Diversions: The Real Robin Hood

Die, innocent peasants!
Die, innocent peasants!

Nottinghamshire, a county near the heart of England contains the (not so) small village (city) of Nottingham. There, a rogue and his band of merry men are said to have robbed from the rich and to have given to the poor possibly as far back as the 12th century. A lot has happened in the ensuing centuries, and Nottingham has become much, much more than a backdrop for a dramatic story.

We’ll start with what everyone’s most interested in anyway: Robin Hood. A young yeoman, Robin Hood becomes an outlaw after numerous run-ins with the law. Seeing the poor suffer even as the rich became richer, Robin seeked to find balance by robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. He enlisted the help of Little John, his second in command, after besting him in a duel of staffs. John, Friar Tuck, and his merry men aided Robin Hood in his undertakings, all the while taunting and running from the crooked Sheriff of Nottingham.

Okay, so everyone’s familiar with the story, but how much of it is really on the up and up? Believe it or not, many historians are totally cool with the idea of there once being a dude in tights running around Sherwood forest being all outlawish. While the earliest recorded stories and mentions of Robin Hood date back to the 1400’s, some historians place him as far back as the 12th century.

The green gallivanter  may have also been an amalgamation of various infamous outlaws of the time. Little John likewise may have a basis in history, or be a representative character of the men who aided Robin Hood in his deeds. Despite this, he is the only one of the two to have an (alleged) actual grave site.

A man so big, he needed two tombstones
A man so big, he needed two tombstones

It is located in Hathersage, Derbyshire, England in a churchyard. It is said that the grave was exhumed in the 18th century, revealing the bones of a man at least seven feet in stature. Robin Hood wasn’t so lucky. He has supposed grave sites in a number of places in England, with little to no proof to back any of them up. There’s also little proof to back up the existence of Friar Tuck. The earliest friars came after the time of Robin Hood.

The settings of Robin Hood’s tales are also real. In the aforementioned Nottinghamshire can be found the Sherwood forest. This would be the forest that the merry men reputedly used as their hideout from the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Located therein is the famous Major Oak. This is the specific area the merry men made their base of operations, according to legend. That legend would be completely, terribly wrong. Experts estimate that the tree was nothing more than an acorn taking root at the time Robin Hood was running about. The tree’s age and impressive stature is most likely the reason this legend came to be.

Not your great-great-great-great-great... grandfather's Nottingham
Not your great-great-great-great-great… grandfather’s Nottingham

At the heart of Robin Hood’s story is Nottingham, and it’s definitely real. It’s also definitely grown since Robin’s time. Nottingham may have been settled as far back as the year 600, although it did not receive city status until 1897. The famous Nottingham Castle was constructed in 1067 and, although largely destroyed, parts of the original lower reaches of the castle survive today.

Nottingham has become a thriving city of over 300,000 residents. The burgeoning city exploded in size during the industrial revolution through the textile industry. Nowadays, the city is home to many well-known companies such as Speedo, Siemens, capital One and others. The city also has two major universities servicing over 60,000 students, and major art and sports facilities.

It all leaves two questions in my mind: What would Robin Hood make of Nottinghamshire today? And why can’t I stop picturing Robin Hood in a speedo? I guess we will never know…

Diversions: Tombstone, Arizona

Stetson: The 19th Century Nike outlet.
Stetson: The 19th Century Nike outlet.

Welcome to Tombstone, Arizona. Dust off your chaps, leave your side-irons with the sheriff, and step back in time to the Old West. Just mind the horsepucky…

Good old Butch Cassidy got me thinking on the Old West. He got me thinking that would make a mighty fine subject for Diversions. Tombstone would be a right perfect choice, I reckoned. So I decided to giddy up and rope me a story!

I told you to mind the horsepucky…

Anyways, when most people think of the Old West, the Wild West, or variations thereof, Tombstone is usually what their minds are drawn to. This small town was host to some of the most notable (and surprisingly rare) gunfights in Wild West history, and home to the famous Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. The town’s Boot Hill cemetery is one of the most famous of its kind, and even reportedly haunted.

