Friday 31 August 2012

Hoboes: Homeward Bound

Photo of hoboes boarding a freight train circa 1930's courtesy

The term "hobo" has a variety of possible origins:  it could be short for the term "homeless vagabond"; it could refer to someone who is "homeward bound" according to H.L. Mencken; it could mean "Hoe Boy" since men looking for work often carried hoes with them; or it could come from the greeting "Ho, Beau!"  Regardless of its origin, hoboes were not tramps or bums, but migratory workers.

Hoboes who road the rails during the Great Depression were often fathers who had lost their jobs.  Sometimes they were women looking for work.  All too often, they were teenagers whose parents could no longer afford to feed them.  Some sources claim that 2 million men and 8000 women road the rails during the Dirty Thirties.  The Southern Pacific Railroad reported throwing half a million transients off of boxcars in the year 1932 alone.  On one freight train, the hoboes were so plentiful they looked like blackbirds and the brakeman shouted "All Aboard!" as if he was operating a passenger train.  As many as 6,500 hoboes were killed each year either in railroad accidents or by railroad "bulls" who were trying to get rid of unpaying passengers.

Hoboes had their own unwritten code of conduct as well as their own signs and symbols.  Below is a poem that I discovered on a blog which talks about hoboes during the Great Depression.


In the stifling summer of ‘34
when drought hit Iowa hard
like brick on bone

my grandma Blanche packed up the family
for another Midnight Shhhhh! Move
(before the landlord came for the rent)

This time they hitched a ride
out of Council Bluffs to Lake Manawah
and settled in a summer cottage

They squatted there year-round
as did other families, who had
their own stories of landlords

Blanche fed every man who rode the rails
They put up signs for the next hobos:
A cat (“kind lady”) and two shovels (“work here”)

She felt that every person deserved food, medicine, and
shelter (today, this is called Socialism) and that
giving the men a task helped build their egos

So Dorney swept the steps and Gibb fed the chickens
(“borrowed” by Blanche on their way out of town)
while another collected eggs and so on. They never

stayed long. Blanche later insisted the term “Hobo”
was not slander but, as in H.L. Mencken’s writings,
it meant “homeward bound.” Indeed, some went “home”

right in their back room, too sick, too weary to go on.
Blanche knew the doctor, got them morphine, helped them
sip broth. She also washed them, like family, before burial.

When I asked my mom about those days, it began a years-long,
booze-fed, continuing conversation about poverty, the
Dust Bowl, generosity, and the human spirit. Blanche, before her

in those days, was Ma Joad incarnate, with a touch of
Woody Guthrie. “But Mom,” I said, “you got to live in a
cottage by a lake. Where did Grandpa get that kind of money?”

My mother Charlotte, Blanche’s only daughter,
gazed out the back window and smiled ruefully: “Child, it
may have been a lake, but there was no water in it back then.”

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Photo of hoboes on railroad tracks courtesy

Thursday 30 August 2012

Movies, Monsters & Morale

"No medium has contributed more greatly than the film to the maintenance of the national morale during a period featured by revolution, riot and political turmoil in other countries."
(Will Hays, Head of the Motion Picture Producers and Distibutors Association, 1934)
Photo courtesy
In the 1930's when America saw more civil unrest than any other era since the Civil War, Americans were searching for an escape:  they found it in the movie theatres.  Although movie attendance initially dropped in the early thirties, movie moguls did several things to fill the seats in the theatres including cutting ticket prices to 25 cents, offering free dishes to patrons, offering double billings and holding Bank Nights (the patron with the lucky number won money).  One website states that as many as 60 to 80 million people attended movies in the Dirty Thirties. 
The genre had seen the switch from the silent films to talkies in 1927, which gave the industry a big boost.  In the early thirties, horror films reigned like King Kong, Dracula and Frankenstein.  Moviegoers paid to see King Kong climb the Empire State Building to catch Fay Wray and Bela Legosi suck the necks of unsuspecting women and Frankenstein piece together a human body played by Boris Karloff.  They laughed at the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup and they chuckled at Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in the romantic comedy It Happened One Night.  Later in the decade, moviegoers were treated to the fantasy of the Wizard of Oz and the sentimentality of Gone with the Wind
When the curtain went down and the lights came up in the movie palaces, moviegoers exited the theatre and returned to a grim reality.  But for a couple of hours, Americans got a much needed respite.  And movie companies saw the ushering in of the Golden Age of Hollywood.  
Image courtesy

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Ten Things You Didn't Know About the Great Depression

During the Great Depression, unemployment in the United States hit 25% and in some cities it was as high as 50% (Cleveland, Ohio) and 80% (Toledo, Ohio).  Between the years 1930 and 1935, 750,000 farms were lost to bankruptcy.  Here are ten facts about the Dirty Thirties.

Photo of Hooverville in Washington D.C. courtesy

1.  A new vocabulary emerged during the Great Depression named after President Herbert Hoover:

-Hoovervilles were shantytowns where destitute families lived
-Hoover Stew was soup served as soup kitchens
-Hoover Blankets were newspapers used to keep homeless people warm
-Hooever Hogs were jackrabbits that people killed to eat
-Hoover Wagons were broken down cars towed by mules

2.  Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, was the day the Stock Market crashed.  A loss of $14 billion was reported for the day; a loss of $30 billion for the week was reported.  The latter figure was ten times the amount of the annual federal budget.

3.  A rash of suicides took place after the Stock Market crash in New York City's financial district.  The proprietor of one hotel started asking guests if they wanted a room for sleeping or for jumping.

4.  Dorothea Lange's (1895-1965) famous photographs of migrant workers in California became a pictorial record of the Great Depression.

5.  In order to prevent the starvation of his flock of 3000 sheep, an American farmer slit their throats and threw them in a canyon.

