Friday, January 15, 2021

Lowell Elementary School. North Minneapolis in the 1960's.

As promised here are my memories of attending Elementary school in a time and place that can scarcely be recognized from our current vantage point.  More of an essay than a bit of quick, witty commentary, feel free to flit on past.  Perhaps the great inscrutable search engine of Google will bring a few ageing refugees of that era home for a bit of nostalgia.

I was a young person (to be accurate I never claim to have "grown up")  in what was considered the bad part of town.  The north side of Minneapolis was always a working class neighborhood, one which was being hollowed out by flight to suburbia when we moved there in the late 1950's.  

Lowell Elementary was established when the neighborhood was still young and energetic.  Dating from the 1880's, the school I attended was the third Lowell, built in 1893, as a red brick cube that was later added onto.  It was on an irregular bit of land, one end being a sharp triangle that had a little ball field.  That's where I learned what minimal baseball skills I had as a young cub.  The field was not dirt, but blacktop.  You got proficient at fielding bouncers.  But I never did get good at baserunning,  Lowell had bases painted on in yellow and you only tried sliding once.

This is what Lowell looked like before a 1912 addition.  The big sloped roof was gone by the time I attended, I suspect it was lost to fire or lightning.  The later roof was flat and if you gave a playground ball a really mighty kick you could launch it up there for the janitor to retrieve.

Courtesy Hennepin County Library

Here's a series of vignettes of Lowell Elementary as remembered so many decades later.

Kindergarten, day one.   Our house was three blocks away.  One day my mom and I walked, I assume hand in hand, over to the school.  We went into a busy room filled with kids.  The floors were wood polished by generations of little feet.  My mom was talking with the teacher in the front of the room.  I was directed to the back.  There was a low table covered with various natural history curios.  Shells, rocks (those might have been a bad idea) and a dried up little alligator of the sort people once brought back from Florida vacations.  I thought that was very cool and held it up to show mom.  But when I turned around....she was gone!  Welcome to Academia, four year old self.

First Grade.  I remember a "drill" of some sort where we all had to go down into the basement of the school.  There was a gymnasium there.  Really just a long room with of course another wooden floor.  Was this a tornado drill?  Maybe.  But this was the year of the Cuban missile crisis so it may have had a darker motivation.  I have more memories of the gym than you'd think.  Climbing big hemp ropes.  Square dancing.  Dodgeball, which was then called "Bombardment". 

Second Grade.  Another bright, high ceiling room with a polished wooden floor.  Somewhat puzzling to my six year old self one day our teacher was replaced by a person with a different name who looked just like the original one.  I was a bright little tyke but did not immediately figure out that when women got married they got a different name.  Probably the more varied options available to people in the modern era would have been even more confusing.

I also remember the principle coming into our classroom, standing under the American flag that was over the door,  and telling us that President Kennedy had been shot.  I think school was dismissed early that day.

Third Grade.  Called down to the principals office.  This only happened twice in my academic career.  The other time was for throwing snowballs on the playground.  This time it was to tell my brother and I that our house had burned down.  You'd think we would have heard the fire engines....

Here's the flat roofed Lowell from my era.

Fourth Grade.  Maybe Fifth.  I was in the library.  It was a little cubby off to one side on the second floor.  I heard running footsteps out in the hallway.  Later I learned that a kid - as my memory may not be perfect we'll just call him K.W. - had slashed the principal's tires then chased him down the hallway with a knife.  Unsurprisingly this dangerous person - who actually lived on our block - later went to prison for life after murdering someone.  We had some creepy encounters with him growing up.  I remember him as being several years older, so had he come back from Junior High or High school to settle an old score?  

My memories of Lowell are all very busy.  In fact it was seriously overcrowded.  Here's a graph of actual versus recommended capacity.

It was supposed to have an optimum capacity of 390 students and a maximum of 470.  I guess I was there just after the baby boom peaked, but it still had over 600 students.  We made do.  30 per classroom.  A remarkable 50 per kindergarten, although I suspect that meant each teacher had AM and PM sections of 25.  And remember, that was for the rated, or maximum number, not the actual population!  The actual teacher/student ratio was 32.2:1, not counting the kindergarten tots.

