Category Archives: FYIs And Historical Snippets

Poe, Poe, Poe! Happy Holiday, Crabbies!

Today, we’re going to have a look at that guy with the splendid hair:

You may have heard of him. No, he’s not Michael Vick, but nice try! That would be Edgar Allan Poe, writer of creepy tales, doer of drugs, party man and general prototype for failing artists everywhere. Except he wasn’t really as screwed up as all that (IT WAS A SMEAR CAMPAIGN I TELL YA, A PASSEL OF LIES!) but I’ll get to that in a bit.

First, I want to take a moment to plug a new nerd venture called Seven Deadly Divas. If you’re a gamer, a reader, a movie watcher, a dork, a nerd, a geek, someone who spent your formative school years jammed in a locker or getting wedgies from asshole classmates, this site might be for you. It’s a group of women who have committed to blogging one day a week so there’s always something interesting to read about, and our common thread is nerdtastic hobbying. We’re smart and funny gals, so it might tickle your fancy to read our daily brain children, though I cannot guarantee it’ll tickle that sweet spot right under your . . . well, you catch the drift. So wander on over and check it out if’n you like. If you aren’t into gaming, the next day might be a book or a recipe or something. I like to think there’s a little bit for everyone there so keep checking back.

Now then, back to the business at hand. Every person I know was exposed to Edgar Allan at some point during their school years, and I don’t even mean in the creepy-guy-on-the-train-with-the-trench-coat way. If it wasn’t The Telltale Heart or The Black Cat, it was likely some of his poetry. Annabel Lee, to this day, stands as one of my favorite poems probably because it rhymes and I’m a simple creature:

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

(The full text can be found here.)

According to my grandmother, Edgar Allan Poe had the most beautiful prose of any American author – yes over Steinbeck and William Faulkner – and I can buy into that. Even if you don’t agree with the assessment, you can’t debate Poe’s influence on literature; he was responsible for inventing detective fiction, so if you like those crime novels? You have him to thank. He made short stories into an art form, was the first dabbler in science fiction, and took horror on a whole new path. Psychological horror – the beast within versus the vampire without, for example – pretty much began with Edgar Allan.

Like most things that are awesome, people were too stupid to realize how GOOD Edgar Allan Poe was when he was alive, which meant he was perpetually broke. Trying to survive on poetry simply wasn’t done back in the 1800’s, but Edgar was either brave, over-confident, or maybe he didn’t eat his Wheaties, because he made a stab at it anyway. It proved a thankless venture. His diet of pebbles, bird feathers and grass can attest to that. Posthumously, a lot of sources claimed the reason Edgar was so bad off was his abuse of drugs and alcohol, the implication being that had Edgar walked the straight and narrow he wouldn’t have been destitute (so instead of the pebbles bit, he might have gotten three day old bread and a swallow of water or something).

The problem with blaming the booze and crack for Poe being broke? Was that he wasn’t a drunk crackhead. Bet ya didn’t know that. I’m also going to take a stab and say you’ve never heard of Rufus Wilmot Griswold, who was responsible for Poe’s craptastic reputation. Griswold was a contemporary of Poe’s who worked as an editor and a literary critic. His big claim to fame was his work assembling an enormous anthology of American poetry. He didn’t actually start out as Poe’s rival. In fact, he included Poe’s poetry in his anthology because he could appreciate his talent. But then three things happened to sour the relationship:

1) Edgar Allan Poe was critical of a lot of the work Griswold put into his anthology, essentially suggesting Griswold wouldn’t know a good poem if it wedged itself up his butt and exploded
2) Griswold took over Edgar’s old job as editor at Graham’s Magazine and made more money.
3) A woman. Yeah, blame the boobs.

The first two are pretty straight forward. Griswold didn’t like being told his choices were shitty, and Poe didn’t like finding out his successor made more money than he did. This paved the way for Bad Juju between the guys, and matters were only made worse when pretty li’l Frances Sargeant Osgood came around. Telling the story of the tricycle-of-stupid that the Osgood/Griswold/Poe thing became would be another blog post entirely, but let’s just leave it at both men wanted Frances, there were scandals, and she ended up taking off to return to . . . her husband. Yeah, it was one of those messy situations.

Long story short, Griswold and Poe hated each other, and did up until the day both of them died. The problem is how Poe actually died, and his death certificate is nowhere to be found to help solve the mystery. Edgar took off from New York in 1849 and was headed down to Richmond, but he only made it as far as Baltimore. Someone noticed the writer slouched at a bar a couple days later. People simply assumed booze was responsible for his shoddy condition (in fact a local newspaper said he had “congestion of the brain” – a euphemism for alcohol poisoning – when they printed the story of Edgar’s death). But! Edgar managed to make his way to a printer and get this note sent off to a doctor before he passed out:

Dear Sir —

There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan’s 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, and I assure you, he is in need of immediate assistance.

