Johnny Carson signs off, Samuel Morse signs on, and 3 little pigs make history
Let’s face it, most of history kind of sucks. Wars, death, politics. Sometimes there are brighter moments to be had. If we’re going to look back over our shoulders, let’s at least look at something worth smiling at, yes? These are those things.
May 22nd, 1992— Johnny Carson gave his final bow on the Tonight Show. The episode brought in over fifty million viewers, a worthy end to three decades at the desk. He was replaced by Jay Leno and his chin.
May 23rd, 1980 — “The Shining”, starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and some kid on a tricycle made it’s debut. The film went on to inspire many light-hearted tributes in other movies and shows such as “Toy Story” and “The Simpsons”. Not so light-hearted was director Stanley Kubrick’s treatment of Duvall.
May 24th, 1844 — Samuel Morse transmitted the world’s first telegraph message. It was a simple one: “What hath God wrought.” Thus long-distance texting was born. Well over a billion telegraphs were sent in the techonlogy’s 150+ year history.
May 25th, 1977 — The original “Star Wars” premiered. Later redubbed “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope”, it was the flint that ignited an ever-widening glut of Star Wars movies, shows, video games, breakfast cereals, torture devices, weapons of mass destruction, underwear, and Happy Meal toys. At the end of the world, there will be cockroaches, Cher, and “Star Wars” properties that nobody cares about.
May 27th, 1933 — Walt Disney’s “3 Little Pigs” was released. It would go on to win an Oscar for Best Animated Film the following year. Since this is 2023, I can tell you that it currently holds a score of 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, and you can stream it now on Disney+. What would dear old Uncle Walt ever make of any of this?
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If Beetlejuice were to pick a retirement destination, I’d have to think it would be New Orleans. The city is world-renowned for being America’s number-one party destination thanks to its annual Mardi Gras and Halloween celebrations. Also: Enough ghost stories to fill a book. Me? I’m going to focus on three of the more popular ones.
Many of the ghostly tales that come out of New Orleans end up being tall tales. I’m pretty sure this first haunting falls under that banner, but it has become entrenched enough in the fabric of New Orleans to be mentioned. It’s also been mentioned on here before. I am of course talking about Jean Lafitte’s Black Smith Shop.
The Shop is located on the corner of infamous Bourbon Street and St. Phillip Street. The building is one of the oldest in New Orleans, dating back to 1772 or earlier. The building is said to have been purchased at some point by none other than infamous pirate Jean Lafitte himself. It is alleged he used it as a secret base of operations during his lifetime.
It’s also thought that Lafitte never left the Shop after shuffling off this mortal coil. The most popular tale is that either Lafitte’s gold is buried in or behind the bar’s fireplace, an area where a great many patrons feel very uneasy. Another theory posits that the fireplace serves as a marker to point adventurers in the right direction towards the burial location of said gold. How does it point the way?
With Jean Lafitte’s own eyes, staring out of the fireplace, glowing blood red. Cozy notion, innit? It is said that a “lucky” few might lock eyes with the specter before Lafitte gazes in a specific direction out of the bar. Supposedly the gaze points the way to his treasure. The other story is that he’s trying to scare people off from his horde hidden away right there on the spot. That spot, which should be warm from a fire, is said to often have a cold aura surrounding it.
Existing somewhere between legend and reality is the queen of New Orleans herself, Marie Laveau. The voodoo queen was very much a real person, born in 1801 and passed in 1881. Her and her daughter of the same name held great influence in both black and white communities in the city during their lives, an influence that has extended well beyond the end of their mortal lives.
While it’s not entirely clear, Laveau is believed to be buried in a plot in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, in the Glapion family crypt. Some believe that the voodoo priestess can still be reached through her grave by following a specific protocol. If you wish for Laveau to do something for you, you are to draw an “X” on her grave. Then you must spin around three times and clearly announce what you wish to be done. If it comes to pass, you must come back, circle your “X”, and leave an offering in thanks.
From the queen to the mean: My bet would be many 1800’s-era New Orleans residents would have been thankful if Delphine LaLaurie had never reared her twisted head in their city. LaLaurie built her three-story mansion, complete with slave quarters, in the city in 1832. She lived there with her husband and two of her daughters, eventually becoming a major New Orleans socialite.
Her standing in society quickly crumbled after a fire at the residence in 1834. It turned out to be a suicide attempt made by a 70 year old slave chained to the stove. The cook said she was attempting to take her life in order to avoid being sent to the uppermost room of the mansion. She told authorities that every slave that had been sent to that room never came back down.
Suspicions were furthered when the keys to the slave quarters were not relinquished. Bystanders broke down the door, wishing to make sure that the slaves had been evacuated in wake of the fire. What they saw likely haunted them for the rest of their lives. Seven horribly mutilated slaves were discovered, all hanging by their necks. Their limbs had been “stretched and torn.” The slaves said they had been there for months.
Ultimately two of the slaves died. The bodies of two other slaves were discovered on the premises after irate citizens descended on the mansion and literally tore apart and gutted the building. Delphine LaLaurie fled New Orleans during the turmoil, never to return… at least not alive.
LaLaurie is said to have returned to her mansion in the years since her death, sometimes in good spirits, more often in bad. While one woman reported seeing a woman in elegant evening clothes bending over her infant, many more reported being attacked by the crazed apparition of a woman wielding a whip. Other times she was seen merely passing by, wrapped in shrouds and looking bereaved.