6.  Monopoly became popular when it first appeared in 1935; it was the only means of getting rich for most Americans.

7.  Homeless men took to riding the rails, including some who would later become famous:

-William O. Douglas (1898-1980) a Supreme Court judge
-Louis L'Amour, a novelist (1908-1988)
-Woodie Guthrie, a singer (1912-1967)

8.  The chain letter first appeared in 1935, likely a get rich quick scheme.  The post office had to hire more workers to handle the volume of letters.

9.  Between 1939 and 1935, a record 70 to 80 million moviegoers went to the theatre.  Movies appearing in the 1930's included King Kong, Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind.

10.  The mountain communities of Appalachia were particularly hard hit:  many survived on dandelions and blackberries.  Some children were so hungry they started to chew on their own hands.


Dorothea Lange's photograph of migrant children courtesy

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Okies & Dogs Not Allowed

With our dry spring and summer this year, many American farmers are facing drought-like conditions like they haven't seen since 1956, and before that, 1936, the hottest summer on record.  Here are 10 interesting facts about the Dust Bowl.

1.  A black blizzard, or dust storm travelled 2000 miles across the plains and over the mountains to the Atlantic Ocean on May 11, 1934.  Dust swirled in New York City for five hours, covering landmarks like the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. 

2.  After World War I, American farmers started using new tractors on the plains.  Over the next decade or so, they overplowed the land and their livestock overgrazed it.  Once the wheat dried up due to lack of rain, there was nothing left to keep the soil intact.  Furthermore, the wheat market collapsed as a result of the Great Depression.

3.  Many know about the plague of grasshoppers that destroyed the meagre crops on the prairies.  But how many know about the hundreds of thousands of jackrabbits who also ate any living vegetation?  "Rabbit drives" werer held by townspeople who would corrall jackrabbits, put them in pens, and then smash them to death with baseball bats and clubs.

4.  Crazy methods were employed to make rain fall on the plains including:  killing snakes and hanging them belly up on fences; paying a rainmaker $500 to launch rockets full of dynamite and nitroglycerine.  Someone suggested covering farms with waterproof paper.  Someone else proposed paving the plains.

5.  Robert Geiger, an American Press reporter, coined the phrase Dust Bowl in an April 15, 1935 article.

6.  The dust storms carried heavy static electricity:  motorists drove with chains on their cards to ground them and a handshake could send the receiver falling to the ground due to the charge.

7.  Anyone who inhaled the dust was susceptible to cough spasms, asthma, bronchitis, influenza and silicosis (a disease coal miners used to get).  Hundreds perished, especially the elderly and children, from the "brown plague", or dust pneumonia.

8.  The government paid farmers to butcher their starving livestock; the meat was used to feed residents of Hoovervilles (shantytowns).  Farmers were also encouraged by the government to plow under their fields and plant grass.

9.  Although many Southerners and Midwesterners fled their states to go to California to pick fruit (called Okies) three quarters of farmers stayed put.  For those who migrated, it was often only to the next state.  Only 16,000 of the 1.2 million migrants to California were Okies.

10.  Only one-fifth of Okiies were actually from Oklahoma, the rest being from other states.  However, Okies became a blanket term for all agricultural migrants, who were treated so poorly that signs were posted saying:  "Okies & dogs not allowed inside."

Monday 27 August 2012

The Grass is Always Greener

Rob and I came home from New York City three weeks ago and found that our lawn was completely brown.  It looked like it was finished.  However, my neighbour said that she had raked hers and it was green.  So, I retrieved our rake from the shed and raked our lawn, not once, but four times, in every direction.  Then, another neighbour gave me some leftover grass seed from her shed which I spread over the lawn.  Then I watered it for an hour straight (and every day since then).  I raked it again a few nights ago.  Believe it or not, very slowly the grass is sprouting again.  Here are ten tips on lawn care.

1.  Ditch the mower bag.  The cut grass sitting on your lawn serves as natural fertilizer.

2.  Make sure your lawn looks good from the inside as well as the outside of your house.

3.  Don't fill every inch of lawn with flowers and plants for it becomes a weeding nightmare.

4.  Red mulch contains arsenic and may contaminate the soil underneath it.

5.  In the fall, mow the leaves and let them sit on top of the grass; they act as deterrents to weeds.

6.  If you want to know the nutrient content of your soil, dig down six or seven inches, fill two small cups and mail them to a local agricultural agency.

7.  Plant clumps of the same species in odd numbers.

8.  Don't place your planting beds too close to the house.  Don't make them too narrow.

9.  Weeds just grow on top of weed fabric.

10.  Fertilizer contains 30% nitrogen, which is a high figure.  Use time-releasing. water insoluble nitrogen fertilizer twice a year on your lawn.

Source:  Reader's Digest (

Photo courtesy

Sunday 26 August 2012

Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip

It reads like a movie script:  "Two men and a dog cross American continent in Winton roadster!"  Normally, such a story would not merit the first page of the newspaper.  However, back in 1903, such a trek was no small feat.

Photo of Horatio's Winton touring car courtesy

Horatio Nelson Jackson, a Vermont doctor on vacation in San Francisco, with no car and little driving experience, took a $50 dare to cross the United States in a horseless carriage.  He enlisted the aid of a local mechanic, Sewall K. Crocker, and the two men packed up his new Winton touring car in San Francisco, and headed east across the desert.  At only 20 horsepower, the touring car did not go very fast; of course, it had no roof or windshield so the drivers had to wear goggles.  In the day and age before paved roads (only 150 miles of the entire trek were paved), before gas stations, and before road maps, Dr. Jackson had to rely on his own resources.

Photo of Horatio's pit bull, Bud, courtesy

On the trek, the travelling companions saw caravans of pioneers in Conestoga wagons; they met cowboys with lariats which came in handy to tow their roadster out of sandhills; they encountered ranchers' wives who served them home-cooked meals for a chance to ride in the new automobile; and they even photographed Native Indians in full headdress (in the last days of the frontier).  They also met a pit bull in Idaho which Horatio adopted and named Bud; he was given his own pair of driving goggles.  The co-drivers crossed streams and saw buffalo wallow; they crossed railroad trestles over wide rivers; their roadster spooked horses not used to motorized vehicles.

