I have been a Serious Person for various lengths of time, occasionally for several years at a stretch. I eventually got tired of that and have been in turns a Carny, an Archeologist, a Robotics Instructor and an Idler.
You find them on only a minority of tree shaped tombstones, but the little personal touches add a lot of appeal. Sometimes they relate to the occupation of the Departed, but sometimes they are simply an enigma.
Here we have a chisel. Although you occasionally see axes on these tombstones this seems to be an isolated and somewhat out of context use of a wood splitting tool.
A choo-choo train! The fellow must have worked for the railroad.
Another, somewhat better done train. There is even coal in the coal car. See the odd looking thing on the front of this monument?
It is a representation, in stone, of the fancy embroidered pillows so popular in the late 19th century. Definitely a his and hers monument.
I suppose this fellow could have been a professional musician. Or maybe just somebody who liked to fiddle.
Now this one is odd. I get the sickle and the sheaf of wheat. In the days before the whole Soviet unpleasantness it just meant you were or had been a farmer. But my goodness....is that a chicken foot? Why?
Oh, I shouldn't really play favorites, but a few "trees" just please me more than others. Here is the top half of a towering 14 foot specimen in Hudson, Wisconsin..
Notice the broken off branch. It is stabilized structurally by contact with a lower branch. I have no contemporary source on this, but it rather seems as if the branch violently severed reflects a life suddenly cut short. Going down the trunk a ways we find...
Jennie must have been an artist. Going down to the base of the tree we find this:
This is not an eroded, damaged bit of stone work. No, somebody carved this on purpose as a tipped over and broken flower pot. I think Jennie's husband cared a lot about her, and lost her too soon. In the same cemetery, but over on the edge where the groundskeeping is a little dodgy...
It is a tree shaped tombstone doing a very good job of imitating a real tree! Once in a while you find a specimen that is well fashioned, has the light just right and seems to have all the right elements.
A "rustic cross" style with real lichens, fake ferns, vines, and dying dove, plus a name placard. The latter almost looks sacriligious...isn't that where IRNI is supposed to go? The stones flanking on either side have inscriptions, one is Sonne, which is "son" in German. This is my current all time favorite flourish.
A husband and wife buried side by side. And holding hands for eternity. Finally, I just have to speculate sometimes. Did the fellow who ordered this tombstone, and its rather odd phallic protrusion, think about whether folks a century later would see it and think him a bit of a jokester?
I heard that jingle so often growing up that intoning the "Ho, Ho, Ho" part is an automatic reflex if someone sings the first line. But being a non shopper whose affection for veggies is only moderate I go a long time between occasions when I think about Mr. J.G. Giant.
But while on a recent road trip we pulled over in Blue Earth Minnesota for a stretch and some ice cream.....and there he was:
Of course you just have to pose in front of him. I did notice that he was a bit under dressed for the raw, biting wind that was swirling around him. In fact, I noticed that he was just plain under dressed, period. You try to help a brother out....
To the continued annoyance of my long suffering better half, I always want to know about the origins of things. In the case of the Jolly Green Giant that is not as easy as you might imagine. He has been sold off several times since his creation back in 1925, as smaller companies get gobbled up by corporate raiders with considerably more enthusiasm than toddlers eating peas and carrots. All that I could learn was that he originally did not have green skin and was simply called "The Green Giant". I also found vague reference to him being based on "folklore and mythology".
Well. I am going to go out on a limb here and offer some speculation. I seriously doubt that JGG was based on Jack and the Beanstalk. No, it would hardly do to have your spokesbeing shilling for eating meat, and at that for the blood of an Englishman. A rather more plausible case can be made for him being a modern reinvention of "The Green Man".
Green Man is an odd holdover of pagan imagery that got a marginal pass from the Medieval Church. He appears in various guises, usually with foliage sprouting out from him (see leafy hair, above) and as a patron of fertility generally and of the annual renewal of agriculture specifically. His image turns up in a lot of churches across Europe:
I have been thus far unable to pin down exactly when our corporate friend added the word "Jolly" to his name. But I rather suspect is was sometime after the debut of the Marvel character "Incredible Hulk" in 1962. I was a kid in that era and can just imagine the routines along the lines of "Brussels Sprouts make Hulk ANGRY!!!".