Some of the abused slaves have apparently not found peace, either. They also have varying moods. A couple of people reported being attacked by a stark-naked black man that vanished as quickly as he had appeared. The most common appearance of the slaves have been in auditory form: moans, whispers and even screams.
Another layer to New Orleans, and another reason to visit. Stick around after the sun goes down and see if you can commune with Marie Laveau, or perhaps catch a glimpse of Delphine LaLaurie peering out from behind a window. Just don’t stare too long into Lafitte’s fireplace…
New Orleans: Come for the booze, stay for the boos! …I’ll see myself out.
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.
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.
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…
Nowadays, companies make millions of dollars a year selling miniature versions of America’s favorite form of transportation: the automobile. Hot Wheels specifically creates dozens of its own custom designs each year that are eagerly gobbled up by collectors. Meanwhile, children bug and cajole their parents into buying the latest Hot Wheels tracks with gravity-defying loops and twists.
It’s easy to see why toy cars would be such a big hit with boys, but where did it all start? These iconic toys have their origins in Matchbox cars, designed by Jack Odell in 1953 for his… daughter? Yup! The school his daughter was attending would only allow them to bring toys that could fit inside of a matchbox. So he designed a miniature version of his company’s toy steamroller. Matchbox was the best-selling die-cast car in the world by 1968.
That’s also the year that Matchbox got some serious competition: Hot Wheels. The American company’s (did I mention this phenomenon started in the UK? It started in the UK…) cars had low-friction “racing” wheels on their cars. This allowed for extra speedy passes on the available Hot Wheels racing tracks. Matchbox had neither of these, and had some catching up to do.
Matchbox never did manage to catch Hot Wheels. As is all too common, Hot Wheels’ parent company Mattel ended up buying out Matchbox’s then-owner Tyco Toys. So yeah, if you’re trying to be a rebel by buying Matchbox over Hot Wheels for your kids? Not so much. Nowadays Matchbox specializes mainly in faithful recreations of existing autos while Hot Wheels focuses on fantasy cars and track sets. See? Everyone wins!
Except for Micro Machines. They’re dead.
You didn’t think I was going to leave out Micro Machines, did you? Micro Machines was like the stunted third child that everyone begrudgingly admits to loving before ultimately ignoring them. Introduced in 1986, Micro machines emulated its bigger brothers, but in a smaller scale. The diminutive cars came in at around half the size of a comparable Matchbox.
Micro Machines sold more than Hot Wheels and Matchbox for the first few years of the company’s existence, its popularity no-doubt spurred on by the vocal gymnastics of John Moschitta. The company was sold to Hasbro in the 90’s and the original line of toys was discontinued. What was left didn’t sell as well as hoped and largely spelled doom for the fledgling line of micro-toys. The line was discontinued in 2006.
Death sucks. There, I said it. Controversial though the thought may be, I assure you there are lots of people that think like I do. Some of those people have lots and lots of money to demonstrate how much they think death sucks. Others just want to make a really really big point about someone’s death. Here’s a few examples.
We’ll just start with the uber-depressing memorial to get it out of the way. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the (much more PC) Holocaust Memorial, is located in Berlin, Germany and covers 4.7 acres. The site is covered in 2,711 concrete slabs the artist refers to as stelae. The artist says it’s to create an uneasy feeling and a confusing atmosphere. Yeah, it confuses people alright.
One controversy (among many) surrounding the memorial is the fact that it doesn’t make any damn sense. The artist, architect Peter Eisenman, is known for creating installations that remove any connotations of familiarity with the subject matter. The concrete blocks bear no inscriptions or symbolism, making it impossible to know what you’re experiencing without being told. Some visitors say the rows of blocks make the installation look like a graveyard, so there’s that, I guess…
From Germany, we swing on down to India for a look at the Taj Mahal. There are no gray slabs of concrete to be seen. Now this looks a little more promising…
The Taj Mahal, or “Crown of Palaces”, is a mausoleum built by emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife Mumtaz Mahal. At first I was all like “What, the other two weren’t good enough?” Then I learned that she died giving birth to their fourteenth child. Okay, fine, give the woman a memorial. I think it’s safe to say she earned it!
Construction began in 1632 and took 19 years to complete. The bulk of the buildings consist of translucent white marble, with jade, turquoise and other precious stones sourced from places all over India and Asia. A labor force of twenty thousand men were directed by a group of 37 artisans to construct and sculpt the elaborate memorial.
Shah Jahan didn’t get to be proud of his accomplishment for very long, though. He was deposed by his own son and placed under house arrest shortly after the memorial’s completion. Shah Jahan’s son at least allowed the deposed leader to be laid to rest next to his (most) beloved in the Taj Mahal’s tomb.
Our final destination brings us all the way to the Black Hills of South Dakota, USA. That’s where the Crazy Horse Memorial is (very, very) slowly being constructed. The monument is not just a memorial to Crazy Horse, but also a mighty middle finger to the white man.
Okay, so that’s a little harsh. The idea for the memorial started with Henry Standing Bear. He wrote to a sculptor that had worked on Mount Rushmore, saying that “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too.” It was decided to carve the memorial out of the Black Hills, which are considered sacred by the Lakota culture. Construction was begun in 1942…
…Aaannnd it’s still ongoing. Not surprisingly, the people behind the construction of the monument weren’t too keen about accepting money from the US government, so all money to build it comes from donations and entry fees to the memorial. Whenever they do manage to finish it off, the monument will be 641 feet wide and 563 feet tall. Crazy Horse’s head alone is 87 feet tall, 27 feet taller than the faces on Mount Rushmore. There’s currently no estimate of when it will be completed.