Look! A tombstone in Tombstone.
Look! A tombstone in Tombstone.

The town started as a silver mining claim made by Ed Schieffelin in 1877. Native Americans had been known to kill miners nearby where Schieffelin had been searching for silver and had been warned “The only rock you will find out there will be your tombstone.” I’m sure you can guess what he called his claim.

The town, named for Schieffelin’s claim, was formally established in March of 1879. It consisted mostly of tents and a handful of wooden shacks. Tombstone’s initial population was a whopping 100 souls.

Business was booming by 1880. The Grand Hotel opened, introducing fine amenities such as toilet stands and hot and cold running water(aren’t you glad you live in the 21st century?) At the height of the silver boom, Tombstone was host to 10,000 residents. But with riches and beer comes bitches and tears.

Wyatt Earp and his pet mustache
Wyatt Earp and his pet mustache

Smuggling of items across the US/Mexico border thirty miles away led to Tombstone being somewhat of a haven to outlaws. These unfavorables, laden with ill-gotten gains, made it a habit of getting smashed and then smashing each other. Shootings and stabbings became common occurrences.

In March of 1881, three cowboys attempted to rob a stagecoach carrying a large quantity of silver bullion. Both men manning the stagecoach were killed. US Marshall Virgil Earp, along with his deputized brothers Wyatt and Morgan Earp began searching for the men responsible.

The culmination of that manhunt is the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Coral. The thirty-second altercation saw the McLaury and Clanton brothers along with Billy Claiborne square off against the brothers Earp and temporary Marshal Doc Holliday. Virgil and Morgan Earp ended the fight wounded. Billy Clanton and both McLaurys wound up in the ground. Claiborne and Ike Clanton straight up ran away.

A fire in 1886 damaged an important mining operation enough to practically bring mining to a halt. The population dwindled to less than 700 by 1900. Nowadays tourism has become the life blood of Tombstone. Nearly a half-million tourists filter through the small, dusty town each year. Tombstone would likely have become a ghost town by now if not for this and other lucky breaks throughout it’s long and troubled history.

Diversions: The Incredible Disappearing Town

Damn potholes
Damn potholes

Welcome to Centralia, Pennsylvania, Population: 7. Mind the roads. They haven’t been cared for in a little while. None of the town has been cared for in some time, really. In fact you’ll find most of the town is missing, having been reduced to rubble and reclaimed by nature.

Incorporated in 1866, the Pennsylvania borough was born out of what would eventually be the cause of its demise: coal mining. Significant coal deposits were found beneath the land where the town would soon be built. Five separate mines were open and operating by the time the town gained official status.

Centralia hit its peak in 1890 with a population of 2,761. Things took a change for the worse with the stock market crash of 1929. Five major coal mines closed down. Those series of events heralded the start of the towns decline. Most of the remaining coal mines closed down by the early 1960’s. It was specifically an event in 1962 that sounded the death knell for the tiny community.

The town hired five volunteer firefighters to clean up the town landfill that May. They finished by setting the site on fire to burn off remaining trash. The fire was not fully extinguished at the end of the burn, as it should have been. This allowed the fire to unknowingly breach the seal on an abandoned mine and enter the mine system.

Did I mention that they put a burn pit right next to an abandoned coal mine? Because they totally put a burn pit right next to the an abandoned coal mine.

Many fingers have been pointed and alternative explanations (and expletives) bandied about over the years. However events unfolded, the end result was a fire that steadily grew out of control deep beneath the town of Centralia. The scope of the problem first came to public attention in 1979 when the temperature of the gasoline tank at the local gas station was measured at 172 degrees f.

Concerns heightened considerably two years later when a twelve year old boy fell into a sinkhole that had opened up in his backyard. His cousin was able to pull him out before he fell the rest of the way in. The hole measured 4 feet wide and 150 feet deep, and was releasing toxic gas. I will not make a joke about this(the boy was okay, though.)

The government acted to relocate residents to other communities starting back in 1984. A small contingent of townspeople refused to acknowledge the danger and refused to relocate. The government of Pennsylvania invoked eminent domain on the borough in 1992 in an effort to force the remaining townspeople to move.