Yours, in haste,

Jos. W. Walker

When I’m drunk? I can’t walk, speak, or even breathe properly. That was awfully coherent for a dude supposedly so fucked up he couldn’t take his jang out to pee straight.

There’s also the matter of Poe being found in someone else’s clothes. Manly clothes, mind you – they didn’t make him up to look like Ru Paul on a bender, but still . . . why would a man who traveled with his own baggage wander around a city aimlessly for four days wearing someone else’s suit? Doesn’t make sense, which is now leading historians to suggest that Edgar was cooped. Cooping was this lovely practice where twisted politicians would pay thugs to kidnap people, rough them up, drug them, and them dress them in various disguises so they could vote in polls all across the city. Good to know politicians haven’t changed much in a hundred and fifty years.

Poe kicked off on October 7, 1849 and “some guy” named Ludwig wrote Poe’s obituary. It wasn’t a flattering portrayal of a great American author. In fact, you could say it was petty, threw stones, and accused Poe of being a philanderer, a druggy, and a drunk. You could also say this obituary was a very successful demonstration of character assassination. I mean, most folks still think Poe died in a pile of his own filth thanks to morphine, regardless of the note, the matter of the cooping, and suggestions by medical doctors that Poe’s symptoms were synonymous with multiple diseases, including but not limited to rabies, cholera, or syphilis. But one guy writes one obituary and the next thing you know no one can shake their opinions of Edgar Allan Poe being a degenerate.

Of course, if you take into account that Ludwig was actually none other than Rufus Wilmot Griswold, the bitter douchey rival, it puts a new spin on things. After Edgar died, Griswold proclaimed himself Poe’s “literary executor”, and for some reason, it was allowed – very likely because Poe had no living relations to stop it. Griswold went on to write an incredibly unflattering biography of Edgar, perpetuating his smear campaign, and though Poe’s close friends all said it was a big steaming pile of exaggerated crap, the damage had been done. Americans everywhere assumed – and still assume – Edgar Allan Poe was sniffing lines off of some crackwhore’s ass.

I’m not going to say that Poe was a great guy. He was kind of a peckerhead in his own right, and was the worst of the worst when it came to literary elitism (he used to speak publicly on how crappy Longfellow was), but I don’t think anyone deserves the bum rap he got. It’s one thing to kick a guy in the teeth when he’s alive, but when he’s dead? That’s a new level of low. So moral of my meandering Edgar Allan Poe story: Poe STILL rules, Griswold can suck a fat turd in hell, pass the coffee.

The Ten Plagues. Illustrated!

I’ve been a huge fan of Hyperbole and a Half for a long time. If you haven’t checked it out, you definitely should. I am NOWHERE near as talented as that chick, but for a one shot thing, Miss Allie has inspired me to illustrate one of my informational blog posts. Yeah, it’s that bad. Yeah, I should be ashamed and I’m not.

So the plagues of Egypt. You probably heard of ’em. There’s ten, and though I’ve known that for a long assed time, I couldn’t actually name all ten. I got stuck somewhere around locusts and boils aaaand . . . yeah, didn’t know the rest. So I went to the old standard to edumacate myself. Now, I’m going to flat out admit I’m researching this for the fiction project I’m working on. It’s this apocalyptic . . . thing, and I thought knowing how God went biblical on prideful people’s asses was important in case I decide he wants to do it again. Maybe not the same plagues mind you. I think my version of God might inflict people with a singular Kenny G song on every radio station at all hours, and the only thing McDonald’s would serve would be their limp-lettuced salads.

Onwards. The ten plagues appeared in the Old Testament, books 7 – 12 of Exodus. Pharaoh was ruling it up in Egypt at the time, probably having himself a gigantic pimp palace made with the sweat and blood of his Israelite slave task force. God, then in his Yahweh phase (he decided to change his name to a symbol a few years later to get out of a sticky recording contract, but that’s a story for another day) was not keen on his chosen people having to serve some stank-ass human. So he said, “Pharaoh, cut the shit.”

Pharaoh was an idiot.

Operation Biblical Shock and Awe commenced, first with the Plague of Blood:

I’m not really sure if the plagues were supposed to start small and get bigger over time or what, but Moses told his homeboy Aaron to raise his staff over the Nile river and turn everything to blood. Of the ten, this plague might horrify me the most (well, behind boils, but that’s because it brings back images of fourteen year old Hillary with pimples the size of hubcaps). The fish died, everything began to smell worse than a homeless man’s jock strap. Pharaoh prolly should have been cowed by this, but his expert team of experts – aka sorcerers – said to Pharaoh “Hey, that’s not so big, we can make water into blood, too” And they did. So Pharaoh gave God two big middle fingers up and told him to suck it.