A few parting thoughts as we finish our virtual visit to the Jolly Green Giant in his lonely bachelor pad.
Dude, how's that whole fertility symbol thing working out for you?
The Giant has endured a long reign as a corporate symbol because he is inherently likable. So I think well of him and worry just a bit about his welfare. My hero may not have feet of clay, but....
Get those cracks in the fiberglass attended to J, the wind off the prairies is fierce and I don't want to be reading about you in the paper.
You can with a fair amount of accuracy predict whether a community will contain brewery caves. If you have pre-1880 settlement and any sort of stone cliffs there will be brewery caves. Unless there are substantial lakes handy to stock ice house storage. And sometimes, even that exception does not hold true. Welcome to beautiful Hastings, Minnesota on the banks of the Mississippi river. I ran across this very informative piece on early breweries in Hastings. It put me onto some good leads for finding the caves when I happened to be passing through on other business. The first brewery was built on the east side of town in 1856. It went through various owners the first being Michael and Jacob Schaller. Their method of beer storage is unknown. Plagued by a series of fires they threw in the towel in 1870. The second brewery was established in 1865 by Smith and Lato on the west shore of Lake Isabel. They started out storing their beer a couple of miles out of town in Nininger. But eventually they got tired of the bother and excavated a cave near the brewery. The brewery closed in 1891 and the property was acquired by the Chicago and Milwaukee railroad in 1906. The next year the railroad leveled the site and were said to have had considerable difficulty clearing the solid limestone of the storage caves. The side today is mostly railroad property, but looking over from the boat landing you can see an odd structure...
Oh, we can edge our way a little closer....
Its a big whoppin' block of stonework atop which is a tiny little patio affording the house above a view of the rather drab and uninspiring lake. I suppose a homeowner with lots of time on his hands might build something like that, but to me it looks more as if there was something here and they just plopped a cement pad on top. I think this might be the sealed up former entrance to the brewery cave. Here is a view from the side.
See how it abuts the solid rock face, and with the newer cement pad on top. It even has some vent holes as if there is a hollow space underneath. But alas, no way to peek inside and if newspaper accounts can be believed, the cave behind has been demolished and back filled anyway. An ambiguous and perhaps very much forgotten brewery cave. The third brewery in Hastings was started in 1867 over on the east side of Lake Isabel. It also had an array of proprietors with J.L. Busch and son operating it the longest. They excavated a cave on the banks of the lake in 1879. It is on private property and I was unable to get a look at it, but I will update this post should I get a chance to stroll out across the frozen lake sometime..... There was also a later brewery in downtown Hastings, but by its inception in 1885 refrigeration machinery had become affordable and caves were not necessary. Getting back to the cave first used by Smith and Lato. I mentioned that it was in Ninninger, a ghost town that boomed and busted rather early on. Its tale, so often repeated in frontier speculation, can be found here. I have no idea why it made sense to haul wagon loads of beer out of town and down a rather steep grade to a cave that would seem prone to occasional flooding. Maybe Smith and Lato figured this out after a few years. But that is just what they did, and they even shared the storage space with the Busch brewery for a while. The cave is not hard to find, it is at the foot of the bluff at the end of Jason avenue in Nininger. The town by the way is no longer a ghost, with quite a few nice houses. At the end of Jason avenue there is a sign proclaiming private property. That sign is on the right hand side of the road. Over on the left we see...
The Nininger Landing and Marina is much less grand than its name. You have a neglected looking boat, the shed you see behind it, and at the base of the cliff a boarded up cave entrance.
It looks to me as if the "Marina" was mostly a place to sell beer to passing boaters. Implausibly the Nininger Cave seems to have stayed in service for beer storage for a long time. Two of the beers listed, Yoerg and Remmler's went out of business in the early 1950s. (Although old brands often stick around longer under new ownership).
It would not have been difficult to nose my way in and have a look around, but I settled for reaching the camera in and taking a snap:
The usual. A natural cave, expanded by excavation. A little graffiti and a small amount of debris are the only signs of occupation.
