, Alva became devoted to the cause of women's suffrage, paying the bail of picketers who were arrested, hosting fundraising events at her home, and ascending to president of the National Women's Party.  She also became much closer to Consuleo, patching up what had once been a rocky relationship.  In 1932, she was partially paralyzed after a stroke and she passed away the next year.  Her funeral featured only female pallbearers and many suffragists were in attendance.  Alva was buried beside her second husband in a mausoleum designed by - who else - Richard Morris Hunt that is a replica of France's Chapel of St. Hubert.  Even in death, she retains a sense of the opulence that defined so much of her life.

Alva Vanderbilt may be gone, but her legend lives on at Marble House, which is generally considered to be the most opulent mansion on Newport's Bellevue Avenue, home to some of the country's grandest Gilded Age residences.  In fact, its construction there helped transform the area from a quiet, humble summer retreat to a gathering place for the cream of society.  I toured it last year during my visit to New England and I must say, I was blown away by its magnificence.  Its Gold Room is a ballroom that's actually covered in gold and walking into it is almost overwhelming.  And, as its name implies, there is marble everywhere, in all sorts of colors.  Alva was one of the first socialites to design rooms around historical and cultural themes, and Marble House has features such as a Gothic Room, a Rococo Library, a Louis XVI bedroom, and a separate Chinese teahouse.  Some may say it's a little much and is perhaps even be over the top, but this is one place that's worth seeing in person.  It's so rare that such an incredible home as Marble House can be constructed and later opened to the public, and it's worth having a glimpse of what millions of dollars and the best designers in the world can create.  It's a taste of what it might have been like to live the life Alva Vanderbilt with its many difficulties, scandals, and triumphs.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Latter Day Spartan

Magnet # 440:  Walnut Grove Plantation


Material:  Vinyl


Purchased By:  Me

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the Battle of Cowpens, when American forces won a decisive victory against the British during the Southern campaign of the American Revolution.  The troops fought in South Carolina, and the American triumph helped pave the way for the colony's freedom, as it was under British control.  The Battle of Cowpens also produced one particularly interesting hero, Kate Morgan Barry.  She was born in 1752, the eldest of Charles and Mary Moore's ten children.  They were immigrants from Northern Ireland who had landed in Maine and traveled all the way down to Spartanburg, South Carolina by horse and carriage.  There, they established a home, cashing in land grands worth about 3,000 acres that had been issued to them by King George III.  It came to be known as Walnut Grove Plantation after the trees that Kate planted there.  Charles Moore worked as a schoolteacher and by the time she was fifteen, Kate was married off to Andrew Barry, who would later serve as and officer in the American Army and one of the first elders of the Nazareth Presbyterian Church.  A dedicated Patriot, she volunteered her services to the American side when war broke out, working as a scout, a spy, and even chasing some British loyalists off of her property.  But in 1781, when it was clear that the General Daniel Morgan's forces would stand up against the British troops who had been in pursuit of them at Cowpens, Barry truly proved her mettle.  Legend has it she tied her newborn child to a bedpost to keep it safe as she mounted her horse and rode out into the night from home to home to warn the locals that the British were on their way, in a flight not unlike that of Paul Reevere's.  Thanks in part to her efforts, a superior force was assembled to take on the British, and when the Americans won, Barry went on to be known as the Heroine of Cowpens.  Still, the attention that her fearlessness brought her wasn't all positive.  The Tories later caught her and tried to force her to surrender her husband's whereabouts by whipping her, but she refused to give him up.  And in the fall of 1781, she narrowly escaped when some British soldiers came looking for trouble at Walnut Grove.  Their leader, "Bloody" Bill Cunningham was still able to kill three other Patriots there, including John Steadman, an officer who showed promise, but was confined to a sickbed there.  Those times certainly weren't easy on Barry or those around her, but she lived to see the birth of the nation she had done her part to create, finally passing away in 1823.  Her remains were buried beside those of her husband in the family cemetery in Moore, South Carolina.