This resulted in the plague that scared me the least, the Plague of Frogs:

I kinda like frogs, so I didn’t see this one as so terrible. I guess it would be if the frogs were mutant brain-eating zombie frogs, or you’re a ranidaphobe (which means a frog-a-phobe). If they WERE actually zombie frogs, well . . . that’s fucking terrifying. What I find kind of funny is rivers of blood didn’t impress Pharaoh, but the frogs? Fuck yeah. He promised Moses he’d let the Israelites go, and just like that the frogs all died. Moses was happy, thought it was over, but then Pharaoh turned around, dropped his drawers, and said PUNKED, MOSES, I WAS LYING AND SHIT.

Enter the Plague of Gnats:

The idea of gnats crawling all over my body sort of makes the bile rise in my throat. In my mouth, eyes, ears . . . down my shirt. Scuse me a minute, vomiting on a basset hound. (AND WE’RE BACK). Besides being incredibly gross, this plague was also the deadliest of them all. Gnats covered folks in every way, shape, and form. Yeah, people choked to death on gnats. And all because Pharaoh was a liar face.

As gnats weren’t insult enough, God dropped the Plague of Flies next.

Flies gross me out in the worst way, so I can imagine if I was one of Pharoah’s folks I probably would have thrown shit (yes, actual feces) at him and demanded he stop being a doucheface. Actually, scratch that, I’d have been done with the rivers of blood, but a more stalwart me would have stuck it out til the flies. The gnats went away, the flies came to stay, but at least they were polite enough to leave the Israelites home, the Land of Goshen, alone. Inevitably, Pharaoh went to Moses and said OKAY LOOK YOU GUYS WIN, SERIOUSLY I’LL LET YOUR PEOPLE GO. And Moses once again believed him. Sorry, Moses, you’re looking like a sucker here, cause guess what. Pharaoh was -lying-.

And so the Plague of Pestilence hit:

This didn’t take out people, only livestock, and only Egyptian livestock at that. It was a very choosy Mad Cow Disease, it seems. The Egyptians’ cows, goats, and sheep all dropped dead, apparently after going on a homicidal rampage if my art is any indication. This probably should have told Pharaoh that shit was getting real, but he was too stubborn to relent. He really needed a new pair of Nikes, and Israelite labor was too good to pass up. So he said “No, Moses. I’m not going to be reasonable. Your frogs were pretty good, but this dead sheep thing is just tacky. Go away.”

So Moses and Aaron (Aaron was Moses’s brother, sort of like the Robin to Moses’s Batman only infinitely awesomer than Robin ever was or ever will be) picked up some dirt and threw it in the air. Because dirt, as we know, causes the Plague of Boils.

This one understandably freaked Pharaoh out, especially when his sorcerers – who’d pulled that neat water to blood trick early on – were afflicted with the boils and couldn’t heal themselves, never mind anyone else. It probably looked like that scene from Planet Terror when Tarantino’s junk fell off. Remember those pus filled nodules? Ewwwww.

By then, you have to figure God was pretty pissed off. He’d sent seven plagues down and Pharaoh had lied to Him at least twice, staunchly refused to do His bidding twice, and ignored Moses’ requests the other times. By all accounts God should have just shit a brick on Egypt and walked away, but he wanted to prove his sovereignty to Pharaoh so that he might, you know, have some other converts. Not such a bad plan really. So he sent the Plague of Hail:

Which was not the small, compact hail that will gently tap on your windows on cold February nights. It was like FUCKALL hail that was laced with fire. Yeah, I dunno why it didn’t melt the shit out of the hail, but the best answer that comes to mind is “Because God said so”. It rained down onto the earth, avoiding the Land of Goshen yet again (if I were an Egyptian, I so would have been hanging out there, by the way. It’s the only smart thing to do). Pharaoh pleaded for mercy from the enormous fiery death storm, said he was a sinner, and vowed yet again to let the Israelites go.

Multiple choice time!


A) Was telling the truth because he’s an honest, intelligent Pharaoh!
B) Was lying! Again!
C) All of the above! If you pick this you’re spectacularly stupid!

Plague number eight was the Plague of Locusts:

God was just done. Pharaoh’d been a tool, wasn’t impressed by any of the previous plagues, and was showing signs of mental ineptitude possibly brought about by repeated shakings from an Egyptian au pair. So He said “I’m gonna harden Pharaoh’s heart against me so he keeps refusing to give, and then I’m going to wreck his shit up with my other plagues.” Remember how the cows were mostly dead, thus leaving Egypt full of unhappy vegetarians? That wasn’t punishment enough. The locusts swarmed down in an angry black cloud to eat all the plants. So really, a balanced Egyptian meal now consisted of rocks, an old shoelace, and a few broken Tinker Toy bits.

