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The Spectacular Science of the Great Lakes' Glowing Rocks

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Under UV light, some of them look downright magical.

Look at Erik Rintamaki’s rock collection under the white light of a 60-watt bulb or with sunlight streaming in the window, and you might nod politely. A lifelong rock picker, the Michigander has gathered a smattering of shapes, sizes, and colors. The rocks with rounded edges—many of them small enough to fit in your palm—tell long stories of ancient, grinding ice, and the relentless movement of waves and sand. Many are unassuming shades of gray, white, or pink. Mottled or flecked with black, the rocks are pretty, he says, like cousins of granite, and compelling reminders of the churn of time. But they probably won’t blow your mind, at least until you see them under ultraviolet light.

With a UV lamp in hand, they seem be laced with orange embers. Looking at them, it’s easy to imagine the sound of a crackling fire, or the pulse of gurgling magma. Under the right wavelengths, these ordinary-seeming rocks begin to blaze like the Eye of Sauron.

Rintamaki is a collector and seller who specializes in syenite rocks rich in the mineral sodalite (he dubbed them “Yooperlites,” a nod to his home, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula), which gives them their fluorescent secret. But these are hardly the only rocks that go bananas under UV light. “There are about 4,500 different types of minerals, and 500 or so show signs of fluorescence,” says James Holstein, collections manager of physical geology at the Field Museum in Chicago.

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These minerals light up when so-called activator elements inside them are excited by high-energy UV light. “The atoms in that fluorescent mineral absorb some of that energy, but release the rest as lower-energy visible light, hence why the mineral appears to glow,” says Gabriela Farfan, curator of gems and minerals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. These activator elements, such as manganese, might be present in very small traces—sometimes on the scale of parts per million. Calcite, fluorite, and willemite are some of the minerals that do this. Under short-wave UV light, willemite looks like it is freckled with green slime. Calcite, on the other hand, might look screeching pink under short wavelengths and orange under longer ones.

Some rocks contain several types of fluorescent minerals, and still others also have minerals that phosphoresce—meaning that they can hold on to some of the fluorescent light energy and continue to shine for a little while even after the light source is removed. Aragonite is an example. “That’s a double-whammy,” Holstein says.

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But there’s no reliable way to identify one of these glow-y rocks with the naked eye. “Unfortunately, most fluorescent minerals are not quite as charming when they are not under UV light,” Farfan says. There are some exceptions, though. Some diamonds are so fluorescent that they respond to the UV light from the sun, so they appear a little milky in plain daylight, Farfan adds. But for the most part, the rest lay low. Rintamaki says that people have been tromping over the rocks he calls Yooperlites for hundreds of years—without knowing their secret.

Certain geologic deposits are particularly famous for their fluorescent riches. The Sterling Hill Mine in New Jersey is one, Farfan says, and the Smithsonian has a display showing what its walls would look like under UV. But Rintamaki has found that Yooperlites turn up seemingly everywhere he looks. Rock hounds have found them on the shores of all five Great Lakes, for instance, and in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, on railroad beds, farm fields, gravel pits, driveways, and even the landscaped areas at McDonalds and Walmart. “Anywhere there’s rocks, I’ve found them,” Rintamaki says.

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The key to spotting them, he says, is to look the right way. Rintamaki does his homework: He pokes around rocky beaches on Google Earth to get a lay of the land, and then visits in the daytime, to get a strong sense of the shoreline in mind, since the next time he’ll be there it will be really, truly dark. Then, he combs the beaches with a 365-nanometer UV flashlight, moving along the shore methodically, even ploddingly, and scans the ground in a grid. He grips the flashlight overhand and holds it by his shoulder, and then tilts the light down toward his feet, then out in front of him and back again. He moves the light six inches left or right and repeats the process, and then starts sweeping the light side to side. “Stopping and standing in one place is the best way to look,” he says. “If you’re walking, you’re going too fast.” Once he’s covered each patch of ground two or three times, he takes a couple steps and repeats the process. Then he turns and looks behind him, in case he has kicked up anything interesting as he moves along. (He plants driveway markers with glow sticks mounted on them in the sand so he can find his way back in the darkness.)

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Back when he focused on agate, he says, he sometimes came back from collecting trips empty-handed. Now that he’s in the Yooperlite business, he adds, the tour groups he guides around the beach of Lake Superior seem to find things almost instantly. “People think you have to walk eight miles,” he says. “No. We might go 200 yards.”

Rintamaki believes it’s possible to find Yooperlites anywhere there's glacial till—a patch of woods, your yard, a local strip mall. “No matter where you live,” he says, “go get a light and look.”

Found: An Old Norse 'Godhouse' Fit for Thor and Odin

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The site reflects how the rise of Christianity to the south affected the worship of the Norse pantheon.

The village of Ose, tucked among Norway’s western fjords, is what one might call prime Scandinavian real estate, if you're into the misty essence of storybooks and sagas. It’s not surprising then that there’s a market for new housing in the area, or that it once hosted temples to leading figures of the Norse pantheon.