I've read a report on the school, that's where the graph and stats came from.  The conclusion was that it was substandard and that bringing it up to snuff would be very difficult.  It was closed in the early 1970's.  

I was in college when it was slated for demolition.  I think it had already been stripped of everything worth salvaging when I visited one summer evening.  It was easy to walk in although I don't recall quite how I entered.  Everything seemed so small.  No wonder those rubber balls stung so much in Bombardment, even young arms could get some oomph behind them at point blank range.

Of course the neighborhood has continued to change.  I've not been back in many years and assumed it had fallen apart completely.  But thanks to the wonders of Google Earth I can fly around it in an incorporeal state.  The site of Lowell Elementary now has single family houses built on it.  The house on the corner where I babysat the pesky Murray kids looks the same.  The one across the street where a girl I was vaguely interested in during Junior High has changed some but the porch where she sometimes sat remains.  And our house?  I'll be honest, I did not recognize it.  The distinctive fence is gone, the enclosed front porch is now open.  It's painted a weird yellow.  And it is smaller, so much smaller than I remember.

I guess it's true, you really can't Go Home again.  Except as a Google phantom laden with faint memories.

A few other remembrances of that era from previous Detritus posts....

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Tree Shaped Tombstones - Ripon Wisconsin

Ripon Wisconsin is one of those early communities that has a few notable claims to fame.  It has a well known college.  It is also the official birthplace of the Republican Party in 1854.*  So you'd expect plenty of history and a bit of prosperity.  Just the place to hunt for tree shaped tombstones on a quick trip through the area.  

Alas, not an abundance to be found.  One in fact.  But a nice specimen.

Fall leaves don't make for the best contrast in photos of tombstones, but do add a sense of mortality to them.

Speaking of transience, a good reminder that these monuments will not be around forever, at least not in their full magnificence.  A dove resting on a crumbling perch.

And a nice little planter.  Although I do on rare occasions see monuments of this sort with fresh flowers I have never seen the planters used for their intended purpose.  


* The last time I was through Ripon was in the summer of 2016.  Wisconsin's primary election was coming up and there was a last ditch effort to get anyone other than Donald Trump on the ticket.  I recall a sign saying something along the lines of "The Republican Party was born here, don't let it die here".  Prophetic words, and as usual with prophecy, ignored.  Stone is not the only transient thing in the world.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Catch Meets Cache - The Strange Fish Geocache Series

In 2020 I took up geocaching.  But, not surprising to those who know me, I did not do this in the normal way.   Most people want to find them.  I like to hide them.  And make them different, something other than the standard pill bottles wrapped in camo tape.  No, they should be sneaky, informative, whimsical.  And whenever possible, all three.

Last year I did a mushroom themed series that was rather fun.  Five caches along a trail each relating to some aspect of, well, mushrooms.

For the year ahead I'm working on a Strange Fish series.  Of course this plays off my Strange Fishing challenge which is ongoing.  I still aim to catch 20 different species in seven dedicated days of fishing.  I have three more days and need nine, so it will be difficult.

But why not mix two worlds?  Put the cache near the catch?  So I've been tinkering with custom geocache containers that will go near the location of odd fish catches.  Yes this means I need more things to do.  But have a look, it is better than an old guy making birdhouses.

I realize of course that a few people in the geocache world do drop in here for a look see.  Won't matter, those folks are very crafty and will generally find what they are looking for in any case.

And speaking of cases....

Here's our starting material, an earbud case.  One buck at the surplus store.

When you open it up here's what is inside.  The larger set of bumps we'll snip off.  The smaller set we'll need later.

Next step is to cut out a fish shape from thin Lexan.  It is glued to the back of the case, that being the flat side, with some marine epoxy.  Also from the surplus store.

Next, gray spray paint and a stuck on "Googly Eye".  

Not bad if I may say so myself.  I test these things by putting them under a running faucet, figuring that this is way more water exposure than they are likely to face in a well chosen hide.  There is tiny amount of water that makes it through where the hinge is on the top, so I'll put a small bit of grey duct tape there.  