Kate Moore Barry's former home in Spartanburg has been well preserved over the years and has been open to the public since 1967.  I stopped by Walnut Grove Plantation on my way home from my trip to West Virginia and Kentucky last year.  It's just a few minutes off Interstate 26 and is worth the detour.  Unfortunately, I didn't arrive in time for a tour, and sticking around to take one would have taken too long, but they were nice enough to let me wander around the grounds.  The two-story home the Moores once lived in has been kept in very nice condition and while it's not the most impressive plantation house I've ever seen, it's still very attractive.  And Charles Moore's original school house is still standing there, along with a few other outbuildings.  I also asked the employee at the gift shop if they had any ghost activity there, and he said not really.  But I've since read that some have claimed to spot a young lady wearing a cape walking the grounds, and think it might be the spirit of Kate Barry.  And for many years, some dark stains on the floor in the bedroom where John Steadman perished were said to be his bloodstains, but modern technology has proven that whatever material caused it isn't from a human.  Regardless, this is one place that has seen a great deal of history, and still stands as a testament to the great family that established it.

Friday, January 14, 2011

To the Slopes

Magnet # 439:  West Virginia Skiers


Material:  Resin


Purchased By:  Me

Get ready to hit the slopes, even if you never have before, because tomorrow is Learn to Ski Day!  And I'm not sure if it couldn't have come at a better time this year.  We've had yet another cold surge and many areas that never see snow are covered in it.  In fact, I read a couple of days ago that there was snow present in 49 out of the 50 states.  And the only state to have eluded it?  No, it's not Hawaii, as I would have guessed - its actually Florida, which is pretty chilly as well.  So this is a pretty good opportunity for many people to engage in some Winter sports that they usually couldn't try out locally.  And even though it's not all that easy to dabble in, some might even be able to give skiing a chance.

Humans have been skiing for thousands of years and it's believed that the ancestors of the Norse and Swedish people of northern Europe may have first developed the activity.  Carvings made as far back as 5000 B.C. portraying  a skier with one pole have been discovered in Norway, and the earliest pair of skis ever found may have been created as early as 4500 B.C.  Legends tell of early ski races and two Norse deities are said to have hunted on skis.  The current era of skiing didn't really start until the mid 1800s, when the "father of modern skiing," Sondre Norheim invented the first stiff bindings by tying wet birch roots around his boots.  These were more secure than leather straps and gave skiers the ability to try more complicated maneuvers.  Around that time, woodcarvers in the Telemark region were creating lighter and thinner skis.  Thanks to both of these innovations, new techniques in stopping and turning were developed, and the sport became even more popular.  By the early 1900s, the sport was becoming even more widespread and its inclusion in the first Winter Olympic Games only increased its awareness worldwide and nations like Japan gave the sport a try.  And with the introduction of ski lifts, the numbers of skiers grew so much that resorts sprang up across the globe.  What was once a sport limited to a very small portion of the world has now become a global sensation, familiar to nearly all sports enthusiasts.

I've gotta be honest, I've never tried skiing once in my life.  Given my distaste of snow and my aversion to sports, it's not exactly a good fit for me.  But my parents used to have some fun getting out on the slopes before I was ever born.  That was when they lived in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  And even though their neck of the woods wasn't an ideal spot for skiing, as it lacked the mountains that make places like West Virginia and Vermont great venues for the sport, there was a nearby hill they were able to use.  But it wasn't exactly known for its impressive facilities.  Instead of heading up to the top on a chair lift or even a T-bar, they used a tow rope that was powered by an old truck engine.  It wasn't easy to hold onto and skiers often lost their grip on it.  When they did, they had to move aside quickly or the next person would crash into them and a pile up might occur.  Nonetheless, they still had lots of fun there, and considering it was free, it was definitely within their budget.  They mainly kept to the bunny slopes, though.  And a few years later, they realized that they could either invest in skiing or traveling, so they opted to travel and give up the sport.  I wonder how my life might have been different if they had chosen skiing instead, and I'm not sure if we could have kept up the sport living in the usually warm Southeastern climate.  I suppose I could try out skiing for myself someday, but I'm not sure if that will ever happen - I can just imagine being outshone by elementary kids on the bunny slopes.  Still, in the spirit of Learn to Ski Day, it's worth at least considering trying out the sport.  After all, if it's lasted all of these centuries it can't be all bad, right?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hello, Dali