On the site of a forthcoming housing development, archaeologists from Norway’s University Museum of Bergen recently discovered structural remains of a pagan temple, or “godhouse,” thought to date back to the eighth century. Significantly, these remains mark the first known godhouse ever discovered in Norway, LiveScience reported, though other examples have previously emerged in Denmark and Sweden.

Though the building itself is long gone, the foundations say a great deal about the history of pre-Christian Norse religion, and the region as a whole. The postholes identifiable in the ground suggest a building around 45 feet long, 26 feet wide, and up to 40 feet tall. Such large godhouses were an innovation from the sixth century, following centuries of outdoor prayer at smaller, more localized sites. According to Søren Diinhoff, an archaeologist at the University Museum of Bergen and part of the team that uncovered the site, temples like this emerged after Nordic societies began to interact with European communities to the south, where Christianity reigned supreme. Norse prayer sites subsequently began to look more like Christian churches: large, indoor, centralized architectural expressions of devotion that also served as community hubs. Their pitched roofs also propped up towers, which directly referenced the style of the Christian basilicas; four postholes in the center of this godhouse mark where the tower would have been.

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The grandeur likely reflected something beyond religion, too. Another way in which Nordic societies embraced southern influences, Diinhoff writes in an email, was to stratify by class and concentrate power among a wealthy elite. Those newly minted power players may have had a role in financing and organizing godhouses as a show not only of faith, but of social clout. The largest farms or manors, Diinhoff writes, became themselves the sights of religious feasts. In this way, he adds, the wealthy and their “manors take control over society ideology.” He adds that this godhouse would likely have been on the grounds of a family farm.

Of course, much of what the site reveals is simply the stuff of good, old fashioned, virile pagan ritual. The godhouse would have hosted ceremonies for the midsummer and midwinter solstices, and, accordingly, a large “phallus stone” also stands nearby, offering a skyward prayer for fertility. (The stone was, in fact, discovered in 1928—a hint to researchers that the area might be hiding more.) The researchers also found cooking pits and animal bones, evidence of meats that were prepared for figurines of gods such as Odin, Thor, and Freyr, and also enjoyed by the worshippers themselves. These figurines were likely left behind on the site, writes Diinhoff, but unknowingly ploughed away at some point over the last millennium.

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Tellingly, the cooking pits predate the godhouse, and suggest even earlier religious activity on the same grounds. The researchers have also found remains of two traditional “longhouses” on the site—both older than the godhouse—where farmers would have kept their livestock. At its southern end, one of these longhouses contained a circular area, a shape that Diinhoff says is always associated with religious practice in Nordic archaeology of this period. These older religious sites—the longhouse's circular area and the outdoor cooking pits—are known as hørg, while the later godhouses, writes Diinhoff, are known in the sagas as hov. With both types of place present in Ose, Diinhoff believes the site captures the partial evolution of Norse religious practice through successive generations of one family: As they rose in the social ranks, they also emerged as the focal point for the community's religious activities.

Beginning in the 11th century, when Christianity became the official religion in Norway, many old Norse religious structures were destroyed by state forces. Diinhoff and his team do not yet know whether this site was among those violently erased, but luckily, the new housing development will preserve the ritual grounds as green space.

A Historical Dig Sheds Light on the Food of the Underground Railroad

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Archaeologists found muskrat, turtle, and other edible remains in Harriet Tubman Country.

On November 4, 1857, a notice appeared in the Cambridge Democrat, the local newspaper of Cambridge, Maryland. Submitted by one Dr. Alexander Hamilton Bayly, it offered a $300 reward for anyone who could locate and kidnap a 28-year-old woman named Lizzie Amby, whom Bayly had enslaved. She had fled Bayly’s house some days before, bound north, along with her husband, Nat; a bag of possessions; and Nat’s knife and pistol. The Ambys were just two members of a group of 16 who took part in that journey, led by the abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman, who had herself fled Dorchester County to claim her freedom in 1849.

“That was a time when the Underground Railroad was on fire,” says archaeologist Julie M. Schablitsky, Chief of the Cultural Resources Division at the Maryland Department of Transportation. MDOT oversees several state historical sites, including the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, a driving tour of significant sites related to Tubman. “People were leaving Cambridge by the dozens.” That strong connection to the Underground Railroad has earned Dorchester County, where Cambridge is located, the designation “Harriet Tubman Country.”

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The house Amby escaped from still stands on a residential street a few miles from the Choptank River. In the 1800s, the plot was home to a garden, some livestock, and a handful of people, like Lizzie, whom Bayly enslaved. The house was owned by the Bayly family until 2003. Now, in the hands of a new owner, it is neatly maintained, painted yellowish-cream, with dainty shutters and a front porch frilly as a wedding cake. Its gentility is a haunting contrast to the reality that it was built from the forced labor of Black Americans.