Once that was done, the Plague of Darkness began:

. . . and it lasted for three days. Egyptian life was officially in the crapper. There was no food and now no light to do anything by. Pharaoh started losing his shit for real – this was a huge slight against the Egyptian sun god Ra – and he told Moses “look, the Israelites can go? But uhhh, can you leave your livestock behind? We got no food, yo.” Moses refused, and Pharaoh threatened to have him executed if Moses ever showed his face again. Moses said “I actually won’t see you again,” and very likely put some sunglasses on and slowly walked away while epic music played in the background. If this scene had been directed by Michael Bay, there would have been an explosion and Moses wouldn’t have looked at it.

The tenth and final plague hit next, and that was the Plague of the Firstborn:

God commanded Moses to tell all of the Israelites “mark your door with lamb’s blood so this plague skips over you”, and because they were smarter than Pharaoh (honestly, their left testicles alone were smarter than Pharaoh), they did as they were told. Every first born in Egypt died then, from man to beast, including Pharaoh’s own son. This finally crippled him, as he feared for his own life next. It was like he had to face his mortality in the wake of the most serious beatdown ever. The UFC’s got nothing on this. He told Moses to leave, to take his people with him, and to not let the door hit them on their collective asses on the way out. The Israelites figured Pharaoh was enough of a prick to change his mind if they waited too long, so that very night Moses walked them out of Egypt and towards the promised land.

Hopefully this depiction (and blatant lack of art skill) didn’t offend anyone too much. I don’t mean to be irreverent, only I do a little, and I suppose someone could get in ma grill for talking smack about a pretty major portion of the Old Testament. I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you feel the need, well . . . go nuts.

But you should know me and God? We’re like this. And I got a Kenny G plague that will really knock your socks off if you push me.

Hillary’s History: Murder Bloody Murder!

So besides ships sinking, I have a thing about unsolved mysteries – most especially spectacularly creepy murders. Doesn’t that make me sound like a bucket of bunnies and unicorns? Anyway, I hope most of you remember this guy:

That’s Robert Stack. Wow, I never realized how much eye makeup he wore before today. Anyway, I remember being a kidling and watching Stack walking around his fake police office trying to solve alien abductions, kid snatching, and old and new murders with tips from his audience on Unsolved Mysteries. I was transfixed by this crap and to a point still am. Yesterday in my interwebbings, I stumbled across a hot topic murder I’d never heard of before. HOLY CRAP, RIGHT? Yeah, that’s what I said guys. Holy crap indeed. Holy crap indeed.

So! Once upon a time in a place called Rode, England, there lived a dysfunctional family called the Kents. There was daddy Samuel Kent, his wife Mary Ann, and their two children, Constance and William. They were normal enough for a while, for English people anyway (/grin) – a nice country estate, tea and crumpets and elevensies, “Jolly Good Sirs!” and what-have-yous in the mid 1850’s – but then something terrible happened. Mary Ann got Teh Sick, and Samuel Kent (being a stellar guy and all around romantic) lamented that he no longer had anywhere to get his icky sticky, so he started playing grab happy with his children’s maid, Mary Drew Pratte. The kids weren’t keen on this. You could even go so far as to suggest they were angry about this. They were teenagers at the time it started, so it’s not like they had the blessing of youthful stupidity on their side. Nope, they were well aware that while Mom fevered it up in one room, Dad was playing hide the pickle a couple rooms down with someone else.

So Mom kicked off about 1856 or so. Dad grieved for twelve whole seconds before marrying the maid he’d been nailing. Mary Drew Pratte became Mary Drew Kent, and promptly did what any good English wife did in those days: rapidly spewed a boy child out of her loins. They called him Francis. History’s a little vague on what happened during that kid’s first few years, but all indications say whatever it was, it was not kosher. Some accounts held that Samuel Kent sort of forgot he had two other children and spent all of his time cooing over Francis. Others claimed Samuel got sick of Mary Drew and started porking yet another housemaid. Others still “gently suggested” that the two teen kids, William and Constance, were a little too close. You know, like jig-saw puzzle pieces only with naughty bits close. Creeeeepy.

Whatever the case, someone had some rage issues, because Francis Kent at almost four years old was found crammed in an outhouse vault in July of 1860. He’d been stabbed and someone had erm, nearly taken his head off. I won’t go into anymore details, but they weren’t pretty. It was really, really brutal, and incited people so much everyone was weighing in on what could have happened, including Charles Dickens (who said that the father, Samuel Kent, was a douchebag and probably killed his own son). It was one of those crimes where everyone had an opinion of what went down, but no one could prove anything. Francis’s nanny was first questioned by the authorities, but they let her go and then arrested Constance, who was sixteen at the time. She was released without a trial.

The family, being supportive, shipped Constance’s ass off to a convent and moved to Wales to hide from the overexposure.

What happened next actually shook Parliament all night long. Constance told Rev. Arthur Wagner a couple years after the fact that she killed her brother and wanted to do the right thing by going through the justice system for her crime. Rev. Wagner said he’d help her, but when he went to police, he said he’d only give them -the bare bones- of her confession because Constance was protected under sacramental confession. Keep in mind this was the Church of England, not the Catholic church, so a lot of people pointed at Wagner and called bullshit on him for invoking another religion’s rule set. The police didn’t press him as much as they could have, though, because Constance admitted to her crimes and really, what was important was they had their guilty party. She was charged five years after Francis’s death, found guilty, and shipped off to prison.