Magnet # 438:  New Dali Grand Opening Photo


Material:  Plastic


Purchased By:  Me

Once again, posting a magnet up here is a bit easier than usual, as this one is dated.  And unlike some other dated magnets, I'm actually using this one on the exact date that's printed on it.  I must admit, I'm pretty proud of myself for pulling that off.  So, yes, the new Salvador Dali Museum opens today in St. Petersburg, Florida.  The festivities will begin with a parade that runs the route from the old Dali Museum to its current location, a mere eight blocks north at One Dali Boulevard.  And at 11:11 in the morning, there will be a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new Dali, with Spanish royalty in attendance.  While these events and other outdoor festivities will be open to the general public, they won't be able to enter the updated facilities until tomorrow.  Today's grand opening event is open to a limited crowd who've already bought their time stamped tickets.  However, members of the museum's elite groups have already had the opportunity to check out the new building.  On Sunday, it hosted a special event that included entertainment, family activities, crafts, and a talk given by actress Susan Sarandon.  And for anyone missing out on the current events, there's plenty more going on through the rest of the month.  The Florida Orchestra will be on hand from the fourteenth through the sixteenth to serenade visitors and family-oriented events will likewise be held.  Also, there's one particularly impressive party that will be held on January 22, Los Suenos de Dali.  This evening affair will feature attendees in surrealistic attire, unusual entertainers, and a variety of gourmet foods and alcohol, with tickets available for 111 dollars.  I suppose that's inspired by today's grand opening date.

I've mentioned on here before that the St. Petersburg Dali Museum primarily consists of the collection of the Morses, an American couple who became intrigued with the artist's work, so much so that they became longtime friends, companions, and patrons of his.  For decades, they stored all of his work that they'd obtained at their home in Cleveland, Ohio until they relocated the collection at a smaller museum in nearby Beachwood.  But even that didn't work and the couple began a national search to find the right home for their art.  And St. Petersburg won out with its eager community and their offer to present the collection in a converted marine warehouse.  It opened on March 10 of 1982 and featured the largest collection of Dali art outside of Europe.  I visited the museum last year with a couple of friends and I have to say, I was a little underwhelmed by its exterior.  For an artist as off the wall as Dali, it was surprisingly dull and could have even served as an office building.  The only hint I noticed to suggest the artist was his signature in letters along a wall.  So when I learned that they were getting new digs and actually saw them on this magnet, I was pleased.  An innovator like Dali almost demands a space that's as unusual as the work he left behind.  He certainly has one in his home town of Figueres, in the Catalonia region of Spain - it's a red structure that almost resembles a castle or a fort covered with details and it's lined with eggs on the rooftop.  It's been around since 1974 and Dali himself is actually buried in its crypt, although it's not certain that was actually his wish.  But now, the people of St. Petersburg have a structure which is twice the size of its predecessor and should really measure up against that of Figueres.  I'm looking forward to experiencing it firsthand sometime.  When I was at the former location, they were offering admission to today's event with a donation.  And while I didn't take them up on it, as I knew it was unlikely I could make it down there, I'm glad I could support them with this magnet.  Here's to the folks behind the Salvador Dali Museum and their bold move to a bigger, better location - the man himself would be proud!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Strong Constitution