Photo of Great Plains Indians courtesy

As word spread about Horatio's drive, crowds started to line the streets of the towns that he passed through.  Some locals would give him the wrong directions just so he would head through the town where that person's aunt or grandma or cousin lived.  What a spectacle to see a horseless carriage!  Nineteen hundred and three was the year that Henry Ford started his company; the age of the Model T was still 5 years away and the age of the car for the common man was still at least a a decade away.  Other car companies got in on the act:  Packard and Oldsmobile both dispatched vehicles with drivers to beat Dr. Jackson to New York City.

Photo of Henry Ford with Model T courtesy

As Horatio crossed the country, he wrote letter after letter to his wife Bertha with accounts of his adventure:  the flat tires, the burnt out side lanterns, the fuel leak, running out of oil, the tainted water which made Horatio sick, the lost coat (with money inside), the broken drive chain and wheel bearings, and the list goes on.  Even so, Horatio retained an indomitable spirit, bent on finishing the trip that he had started.  After 63 1/2 days, on July 26, the roadster reached New York City.  The touring car had sucked up 800 gallons of gasoline. 

Photo of New York City circa 1903 courtesy

The car later went into the Smithsonian Institution.  Dr. Jackson returned to Vermont with his dog, Bud where he lived out his life with his wife Bertha.   He later owned a newspaper, bank and radio station and became one of the founders of the American Legion.  Horatio once was fined for driving above the 6 mph speed limit in his hometown of Burlington, Vermont. 

Display of Horatio Nelson Jackson, his dog Bud, and the Winton roadster at Smithsonian courtesy


For more information:

1.  Watch the Ken Burns documentary "Horatio's Drive:  America's First Road Trip".
2.  Read the book by the same name by Dayton Duncan & Ken Burns.

Saturday 25 August 2012

The Great Moon Hoax

Long before the National Enquirer and the Weekly World News, the New York Sun used sensationalist headlines to attract readers.  In August of 1835, the newspaper ran a six-part series about life on the moon:  on the first day circulation rose to 15,000 and by the day they announced humans were on the moon, the readership peaked at 19,360, the highest in the world.  Needless to say, the six articles were all part of a hoax.

The articles cited a man named Dr. Andrew Grant whose colleague, Sir John Herschel, a famous astronomer, had studied the moon through a gigantic telescope in an observatory at Africa's Cape of Good Hope.  His observations were:  unicorns, two-legged beavers and furry winged humanoids populate the moon; craters, amethyst crystals, rivers and vegetation are prevalent on the moon.  The moon articles not only fooled the general public, but also a committee of Yale scientists who travelled to New York City to find these articles, supposedly published in the Edinburgh Journal of Science.  Once at the New York Sun headquarters, the scientists were spirited back and forth between the printing and editing departments, all on a wild goose chase. 

On September 16, 1835, the Sun admitted the hoax.  The Edinburgh Journal of Science had ceased publication and the man cited, Dr. Grant, was a fictional character.  It is likely that the articles were written by Richard Adams Locke, a well educated reporter at the Sun.  Even so, most readers found the hoax amusing and continued to buy the newspaper which remained in print until 1950 when it merged with the New York World Telegram.  In 1967, the newspaper was printed for the last time.

Edgar Allan Poe's poem "Balloon Hoax", published in 1844, was supposedly inspired by The Great Moon Hoax.  Merchandise appeared on the market like moon-themed wallpaper and snuff boxes.  Sir John Herschel's integrity was compromised by the articles and he would never live it down.

Image courtesy

Friday 24 August 2012

10 Famous Quotes

1.  "Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies." -Aristotle

2.  "I don't need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better." -Plutarch

3.  "It's the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter." -Marlene Dietrich

4.  "Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down." -Oprah Winfrey

5.  "The friend is the man who knows all about you, and still likes you." -Elbert Hubbard

6.  "True friends stab you in the front." -Oscar Wilde

7.  "Don't stay in bed, unless you can make money in bed." -George Burns

8.  "Food is an important part of a balanced diet." -Fran Lebowitz

9.  "Life is hard. After all, it kills you." -Katharine Hepburn

10.  "The man who has no imagination has no wings." -Muhammad Ali

Image courtesy

Thursday 23 August 2012

15 Steps to Better Blogging

1.  Choose a name which is indicative of your interests ex. if you love bacon, BaconCandy could be your blog name.

2.  Decide on a topic or focus for your blog; otherwise, it's just a fancy diary (ex. politics, food, movies, cars, etc).

3.  Update your blog frequently by setting a daily or weekly routine.

4.  Personalize your blog ex. decorate your space.

5.  Visit relevant blogs ex. if you are writing about cars, visit other car blogs.

6.  Keep your blog posts interesting; avoid repetitive posts or posts which are off topic.  For instance if your blog is called BaconCandy, your readers will be disappointed if you write about vegetarians.

7.  Use spell check.

8.  Some blog providers allow the use of ads.  Companies pay you to advertise on your blog.  However, to be done tastifully, it is recommended that you pick ads that pertain to your topic ex. I write about history so I should advertise something like the History Channel, etc.

9.  Be patient in establishing a following.  Bloggers have an international audience of 172 million.  However, it will take you awhile to tap into that audience.

10.  Find aggregators, websites that will provide a link to your blog in order to attract more readers.

11.  Avoid slang or abbreviations, especially if you want an international audience.

12.  Repost from sites like Yahoo Oddly Enough about topics related to your theme.

13.  Add a photo or picture with each post.

14.  Add freebies to your blog ex. buttons, images, blog chalks, imoods, tagboards, guest maps, guestbooks, etc.

15.  Pose questions in your posts to solicit comments from your readers.  Your blog is not a book to be read but a site to provide interaction between writer and reader.  Furthermore, the more comments you have, the more highly your blog is rated. 