Parliament, meanwhile, bandied back and forth about whether or not to charge Reverend Wagner with anything, like contempt of court. Lots of folks said he couldn’t just make up religious rules on the spot, but others said “if we let it fly for the Catholics, we gotta let it fly for the Church of England, too”. In the end the latter group won the day, but not without a lot of grumbling and public outcry.

So post confession, it should have been a cut and dry end to the story, except a few things never matched up and people still debate them to this day. For starters, Constance claimed no motive. She said she killed Francis but bore her younger brother no ill will. The murder itself? Utterly brutal, so that doesn’t seem like a passionless crime. Everyone speculated if she did do it, it was to get revenge on her father A) for loving someone more than her, and B) as punishment for being a lecherous asshole over the years. But Constance was nothing if not temperate, and either she’d done a 180 on everyone and become something savage for a couple minutes in order to carry the murder out, or she was you know – lying about killing her kid brother.

Her disposition led a lot of people to speculate that this was the case, that William actually committed the murder and she was protecting him. At one point he was questioned for the crime but was subsequently released on the basis of no proof. If Contance and William were doing that incestuous tango bit some folks alluded to, that’d explain why the sister would try and protect the brother. William would have surely hanged for Francis’s death – and Constance nearly did (her original sentence was for death, but it was commuted to life and subsequently dropped down to the twenty years she served). But Constance never pointed fingers at anyone else. Even when both her father and brother died and she was living out her days in the convent, she flat out refused to talk about the crime beyond “I did it”, and she never tried to shuck the blame.

So there’s today’s installment of Robert Stack’s Unsolved Mysteries. Only it’s sorta solved? But not in a satisfying way.

Oh well.

Hello My Little Lotus-Eaters.

I’m a relatively lazy person. I think most people at their cores are lazy people. I suppose Type A personalities might be different (and as Becky pointed out, bless them for working so hard so everyone else can work a little LESS hard), but still, when presented with shortcuts or the opportunity to skim a little fat off the top? People will take it and run because why the fuck not.

One habit I got into that began to bother me was ‘blowing past things I heard that I didn’t understand and willfully choosing to remain ignorant instead of taking the time to look something up or ask’. I hang out with an incredibly intelligent group of people. If you listen to Lauren or Reuben talk for more than twenty minutes, they’re going to toss out a four or five syllable word and it’s going to make you blink and go ‘whaaaa?’. I do it to folks sometimes too, and it’s not because I want to make anyone feel stupid, it’s just . . . well. I love words. Lauren and Reuben are the same – they have a love affair with the language and it manifests in their daily communications with other people. Our vocabulary can (and does) terrorize at times.

(Aside: I’d apologize for using the 50 cent words but I wouldn’t mean it. I want a bigger vocabulary. I want a vocabulary so big that when I unzip you can’t help but be bedazzled by my verbose dong. Frightening image? You’re welcome.)

Back to the point of the post. Up until maybe maybe a couple months ago, I’d hear a foreign word or sentiment and I’d try to figure it out through context of the other words around it. Sometimes, depending on the conversation, that’d work. Other times? Yeah, not so much. So I’d go on my merry way, content to be lazy and dimwitted, all the while crossing my fingers that I wouldn’t encounter anything else that’d make me feel lower on the food chain than my gigantically brained friends. Of course the logical solution would have just been to say to said friends HEY FUCKOS, WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY AND WHAT’S IT MEAN. Sadly, there’s an insecure little girl inside of Hillary squealing “Don’t ask these people you adore what that word means, because you want to look like you’re just as smart as they are and admitting that a word isn’t on your radar is expressing weakness and stupidity!” I would like to choke this insecure little girl, because the lovely part about my friends – the very reason these people ARE my friends – is because they don’t judge. Sound logic doesn’t negate the panic of being outed as less smart than everyone else, though, so I made a promise to myself. If I stumble across a word or reference I don’t know and don’t have the gonads to flat out ask about? I’ll look it up later. I’ll mentally table it and address it so I don’t stay dumb.

For example, the title of this blog. I’ve been a chatty wenchling about the awesomeness that was the first two seasons of Californication. It’s the type of fast, witty writing I adore. The last time I encountered something so snappy and quick was West Wing back in the day (even though Aaron Sorkin admits now to writing the entirety of that series while doped up on cocaine and sniffing lines off of Vegas hookers’ asses. But hey, those habits produced some amazing dialogue, Aaron. Hopefully straightening out and dropping the nose candy doesn’t kill your mojo). It was the kind of stuff I wished -I’d- written, and I don’t say that about a lot.