Magnet # 436:  Map of Connecticut


Material:  Acrylic


Purchased By:  Me

Connecticut joined the Union on this day in 1788, making it the fifth state.  Europeans had been in the area as early as 1614, when Dutch explorer Adriaen Block sailed up the Connecticut River, making it as far as the present day sit of Hartford.  He claimed the land as part of the New Netherlands territory, but the Dutch wouldn't build a settlement there for almost twenty years.  That was when they established a small fort dubbed the "House of Hope" where Hartford would one day stand.  However, it wasn't a permanent settlement and the British continually encroached on it until they finally able to drive the Dutch out with the 1650 Treaty of Hartford.  The first British to arrive in the territory came from nearby Massachusetts, and they created the first three permanent settlements there - Windsor, Wethersfield, and Hartford.  In 1636, the three towns united to form the Connecticut Colony.  New Haven actually developed as a separate Puritan colony two years later.  The Connecticut Colony made history by forming the Fundamental Orders, a system of government that allowed the voters to elect government officials, and are often regarded to be the first written constitution.  It wasn't long before the Connecticut and New Haven colonies united, despite some misgivings from the latter.  Between then and the onset of the American Revolution, Connecticut had a couple of interesting moments.  One occurred in 1686, when Sir Edmund Andros, who had been commissioned Royal Governor of the Dominion of New England, attempted to take the charter which had served as the colony's constitution.  But it was smuggled away and legend holds it was hidden in the historic Charter Oak in Hartford.  And another was brought on when Connecticut laid claim to pretty much all of the lands between it and the Pacific.  This didn't go over very well and even led to open warfare with Pennsylvania before the matter could be resolved.  Later, on June 14 of 1776, Connecticut passed a resolution in favor of gaining independence from Britain, paving the way for it to join in the American Revolution and eventually gain statehood.  In the days since then, it's gone on to become one of the most prosperous states in the Union.

I've been to Connecticut twice in my life.  I admit, my first trip through the state didn't make much of an impression on me - I went through it with my family when we were on the way to Maine.  If we made any significant stops, I don't remember them.  So when I traveled there to visit my friend Catherine last year, I wanted to really get a feel for the place.  I must say, Connecticut has some of the nicest homes I saw in all of New England.  In fact, it boasts the second largest amount of multi-million dollar homes in the nation, coming in only after California.  Not only were they impressive, they were also very charming, even picturesque.  The state also had a very small town feeling, with more locally owned businesses than major chains, at least where Catherine lives and in Mystic, which is about an hour away. I was also really appreciative of the fact that I wasn't behind the wheel, so I could better take in the scenic views.  I really did find Connecticut to be a lovely place.  And I enjoyed the food there, too.  We ate at a few local establishments, one that served seafood and two breakfast places, and all of the meals were very good.  The one kind of food I wanted to try, but didn't get the chance, was pizza.  Connecticut is known for having some of the best pizza in the nation.  Of course, there's Mystic Pizza, made famous by a movie named after it, but other parts of the state, particularly New Haven, are known for their delicious offerings.  New Haven's Wooster Square neighborhood is home to the Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana and Sally's Apizza, which were opened by members of the same family and both feature thin-crust pies baked in coal-fired brick ovens.  They're two of the oldest and best known pizzerias in the country and customers will wait for hours in line to get a taste of their incredible creations.  I'd certainly like a chance to try out at least one of these establishments.  I think I'll probably get a chance sometime, because I plan on making my way to the Constitution State again.  Not only is it a great place to visit, it's an excuse to meet up with Catherine again.  And while my second trip to the state made a much firmer impression on me, I realize that there's plenty more in Connecticut that I have yet to experience.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Following Yonder Star