In our modern and enlightened era it is considered bad form to send children, boys in particular, to kindergarten at a young age. Five might be too early. Six is better. I suppose soon we will be having people wave it off to age seven. The reasons are various and you may find some of them more persuasive than others. Boys mature emotionally at a later age (if at all). It would be hard on their egos to be the youngest one, the latest to drive, the shortest kid asking a girl to prom. We want to have a high school football team with physiques like Arnold Schwartzenegger and beards like Z.Z. Top.
Whatever. None of our three boys went to school "early", two had summer birthdays and went at age six, one more helpfully arrived in the winter months and went at five and a half. But it was not always thus....
I have a vivid memory of going to the headquarters of the Minneapolis Public Schools when I was four years old. Mind you, I was not turning five until mid winter. Although not unheard of, going to school at this tender an age was a little unusual and I guess they wanted a look at me.
Not very much of me showed over the top of the grey steel desk of some School System functionary. I recall it as being a middle aged woman who seemed only mildly interested in the matter. I expect, and frankly actually hope, that there was some formal testing involved. In the same situation I would have also asked a few pertinent questions about potty training and whether this little shrimp was prone to biting or anything. None of this do I remember, but it seems likely that I was left to idle away a few minutes in some ante chamber while Matters were Discussed.
But I do remember one small detail that I have long concluded was the decisive, the final test of my mettle.
There was a box of crayons on the desk of the apparatchik. They were square crayons. I was asked:
"Why are the crayons square?"
I suppose in my crafty later years, say fourth grade or so, I would have suspected a trick and tried to figure out what this lady was really looking for. But I hope I can be excused a relative lack of guile when I was some 56 or 57 months old.
"So that they fit in the box better".
It was deemed a reasonable answer, although I discovered many, many years later that kindergarten crayons were square so they were less likely to roll off the desk and get lost.
I wonder sometimes if my life would had been much different if I had simply played dumb, shrugged my shoulders and perhaps picked my nose for dramatic effect. Another year of watching Captain Kangaroo and eating sucrose laden cereal mid morning? Would I have made different decisions had I not always, always been the youngest and usually shortest guy in my grade? I probably would not have been a wrestler, my pugnacity greatly exceeding my poundage in high school. I might well have considered alternative career options....what genius idea was it to send a 17 year old naif off to college to figure out what to major in? I am at times a foolish romantic, so I will accept as a given that I would be married to the same spouse as in the current time line. She was after all attending the same college a few years after me, and it was only a fortuitous dog walk that brought us together......
The robotics classes are progressing. I have some good help. I have figured out where to find plywood scrap in the shop area and have learned which students are not to be trusted with sharp objects outside of my direct supervision. We have a few machines already up and running.
Practice driving is very useful. Often things break under the simple stress of gentle movement. I tell the kids that is a good thing....so much better to find out now when you have an opportunity to make revisions and repairs.
A one pound machine. No difficulties making weight, the whole thing is made of foam insulation. The orange duct tape is in honor of deer hunting season, a very significant religious holiday among the observant.
Another one pounder. The body is made from an old VHS cassette box. To his credit the lad was too polite to ask me what a VHS tape was. Note the thumb tacks for traction on the plywood arena floor.
Practice driving. The eight forks are pretty much ornamental. One of those wheels look a little crooked? It was falling off as I took this shot. As I said, better now than in competition....
This student, a returning veteran from last year, had the notion to use plastic milk cartons for armor. A pretty good idea that. I am not sure why he thinks he will need four layers of the stuff, but it sounds like it should suffice...
Every batch of robots has a few "apex predators", machines that are just plain ferocious. This is the frame of a machine that has a lexan bar spinning off the hub of a reworked Barbie Jeep gearbox. Very nasty. Too bad he will have nary an ounce left for protective armor....
Our cabin is up north, in an area that is heavily forested. And in fact has always been so, with one brief exception. The logging boom of the late 1800s clear cut the woods leaving behind an eerie landscape of stumps. As this land was of no further use to the timber companies they were willing to sell it off cheap to anyone willing to farm it.
And some very hardworking folks gave it their best shot in the time period of roughly 1895 to 1930. A few fams still can be seen. Almost none are growing crops, as the soil is really unsuited for anything but trees. But here and there one encounters pasture land for cattle and horses. Until recently there was a small buffalo ranch down the road.