The most compelling structure on the Bayly property is an unobtrusive two-story building out back. Mottled white, with peeling paint and warped wood boards, this is the Bayly cabin. For years, thanks to a mix of oral history and legend, locals referred to the place as a “slave cabin,” speculating that the people Bayly enslaved must have lived there. Yet no one had attempted to verify this archaeologically.

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Now, thanks to an investigation into the cabin’s foundation, Schablitsky and her team of archaeologists have uncovered a stunning breadth of objects that provide insight into the lives of the enslaved and free Black residents of the Bayly property. The dig began in 2018, and the final results were published in July 2020. Archaeologists found that the cabin served multiple functions, such as a storehouse, before Emancipation, and was likely home to free Black laborers in the late 1800s. Nevertheless, they found domestic artifacts from both periods, including poignant remnants of daily life such as a child’s tea set, a porcelain doll head, nearly intact plates, and a rubber comb.

The most revealing objects were also the starkest: a collection of hundreds of animal bones. Part of a kitchen midden, or garbage pit, under the cabin floorboards and across the yard, the bones form an intimate record of the diets of the enslaved people—and, later, free Black laborers—who occupied the space. Because of the area’s importance in the Underground Railroad, and the fact that Amby and others from Cambridge fled with Tubman, the dig also offers intriguing glimpses of the culinary skills and traditions that may have sustained those escaping slavery.

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The bones paint a picture of resourceful people using creativity to survive. Archaeologists found the bones of domestic animals, including pig, cow, chicken, and sheep or goat, but they also found fish and crab from the nearby Choptank River, and game such as rabbit, turtle, duck, goose, turkey, pigeon, woodpecker, possum, raccoon, skunk, deer, and muskrat. (Muskrat, which Harriet Tubman herself was said to hunt, remains a Dorchester County delicacy to this day). The cuts of meat and variety of game indicate that the residents lived in poverty and consistently scrambled to supplement their diets with whatever they could find.

This kind of supplementation is typical of enslaved people’s diets, says Frederick Douglas Opie, a Professor of History and Foodways at Babson College. Opie, who specializes in the foodways of the African diaspora, didn’t work directly on the site, but has researched eating on the Underground Railroad. He says that on smaller holdings like the Bayly’s, as opposed to large plantations, enslaved people’s diets would have been closer to those of their enslavers, but more nutrient-poor. In all contexts, enslaved people would have likely grown and eaten okra, corn, leafy greens, and sweet potatoes, as well as raised pigs, chickens, and goats, some for market.

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They would also have foraged, fished, hunted, and snuck food from enslavers’ stores or kitchens to stretch their rations. Schablitsky says that some enslaved people’s dwellings bear signs of attempts to hide food from enslavers. “We’d see hidden chicken bones in dirt floors,” says Schablitsky. “We have accounts of people whose mothers would steal chickens and burn the feathers.”

When enslaved people escaped, they used the same resourcefulness to feed themselves on their journey. The Underground Railroad was a network of safe houses, run by “conductors” and "station masters," free Black and white abolitionists. Participants relied on word of mouth; codes, including songs; and their ability to navigate wild terrain while constantly evading capture.

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“A lot of what fugitives would have eaten on the road would have been the same things they would have eaten in the yard,” says Anthony Cohen, an Underground Railroad historian and the founder of The Menare Foundation, which runs Button Farm Living History Center outside of Washington, D.C.

Button Farm uses period tools and heritage crops and livestock, such as brown cotton, tobacco, Jerusalem artichokes, Maryland fish pepper, Cottage Patch geese, and guinea hogs, to teach visitors about the realities of food and forced labor under slavery. Cohen’s dedication to experiential history originated with a 1996 journey he undertook to retrace the Underground Railroad. He followed routes he had researched as an undergraduate, and followed in the spirit of one of his ancestors, who escaped slavery in Georgia. Over the course of his journey, Cohen traveled more than 800 miles from Maryland to Canada by boat, rail, buggy, and on foot, with never more than a day of food in his pack. He spent the night in the homes of volunteers he met along the way.

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Cohen sourced the knowledge for this journey, as well as his current experiential historical work, from first-hand historical accounts of people who witnessed, experienced, or escaped slavery. Important sources include the autobiographies of Frederick Douglas and Underground Railroad conductor William Still’s “Journal C,” a log book where he kept details of escapees’ journeys.

In these accounts, travelers on the Underground Railroad eat whatever they can carry, beg, forage, or filch. Some common dishes enslaved people ate on plantations became staples of the journey. For example, in one of his autobiographies, Frederick Douglass describes ash cake, a staple food made by wrapping a paste of cornmeal and water in oak leaves and steaming the packet in hot ash. Cohen cites one account from two freedom seekers from North Carolina who, lacking any bowls, mixed cornmeal and water in their hats.