Here's the inside view of the finished product.  Note the very handy pencil holder!  Geocache finders sign the log to prove their find.  The paper for the log is a special water resistant type, and in any case is inside a plastic sleeve.  The pencil holds everything in place.  Each cache will relate to a specific species, and I'm starting out with one of my favorites, the mighty Creek Chub.

The back surface of the "fish" is flat, allowing for placement of say, stick on magnets.  Or, a wire "hook" on the mouth.  I've even tinkered with one of those little ID badge spools so you could tuck the fish is some recessed nook, grab it, and pay out line to remove it from hiding.

Friday, January 8, 2021

My visit to Kiel, Wisconsin....

As you'd correctly guess from its name, the little town of Kiel, Wisconsin was settled mostly by Germans.  I stopped in on my fall road trip and found an assortment of interesting things.  None perhaps quite sufficient for a stand alone post but in aggregate a fascinating picture.  Breweries, tombstones....and a machine gun.


Gutheil Brothers

Dates are a bit "squishy" but the Gutheil brewery seems to have been Kiel's first, starting in 1858.  It was outside of town and on a nice convenient hill.  It is said that the Gutheil brothers made an excellent product, perhaps too much quality for the modest prices they charged.  $5 for a 32 gallon barrel and a nickel to fill a pitcher sure sounds reasonable.  The brewery topped off at a production level around 670 barrels a year in 1879.  An old settler named John Schroeder recalled in 1928, that the Gutheils "....used to have various-sized glasses, too.  There was the largest size called the Plattdeutscher Schmitt, and the square Mecklenburger Schmitt...".

The brothers Gutheil moved on to other ventures in the late 1880's, with 1887 likely the terminus for this venture.  The brewery building was torn down in the early 1900's and a brick house built on the foundations.  It is said that evidence of its prior use can be seen in the basement....

Here's the site in late 2019.  The brick house stands strong.  All sorts of odd lumps and bumps in the hillside behind could be anything from vanished outbuildings to modern septic tanks.  I'm assuming there was once a  stone arch style cave extending straight back from the brewery site.

The Dimmler Brewery

Dimmler, Duseler, Dimmel, even the name of the proprietor is obscured by the passage of time and the mutability of German spellings.  The brewery probably got started in 1859 but given its prime location a small scale operation preceding this would not be surprising.  The location was, in modern terms, 28 East Fremont.  The same gentleman named Schroeder quoted above, had some recollections of this establishment too.  It is said that a cellar was excavated, with dimensions of 22 feet by 23 feet by 18 feet.  This too would suggest an arched construction and other than the unusual height would fit a small brewing operation.  

The Dimmler brewery supposedly made even better beer than the Gutheils.  They had a few advantages there.  The water they used was said to be superior and being right next to the mill pond they would have had all the ice they needed.  (Schroeder claims that the cellar kept the beer cold without it but with a presumed length of only 23 feet that's unlikely).

But the venture was not a success, going out of business in 1872.  Local competition, financial difficulties and an on site stabbing contributed. Part of the building became The German Drug Store and later the Riverside Grocery.  The latter business apparently kept using the cellar for storage.  The building was damaged by fire in 1999 and razed in 2000.  Until fairly recently the cellars were said to be intact and even after the building was demolished a mound of earth marked their location somewhere near a house at 20 East Fremont.  Alas, today a new housing complex has removed all traces.  

Early breweries had assorted outbuildings and spread out over multiple lots, so there is a small chance that this stone structure behind 10 East Fremont might be related to the earlier enterprise.  

Tree Shaped Tombstones

German and other central European communities seem to have a fondness for these elaborate monuments.  So I had considerable hopes when walking about a little hillside cemetery in Kiel. I only found one, but it is an oddity.

Nicely executed work, love the little acorns.  This is the only example I've seen that represents two families.  They must have been closely aligned by business or family tree connections.  Ruhestaedte means "resting place".  The conjoined AE is also peculiar, I think I've seen it once or twice on Norwegian tombstones but never German.