Magnet # 435:  Holly Hills Christmas Label

 Material:  Plastic


Purchased By:  Me

Think that the Holiday season has come to an end?  Well, not so fast - today is perhaps the Holiday's last hurrah, as every January 6th Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, is observed.  This celebration was developed in the early days of Christianity to honor the events of Jesus' childhood, sometimes leading up as far as the Wedding of Cana in Galilee.    Over time, this day has come to commemorate the arrival of the Three Wise Men in Roman Catholic and Protestant churches and the baptism of Jesus in Eastern churches.  It actually falls just after the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and is eve is often marked by celebration, as well as the day itself.  And in some parts of the world, this is a very popular event, but they're less prevalent in others.  When I was in college, my department headed up a Holiday stories collection, in which we were all encouraged to participate.  One of my classmates from Puerto Rico contributed a tale about Three Kings Day, which is apparently a big deal in his nation.  There, in a tradition very similar to the milk and cookies that are put out for Santa Claus, children may leave grass or hay under their beds as an offering for the Three Wisemen's camels.  And after they take the grass, they will leave presents for the kids in their place.   But I have to admit, it was the first time I had ever heard of the celebration.  I guess it's not all that big a deal in my region of the United States.  Still, there are some places in the nation that mark the day with a celebration.  The area around Manitou Springs, Colorado may have the most interesting one - there, they hold the Great Fruitcake Toss, which is an event that is pretty much just what it sounds like.  Contestants are judged by factors such as how far they can fling these often-loathed Holiday staples, or on how creative their flinging devices are.  And in Louisiana, this marks the beginning of the Carnival season, which leads all the way up to Mardis Gras.  During this time, quite a few King Cakes, which feature cinnamon, white icing, and a plastic baby hidden inside, are consumed and the local krewes begin to parade in the streets and hold their seasonal balls.  Also, Epiphany was very popular in Colonial Virginia, but its prevalence there has faded with time.  And now, to really get a feel for the holiday, it's almost necessary to travel to Europe, where more traditional ceremonies or variations are still very important celebrations in places like England, Germany, Bulgaria, and Poland.  It's also held in some Latin American countries like Mexico, Guatemala, and Peru.  It's funny - I have to wonder why Epiphany and Three Kings Day are so beloved around the world, but are almost completely forgotten in parts of the United States.

I thought this magnet, which features the Wise Men, would be great to post on this day.  I picked it up at the Florida State Capitol, where they have a pretty large selection of magnets like this one for sale.  These images were placed on the side of crates of oranges, grapefruits, and other produce for decades and were first developed by the Sunkist company in California.  Before then, the labeling of orange crates had been pretty crude - company names were stamped, stenciled, or burned on.  Over time, most family orange groves had their own labels, and some even had ones for special occasions, like this one.  With the advent of cardboard boxes with pre-printed designs in the mid 1950s, the old, colorful labels ceased to be used.  But they've remained pretty popular and the original labels are now collector's items and can sell for high prices.  And they've also been featured on plenty of other items over the years, like magnets.  Sure, this tradition doesn't have a fraction of the history of Epiphany and it will likely not have the celebration's rather long lifespan, but they have their own special charm, and are worth mentioning on this special day.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Original Mr. Peanut

Magnet # 434:  George Washington Carver Museum Peanut


Material:  Acrylic


Purchased By:  Me

Welcome to George Washington Carver Day, which celebrates the life and accomplishments of this man, who was dubbed the "Black Leonardo" during his lifetime.  The event is held on the day Carver passed away in 1943, as no one is certain of his actual birth date.  He was born into slavery in Missouri, so no accurate record was kept regarding his early life.  But those were certainly interesting times.  He was owned by Moses Carver, a German immigrant who had purchased both of his parents in 1855, but within a week of his birth, George, his sister, and his mother were kidnapped by a band of night raiders from Arkansas who planned to sell them in Kentucky.  Moses Carver sent help to find them, and they were able to recover George, but his other family members were lost.  His father also died in an accident.  And after slavery came to an end, the Carvers kept George and his brother on, raising them as they might their own children, and teaching them to read and write.  George soon proved to have a keen mind, but attending schools and institutions was difficult for him, as he was often rejected because of his race.  After being turned away from Highland College even after he had received a scholarship there, he decided instead to homestead in Kansas for a time, plowing seventeen acres without the aid of domestic animals.  But by 1890, he was finally able to study at Iowa's Simpson College, where one of his professors realized he had a talent for botany.  On her recommendation, he transferred to Iowa State Agricultural College and was its first black.  It was there that he first called himself George Washington Carver, as another student had his same name, with the exception of his new middle name.  He earned his bachelor's degree in agriculture there as well as his master's degree and got his first taste of fame for the experiments he performed there.  In 1896, Carver relocated to Alabama's Tuskegee Institute, where he had been invited  by its founder, Booker T. Washington, to head the Agriculture Department.  He'd remain there for the rest of his life, 47 years in all.  Carver loved teaching, but he did encounter some difficulties there, as he was not very organized and was a poor administrator.  An absent-minded professor, he even had trouble remembering to pay his bills.  In fact, he and Washington even butted heads occasionally, as they were almost polar opposites, and Carver submitted a letter of resignation several times.  And while this side of his position exhausted him, he nonetheless managed to achieve great accomplishments in the laboratory, particularly after Washington passed away and his replacement eased up on the professor.  He became famous for finding all sorts of new uses for crops like sweet potatoes, soybeans, and pecans.  But it was his work with the peanut that truly defined him - all in all, he discovered more than 300 products it could be used to create.  He also found methods that poor Southern farmers could use to improve their lives, like crop rotation, and was very forthcoming with his results.  And he wanted to reach out to all rural farmers, regardless of their color.  Carver actually did a great deal to improve race relations, and to provide whites doubtful of black's intelligence and abilities that blacks were every bit as capable as they were.  He was actually the most famous black American during his time.  When he passed in 1943 after falling down a flight of stairs, as he had never married, he left his considerable savings to the Carver Museum and George Washington Carver Research Foundation.