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Those on the Underground Railroad also lifted food from nearby markets and farms. “It was catch as catch can in terms of eating,” says Opie. “They would often sneak onto the farms and steal produce right out of the fields.” There are accounts of travelers darting into markets, smoke houses, and ice houses to obtain rations, all while evading capture. For Opie, seizing resources was an act of resilience. He sees the legacy of white attempts to catch and punish these freedom seekers in the present-day overcriminalization of Black Americans. “I’ve come to this conclusion that white folks policing black bodies has a long history rooted in slavery,” Opie says.

Travelers also relied on their knowledge of local plants and animals to forage. “These were people who lived off of the land,” says Cohen. If you visit Adkins Arboretum, a 45-minute drive from Cambridge, you can walk through woods that look much like those that freedom seekers would have walked, and use an audio guide to spot plants that travelers foraged.

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The Maryland forest is thickly populated with edible native plants: root beer-scented sassafras; bitter beech nuts; shadbush, whose branches grow heavy with red fruit in June. Escapees may have boiled acorns; dug up pine roots; or plucked black cherries so astringent they pucker the mouth, according to Ginna Tiernan and Kat Thornton, Executive Director and Land Steward of Adkins Arboretum. Opie says travelers likely also boiled the first shoots of poke greens, a toxic plant that is a popular survival staple in the South, and which must be cooked fastidiously until the toxins are removed. And they fished, trapped birds, and hunted small game.

Some freedom seekers were able to rely on the generosity of Underground Railroad station masters, who offered covert shelter. Cohen recalls the account of one voyager from Hagerstown, Maryland, who made his way to Pennsylvania. At one point, he was invited to a meal by a white Quaker. “He started to eat, but couldn’t because he was overwhelmed,” says Cohen. He had never met a kind white person before.

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Escapees used food and folk wisdom to aid their getaways. Cohen has found numerous accounts of people putting some combination of hot pepper, lard, and vinegar on their shoes in order to throw slave catchers’ bloodhounds off their scent. Some freedom seekers in North Carolina used turpentine; others, in Texas, used a paste made from a charred bullfrog. Never one to pass up experiential research, Cohen assembled a team, including search and rescue dogs, to test these methods (except the bullfrog). “Pepper with lard allowed it to stick to our shoes, and that had some effect,” he says. The turpentine was most effective: The moment dogs sniffed it, they cowered and squealed.

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We don’t know if Lizzie Amby, who escaped from Alexander Hamilton Bayly’s Cambridge house, used turpentine to aid her getaway. We don’t know exactly what she and her husband Nat ate during their escape: if they took corn from fields, or boiled beech nuts, or were nourished by the kindness of strangers. And despite the extensive dig of the Bayly back cabin, we don’t know whether she actually lived in the building itself, or elsewhere on the property; whether her lips touched any of the chicken bones, or whether her hands hid them under the floorboards.

We do know, however, that Amby lived part of her life in the shadow of the Bayly house and its frilly faux-innocence. We know that she was forced to labor to sustain her oppressor, but also that she ate, slept, and experienced joy and pain in that place. “She knew that cabin,” says Schablitsky. “Her footsteps were in the soil that we dug.”

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And we know that, at some point in early November, 1857, Lizzie left the Bayly’s property and headed north with her husband, Nat. She and her husband eventually arrived at the home of conductor William Still in Philadelphia. In his ledger, Still describes Nat as having the “honest and independent bearing” of a “natural hero.” And he quotes Nat’s description of Lizzie: “I have heard her say she would wade through blood and tears for her freedom.”

That description turned out to be true. The last thing we know about Lizzie Amby—the last written record of her life that historians currently possess—dates from June 10, 1858, when Nat sent Still a letter from Auburn, New York. It contained a message to his family in Maryland: He and Lizzie were safe, and free.

The Country That Still Considers Saddam Hussein a Hero

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The dictator's face crops up on cars, playing cards, watches, and even Instagram.

In a yellow taxi in the Jordanian capital of Amman, a photo of Saddam Hussein dangles from Mustafa Khalid’s rear-view mirror. The dictator’s face is printed on one side of an air freshener; the other side shows Jordan’s late King Hussein. As Khalid drives through the packed city streets, the two faces seem to trade places.

Before long, another image of Saddam appears, this time on a bumper sticker on a nearby car. Khalid, a 27-year-old Palestinian Jordanian, gets excited: “Look, look, there’s another one!” His eyes show wrinkles when he smiles. When asked about the former dictator’s continued popularity, Khalid says that there are two sides to every story. “Saddam on one side is a hero,” he says. “From another side he is a killer. How is that?”

Seventeen years after the U.S. invaded Iraq for the second time, and 14 years since Saddam was executed by hanging, his face can be spotted on everything from cars and posters to playing cards and watches in neighboring Jordan. In 2010, a local town almost sparked a diplomatic row with Kuwait after it attempted to name a street after Saddam. (They later reversed the decision and asked locals to name their sons Saddam.) In 2019, Jordanian soccer fans made headlines when they chanted the dictator’s name at a match between Jordan and Kuwait. There’s even an Instagram account dedicated to spotting his likeness around Amman.

