Friday, October 31, 2014

It is not as if you really have this option....

An enigmatic tombstone in rural Wisconsin.


As it is the month of October I have been serving up the tombstones more than usual.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Pumpkin Joe Greenstein

We are in the run up to both Halloween and to a hotly contested election.  Our political class comes in for a great deal of criticism, of which perhaps 90% is entirely justified.  But honesty demands that I say a few words in praise of a long departed Pol who actually appears to have been a much better man than I had thought.

Long, long ago I was an elementary student at Lowell School on the North Side of Minneapolis.  I have a memory, or perhaps several memories compacted together, of free pumpkins being given away by our local Alderman.  A flat bed trailer pulled up onto the asphalt playground.  Hundreds of pumpkins were unloaded and arrayed like squat orange soldiers.  Kids were allowed to select one to take home.  My older brother adds a few details, he remembers that the younger grades picked first and that girls got to pick before boys.  Some helpful suggestions on how much of a punk' a given kid could carry must have been offered.  Recall that this was in the days before kids rode school buses, all or nearly all of the students at Lowell walked home.

I thought for many years that this was a sort of slightly disreputable tactic that aimed for the votes of the parents, what with the election being so soon after Halloween.  I remember seeing campaign buttons that were orange, with a jack-o-lantern face as the background, and the motto PUMPKIN JOE GREENSTEIN.  But decades later I looked into this, and I have to say, I was wrong about Joe.

The North Side of Minneapolis was home to different groups over the years.  In the 1800s it was mostly German immigrants, with an admixture of Scandinavians.  In the early 20th century it was the center of the Jewish community, with German, Polish and Russian immigrants all represented.  When I was growing up in the late 1950s and into the 60s, the neighborhood was turning over again.  It was becoming a black community.  Also an impoverished one, although to be fair the earlier waves of European new arrivals were generally at best blue collar up until the point that they could afford to move elsewhere.

Like many of the Jewish community Joeseph S. Greenstein was a merchant.  His store at 307 Plymouth Avenue North was called The Bargain Price Market.  It sold groceries,  meat, produce, and flowers.  Every year, starting back in the 1930s, Greenstein had "Pumpkin Day" where truck farmers from the outlying areas would haul in pumpkins that would be laid out on Plymouth Avenue, closing one lane in front of The Bargain Price Market.  Local school children would come, some riding buses on a field trip, to get the free pumpkins.  He did this entirely for the good of the community.  He  told his son that when he was a little boy the family was too poor to afford a pumpkin so he once stole one.  He did not want any child to have to chose between a small deprivation or a small crime.

Additional pumpkins were hauled to other schools on the North Side.  Hence my memories at Lowell Elementary.

Pumpkin Joe, circa 1950
The political career came later.  A major freeway was under construction, wiping out much of the business and residential areas along Plymouth Avenue.  This included Greenstein's store.  The last "Pumpkin Day" in 1965 was held at a "haunted house" done up for the occasion.  It is not clear how long the school giveaways lasted but my memories of one circa 1963 or so must have been one of the last of them.

Joe Greenstein by all accounts served his constituents well.  It was a difficult time in many ways.  In addition to the literal bulldozers crashing through the Fifth Ward there were social changes that seemed equally implacable.  Crime rates were rising, with the flight of the Jewish community being accelerated by a particularly gruesome double murder of a prominent couple.  Housing projects were built, concentrating poverty into structures that looked like dead trees raising their limbless concrete trunks above the new highway.  There were racially fueled riots in the late 60s, many surviving businesses were burnt down.

But Joe Greenstein never left the North Side.  His son still lives in the family home there.  Having pieced together the story of his life I regret my earlier impression of him as a standard "machine politician" trying to buy votes.  His generosity preceded and transcended his political career.

We do not hold our current generation of politicians in very high regards.  Perhaps because most of them have not earned our esteem.  Joe Greenstein joined the Army in his mid 30s.  He fought across Europe with General Patton's army, serving as an interpreter.  He was a Minneapolis Alderman from 1960 to 1971, probably the most tumultuous decade the city ever had.  He actually had a Molotov cocktail thrown at his house during the 1967 unrest.

A guy like that did not need to give away pumpkins to get our respect.


Monday, October 27, 2014

The pungent smell of Autumn.

This time of year our local hardware store stocks some interesting fragrance choices.  Mostly for men, but not exclusively so.  It is not like the perfume counter at a swank department store, no sales person offers to dab samples on your wrist.  And that's a good thing.