Standing Guard

Down the hill from the cemetery is a little park with the not uncommon dedication to local veterans.  These places often have assorted martial hardware on display either US surplus or captured enemy weapons.  Here we see something interesting.

This is an impressively well preserved German machine gun of the M1908 variety.  The plate with the serial number indicates it was made in 1918, and so was perhaps captured by American troops late in the war.  Were they lads from Kiel?  If so, did they feel conflicted on any level regards fighting against men who were culturally closer to them than many of their fellow citizens?  If such attitudes existed back then they have not been recorded in any public fashion I've run across.

For now the old machine gun is keeping a wary vigil.  That red roof in the distance is a Dairy Queen and you just know they are up to something....

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Crossing Oceans in a Plague.

January.  The point in time where I usually am well into arranging my spring archaeology trip.  Once upon a time there were actually better deals to be had on airfare and lodging if you made your moves right after the holidays.  Now, not so much.  But of course there are other reasons to be carefully planning, and for waiting a bit.

I'm scheduled to excavate at Vindolanda in late April and on into May.  When last year's digs were cancelled due to Covid they just slid everyone's reservations ahead a year.  The question of course is whether I can manage it in 2021.  Travel from the US to the UK is down about 75% compared to one year ago....having dropped to near 100% shutdown during the early days of Covid.

Here's the logistics.   I have a sizable credit with the airlines as last year's tickets had already been purchased before things got Unpleasant.  It appears they still fly to the UK.  In fact with every other seat - or more - empty it would likely be a nice relaxing flight.  I figure I can score a bona fide N95 mask from somewhere.  I'll be wearing it during the flight and probably for a while prior to same.

Once on the ground things get difficult.  The UK has had at least as bad a time with Covid as the US, and I'd argue a bit worse.  So much international travel, such a fragile economy, and with the reality of having Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland all on slightly different wavelengths things get tough politically.  At the present time international travelers arriving on their shores have to do the following:

- Quarantine somewhere.  And they appear to take this seriously.  Fines, jail terms.  Probably there is some old law on the books that would allow them to behead you.

- Five days from your departure from foreign climes you have to have a Covid test.  The NHS will be happy to do this quickly and efficiently.  Ha, ha!  Just kidding.  You have to book a private test.  It seems to cost about 200 pounds.  It's unclear what the turnaround time is.  If you dash into their testing center, which seems to be grudgingly allowed, it might approach the 24 hour window that can be managed in the US.  

- Negative test means you are released from quarantine.  On return to the US you should self isolate again, probably for seven to ten days.

I consider myself a redoubtable traveler.  Very few things rate as total deal breakers for a trip I'm determined to take.  But this is right on the edge.  I think I could manage five days in some dismal lodging in Newcastle.  There appear to be spectacular hotel deals available for some reason or another.  I have local pals who have expressed willingness to drop off essential supplies.  Mostly one assumes packages of crisps and cans of ale.  This is the modern day equivalent of a Plague Stone economy!  I can bring along a couple of books I've been meaning to read or perhaps ask for recommendations to be included with the provisions.  Sure this will cost a bit but honestly we've been economizing so much of late that it's no big deal.  If I stay cheap enough it would, test included, probably be less than the Stimulus Checks that have come and will maybe again come to my mailbox.  And after all, that half capacity flight will be of near First Class comfort.

The bigger cost is non monetary.  Realistically this is a week or more of pre-travel caution.  A week of UK lockup.  Two weeks of digging.  Another week of post return self quarantine.  That's a long time to not see the grand kids and assuming robotics gets going again a lot of time away from that.  It's not highly likely that either the UK will change their draconian stance or that I'll get vaccinated by then, so this weighs heavily on me.

Well perhaps it will all work out.  I'm going to hold off as long as I can hoping to find better solutions.  For instance, if I route through Bermuda or the Cayman Islands there's no quarantine!   