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Jordan is a politically moderate country and an important U.S. ally, and most Jordanians view America favorably. Young Jordanians listen to American music, eat at American fast food chains, and wear American brands. Many families, especially of Palestinian descent, have relatives living in the U.S. With this in mind, the continued prominence of Saddam Hussein may come as a surprise.

Khalid’s own father spent 14 years in the U.S. working with the Red Cross, and eventually opened his own shop in Louisiana. His father remarried while he was there, and he was even working on Khalid and his siblings’ immigration papers before he passed away. Khalid says that his father loved the U.S. and envisioned his children moving there.

Khalid pulls into a roadside coffee shop to buy some water. Amman is experiencing a heatwave, and temperatures have hit triple digits every day for the past week. He asks the owner, an older gentleman, what he thinks about Saddam Hussein, and the man points to a neighboring shop. There, the man suggests, we’ll find one of the many Jordanians who are nostalgic about a notorious leader.

The walls of the shop are decorated with daggers. At the mention of Saddam, the owner, Zaid Mohisan, offers tea in English. Behind the counter, a lanyard from the U.S. embassy hangs on the wall. “He was the most honest person in the whole area,” Mohisan says. “Saddam Hussein was helping Jordan as much as he could, and most of his gifts that came from Iraq were for all the people and not for the government.” Saddam was not just strong, but he was a man, Mohisan tells us.

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Saddam’s popularity does not seem to be dependent on gender or age. Hala Al-Shwayat, a 23-year-old broadcast journalist, says Saddam’s persona convinced some Jordanians that he was their only voice in the region. “Some people that attended school with me to get their masters degree, they look up to him like some kind of hero,” she says. Her own parents’ view of him, initially unfavorable, altered dramatically after he died and a video of his execution was leaked. Around Eid al-Adha that year, when Saddam’s sentence was carried out, the atmosphere around her house was somber.

It’s no accident that Saddam is depicted here as a hero and a strong leader, and that his ubiquitous image makes him look almost like the revolutionary leader Che Guevara. Saddam’s popularity in Jordan stretches back decades. According to Iraqi analyst Mohammed Al-Waeli, Saddam made sure to woo those who did not have to experience his regime first-hand. “He had a very strong propaganda machine,” Al-Waeli says. “He actually networked with Arab journalists, Arab actors, and celebrities.” Saddam’s international activities date back to 1979, when he first seized power in Iraq and looked for allies that could lend him legitimacy. He offered cheap oil, education, and jobs to Sunni-majority Jordan. The Jordanian government, in dire need of energy and strained by an influx of Palestinian refugees, had much to gain from a close relationship with Iraq. In 2003, members of Saddam’s family even fled to the kingdom.

Even as Saddam portrayed himself as a hero, he initiated brutal campaigns in his own country, even using firing squads and chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds. After the 1991 uprisings in Iraq, his regime also destroyed Shia holy shrines, killed religious authorities, and disappeared family members. Some of these atrocities were buried for decades under the immense weight of Saddam’s propaganda machine. “Come to Iraq and ask any family about Saddam,” Al-Waeli says. “They can tell you countless stories of his atrocities, yet nothing is documented, or not much is documented.”

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After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the country eventually slid into violence and chaos. Iraq’s recent struggles have impacted Jordan, too: The flow of cheap oil dried up, and so did the supply of Iraqi jobs. Some Jordanians take this as a sign that Saddam was responsible for maintaining peace. “There were some people, especially the younger generations—they did not have an understanding of Saddam’s atrocities. They were just hearing that it was stable at that time,” Al-Waeli says. “They were yearning for something that they didn’t even live with. They didn’t understand the hunger, they didn’t understand the fact that you were denied everything.”

Khalid studied to be a nurse, but he became a taxi driver because of oversaturation in the sector. In a country that had a 19 percent unemployment rate even before the coronavirus, his story is a common one. “From one side, Saddam was helping Arab countries, and from another he was very tough on other religions,” he says, while swerving through the Hashmi Shamali area of Amman. "That was so wrong, you can’t judge anyone for their religion, even if they don’t have a religion.” This area is home to many refugees from Syria and Iraq, and it is normally packed, but few people have decided to brave the heat. Khalid ducks into a residential area in search of passengers.

Khalid Zaqo, an Iraqi Christian from Nineveh, flags down the taxi from under the scant shade of a tree. He remembers the Saddam era and says he fled to Jordan four years ago, after a group of men spotted a cross hanging from his rear-view mirror. The men kidnapped Zaqo and only released him after he gave them his car, he says. Fearing for his family’s safety, he decided to sell everything and leave.