But more often you run across the ruins of farms that did not succeed. The latter day pioneers dynamited the stumps, heaved the rocks up into piles, plowed the thin sandy soil and hoped for the best. Some went under quickly, others probably hung on until the Great Depression dried up credit and motivated struggling banks to call in struggling loans.
Scenes from a recent walk in the woods:
A foundation and basement sitting on a little rise. The thinner underbrush recalling a long ago lawn.
A view from what appears to be the back of the house. There was always a cellar for storage and for refuge from storms. Now filled with rubbish, small trees growing up all around.
Little personal touches remain. Here are some parts from an old wringer washer.
And here a toy train. The slot suggests this was a bank. I did not pick it up and shake it, for some reason I felt as if I should not disturb anything.
Out behind the house we see the remains of a car. I would just be guessing, but 1920's or 30's vintage? Some of the detritus here looked newer than the site. Perhaps it was a dumping ground after it was abandoned.
Archeologists of the distant future will puzzle over the abundant bullet holes in artifacts from rural America. Probably someone will note the local history of Chicago gangsters visiting the area (true), and write a highly entertaining and entirely wrong PhD thesis!
This vehicle was far from new when discarded. The seat has been partially replaced with wood.
Notice how the roof has been largely covered over with some kind of riveted on metal plate.
Nearby a stove, and parts of at least one more vehicle.
For some reason I found this the most poignant artifact. A scale. Some farm wife in the 1920's was worried about her weight. She lived on a lonely farm that was slowly failing. But she still cared about her looks. I suppose she is gone now. It must have been a hard life, and she would have to be over the century mark by now.....
Over on the sidebar is a link to “Contrary Brin”, a site I sometimes visit and post on under my same nom de
cursor, Tacitus. Dr. Brin is a successful science fiction writer, and while I mostly argue with him about his politics
(which I consider flaky even by California
standards), there are times when more substantive discussions ensue.
Dr. Brin has written extensively on the topic of “Uplift”,
the process by which non-human species can be genetically nudged into
sapience. His stories often feature
intelligent dolphins and chimpanzees, although the latter still seem to be
partly comic relief.
In any event the concept of Uplift is interesting, and a
recent discussion developed along the lines of how much we are both ready for and
capable of doing in the near future.
Here are a few of my suggestions….
This will be first, because so much of it is already
happening. We have simple looking tasks
like Seeing Eye dogs, and more complex ones such as dogs trained to recognize
seizures. We just need to diversify a
little, add some technology and find a way to make the dogs a little smarter.
My father is a case in point. At age 90 he has enough dementia that he
needs constant oversight. He has a
little dog named Mugsy that provides unwavering companionship, a great thing in
its own right. Now, we just need to
smarten the dog up a bit. More than a
bit in the case of Mugsy, but you get my drift.
Dad is not left alone, but he could be for short stretches
if Mugsy were able to respond to falls, verbal cues, or just a lack of movement
for a certain stretch of time. He could
then go over to a floor level button and stomp it with his ridiculous little
paw. This could turn on a monitoring
system (assumes Dad wears a bracelet with the sensors). Position in the house, length of time since
movement, vital signs could all be read.
A loud buzzer could sound asking for an “ok” signal. This could work.
And for dogs smarter than Mugsy, perhaps guide dogs with
The Service Industry
Look, it’s almost a cashless economy already. We just swipe cards and wave devices to pay
for things. So why not replace fast food
counter help with cute capuchin monkeys?
They can figure out your order with about the accuracy of
sullen teenagers and can push the relevant buttons. There is that whole feces throwing thing to get past so we would have to Uplift them to the point of
perfect continence…I foresee uniforms with Velcro and the addition of small
purpose built primate potties.
Speaking of uniforms, they would also look better in silly
Go ahead and laugh, but I for one would actually increase my
visits to “MonkDonalds” if the ordering process was entertainment instead of
The concept could easily be expanded to German Sheppard
bartenders. They would have a paw pad
reader to provide extra security. We
would not want bar patrons yelling “Squirrel” and reaching over to get a drink
on the house. Any who tried should be
bitten. No need to hire a separate bouncer.