Carver was so beloved by the nation that soon after his death, a movement began to establish a national monument in his honor, even though all non-war expenditures had been forbidden by a presidential order.  Regardless, Harry Truman, then a Missouri senator, sponsored a bill to create the George Washington Carver National Monument and it passed through both houses without one veto.  It was dedicated near Diamond, Missouri, where Carver had spent part of his childhood and was the first national monument that honored an African-American and a person who had not been president.  The site features the Moses Carver home and a museum.  Of course, Tuskegee Institute, now University, also features a museum dedicated to its most famous professor.  I visited the George Washington Carver Museum, which is run by the National Park Service, last year and had a very nice time there.  I was particularly impressed by Carver's paintings, which are on display there.  Not only do they show his considerable talent, they also feature paints Carver made himself.  He also dyed his own threads and and fibers with natural material and used them for knitting, crocheting, and needlework.  Carver was truly a Renaissance man and a inspiration for every American, rising up from slavery to achieve considerable accomplishments, and it's fitting that we still honor him today.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Use Your Noodle

Magnet # 433:  Italian Spaghetti Package


Material:  Plastic, Pasta


Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

It's time to start hauling out your strainers and pasta stirrers, because tomorrow is National Spaghetti Day!  I'm not sure how this one came to be, but I'm sure it's the work of a genius.  Yep, in case you can't tell, I love pasta, particularly spaghetti, and I will absolutely be making this most of this occasion.  And whether you dine out or prepare your own dish at home, you should definitely consider joining in on the fun yourself.

While no one can say for certain where pasta, and later spaghetti itself, were first created, China may very well be its place of origin.  We do know that they were eating noodles made from millet there as far back as 2000 BC.  And it's know believed that Marco Polo wasn't responsible for importing the dish to Italy after his travels in the East, as is often believed.  Some even think that the Italians may have developed pasta on their own, or perhaps had some help from the Arabs or the Greeks in creating it.  Still, pasta has come to define Italian cuisine more than any other, and the Italians have made variations on it that no one else can match.  And, yes, Italians consume more pasta than any other people in the world nowadays, China included.  There's also a belief that spaghetti was created in that nation, specifically in Sicily.  The island's residents may have been the first to shape pasta into the long strands that are still so popular.  It was made from hard wheat and known as vermicelli, but it was likely spaghetti's forerunner.  It's amazing that this particular dish has been so beloved by such diverse cultures since ancient times, and shows no signs of ever losing its popularity.