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Zaqo’s broad shoulders sway with the teetering of the taxi as the small car nervously takes corners, climbing up and down Amman’s steep roads and pushing through the dense heat of the sun. When asked about Saddam, he says, “Some parts say they wish he rests in peace, and in some parts not.” He lists the many wars that prevented him from finishing his studies: the Iran war, the American war, the Kuwait war. Jordanians, he says, reminisce fondly about Saddam because of his perceived stance with Jordan. “I used to love him, but because of the wars he destroyed generations,” Zaqo says. “He destroyed them for wars.”

Man and myth are easily muddled. In Jordan, where war in neighboring countries has come to seem like commonplace, it’s possible for people to yearn for something they only saw the half of. But Zaqo seems unsentimental about the past. “The country will never be like it was during that time,” he says. “Saddam is gone and there is nothing. Everything is ashes after him.”

When Town Council and a Sci-fi Museum Went to War Over a Dalek

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Thanks to support from the community and the world, the Doctor Who villain is rising again.

It was a cold January morning in 2019 when an unfamiliar car rolled into Allendale, a small village nestled within the North Pennines in Northumberland County, England. This wasn’t unusual; in the prior three months the village had seen a fresh influx of visitors, ever since the grand opening of “Neil Cole’s Adventures in Science Fiction: Museum of Sci-fi.” The family-run business, with a menagerie of pop-culture intergalactic friends and foes in an impressive array of classic movie and television props, costumes, and original artwork, wasn’t so much a museum as it was a loving ode to the genre. As odd a choice as the quiet, historically rich Allendale seemed for such a contemporary collection, locals had whole-heartedly embraced the attraction and welcomed the tourism it brought.

The passengers in the vehicle, however, had not come as tourists. “Three huge guys were banging on our door every 15 minutes,” recalls Neil Cole, the eponymous owner, whose personal collection of memorabilia populates the museum. “There was a car watching from across the street. This was the [Northumberland County] Council; it was the first we’d heard from them.” The men, officers from Highways Enforcement, had been sent by the Council to follow up on a complaint that had been lodged against the museum by a single Allendale resident.

Cole and his wife, Lisa, had been accused of defiling their historically listed property by installing a modern timber shed outside it, along the street, without planning permission. They were given 14 days to remove it. This was no ordinary shed: It was home to a life-size Dalek.

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In 1963, viewers of the classic BBC science fiction program Doctor Who were first introduced to the Daleks, a fearsome race of fascist cyborgs bent on achieving world domination. In the 50 years since their creation, Daleks have proven to be the most iconic and timeless of the Doctor Who villains. Cole’s homemade cyborg—dubbed the “AllenDalek” by its fans in Allendale—had become a beloved village landmark. As the museum’s sentinel, it was more inclined to pose for selfies with humans than initiate their extermination.

“One of the arguments that a councilor made [against the shed] was that we didn’t need a Dalek outside because we had one inside,” says Cole. “They were missing the point: The one inside is an original; the one outside attracts people inside. A little sandwich board is not going to do it.”

Cole refused to be bullied, but the Planning Committee would not yield. The battle between the AllenDalek and the Northumberland County Council made headlines across the country—and the globe. Even Hollywood took notice; a Tom Hardy–helmed film about the saga is currently in development. The Council repeatedly declined requests for comment at the time, instead releasing the statement, “We wish to work with the property owner to resolve this[.]”

The Council didn’t appear to be quite so open to dialogue in practice. On two separate occasions, Cole claims, a member of the Planning Department was caught hiding behind his garbage bins, covertly snapping photos of the AllenDalek. Cole says, “It was all about ego, saving face, and people throwing their power around irresponsibly.”

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It was never clear who had made the initial complaint, but the AllenDalek and Cole appeared to have the community’s support. After Allendale locals—in a show of solidarity—orchestrated a town-wide invasion of homemade Daleks to coincide with a February 18, 2019, inspection of the museum and shed, the Council agreed to a meeting with the Coles on March 4. The Interim Director of Planning for all of England was in attendance. She refused to shake Cole’s hand. “I thought she was there to have a discussion,” says Cole. “She was there to put the fear of God into us. It wasn’t a meeting, it was a telling-off.” The Council defamed the Coles as criminals, and cited them for neglecting to request planning permission not only for the shed but for the installation of informational plaques onto the beams of their house. “We were told we could be prosecuted ... That meant we would have to take everything down and close the museum for the sake of 20 screws.”

Allendale Parish Councilor, Glynn Galley, who was in attendance, described the meeting in an interview with the Hexham Courant as “An extremely grim meeting with little positive said for an hour,” and claimed that the planning officer “Told [Cole] three or four times we can close you down.”

Regarding the claims of animosity during the meeting toward the Coles, a representative for the Northumberland County Council responded to the Hexham Courant, “A number of actions were identified that are required to be carried out by the property owners in order to meet the conditions attached to the planning permission and listed building consent.” The representative further elaborated that the Council would aid the Coles in meeting their legal requirements.

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It seemed Cole’s fledgling museum, and lifelong dream, were about to be exterminated.