There have already been some interesting uses of animals in
this field. The US Military used to have
geese guarding bases. They were noisy
and observant. But this is just using their
territorial instincts and stupidity. We
can do better.
Consider the possibility of rats for night time
security. Outfit them each with a shock
collar that keeps them from straying off site.
The collars would also have little “rat-cams”, thermal sensors and GPS
units. The rats would do what rats
do…wander around all night. Just as in
past times with human watchmen there would be stations to check. At random times each station would dispense
rat chow. It would take a good sized
computer to monitor all this, but at least thermal signatures could be watched
automatically. The visual images would
be back up. A full scale attack of the
entire “Rat Patrol” would be a last ditch defense!
Writing anything speculative about the near future is always perilous. And as I was writing this I purposely did not search the internet to see how many of my ideas had already been attempted. Pretty much all of them!
Looking for a GPS unit for your Seeing Eye dog? Got it covered.
Monkeys as waiters? OK it is a Japanese tavern instead of McDonalds, but the concept has been proven.
The days when my mechanically minded Number Two Son and I built big combat robots are receding into fond memories now, but sometimes things turn up that remind me of that era. Recently while rummaging around in the Secret Underground Workshop in search of parts for the upcoming Robot Dragster project I realized that some of the components I was collecting were old friends.
They were in fact bits and pieces of TurboGnome.
As you can see we once even had our own "baseball card", containing a large amount of non-factual information.
Turbo was in the 120 pound weight class, and might have actually weighed that....sometimes. It all depended on what kind of modular weapons we happened to slap on. There was no "high carbon tool steel" involved, just whatever we thought would injure and/or insult our opponent of the hour.
For a recurring high tech foe named Centipede -he skittered around on many small cool walking feet - we had flails of barbed wire mixed with kevlar strips to make a bouquet of entanglement. We at various times armed the Gnome with a baseball bat, a machete, and with "The Brunswick Device", a bowling ball on a chain. Once at a State Fair exhibition show we were pitted against a robot made of plywood. We went at him with the "Spam-o-Nine Tails", cans of the greasy lunch meat attached to chains and spun up to a velocity sufficient to cave in the enemy robot's shell and slime it with protein of dubious origins.
Fun times indeed, even if TurboGnome was essentially obsolete from his creation. You see, a robot whose striking power depends on stopping and spinning in place so that the weapon arms extend outward (and it is centrifugal not centripetal force here) has a severe tactical disadvantage. Other robots could just stop a safe distance off and wait. One of them named Mad Cow would actually mock us by mimicking our spin. Then when our tactics had to change and we came out of the spin he would wallop us good and hard.
We would always give broken bits of our lawn gnome pilots to the victorious teams. They were usually displayed in places of honor in the pits.
"When I was 10 years old I helped Pancho Villa's men bury some guns on our farm."
This would have been after Pancho's heyday but a few years before his assassination, so it just might be true.
From a 101 year old fellow brought in for what turned out to be his final hospitalization:
"I'm still living in the farm house I was born in!"
This prompted me to ask him "when was the last time you were on a tractor?"
He wrinkled his brow a bit to think and replied: "Last spring."
My general policy it to tell patients that when they hit 80 I pretty much stop telling them what to do, and if they reach 90 in good shape, I start asking. Some answers to the question of how to reach very old age in good condition:
"Don't try it if you can't take the pain."
and more sobering still:
"I get up at 5AM every day to do housework."
Best answer ever?
"Gee, I don't know....I've never been this old before!"
My uncle Art was a character. He was an old bachelor farmer who just passed away a few years ago at age 90. To call him blunt would be an understatement. He always liked to tell the story of how his grandmother, my great grandmother, had fled the Sioux Uprising in 1863. Leaving out all the gory, and probably inaccurate, details that Art tossed in, the tale goes something like this.
News of the Uprising arrived at the farmstead where my antecedents had built a log cabin in Minnesota Territory back in 1857. The trouble was still some distance off, but panic was spreading. Supposedly there was time to dig a big hole in the ground and toss in the steamer trunk that had crossed the Atlantic with them from the old country. Of course the trunk was filled with whatever valuables were not portable enough to grab and go.
The family fled to a town some 20 miles away and stayed there a week. Long enough that it had become clear that the Indians were all further west and likely to stay there.