There’s a scene in Californication season one where the main character, Hank, has started a blog, and he addresses everyone as ‘My Little Lotus Eaters’. I never thought about it much until I rewatched the season just a couple months back, and that particular line zinged me. There was clearly something there that I didn’t understand, so I did some TOTALLY LEGIT INTERWEBS RESEARCH (hai Wikipedia), and found out that the Lotus-Eaters are a Greek mythology thing. Score! I love Greek myths. Apparently they were residents of an island who ate so many lotus fruits they grew sleepy and apathetic to everything in life. Mention of the lotus-eaters pops up in the tale of Odysseus, whose men dock at Lotus Island to restock their supplies after nine days at sea. The sailors begin to eat the lotus fruits, and grow utterly listless regarding their returns home. Odysseus drags their drugged-up asses back to the ship and gets them out of there pronto so they don’t fall into a Purple Haze.

You’ll also find mentions of lotus-eaters in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poetry and James Joyce’s Ulysses.

I thought it was kind of apropos that my first venture into ‘looking up shit I didn’t understand’ resulted in the lotus-eaters thing. I mean, up until that point I was sorta acting that way about my ignorance. “WHO CARES IF I’M NOT IN THE KNOW ABOUT STUFF. I KNOW OTHER STUFF. IT’S COOL, RIGHT?” No. No it’s not cool. So now I like to think I’ve changed it up, that I do my due diligence and fill in the blanks. I challenge everyone to stop being lotus-eaters and to start using that big pile of pulsating brain matter in your skulls, too. You never know what you’ll stumble across, and when and how that new knowledge will behoove you.

More nerding, part two!

So everyone’s prolly heard about the hero Achilles. He was born to a nymph mother and a mortal king father (though Dad was the king of the Myrmidons, so he wasn’t a total scrub). Story goes Achilles had everything going for him – he was studly, smart, athletic, and in some stories queerer than a three dollar bill (but that’s a nerd-out for another day). Sadly, because he was born of a flesh and blood daddy instead of a god, he was all squishy. Like the Charmin toilet paper. So Mom did what any loving, over-protective psycho would do when presented with a near perfect but not quite mini-godling: she took him to a river of death and submerged his little ass in an effort to make him less like Charmin, more like walking, talking concrete.

It was a hell of an effort, but mom made one slight error. She held Achilles by his foot when she swiped him through the River Styx, and it meant that he had a single part of his body not protected by the immortal love juice – his heel. Do NOT ask me how taking a heel injury kills anyone, but because of that single vulnerability? Achilles ended up deader than a doornail when someone shot an arrow into his squishy spot.

The moral of the story, obviously, is don’t try to outdo the gods with your perfection attempts because they will punk your ass faster than Ashton Kutcher with a camera crew. Us antlings wandering this green earth still insist upon attempting it, though, and construct stuff we comically deem ‘indestructible’.

Hi everyone, meet Bismarck.

Looking at it kinda makes me want to poop my pants a little. I mean, that thing is like death on water, yeah? It was constructed by the Nazis to utterly decimate everything on the seas during WW2. It was 1/6 of a mile long, and had 15 inch guns – wide. I’m saying 15 inches WIDE guys. Take a look at your forearm. Yeah. Longer than that across. It could blow a hole in pretty much anything.

And hey! It did! Anyone who paid attention in world history for more than twelve seconds probably idly recalls your teacher blabbing on about the English owning the European seas for ummm, hundreds of years. The royal navy has always been PRETTY DAMN AWESOME. They built fast ships, trained great seafarers (I can’t bring myself to say seamen without giggling like I’m six. Sorry Steve. I know you’re reading this), and simply outdid everyone else’s attempts at doing anything on the water ever. The Nazis were not keen on this, mostly because those pesky Brits were one of the main foils in their plan to own the world and be homicidal hosebeasts to anyone who wasn’t blue eyed and blond haired. So in an effort to overcome the might and majesty of the British Royal Navy they made this sucker, said SUCK IT ENGLAND, and dropped her in the water on May 19, 1941.

I’m gonna give you a spoiler now, guys. I know, I know, “But Hillary, I LOVE reading about Nazi warships when I have nothing better to do during the day”. I’m a disappointing diva, and I relish your tears. Anyway! The Bismarck sank at just two weeks old, so despite it being the bad assiest of the bad asses, it didn’t live very long. But. BUT. During its brief stint as the Death Star on water, it did some pretty impressive stuff. For starters, it sunk England’s best ship with a single shell. Yep, that’s right – one impact shot of those 15 inchers and the HMS Hood went under. The Bismarck looked at the best seafarers on the sea in their best ship, gave them the finger, and sucker punched them so hard, the Hood sunk in only six minutes, killing all but 3 of its 1418 crew.