Overnight, fans raised more than double the money needed to pay the citation fees, with enough left over to hire a planning expert. A petition to save the AllenDalek collected more than 3,000 online and physical signatures.

The Coles appealed. Nearly 200 people wrote letters of support for the AllenDalek and its shed. “I cannot understand why permission would not be given for such an unobtrusive, temporary structure,” wrote Northumberland County resident, Catherine Smith. Another local resident, Naomi Ainley, asked, “In a time when rural industry is struggling and we need to make every effort to attract income into these beautiful areas, why remove an obvious draw?” Steve Everitt, curator at the Phil Silvers Museum in Coventry warned that “Councils should never underestimate the ... educational and history values small museums can offer.”

A hearing was scheduled for August 13, 2019. Armed with several pages of supporting documents, as well as a BBC film crew, Cole was given exactly five minutes to present his case. “I thought, ‘I’m nearly 50, I’ve worked my backside off, I’ve created something special. You are not going to win.’” Although he wasn’t allowed to distribute handouts, Cole did anyway. “It was a collage of about a hundred selfies of people with the AllenDalek. One of the councilors was the head of tourism and I said, ‘This is why I’ve got a Dalek outside.’” After his speech, Cole says he received a standing ovation.

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The Council ultimately concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove the shed was essential to the success of the museum and that the structure itself would “result in harm [to] the character setting of the [Allendale] Conservation Area[.]” However, amid public pressure, a compromise was reached: The shed could remain for one year, after which time it would have to be replaced with a more historically aesthetic structure.

“The Council was meant to work with me to come up with a solution and build something else,” Cole says. “But when we contacted them, they just wouldn’t.” In early August 2020, the Coles finally dismantled the shed. The loss comes with a silver lining, as the shed will be donated to the village preschool, where it will live on as a play area for children. A weather-resistant steel Dalek is currently being built to take the place of its predecessor as the new museum sentinel, Council be damned.

As for the original AllenDalek, Cole was ready to put it in storage. “Lisa said, ‘No, you cannot do that.’ I said, ‘Why? We’re getting a new one.’ She said, ‘That’s not the AllenDalek; that’s the AllenDalek Mk Two. People have supported the AllenDalek Mk One.’” To honor the hard work and dedication of their supporters, the Coles are building a road-legal trailer for the AllenDalek, complete with a glass case. “We won’t just have one Dalek in front of the house—we’ll have two! It’ll look ridiculous, but [the Council] left us this crazy option, so we’ll take the crazy option.”

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The saga isn’t over yet. Cole admits the Council could retaliate against the new Dalek, but he and Lisa are better prepared now to fight back. “The community spirit made it very doable,” he says. “We love the house, we love the village, we love the community. Lisa and I are very grateful to the help emotionally that we got.”

After half a century, a Dalek finally achieved world domination (sort of). So what exactly was it about a Dalek in peril that mobilized the public? Cole knows the answer. “The Dalek has managed to sustain itself throughout all the CGI and effects in movies. There’s something there—something undefinable. It’s there in its characterization, the voice, that shape. The Dalek is just so British.”

Not a Fan of Hawaiian Pizza, Processed Cheese, and California Rolls? Blame Canada

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Fusion foods and innovations associated with the U.S. quietly have roots farther north.

Consider Hawaiian pizza: The divisive pineapple-and-ham topped pie is viewed as an abomination by many pizza lovers, including the president of Iceland, who once threatened to ban it. Consider, too, boxed mac and cheese. In a world of wonderful noodle dishes, from silky cacio e pepe to ramen served in a rich broth, Americans dump milk and neon-orange cheese powder on a bowl of macaroni and call it dinner. Even sushi, far from its native Japan, can find itself transformed into pan-fried “sushi pizza,” adorned with all manner of sweet and fatty sauces.

Americans have a penchant for unhealthy, processed foods and a tendency to turn other cultures' cuisines into dishes occasionally decried as crimes against cuisine. But none of the above examples were invented in the United States. Hawaiian pizza hails not from Honolulu, but from Chatham, Ontario. Chef Kaoru Ohsada created the first sushi pizza in Toronto. Even instant macaroni and cheese has roots in Canada, and Canadians eat three times as much of the cheesy noodles compared to their cousins to the south.

“We have kind of adopted it as our own,” says Canadian food writer Gabby Peyton of The Food Girl in Town. “It’s more ubiquitous in Canada, for sure.”

These are just some of the culinary creations for which Canada deserves—depending on your perspective—to be either lauded or maligned. Instead, eaters largely assume they are American. Why is that?

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Food historian Ian Mosby of Ryerson University points to the fact that “the U.S. is a cultural monolith, even in Canada.” The two countries share a language, and 90 percent of Canadians live within 100 miles of the U.S. border, contributing to shared cultural influences across both countries. We eat the same kinds of fast foods as our American neighbors,” says Mosby. “It’s very hard to disentangle what constitutes Canadian culture and American culture at this point.”