Wednesday 22 August 2012

Long Point's Poplars

Visit Long Point and you will see a peninsula lined with mature poplar trees.  My husband Rob loves the way their heart-shaped leaves sway in the breeze.  I googled poplar trees and discovered that they may grow anywhere from 50 to 165 feet tall and their trunks may grow up to 8 feet in diameter.  Their bark can be as light as white or as dark as grey.  They bloom with yellow blossoms in the spring along with small capsules of "fruit".  Poplars, part of the willow family, are fast growing and durable trees.  Italians have used poplar wood to paint on including Da Vinci's Mona Lisa while Americans have used it to build snowboards, guitars and drums.  While Southern Ontario has many poplars, the Carolinian type tree tends to be the most common in the Southern United States (South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee). 

Photo courtesy

Tuesday 21 August 2012

The Heart of a Child

We live in a society that tries to make children into adults way too fast.  I notice swear words seeping in to children's movies or in graphic novels or on the cover of magazines (albeit with asterisks).  I notice adult topics seeping into children's movies.  I hear about dances being held at our local community centre for children ages 8 to 14 where the kids "grind" to the music (as an adult, I wouldn't feel comfortable doing that in public let alone as a child).  Nothing is sacred anymore. 

I would like to turn the tables and make adults into children again.  It says in the Bible: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."  (Matthew 18:3)  Why do adults have to be concerned only with what is complicated or dark?  Why can't adults be entertained by what is simple or innocent? 

For instance, Rob and I know a Brantford couple who, even though they have no children, vacation at Disney World every year.  They own all of the original Walt Disney movies (Cinderella, Dumbo, etc.).  They wear Disney World t-shirts.  Their house is full of Disney memorabilia.  They love everything Disney.  Pursuing their common interest seems to be working for they have been married for 23 years.

We can take a page from the book of the "Disney couple".  Let's enjoy what is simple and clean and innocent.  Let's have the hearts of children.  And maybe our children will follow suit.

Photo courtesy

Monday 20 August 2012

A Sunflower Grows

Day by day
the seed grows
taller and taller
climbing toward the sun
ants and beetles
nibble, shred the leaves
but it grows, it still grows
bright green, vibrant green
needing the sky, the sun
four feet and more still
a single head, ready to unfurl
to burst forth, in glory
triumphant in blooming
vivid yellow
like the sun
Raymond A. Foss
Photo of sunflower field, Fargo, North Dakota courtesy

Sunday 19 August 2012

From Crime Scene to Tourist Haven

My husband Rob packed the May 1993 issue of National Geographic in his suitcase for our trip to the Big Apple.  The issue contained an article about the condition of Central Park, an 843-acre wooded area designed in the mid-1800's for the citizens of New York to enjoy.  I read the article after we returned from our trip; what an eye opener it was.  The Central Park of 2012 is quite different from the one 20 years ago.  Joel Swerdlow, the author of the piece, started his article by saying that he approached a friend to stroll around the park with him and the friend's response was:  "No thanks, I want to live."

Mr. Swerdlow went on to describe some of the dangers of Central Park.  Anyone who visited the Police Station had to go through a metal detector and every officer who worked there had to wear a bullet proof vest.  He explained that on any given night 500 destitute people slept in the park, their boxes dismantled and discarded the next morning.  In fact, a Federal Court ruled that a park bench could function as an address in 1984.  He also talked about a scam where a man would meet a female tourist staying at a hotel on the park, they would have dinner and he would say that he was in town for a business deal.  They would plan to meet for Sunday brunch, but he would arrive late and disheveled explaining that he was mugged and now had no money for his business transaction.  The woman would lend him the $2000, and then the man would leave and she would never see him again.  The police rarely tracked down these thieves. 

Another problem faced by park visitors two decades ago were the tons of garbage each year, leading to nightly visits of the rodent variety, each measuring up to 17 inches long.  In 1988, park officials mounted nests in some of the park's 26,000 trees to attract barn owls to kill off the unwanted rats but not enough owls appeared.  Although the author did not mention graffiti, it apparently was a problem in the park in years past.  However, Rob and I were told that now graffiti is painted over within 24 hours to prevent it from becoming an epidemic. 

New York city officials have worked hard to clean up the park and the proof is in the pudding.  The Central Park that Rob and I saw a couple of weeks ago was beautiful and safe (see Central Park:  A Tranquil Oasis).  If you ever visit the Big Apple, take the time to visit the "oasis inside of the concrete jungle".  It will be the highlight of your trip.

Photo courtesy

Saturday 18 August 2012

An Amazing Maze

The day dawned with perfectly blue skies and warm temperatures, the perfect day for an outing.  We headed west on Highway 403 past Woodstock to the Embro Road, exited north and within two minutes we arrived at the Leaping Deer Corn Maze.  Now this wasn't just any corn maze.  It was twelve acres of endless rows of 8 or 9 foot cornstalks; even my 6 foot 4 inch husband could get lost in there.  With blue skies above and greenery to our left and right, we followed the path to the east, winding our way through the labyrinth.  It was like we were alone, shut off from the world in our own little paradise.  We heard nothing but the sound of our bodies brushing up against the corn stalks, nothing but the sound of our voices.  I was surprised at how green the stalks were given how little rain we've had this spring and summer.  Left here, right here, straight ahead.  At one point we came to a dead end.  Then Thomas discovered a look out and from high above the maze we realized that we should be following the sun to find our way out.  Once we had our "compass" we were good to go.  Jacqueline led us the rest of the way through the labyrinth until she spotted the shiny steel silo and knew we were at the exit.  While I was happy that we found the exit, part of me wanted to re-enter the maze and meander its pathways once again, to get another dose of its tranquility.  After buying some cobs of corn, and some cookies from the bakery, we hopped into our van and pulled out of the parking lot, the giant green maze in our rearview mirror.  Goodbye until next year!