As is the american way, the people of Centralia brought their own lawsuit to allow them to continue living in the town. The suit was settled in 2013, and the remaining 7 residents are free to remain for the rest of their lives. The fires continue to burn below them.

The remains of the town have become somewhat of a tourist mecca in recent years, much to the chagrin of remaining residents and local law enforcement. Various spots in town continue to belch out gas and radiate heat. Various houses not razed by the government have been swallowed by the ground.

“Visitors” have become far more belligerent in recent years, spreading graffiti and trespassing on private property. The state government has warned off people wishing to visit the borough, as have the angry residents. There are plenty of pictures and webpages dedicated to the town, however. Wikipedia is a great place to start looking.

Diversions: Walking in a Nuclear Wonderland

Fun for the whole family!
Fun for the whole family!

Fans of the Fallout series of video games will be familiar with the premise: The land has been devastated by nuclear Armageddon,  leaving an empty wasteland where few human beings may be found. Nature grows up to reclaim what was left behind as the old signs of civilization slowly crumble away. Oh, and radiation… lots of radiation.

Oops...
Oops…

This isn’t a video game, though. This is Chernobyl. You see, Russia started screwing with Ukraine a long time ago. That’s because Ukraine used to be part of the Soviet Union, and that’s where the Chernobyl nuclear disaster took place.

The disaster is the worst nuclear disaster in history, pegging as a level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale(fun reading.) On April 26, 1986 the #4 reactor at the nuclear power plant went critical. The resulting steam explosions released at least 5% of the reactor’s radioactive core into the surrounding atmosphere.

The result: Complete melt down of the core. Immediate radiation levels at the core registered at 30,000 RPH. 400 RPH is fatal after one hour of exposure. The heat from the radiation was such that it created a kind of radioactive lava underneath the reactor. The incident resulted in 31 deaths directly attributed to radiation exposure. Evacuation of nearby Pripyat did not begin until more than a day after the event.

That's... that's not normal.
That’s… that’s not normal.

It has been long enough since the event for radiation levels in Chernobyl and Pripyat to drop considerably. It will likely be quite a few more years before either area is safely inhabitable. Pripyat is relatively safe to visit now, but precautions have to be taken. Average exposure to radiation is equivalent to receiving a CT scan. That said, you want to keep your visit short and your eyes open. Certain areas and objects have shown radiation levels three times the annual allowed dose for radiation workers every five years.

So what I’m saying is, maybe you should just stick to exploring Fallout’s wasteland. You’ll probably live longer.

Diversions: The Mütter Museum

The line to get in can get pretty long...
The line to get in can get pretty long…

Writing blurbs about the largest/biggest/tallest/oldest/etc-est is all fun and whatnot, but I think it’s time to branch out a wee bit. So I came up with the idea of Diversions. Essentially Diversions will consist of a random topic of interest. Come read about it here, then go off and explore on your own(just make sure to come back after!) Nothing’s more refreshing than some good-old exploration. 🙂

Face-off!
Face-off!

What better place to start than the Mütter Museum? Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Mütter was originally a collection donated by one Dr. Thomas Mütter in 1858. He freely donated the collection with the stipulation that The College of Physicians add to it and maintain it as a museum.

Besides being popularly known for just being all around “gross” and “icky”, the museum boasts an impressive collection of human skulls. There are also a number of human skeletons (including the tallest currently on display in the US) and “fetal anomalies”.

I win!
I win!

The museum is perhaps best known to the general public for a handful of side-showesque displays that are prominently featured. In fact, the subjects of one display used to be side-show all-stars. The conjoined liver and death cast of the famous conjoined “Siamese” twins Chang and Eng Bunker are on display.

Other oddities include slides of Albert Einstein’s brain, Grover Cleveland’s mouth tumor and tissue removed from assassin John Wilkes Booth. There are plenty of other less famous anomalies to be found, such as the “soap lady” and a rather gigantic colon that’s even spawned its own cute plush doppelganger.

So what I’m saying is, you know, fun for the whole family. Make sure you check it out!