No, I didn't just grab a bag of spaghetti from my cabinet and take a photo - believe it or not, this is really a magnet.  My folks were able to pick it up in Italy, and they told me there was a pretty large selection of pasta varieties to choose from.  I'm pretty sure they got this because they know just what a huge fan of spaghetti, and pasta in general, I am.  In fact, I may very well eat more pasta than any other kind of food.  I think there are some weeks that I have pasta just about every day.  I always have at least one package of thin spaghetti in my cupboard, so whenever I don't know what to eat, I often cook some up.  Not only does it taste good, it;s also incredibly simple to prepare - just boil, drain, and you're done.  I also really like to eat spaghetti - it's so much fun wrapping long tendrils of it around my fork.  And sure, I might top it off with the more traditional tomato sauce, meatballs, and Parmesan cheese, but I can also get creative with the items I add to my spaghetti.  I really like adding artichoke hearts, black olives, Parmesan cheese, and pine nuts for a tasty dish.  Or I might toss in salsa, black olives, black beans, corn, and sharp cheddar cheese for a Mexican style spaghetti.  And recently, I've found a Thai Peanut sauce at Target that's from their store brand, Archer Farms that is great to use on spaghetti - you can even add meatballs.  Of course, pesto sauce is always another great option, or even a can of chunky clam chowder.  Really, pasta is one of the most versatile foods out there, and there's almost no limit to what you can add to it.  So consider trying spaghetti in a whole new way tomorrow in honor of National Spaghetti Day.  Even if nothing I've mentioned here appeals to you, just consider some of your favorite ingredients and how well they might go with spaghetti.  And even though I haven't decided yet just what I'll be piling on top of my spaghetti, rest assured I will be chowing down on some.  I'll take any excuse to dig into a big bowl of pasta, and I'm not about to let this one pass me by!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Our Final Frontier

Magnet # 432:  Map of Alaska


Material:  Wood, Laminated Paper


Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

Tomorrow, Alaska marks the anniversary of the day in 1959 when they became the nation's 49th state.  Given its proximity to Russia, it's almost amazing how long it took the Asian nation to discover its location.  But it wasn't until Czar Peter the Great, perhaps inspired by Columbus' discovery, wanted to find out if there was land connecting Asia and North America that Danish explorer Vitus Bering was sent to the area in 1725.  With his party, he crossed over 6,000 miles in Russia to make it to the Kamchatka Peninsula, where they built a ship for their voyage.  In 1728, they reached St. Lawrence Island and became the first Europeans to set foot on what would become Alaska.  But heavy fog prevented Bering from seeing the mainland.  Still, he brought back sea otter pelts when he returned to Russia, and they were soon considered to be the finest furs in all the world.  To obtain them, more Russian traders and hunters began making their way to the Aleutian Islands and eventually the Alaskan mainland.  The first permanent European settlement was established there in 1784 on Kodiak Island by Russian trader Gregory Shlikof, who wiped out hundreds of the natives in the process.  But Russia wasn't going to enjoy exclusive control over the area.  Explorers from Britain, France, and Spain, who had prior claims to the west coast of North America through the papal bull of 1493, were all soon coming to the territory.  Spain was particularly assertive, sending a number of explorers to assert their control of over the area.  But they eventually gave up on the area, transferring their claims to the United States in 1819.  Russia continued on there, prospering for a time with its trading firm, the Russian-American Company.  Still, they never managed to fully colonize the area  and over time, the company fell into decline, partially because so many fur-bearing animals had been killed off.  At last, Russia was eager to be rid of the territory and offered to sell it to the United States.  The Secretary of State William Seward was eager to take it off their hands and agreed to buy it, despite some opposition.  The country paid $7,200,000 to Russia and the exchange was made on October 18 of 1867.  Alaska was finally in the hands of the United States, where it remains to this day.  The area remained relatively abandoned until gold was found nearby and, later, within Alaska itself.  Prospectors and others in search of striking it rich flooded the area.  Alaska introduced its first statehood bill to Congress in 1916, but it didn't actually achieve that status for over forty years.