Yep, it is almost deer hunting season.  Some features of this product might be marketable for human attracting purposes.  Natural & Dependable sounds good.  Curiosity Appeal has promise.  And although it has been decades since I was single and interested in such matters, perhaps young singles on the prowl stake out a particular bar stool on a Territorial basis.  But looking back, way back, on the singles scene I do not recall it being Non-Threatening.


Oh, my.  This is getting really specific.  I rather like the coy, Disney eyes doe on the bottle looking up at the Aroused, but now decided defunct buck.  She's thinking:  "Sucker".  His last thought was "I.......I wuz robbed".


I don't know what is going on here.  The product name "Rut'n Apples" suggests a play on Rotten Apples. It says 100% Real Apple on the bag so I don't know why it is implying that it will send Mr. Buck into a Dionysian Frenzy.  Is he licking his lips 'cause he likes apples?  Or is there something else going on?


Now this stuff I might consider buying if it were on sale post hunting season.  Of course it is designed to make it harder for deer to smell you down wind, but Smash Human Odor makes it sound like pretty effective stuff.  Might get a bar for the shower....

Friday, October 24, 2014

Gloomy Weather

Some folks love fall.  I am not one of them.  The season frankly puts me in a bad mood.  Sure, you have some pretty colored leaves when the sun shines.  But when you live in a northern land you feel every cool breeze and sense the approach of winter.

Winter in Wisconsin can be endured, even enjoyed.  But it is a harsh time, all the more so if you have a long commute on dubious roads.  Or if various battle scars from a half century and then some start to ache when the cold sinks into them.

Being in my later fifties perhaps puts me into Autumn in a larger sense also.  (Whether I am in early or late autumn is a damned good question).  Already there are things that I would have liked to have done that are now very improbable.  At one point my son and I had preliminary plans to cross Russia on the Trans Siberian express.  Heck, by the time you go that far it would make sense to just circumnavigate the globe.  I had looked into travel by cargo ship across the Pacific, then a ferry to Vladivostok, then more adventures.  But the trip did not happen and now is in the category of "it might have been".

Similarly I had hoped to see some of the fabulous Roman sites of North Africa and Syria.  Most of this part of the world is currently off limits to the sane traveler and by the time the bandits are chased back into the hills and caves I may be too old for adventures.

So we dig in here, hunkering down ahead of the chill.  I have my familiar, comfortable activities.  I work. I teach.  I paint and tinker and tidy our house which is also suffering the effects of  middle age.

And we wait.  Some of what lies ahead will of course be Wonders and Marvels.  After all, there is always Spring, always new beginnings up ahead.  But the timing is key.  How long to keep working, how many years of retirement I need to finance, will our physical condition remain "early autumn" or will things suddenly freeze up and stop.  Imponderables.

It is easier to be sunny and bright when the seductive warmth of spring time sinks into sore joints and jaded thoughts.  Those days will come again.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Menomonie, Wisconsin. I think.

Menomonie should be a great place for brewery caves.  It has all the ingredients.  It was settled early and by thirsty lumberjacks and sawmill workers.  It had ready access to good, grain growing farmland. It had water.  It had limestone outcroppings.  It even had an abundance of brickyards for constructing internal features like archways and such.

But even though Menomonie had at least two breweries in the proper era it has been a very difficult nut to crack regarding brewery caves.  Consider the following.

At the end of 12th Avenue is a rise of land overlooking the Red Cedar River at its junction with Galloway creek.  The spot was called Brewery Hill, because by the 1870s and perhaps earlier, it was occupied by a brewery.  In 1876 a man named Fuss was operating it, but as it was called the "Felzan Brewery" I assume he was not the initial proprietor.  In any event by 1888 a fellow named Weber owned it.  To date I have found very little else out on this establishment, only that they had a beer garden at the bottom of the hill.  This is thought to be a photo of same:


One would certainly think that this would be an easy one.  You have a "Brewery Hill", surely there will be a cave in the side of it, likely facing the river.  Remarkably it took me four or five visits to the site before I finally have reached a fair level of certainty that I have zeroed in on the cave site.  If you are expecting swell photos of same, sorry.  Consider this a "how to guide" to locate difficult caves. Sometimes there is just not that much in the way of visible traces.