Now, to be fair, some say that sending the Hood after the Bismarck was a bad idea in the first place. The Hood had a huge weakness, and that was shoddy deck armor which proved to be her undoing. But England wanted the best of the best after what they deemed the Nazi water threat and, well, they sent it. Then sorta regretted it. The death of so many sailors incited Winston Churchill so much he pretty much said FUCKIT (he actually rally cried “Sink the Bismarck!”, but FUCKIT seems more fun) and sent like, everything else he had at it to down it. It’s prolly a good idea that he did. The Bismarck was making its way toward the Atlantic Ocean to intercept war relief ships sent from the US to England. No food or supplies would eventually whittle the Brits down and make them ripe for Nazi pwnage.

Funny how an enormous ship like the Bismarck can be hard to find when it wants to be. The Brits had every available unit trailing her, trying to cut her off before she hit open waters, and she was nigh impossible to find in the winding channels of Europe. Shit luck saved the day on that one, because a random low flying plane spotted Bismarck’s oil slick in the water and was able to report to the rest of the British fleet where to find her. Commence operation HUNT-A-BITCH.

What happens next borders on comical, and is the reason for that blabbage at the top of the article about Achilles. See, England didn’t have a lot left in the tanks to send at the Bismarck then – a few smaller ships, and some aircraft, but it wasn’t really anything to write home about. They sent a bunch of cloth winged planes (Fairey Swordfish for anyone of plane nerdage) that could only carry a single torpedo to strike at her. The torpedoes did SOME topside damage? But not a lot. Until Sub Lieutenant John Moffet and his cloth-winged plane launched a torpedo RIGHT at Bismarck’s Achilles heel – its rudder. The torpedo borked the steering mechanism, and the Bismarck could only travel one direction now. Northwest. Forever.

A ship that can only go one direction is a lot easier to find, and it’s a pretty plummy target. Bombing commenced, the top of the Bismarck was torn to bits, and once the Bismarck’s guns could no longer fire, it sunk in 45 minutes. I’m going to admit to glossing over this a bit mostly because there’s some controversy over HOW the Bismarck sank. The Brits claim it was the structural damage from their bombing attempts, and the Germans insist it was scuttling (sinking one’s own ship so it doesn’t end up in the hands of the enemy). It’s a point of pride between the nations, and understandably so: the Brits lost so much trying to bring the Bismarck down, the Germans constructed one of the greatest warships in the history of man. One wants to take credit for bringing down the unsinkable, one wants to say they built the unsinkable.

Dr. Robert Ballard (of Titanic finding fame) found the Bismarck’s carcass in 1989, and if you’re interested in seeing his hunt, there’s a special you can purchase from Amazon. The only thing he says about his find is how remarkably intact the Bismarck is. The turrets up top are gone, but even the anti-aircraft guns are still attached, and there seems to be relatively no damage to the under-carriage. He thinks that the sinking occurred because of BOTH damage and scuttling. Maybe he’s trying to appease the Germans and the Brits, who knows.

Either way, more awesome stuff from history? Yus please.

Hillary Nerds Out: The Lusitania

Okay, so I have this THING about Shipwrecks. Yesterday marked the 35th anniversary of the Edmond Fitzgerald sinking, which got me poking around the interwebs about ship sinking stuff, and inevitably I found mention of the Lusitania. When I was a kid the Titanic was found by Dr. Ballard, and I remember being glued to my TV watching the footage of the robotic submarine swimming around and picking up things like staircases, shoes, and silverware on the ocean floor. I realized that there was similar stuff for the Lusitania, I’d just never seen it. So yesterday I sought it ought!

And now stay tuned for Hillary’s nerd out Lusitania thing!

The Lusitania was sunk during WWI (May 7, 1915). There were 1959 people on board – 1257 passengers, 702 crew. When she went down, 1198 people died including nearly 100 children. She was sunk by a German submarine called U-20. Now, her being sunk is not such a big freaking surprise. I think 2/3 of all ships in the early 1900’s were sunk in European waters thanks to the Germans. No one figured out how to combat the U-boats til sometime in WW2 if I have my history right. But the Lusitania sinking stands out for a few things that are just plain odd.

1) There was a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that if the Germans were sinking a merchant or passenger ship? They let the people get off first. They did not let this happen with the Lusitania, possibly because the British Navy was telling ship captains “if you’re about to be torpedoed, charge your boat at the submarine”. A ship the size of Lusitania making impact with a u-boat? Yeah, the Lusitania might have won that collision.

2) When the orders came down from the Germans to sink the Lusitania, the quartermaster of the U-20 refused to give the order to the torpedo crew because the Lusitania had women and children on board. Because of this, he was court-martialed and sent to prison for 3 years.

3) The survivors of the Lusitania’s sinking gave the same accounting of what they heard – two huge explosions right in a row. One would obviously be a torpedo hitting. The second explosion? Well, no second torpedo was launched, so history’s mysteries! Where did the second explosion come from.

4) Previous to the Lusitania sailing, some odd changes were made to her structure. One: she flew no flag. Two: her name was darkened out with dyes so you couldn’t see her ship name, and three: she got some black paint up top she never had before.