The trunk was dug up and made its way from the log cabin to the later brick house and eventually to my attic.
As to the veracity of the tale, and of this artifact, there are pros and cons. The box does not look like the classic Scandinavian steamer trunks you see in antique shops. But this story features Germans, and a frugal bunch they were. It would have been perfectly in character for them to carry their worldly goods in a generic box. The iron work looks pretty old...
Here is a view from the side. I must say, the condition of the rope looks pretty good for something that old, even if it did not spend much time buried.
Note the tiny bit of label in the upper right corner.. Zooming in:
All I can really make out are the letters CHI and probably C. I suspect this means Chicago. Also I see something like o. 73. Perhaps No. 73. And faintly in the bottom corner the word Per, or possibler Por.
Near as I can figure out the immigrant family traveled by rail to LaCrosse, Wisconsin. This would make Chicago a very reasonable transfer point.
Of course it could also just be a large crate full of 1920's tractor parts. They were so cheap they never threw anything away.
"Young Ones of the Tribe....Gather! The Ancient shall speak once more of Days Past!" "Yes, I mean you too, Glogeena, I see you texting with your new-fangled opposible thumbs!" Sorry, something about Brewery Cave posts has this odd effect on me, and in this case for a very good reason. Part of this story is new, but part is very old indeed. Way, way back in 1986, a younger version of myself helped write an honest to goodness dead tree book (two volumes no less) called The Bottles, Breweriana and Advertising Jugs of Minnesota 1850-1920. While a long ways from the Times Best Seller List it has held up pretty well as the definitive source on artifacts left behind by breweries, patent medicine companies, liquor stores and pharmacies of that era. I wrote a brief history of a brewery on the river banks below down town Minneapolis. It got its start early, Minneapolis was a growing, thirsty town full of lumbermen and millers. The fledgling city was centered around St. Anthony Falls, but river boats could not ascend that far, so they put in at a landing 2 miles downstream at the foot of modern day 4th Street. And it was here that two young Germans, John Kraenzlein and John Miller established a brewery in 1857. It was initially a frame structure, and of course they needed storage. So a very early contemporary account mentions that they had dug "the famous east side cave".
As was common in that day there were various ownership changes, so it was the partnership of Mueller (the German form of Miller) and Heinrich which expanded the brewery in the mid 1870s, among other things expanding the cooling cellars. Supposedly they were 400 feet long and 22 feet wide, with smaller branches adding up to a half a mile of tunnels! By the late 1870s this was the largest brewery in the city, although the reported annual output of 8,000 barrels seems implausibly small. But eventually the founders of the enterprise passed from the scene, and the next generation of management opted to merge with three other breweries in an 1890 mega deal that created the behemoth Minneapolis Brewing Company.
My final paragraph in the story is worth quoting verbatim: "The site formerly occupied by Kraenzlein and Miller's Brewery now has some fuel storage tanks on it, just below West River Road. The river, of course, is still there, catering to barges instead of stern-wheelers. Most likely the tunnels are still back there under the River Road somewhere-sort of makes you wonder if there isn't some breweriana stashed in there....." As it happens, river front renewal projects have since removed the oil tanks, and the limestone cliffs have returned to something like their original appearance. And the long forgotten entrance to the Heinrich Brewery cave can now be seen, if you look for it very hard. Road work has covered over two entrances entirely, and the remaining one is a barely visible niche in the rock. It and a good part of the cave proper have filled in over the years from scree tumbling off the cliff and off the roof of the tunnels. The entrance is secured by a gate designed to allow bats in and out It was securely locked when I visited. And I am fine with that, there have been too many needless tragedies involving caves and youthful folly. But I do happen to know that intrepid "urban explorers" have been in there, and clandestine images exist...
They look to be having fun, and I would not be honest if I did not admit to being a kindred spirit. But please, do not go off exploring in dangerous places. I am quite intentionally not mentioning some other very fascinating places of which I know.... (Note: the photos from inside the Heinrich cave are credited to a fellow I know only by his nom-de-subterre of Max Action. He is part of an urban explorer band. For a really horrific tale of their exploration of another brewery cave complex go here. But only go there virtually, the places I am not telling you how to get to are interesting, but too often bad news.)