Friday 17 August 2012

War Horse

(In memory of the 3 million horses killed in War)

Taken from Cloven fields,
Where skylark and Grouse Linger.
Into the bowels of a troopship
No scent of Morning Dew, No Bird song
Only sweat and urine,

And the distant sounds of war.
No light, no grass of home, only the whip.
For he is bound for Flanders field
His rider glorious in his regalia, sword in hand
He was his master now, and the horse’s salvation.
Kindness, a quiet word, an apple, their bond complete

His last feed, bathed in a red sun, which
Hovered above the morning mist hiding yesterday’s sin,
For this is the place where death is king and reason is lost

This day, where man throws sacrifice to the gods,
Like so much sour grain, crushed, and discarded,
To blow away into the winds of time,
Recorded by nations into the ledgers of loss,
For now it is time

The lines gather, then the slow trot, their proud heads, restrained,
Their mouths foaming on the bit,
These beasts of burden knowing no fear,
A site worthy of Valhalla

Their Trust, in man, galloping where heroes dare not go
Onward, onward, they gallop,
Row on row into the fog, No grass here,
Only mud, and wire,
Waiting for the days cull.

This place, Mans, ultimate betrayal,
Onward, Onward, Nostril’s flared, Eyes wide, steam rising from his Flanks,
Every muscle, straining for the next stride
Then the Stumble, a moment’s recovery,
Blood pours from his proud neck, then the ground.
His head rose, a hand strokes his brow, the last kindness.
A wavered shot ushers his life away, like so many before,

No one will weep for you my War horse,
No letter home,
They’ll be No mention in dispatches, No Memorial
For you are just an animal,
Sacrificed on the altar of man, left to rot in Flanders field

But for those precious minutes, he was more than man,
This day, of all days, he kept his bond, did not flinch,
Though death was all around,
Galloped blindly through the death rattle of the guns, face on,
No retreat, Onward, Onward,
The magnificence of the horse, No equal, never forget,
For it is the shame of a nation, a sin of mankind,
To undo the hand of god
No glory here, only an empty cup left on the altar of insanity.

Taken From Cloven Fields,
Where the Skylark and Grouse Linger
For I will weep for you,
My noble friend,
My War Horse, You Magnificent Beast

Steven Cooke

Photo courtesy

Thursday 16 August 2012

Sweet Dreams!

Here are 10 things you may not know about dreams:

1.  Twelve percent of people dream only in black and white while the majority can dream in colour.  Studies show that from 1915 to the 1950's, people dreamed mainly in black and white.

2.  Everyone you see in your dream is real, someone you have already met in real life. 

3.  We forget 95% of our dreams since the chemical we need to convert our short term memories into long term ones is absent during sleep.

4.  Our recollections of our dreams are usually false.  In order to remember, we need to keep a pad of paper and pencil by our bedside and jot down our dream sequencies right after they happen.

5.  Oneironautics is the ability to control your movements while dreaming.

6.  Seventy percent of males have dreams where only other males are present while females dream about males and females (50-50 split).

7.  We dream about two hours per night including 4 to 7 different dreams.

8.  A false awakening is a dream where we wake up and perform our morning activities, but we are really still sleeping (a dream within a dream).

9.  Some people think they can predict the future through dreams.

10.  Dream art refers to painting about what we have dreamed.

Sweet dreams!


Dream Art Image of "On the Wings of a Dream" courtesy

Wednesday 15 August 2012

The French Chef

In honour of Julia Child's 100th birthday (posthumously) here are 15 things you may not know about the American chef, author and TV personality:

1.  Julia's husband, Paul, built her a custom made kitchen with extra high counters to cater to her 6 foot 2 inch frame.  Her kitchen, including her 800 knives, is in the Smithsonian Institute now.

2.  Although Julia was deemed too tall to join the military during World War II, she did join the O.S.S. (the precursor to the C.I.A.) and held the position of a top secret researcher there.

3.  Julia did not learn how to cook until she was almost 40 when she accompanied her husband to Paris, France and signed up at the "Cordon Bleu" Cooking School.

4,  While Houghton Mifflin rejected Julia's cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, it was later published by Alfred A. Knopf after about 10 years of writing and revisions.

5.  Julia was fired from her job at W & J Sloane, an elite furniture store, for "gross insubordination".

6.  Julia was paid $50 per episode for her first cooking show broadcast by Boston Public Television.

7.  Growing up in a well-to-do family in California, Julia took elocution classes, likely the reason she seemingly talked with a British accent.

8.  Julia is credited with the move towards gourmet cooking in America.  As one New York Times writer put it, "without her we would still be wallowing in green bean casserole".

9.  Julia was 34 years old when she married and 50 when her first T.V. show aired.

10.  Julia once considered becoming a professional basketball star or a novelist.

11.  The famous chef's first T.V. appearance was to promote her cookbook; she brought along a copper bowl and a whisk and cooked an omelette on the show, garnering so many favourable reviews it landed her a cooking show.

12.  "The French Chef", the title of her first cooking show, was chosen partly because it was short enough to fit on one line in T.V. Guide.

13.  Julia Child was the first PBS performer to win an Emmy.

14.  Contrary to rumour, Julia never dropped a chicken on the air, but she did drop a potato pancake.

15.  When asked what her guilty pleasures were, Julia said:  "I don't have any guilt."

For more information read the new biography called Dearie:  The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz. 

Tuesday 14 August 2012

The United Nations

Situated on the East River in Manhattan, the United Nations was established after World War II to promote peace among its 51 member states.  First we examined some enlarged photos with haunting images of displaced persons, refugees, earthquake and flood victims who were helped by the U.N.  Rob and I were treated to a tour last week which was broadcast in several different languages via a walkie-talkie like contraption.  We visited the large circular meeting room where the heads of state converse; it looked like something out of a James Bond movie.  Then we made our way through several displays about the U.N.'s history and its purpose.  We learned about kits they offer for children who are unable to attend school; we heard about nets they provide for people to protect them from malaria-ridden mosquitoes; we learned about sports kits for kids who don't have the opportunity to participate in athletics.  It's reassuring to know that the United Nations is still alive and well, helping keep the peace all over the world. 