Alaska is one more state that I haven't been to, but it certainly seems like a visit there could be pretty exciting.  My parents went there last year, and they had a great time cruising the Inner Passage, traveling on the rails, and flying over a glacier.  It certainly sounds like a fun trip, and they managed to see some of Alaska's biggest cities - Juneau, Fairbanks, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Seward were all on the itinerary.  I've gotta admit, one place in Alaska I'm not particularly excited about seeing is their State House building.  Yes, I know, I've made a goal to tour all of the state capitols in the nation, but this is one many of the capitol collectors rank at the very bottom of their lists.  This building is perhaps the most unremarkable of all the capitol buildings, with no dome, no pediment, no statues at the top, not even a slanted roof.  It's basically a six-story office building with four columns stuck on at the front.  I guess it's a testament to the simplicity of the Alaskan people, but when the structure is compared to truly incredible state capitols, like those in Connecticut and Texas, it kinda seems like they're not even trying.  I've also heard during my travels that this one may be poorly staffed, and that it can be difficult to get a stamp for the collector passport there.  I guess this is one place I'm putting off going to, in the hopes that it may be improved upon in the future.  Apparently, there has been talk of replacing it and I think that's a good idea.  Come on, Alaska, you don't want people to call your state capitol the worst in the country, do you?  That aside, the Last Frontier is a great place to see all sorts of undeveloped nature and creatures of the wild.  It sounds like a pretty amazing place, and I hope to make the journey out there someday.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Race Is On

Magnet # 431:  Kentucky Thoroughbreds


Material:  Pewter


Purchased By:  Me

Happy Birthday to all of the Thoroughbreds in the Northern Hemisphere, as all of them are officially born on January 1st.  Yep, no matter when they are actually born over the course of a year, their birth date is registered as the first day of that year.  And why is this the case?  Well, that makes it much easier to categorize them for races, which are grouped according to age.  For example, the Kentucky Derby only races three-year-old Thoroughbreds.  Given that this is the case, breeders try to have their broodmares give birth as close to the beginning of the year as possible.  That way, their foals will be as strong and fast as possible when it comes time for them to race.  And when horses are born at the end of the year, it's a pretty big disappointment for breeders.  In fact, some unscrupulous parties may even try to falsify records to give their Thoroughbreds an unfair advantage.  Fortunately, the Jockey Club, which registers all Thoroughbreds in North America, sends out their representatives for periodic checks to prevent such behavior.  And that's not the only role they play in overseeing the breed on the continent.  They also use DNA and blood testing to prove the horse's parentage and they must approve the names of all horses for them to be eligible for racing.  The owners must submit a list of six names to the Jockey Club, from which they will pick one.  And there are many rules involved with the names that are eligible.  The names must not be longer than eighteen characters, and that includes punctuation and spaces.  They may not end in any horse-related word, such as "filly," "stallion," "mustang," or "colt."  Nor can they end with a numerical designation, like second or seventh.  And the name cannot be made up entirely of numbers or initials.  If the name is the same as any that are currently in use or reserved by other Thoroughbreds, it's ineligible.  The horses cannot be named after racetracks or any commercial companies.  There's also a restricted list of names from past champions, meaning there will be no more Secretariats or Seabiscuits.  I had no idea choosing the name of a racehorse was so involved!  I guess I'll keep that in mind next time I'm watching one of the Triple Crown races and hear a strange name.

All modern Thoroughbreds can be traced back to three original stallions who were brought into England during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries - the Byerly Turk, the Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Arabian.  They were Arabian horses who were bred with native English mares.  The line they produced has become one of the best for horse racing.  Thoroughbreds are high-spirited, sensitive animals with powerful lungs and strong legs that give them considerable agility and speed.  While they're most often used in racing, they can also excel at show jumping, polo, dressage, and combined training.  They've also been studded to help improve other breeds by developing new breeds, like the Quarter Horse, the Standardbred, and the Anglo-Arabian.  And they've become some of the most popular breed of horses in Kentucky and Tennessee - if fact, President Andrew Jackson even once bred and raced them at his home in Tennessee.  And by the early nineteenth century, famous matches in the United States were making them even more popular.  Of course, perhaps no event has made them more beloved in the country than the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, one of the most important racing events worldwide.  Thoroughbreds may have debuted in England, but they've become a beloved part of American culture and it's worth considering how important they are on this day, when they all celebrate another birthday.