Here is Brewery Hill in June of 2014:

The site is now mostly parking lots and cheap apartment buildings. But perched right in the middle is a nice circa 1890 house with a sort of chalet style to it.  I am assuming it was the brew master's house. As to cave sites, not much for possibilities here.  The slope behind the apartments is very steep, more of a cliff overlooking Gilbert creek.  A good general rule of thumb in hunting brewery caves.  If you can't see a road that would allow a horse drawn wagon full of kegs to safely travel, then look for your cave elsewhere.  Sure, you find a few caves that are built directly into the cellars of the brewery, but they are the exception and usually go with very large breweries.  So, where to look?

On old maps of the area (very handy!) 14th Avenue dead ends at the brewery.  But now it continues as a modern road snaking down the hill.  Walking down it a ways I peeked over the side and saw what I had on earlier visits just dismissed as some random rubble fill.  There were bricks, mostly post 1900, but also some tell tale chunks of carved limestone that otherwise had no business being there.



This curved bit looks a great deal like a section of roof from a cave entrance.

Of course this stuff is all tumbled down the slope.  Looking up all we see is this sort of unnatural looking berm:


This view is from a path alongside the river.  If you stroll another hundred yards you are in the former beer garden.  So this was certainly on the brewery property.

But I was still not sure.  Until I walked back up onto the road.  If you keep the alignment of this feature in mind and step onto the road above you see this:


Two manhole covers in exactly the same alignment.  As I can see no other use for these (there does not seem to be any drainage pipe below for instance) I think this unusual occurrence of two manholes only a few feet apart suggests they were formerly vents to the brewery cave that still lies beneath.

Note please, these covers are ancient and gummed on well by rust and old asphalt.  I did not think of going down for a look.  Don't you think about it either.

So what made the difference on this last and at least somewhat successful trip?  Time of year.  In general you want to go cave hunting in spring or fall, times when the underbrush is less dense.  This time out of stubbornness I went on the bug infested, muggy, longest day of the year.  The tell tale clue that was visible now but not on other trips was the bright green moss.  It really likes limestone and made these shattered bits stand out dramatically.

I am assuming that the entrance to the cave at least has been methodically clobbered.  Probably at the time of the modern road being built over the cave.  If I were a city engineer worth my salt I would probably also have filled the caves with concrete at the same time.  Hollow spaces under roads - bad. Or maybe they got cheap and skipped this step.  Notice the horrible condition of the road surfacing around the manholes?

Observe from afar please.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Choose your words wisely US/UK version

Here in the US you can buy beer in large glass bottles called "growlers".  The term goes back to the 19th century when it was common for working men to bring home a pail of beer at the end of the day. These containers apparently had a tight fitting lid and the sound of carbon dioxide escaping as they were carried reminded someone of a growling noise.

The phrase "rushing the growler" meant sitting down for a couple of beers.

In that context this sign at the local wine and spirits shop makes perfect sense.


However in the UK I would not advise walking into a place and saying that you wanted your growler filled.  And I fear that mentioning Wet Hops would not help clarify matters.

Really, you should just trust me on this one.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Surprising my Dad

Visits with Dad have gotten both harder and easier.  Harder in that his health and memory are failing and the domestic situation is not ideal.  Easier in that I can reuse the same "material" again and again. I let him know what my family is up to, reminding him along the way how many grandchildren he has and what their names are.  Then there are a few "go to" topics that hold his faltering attention even on a hard day.  Life on the farm when he was growing up.  Cars.  And best of all....my phone.

I only got a "smart phone" a short while ago.  Stubborn I guess, or perhaps my increasing mobility finally made it essential.

My dad finds it endlessly fascinating.  This little rectangle of plastic that can do so many things!

Instant photos!



Using the voice search function the entire accumulated knowledge of mankind there for the asking. Since it is internet based you also get the accumulated ignorance, but it still makes an impressive trick.  "Show me Packard automobiles".  There they are.  With his somewhat frail voice you get some interesting misreads.  "Minneapolis, Minnesota", where he used to live, somehow became "Minneapolis...sore" and a listing of chiropractors!

But the most astonishing trick for him is taking a short movie and playing it back for him.  I do this every visit now, you never know which one will be the final entry.  Here is a recent cinematic tour de force...
video

How amazing it all is for a 92 year old whose fascination with cars in part is due to his having started out with draft horses.  And really, since I understand the magic a little better than he does, it is every bit as amazing to me.