Photo of United Nations building in New York City courtesy

Monday 13 August 2012

Lunch Atop a Skyscraper

We were preceded by famous figures like Charles de Gaulle and Marilyn Monroe.  Our destination was New York City's Top of the Rock, part of Rockefeller Centre, the site of everything from dog shows to business deals to the lighting of the Christmas Tree.  At the summit, we purchased a t-shirt for Thomas with the letters NYC and a famous 20th Century image called Lunch Atop a Skyscraper. 

I was so fascinated with the image that I googled it today.  It turns out it was snapped by Charles C. Ebbets during the construction of the R.C.A. building on September 29, 1932.  It appeared in the New York Herald Tribune on October 2, one of 300 of Ebbets' photos published in the newspaper.  Much debate has gone on about whether the photo is real or fake. 

The photo depicts 11 construction workers lunching on a crossbeam with Manhattan in the foreground  and Central Park and the Hudson River in the background.  The men are seemingly oblivious to the fact that they are hundreds of feet from the ground and could drop to their deaths at any moment:  some eat, some smoke cigarettes and some engage in conversation.

However, as one blogger pointed out online, there is one man at the far right of the photo who looks straight at the camera with fear in his eyes and what appears to be a bottle of liquor in his hand.  Yes, in 1932 seeing skscrapers was becoming a commonplace occurence with 16 of the eventual 82 skyscrapers already completed.  But having lunch in the clouds was not a common occurence. 

John D. Rockefeller employed 40,000 workers in the completion of the original six buildings that would make up Rockefeller Plaza.  America was in the midst of the Great Depression and men had to do whatever it took to put food on the table for their families.  Regardless of whether or not Lunch Atop a Skyscraper is genuine or staged, it is a surreal photograph that keeps you guessing. 

Sunday 12 August 2012

Times Square: The Crossroads of the World

Photo of crowd at Times Square awaiting Jack Dempsey fight in 1921 courtesy

Located at Broadway and 7th in Midtown Manhattan, it was originally called Longacre Square.  However, when the New York Times headquarters moved to the area in 1904, it was renamed Times Square.  "Times Square quickly became New York's agora, a place to gather to await great tidings and to celebrate them, whether a World Series or a presidential election", quotes James Traub in The Devil's Playground. 

In 1921, crowds gathered to watch the highly publicized fight between Jack Dempsey and Charpentier.  Coupled with sports events came the gambling. 

Bustling nightlife: By 1925, Times Square has become a destination for locals and tourists alike looking to dine at a fine restaurant and see a show in one of the many theaters on Broadway

Times Square circa 1925 courtesy

One Times Square was an early New York skyscraper along with the Flat Iron Building.  By the 1930's the skyline started to change with the additions of the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building.

In 1945 Times Square was the site of the famous photograph of an American sailor kissing a nurse on V-J Day.  A ticker tape parade traced its way down New York City's streets to celebrate the end of World War II.

Photo of V-J Day in Times Square in August of 1945 courtesy

The postwar years saw the erection of many glass and steel office towers in Midtown Manhattan. 
By the 1950's, prices in the area had started to rise.  For musicians to rent a studio it cost $500.  Apartment prices started to rise and artists fled to the suburbs like Brooklyn.  Whites also fled to the suburbs and more minorities moved into the neighbourhood.

Eventhough prices were high, standards were low from 1960's to the mid-1990's in Times Square where go-go bars, sex shops and adult theatres appeared on every corner.  Times Square was a veritable red light district -- not the place to bring a family.

Vibrant: Times Square robed in neon lights in 1966

Times Square circa 1966 courtesy

However, in the mid 1990's, Mayor Rudolph Guiliani spearheaded a campaign to clean up New York City by increasing security, closing adult theatres, relocating "undesirables" and opening more tourist friendly attractions.  Times Square became a cleaner, safer place to visit.  ABC Studios relocated there, filming "Good Morning America" among other shows.  Disney started to buy up land and buildings.  Disney is also credited with saving Broadway, investing and producing many hit plays including The Lion King. 

The New Year's Eve Ball Drop, a tradition since 1904, saw 2 million attend in 1999, a crowd that would rival that of V-E Day in 1945.  In 2003, the giant jumbotrons that light up Times Square went dark due to the Northeast Blackout that August.  By 2011, Times Square was declared a smoke-free zone, with a heavy penalty for those not enforcing the law.

Visit Times Square today and you will feel the vibrancy of the city.  Businessmen rub shoulders as they head to the office in the day or theatre-goers as they head to a play at night.  Even after the sun goes down, you still feel safe there.  See a play, hop a bus, visit a shop, dine in a restaurant.  It's worth the trip!

Image courtesy

Saturday 11 August 2012

Rickety Wooden Escalators & Cracked Marble Floors

Photo of Macy's (present day) courtesy

Rob and I were strolling down the streets of New York when we spotted a large red sign which read "Macy's The World's Largest Store".  Remembering the movie "Miracle on 34th Street", which featured Macy's Department Store, I wondered if we were indeed on 34th Street.  Sure enough, I looked up and the sign confirmed my suspicion.  What a surreal moment!

We opened the massive door to the world's largest department store (at least it says so on the store front, but when I double-checked on the Internet I found out that title belongs to a store in South Korea).  We walked across the first floor, under giant chandeliers, past perfumes and colognes, to the escalator.  On the second floor, we saw women's clothing.  On the third floor we saw more clothing.  But we also noticed something different:  wooden escalators.  I don't remember seeing those in Canada when I was young.  I knew they must be quite old, maybe dating back to 1902 when the Herald Square store first opened.  Upon further inspection we saw cracked marble floors, likely also originals. 