So I'm thinking about five long, boring days in Newcastle.  It is a nice enough town, lots of history.  The first time I visited I went for a bit of a walkabout before heading over to Vindolanda.  I had my first ever helping of Black Pudding in a little shop next to a historical marker indicating that a Plague Burial Pit was nearby.  I figure I'll find a hotel near this site for a bit of ironic fun.  And if I clear quarantine late in the day I can go out for another walk.....I'm thinking this guided tour would be appropriate!

Addendum.  Since writing the above a new wrinkle has been added.  The US will require a negative Covid test three days before a UK to US flight.  Sigh.  Very close to the last straw here....

Monday, January 4, 2021

Sunday Stroll

I've been quite good about daily walks of two miles or so.  Weather is irrelevant but yesterday was actually quite nice.  Overnight there had been just the right combination of temperature, humidity and calmness to produce some remarkable frost everywhere.

When I saw this on the sidewalk a curious thought struck me.  It looks pretty much like when I trim my now white beard.

You don't suppose that 2020,  in the traditional representation, is still sneaking around somewhere?  It would be just typical for him to shave the beard and come back to bring us more mischief! 

Walking on I ended up down by the river.  Chippewa Falls was founded on fur trade and lumbering, so this is rather appropriate:

It appears we have a beaver living in the city park or its environs.  In fact I saw a brown, sleek critter swimming down there a couple of weeks ago and now its ID is certain.  These guys can be significant pests, damming up trout streams, gnawing down nice trees.  I'd not be surprised if he ends up being dealt with by Animal Control.

On the other hand, he seems a particularly ambitious - dare we say Eager - beaver.  He keeps nibbling on the downhill side of this snack a while longer and the problem may resolve on its own.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Happier New Year

Generally speaking major holidays are a slow time for blogging specifically or for social media generally.  We should all have better things to do.  But ah, 2020, the year that broke all the rules.  As we creep up on a full year of semi imprisonment I guess there's not that much else going on today.  Other than a decidedly non-fond farewell to a stinker of a year.

I did not get on an airplane.  Heck I did not leave the state of Wisconsin.  My usual cycle of teaching and learning was blown up.  No summer robotics programs, no (live) presentations on local history, no tech school or University courses.  Some major elements of post retirement life were swept away.  Their return is uncertain.

I suppose there are other things I did not do that count as good.  I did not, so far as I know, get Covid.  I kept getting offers from the State of Wisconsin to renew my medical license to help with the feared disease apocalypse.  I said "Nah, no thanks".  And I don't see evidence that my help was needed in any case.

If I had put myself back in the front lines I suppose some of the surprisingly good aspects of the year would not have happened.  We got to spend plenty of time with the grand children.  It took discipline with respect to other contacts but it was totally worth it.  They are now 5 and 2.  We got to see some moments that were magical....and ephemeral.  Some things, all the best ones really,  happen once and you have to be there.  

As to the new, replacement hobbies...well they're OK.  Geocaching is fun and a bit of exercise.  Trying to catch multiple species of bizarre fish is the sort of thing that my sense of humor appreciates.  Joining, belatedly, the culture of blaze orange deer hunters is both interesting and tasty.

I've written more than in some years.  Certainly on a wider range of topics.  Detritus of Empire is creeping up on the ten year mark.  It too will evolve and then one day go away.  But today is not that day.  

And so we enter a strange late phase of the pandemic.  The vaccine is now available.  I actually know three people who have gotten it.  For the rest of us the wait drags on.  And an impatient, nervous wait it is.  I don't live in fear of Covid.  But even I am getting more cautious.  It has been a long, drawn out conflict.  The losses have been heavy and the damage to our spirits even worse.  It is rather like 1918 and the approaching end of the Great War.  Nobody wanted to be the last casualty, so on the morning of November 11th you can bet there were damned few soldiers peeking over the parapets.  It would be tragic to die hours before the Armistice, even if it did turn out to be no more than a 20 year reprieve.  Just as it would be tragic to contract Covid and expire just before your circumstances qualified you for vaccine.  

Of course surviving Covid will not make us immortal and none of us should lose track of the important things in life.  But heck, give me a 20 year reprieve and you'll hear no complaints.