And now it’s tinfoil hat time! The Titanic took two hours and forty minutes to sink. The Lusitania took . . . 18 minutes. And I believe the wreckage was found only 11 miles off the coast of Ireland – kinda sad that they got that close and so many people died. The death toll was so high because only 6 lifeboats got launched and the ship went down that damned fast. But the big mystery has always been “What was that second explosion”. The Germans said it was because the boat was carrying munitions (and thus their justification of sinking it in the first place), the British claimed no, no it was just a passenger ship.

Trials happened, fingers pointed, all in all it was decided the Germans were a bunch of heartless dicks for sinking a boat with little kids on it. No surprises there. What was a surprise, though, was stuff found in the 50’s and as recent as 2009.

– In the 1950’s, just as ship salvaging technology became available, a group of unmarked ships went out and bombed the shit out of the Lusitania’s carcass. The British government has always claimed ignorance, but Irish fishermen said plainly they could see and hear the bombing going on.

– The ship’s remains were purchased by an American millionaire named Gregg Bemis. He teamed up with a ship salvaging company in 2007 and did a dive with a mechanical submarine team (as shown in the Discovery Channel show Treasure Quest). Bemis’s theory was that Lusitania WAS carrying munitions, and the second explosion was caused by the torpedo hitting the cargo bay and igniting the munitions. He based this theory on weirdness on the ship’s cargo manifest. For example: the ship claimed to have 700 crates of butter . . . stored in a non refrigerated cargo bay. That makes no sense. The same was said of oysters. His theory was that these were cover up items for what was really being transported, which was ‘SPLOSIVES.

So they go out and examine the Lusitania. It’s in rough shape for a couple reasons, primarily the bombing that happened 50 years ago making it look like Swiss cheese, but secondly because of illegal fishing done in the area. The whole shipwreck is COVERED in nets. It sorta gimped their underwater exploration because that submarine is worth more than the GNP of some small countries, so they couldn’t risk it getting tangled in nets. What this dive DID accomplish, though, is twofold.

– They found undetonated bombs on the surface of the Lusitania. It was a bomb make specific to the British at the time. Is it hard proof that the Royal Navy did it? No, but it doesn’t look good for them.

– The second hole where the second explosion came from. Remember, it’s theorized that the second explosion happened internally after the torpedo hit accounting for the fast sinking.

So Bemis decides he’s gonna return with divers, which he did in 2009. The divers head down into that hole and start poking around. Aaaaand find 15000 rounds of ammunition almost immediately. From visual investigation and looking at similar crates? They make a conservative guess that there’s maybe four MILLION rounds of ammunition in there. Yeah, and none of it was on the cargo manifest. Soooo the Lusitania did in fact have shit on it that wasn’t accounted for. It’s really not all that hard to believe that the second explosion was internal anymore.

Another thing Bemis pointed out (along with other historians of this sort of thing) was that the Lusitania had a sister ship called the Mauratania which actually WAS being used in combat at the time. And when they repainted the Lusitania? Yeah, she sorta LOOKED a lot like her sister ship. So! Tinfoil hat theorists are claiming that not only did the British government try to cover up what the Lusitania actually held in its cargo bay by trying to bomb the evidence to bits, but they’re saying they practically COURTED a bombing by the Germans so they could . . . use the tragedy to get the United States to join in WWI. Guess what, if that is true, and that was their goal? It worked. Posters all over the US told men to join up and to “Remember the Lusitania”.

So no one’s outright saying the Brits spoon fed 1200 people to the Germans in 1915. They’re just suggesting it. And starting to back it up with some pretty ugly evidence.


Things I’ve Learned.

As I don’t want to go on another rant about health woes, I’m going to talk about the things I’ve been learning recently in writing my newest project.

1) The History of Bacon – Fascinating, really, considering how much bacon Americans eat. “Why did you want to learn about bacon, Hillary?” Because my main character eats it in a 1700’s setting and I wanted to make sure I represented the food correctly there.

2) Toothbrushes – The first mass produced toothbrush was made in 1780. Before then, people in Europe traditionally wrapped a rag around the end of a twig to scrape their teeth off. The Asians had a bristle brush that they used for hygiene as early as the 1200’s, though.

3) Leeching/Blood Letting – Leeching and blood letting were used to cure just about anything wrong with anyone ever up until the late 1900’s. The belief was that you could bleed the toxins out of a person. There were many tools used for this over the years, all of which resemble small torture devices. One of the main implements was called a Scarificator:

You can imagine what those blades did. Some of the machines had the ability to produce suction, and attachable cups you could drain the blood into. Apparently, these items are hot with antique dealers today.

4) Nightcaps – No, not the booze you have before you try to get into someone’s pants. People wore hats at night not because they wanted to look awesome but to (yay) keep the lice away.

And there’s your FYI for the day!