This is the store which was opened by R. H. Macy back in 1858 (the original location).  This is the store which had a money back guarantee policy.  This is the store that only accepted cash until the 1950's.  This is the store which held the Thanksgiving Day Parade each year, filled with giant floats towering over the streets of New York and ending with the arrival of Santa Claus.  This is the store featured in "Miracle on 34th Street".

The film, which debuted in 1947, had scenes filmed at night in the 8-floor department store.  The movie's star, Maureen O'Hara filmed scenes with Santa Claus on the actual float used in the 1946 parade.  Parade scenes were footage of the real parade.  Edmund Gwenn, who won an Oscar for his role as Santa Claus, actually played Santa Claus that year in the parade.  Maureen O'Hara's love interest, Mr. Payne, loved the movie so much he wrote a sequel to it, although it was never produced.  The movie received a warm reception by audiences across America.  Although most of its cast has passed away, Miracle on 34th Street still enjoys a large audience on video and DVD.

Meanwhile, back at Macy's in 2012, Rob and I reached the 8th floor and my husband declared:  "Every floor has nothing but clothes.  This is the most boring store I've ever seen."  I suspect that the store is nothing like it was during its heyday when it sold a variety of goods (including toys at Christmas time).  I beg to differ, though, about Rob's comment:  while Macy's may not sell the most exciting items, its rickety wooden escalators and cracked marble floors give it character.  Many agree:  the department store became a National Historic Monument in 1978.  Although it is undergoing a renovation, I hope it never loses its original charm. 

Photo of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade circa 1946 courtesy

Friday 10 August 2012

The Ghosts of Ellis Island

With water cascading under it and the Stars and Stripes flying above it, Lady Ellis Island took us across New York Harbor.  We snapped a few photos of the New York skyline behind us and Lady Liberty in front of us.  At Liberty Island we remained on the ferry since the statue is closed for renovations this summer.  We continued our passage to Ellis Island where we disembarked.  Giant trees with maple-like leaves and bumpy trunks grew on the lawn. 

The magnificent building, with four elaborate turrets, looked like something out of the 19th Century in Russia.  Opened in 1892, Ellis Island served as a station for millions of immigrants for 32 years.  We climbed the wide steps and entered the rust coloured brick building where we were treated to a giant display tracing the history of American immigration.  Enlarged photographs of immigrants graced the walls.  Piles of old valises and trunks sat in a glass case. 

We read about Germans and their Conestoga wagons, of Chinese and their railroad workers, Italians and their workers' unions.  We saw photos of child labourers, their noses blackened.  We saw caravans of Mormons making their way through the desert to Salt Lake City, looking like black ants on a giant sandhill.  We saw the Orphan Trains fleeing the rough streets of New York City for gentler towns to the West.  We saw the long queues of immigrants separated into the healthy and the unhealthy, some staying indefinitely at the island hospital.  Millions of Americans passed through these doors.  And then it closed its doors forever in 1924, abandonned and left to fall into a state of disrepair.

In the 1950's, a lady flew over Ellis Island and saw the ghost building which peaked her curiosity.  She rented a small boat and took it to the island.  To quote the lady:  "There were no signs of people, but I was sure they were there".  Through the windows, she caught glimpses of the past:  a dusty upright piano, a NO SMOKING sign, empty bottles. 

In the 1980's, excavation started on Ellis Island.  The almost century old building, bit by bit, was restored to its former glory.  A display case was built to house the piano, the NO SMOKING sign and the empty bottles, among other items.  Now the building is a museum, a permanent record of all of those who passed through its doors.

Photo of immigration station at Ellis Island.

Thursday 9 August 2012

The Doorman Teddy Bear

Photo courtesy

We were greeted by a man in a maroon suit and a black cap.  We paid our fee and then climbed to the second floor where we wound our way through a never-ending line.  We shared an elevator with several other bodies as we rose almost 100 stories to aroom full of 1930's era photographs showing how the Empire State Building was constructed.  Several construction workers lounge on a beam above New York as they munch on their lunch.  We climb the last 6 floors to the top of the edifice.  At the summit, a young couple from Toronto asks Rob take their picture and they do the same for us.  We take in the view of New York City, the Hudson River to the right, the East River to the left.  We see the tops of skyscrapers, including the Chrysler Building, an office building built shortly before the one we stand on.  We spot bridges:  the Brooklyn, the Manhattan and the Williamsburg.  In the distance we see the Vera Dero Bridge.  Down below we see yellow taxi cabs which resemble dinky cars.  And the piece de resistance?  The Statue of Liberty at the edge of the harbour.  I strain to take just the right photo, but as I zoom in on my camera, I lose focus and get nothing but a blurry blob.  We are at the highest point in New York City at 102 stories -- at least until the completion of the Freedom Tower (104 stories) which will replace the World Trade Centre.  I put away my my camera and we visited the gift shop where Rob bought a gift for Jacqueline -- a "Doorman" Teddy bear with a maroon suit and a black cap.  We exit the shop, enter the elevator and descend within seconds to the base of the tower.  I love New York!

Monday 6 August 2012

Central Park: A Tranquil Oasis

Rob and I went from the worst to the best ride of our lives, all within 24 hours.  For $12 my husband rowed me across the lake in Central Park.  We floated on its glassy waters, amidst ducks and baby turtles.  Around the little lake's perimeter, tourists snapped photos, painters painted, cyclists rolled past.  Trees flanked its banks:  weeping willows, massive oaks, stately elms.  Above the treeline rose the skyscrapers of New York City:  the Trump Hotel, the Dakota Hotel (where john Lennon stayed) and a castle topped by four turrets.  Above the skyscrapers, the occasional jet crossed the clear blue sky above us, silently carving a puffy path out its exhaust.  We sat in our rowboat, one of a dozen on the lake, like part of a scene from a painting.  It was a little bit of the country inside the city; a little bit of history (150 years worth) in the middle of modernity; a bit of tranquility in the middle of chaos.  We watched a Hasidic Jew row his wife across the lake as she talked on a cell phone.  We watched a couple enjoy a picnic lunch in their boat.  Another couple snuggled, looking like newlyweds on their honeymoon.  We passed by a fountain surrounded by tourists with cameras and artists with easels.  Then we returned our rowboat, left our moment of tranquility on the lake and re-entered the frantic streets of New York City. 

Photo courtesy

Sunday 5 August 2012

Cash for Whiplash

Our introduction to New York City did not go as planned.  Rob and I decided to visit the Big Apple to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.  We had a smooth flight into La Guardia, but what ensued was a comedy of errors.  We had prebooked a shuttle to deliver us from the airport to the hotel in Manhattan.  We phoned the designated number and were disconnected.  I phoned a 1 800 number and got the concierge who helped us contact the driver for the shuttle we had already booked a couple of weeks before.  She told us a shuttle would arrive within 20 minutes.  After 45 minutes, an airport employee phoned again on our behalf and was told that the shuttle driver had gone to the wrong terminal.  An hour after we first phoned, the shuttle driver finally showed up.  We presented our receipt and he said that he had never heard of Grayline, the agency we used to book the shuttle.  What???  He phoned the company and after several minutes we got it rectified.  We climbed into the van and stopped at another terminal to pick up more people.  They did not have a voucher either.  They climbed in the back and passed up a credit card to the driver which was rejected.  A second one was also rejected and the driver climbed out of the van opened the side door and threatened to eject the two passengers unless they payed CASH. 

Finally we were on our way to Manhattan hotel, a ten mile journey.  It was our first experience with New York traffic.  All I can say is it makes Toronto traffic look tame!  Everyone drives as if they're on their way to a fire.  They run red lights, they lean on the horn, they tailgate, they threaten to run down whole packs of pedestrians and they brake at the very last moment.  As the driver tried to navigate the streets of Queens, one of the passengers started to berate him: "I told you not to take the Queensboro Bridge. We'd be stuck in traffic for an hour. But you didn't listen! I told you...I told you... I told you!" 

Stopping at an intersection, we felt a huge JOLT.  Everyone's neck was jerked back.  What was that?  A yellow taxi cab had rear-ended us.  At this point, I expected someone to pop out of nowhere and yell:  "You're on candid camera!"  But no, it was for real.  The driver popped his head in the van and asked if everyone was okay.  Did we want to press charges?  No thank you.  Our driver took the wheel again and the irate tourist took up his tirade.  But this time the driver had had enough.  He let him have it!  No one was going to tell him how to navigate in New York.  In the meantime Rob rubbed his neck wondering if he had a case of whiplash ($40 worth).  After what seemed like an eternity, we reached 8th Avenue.  The driver put the van in park and got out our suitcases.  Rob tipped him, feeling sorry for the abuse he endured at the hands of the irate tourist.  With our lives intact, we said goodbye to the driver and entered the Amsterdam Court Hotel.  Welcome to New York City!

Saturday 4 August 2012

How the Red and White Checkered Autograph Book Became a Bestseller

The red and white checkered autograph book sat in the shop window, the young girl admiring it with her father.  When her thirteenth birthday arrived, she opened her father’s gift – it was the autograph book.  She immediately started writing in it, talking about her hope of one day becoming a journalist or writer. 

However, the girl’s plans were put on hold when the occupying government told all Jews that they were not citizens anymore.  Her sister, Margot, received a letter asking her to report to a work camp.  That was when the family went into hiding in “The Secret Annex” above the girl’s father’s business located on a street paralleling an Amsterdam canal. 

"Daddy, Mummy and Margot can't get used to the sound of the Westertoren clock yet [from the church beside the Secret Annex] which tells us the time every quarter of an hour.  I can.  I loved it from the start, and especially in the night, it's like an old and faithful friend."

She brought her red and white checkered book along with her and wrote in it daily.  She talked about the inconvenience of having to share a room a Jewish dentist, another refugee, and a bathroom with the other occupants of the annex.  The girl resented sharing food with the Van Pels family, saying that they always ate too much.  In such close quarters, she clashed with her mother whom she didn’t think treated her with enough respect.  She adored her father, however, and the feeling was mutual.  The girl also talked about her first kiss, which she shared with Peter, the son of the Van Pels.

The girl made one last entry in her red and white checkered book on August 1, 1944.  Three days later, the German Security Police stormed the annex, arresting all of the occupants, throwing them in cattle cars and deporting them to concentration camps.  The girl and her sister ended up at Bergen Belsen where they both succumbed to typhus, only a month before the camp was liberated by the Allies in 1945. 

But what happened to the red and white checkered book?  Miep Gies, one of Mr. Frank’s four employees who helped his family while they were in hiding, hid the diary in her desk hoping that its author would return one day.  However, all of the occupants of the Secret Annex perished except Mr. Frank whom Miep gave the diary after the war.  The girl’s father handed it over to historian Annie Romein Verschoor hoping she could find a publisher for it, but there were no takers.  Annie did not give up on it though and she shared its contents with her husband Jan Romein who wrote an article titled “Kinderstein” for his newspaper, a former Resistance publication called Het Parool.  According to Romein:  “To me, however, this apparently inconsequential diary by a child…stammered out in a child’s voice, embodies all the hideousness of fascism, more so than all the evidence at Nuremberg put together.” 

The journalist’s article attracted attention and a publisher named Contact agreed to publish the red and white checkered diary titled “Het Achterhuis” in 1947.  Five years later the English translation was published as “Anne Frank:  The Diary of a Young Girl”.  At hundreds of millions of copies, the book remains the most widely read tome next to the Bible (see 

The red and white checkered autograph book which once sat in an Amsterdam shop window now sits in a museum in Germany.  Anne’s wish of becoming a published writer came true.