To wit, aside from poutine and maple syrup, many diners have a hard time attributing foods and dishes to Canada. Given the association of processed, unhealthy food with the aptly named “SAD,” or Standard American Diet, it’s perhaps not surprising that Canadian innovations such as processed mashed potatoes (developed in Ottawa in 1960) or processed cheese (arguably invented in 1892 in Ingersoll) are often assumed to be American. This is further compounded by Canada’s depiction as a utopia—despite Canadians’ own occasional assertions that these overly optimistic views of Canada are “mooseshit.”

“We kind of have a world perspective, not just about our food, but about how clean and nature-filled Canada is,” says Peyton. There’s no place in that utopia for the highest per-capita doughnut consumption on earth, even though Canada beats out America for that honor.

But Canada has a complex historical and culinary landscape, defined not just by its proximity to the U.S., but by its diversity. Following decades of global immigration, in 1971, Canada became the world’s first country to enact an official policy of multiculturalism. Today, immigrants represent more than 20 percent of Canada’s population, which is more than any other G8 country.

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So while America tells its immigrant story more loudly, Canadian immigrants are quietly responsible for many new dishes associated with the United States. In British Columbia, Chinese food buffets got their start when Chinese railway workers prepared mass quantities of their favorite dishes to share with Scandinavian loggers, in line with their concept of smorgasbord. While it’s challenging to say whether the Canadian version inspired Chinese buffets in the United States and elsewhere, Canadian-Chinese food (think Newfoundland chow mein, peanut butter dumplings, and more) is as rich a category as American-Chinese food, and Montreal's Bill Wong certainly became one of the pioneers of all-you-can-eat Chinese food offerings as we know it.

The popularity of Chinese food in Canada also inspired Sam Panopoulos, a Greek immigrant in Ontario, to invent Hawaiian pizza. In a nod to the Tiki culture sweeping North America, and taking inspiration from the sweet-and-savory flavors of Chinese cuisine, Panopoulos tossed canned pineapple on pizza, and the world's most divisive pie was born. (This is equally true in its birthplace—about a quarter of Canadians dub it “blasphemy,” according to a 2018 survey by Abacus Data.)

Hawaiian pizza is not the only dish with an American name but roots in Canada. To hear Osaka native Chef Tojo tell it, he created the California Roll in Vancouver in the ‘70s to introduce sushi to diners averse to raw fish and seaweed. Tojo’s dish did away with the former in favor of crab and hid the latter by turning the roll inside out, winning over North Americans. And despite arguments to the contrary, its name, according to Janis Thiessen of the University of Winnipeg, is likely due not to its purported place of invention, but rather to the association between avocados and California (much as Hawaii’s pineapples lent their name to Panopoulos’s pizza).

Another reason Canada never manages to lay claim to its many innovations—not just instant mashed potatoes and processed cheese, but egg cartons, garbage bags, and vortex flush toilets? That famous Canadian humbleness, or what Peyton dubs an “inferiority complex” vis à vis of Americans, which leads them to accept American appropriation of their innovations.

In 1884, Montreal’s Marcellus Gilmore Edison was the first to develop a recipe for one all-American classic: peanut butter, which he developed as a means of providing quality protein to elderly people less able to chew. “Kellogg just jumped all over it,” says Peyton. “In certain instances, Canadians kind of invented things and then Americans just said, ‘OK, I’m just going to patent that and that’s going to be mine now.’”

Mosby points out that the same story plays out with blue-box mac. “The inventor of Kraft processed cheese was born in Canada,” says Mosby. “But I think that’s sort of a Canadian story: He goes to the U.S. to succeed.” As a neighbor to such a large, wealthy country, it’s somewhat inevitable that Canadian innovations are rushed to the American market.

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There’s something to be said, though, for Canada’s quiet innovation and local pride. Canada is, after all, home to a few uniquely Canadian fusion foods, such as the Halifax donair, a sandwich invented in the 1960s by Greek immigrants who substituted doner kebab’s lamb for beef and swapped out the yogurt-based tzatziki for a slightly sweetened sauce made with evaporated milk. Canada is also home to the Bloody Caesar, a northern answer to the Bloody Mary made with clamato instead of tomato juice.

Ketchup chips are yet another item ubiquitous in Canada but almost impossible to find in the United States, despite ketchup being one of America’s favorite condiments (found in 97 percent of American households, according to the Boston Globe). In her book, Snacks: A Canadian Food History, Thiessen attributes this discrepancy to a Canadian penchant for anything vinegar-based.

“These differences may be the result of the British tradition in Canada of using vinegar on French fries,” she writes, “a practice not common in the United States.”

“Personally I don’t like them,” says Peyton, “but I feel like a bad Canadian for saying that!”

One of America’s First Black Churches is Being Excavated in Virginia

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The First Baptist Church was a spiritual home for free and enslaved African Americans.

For the past two months in Colonial Williamsburg, the living history museum in Virginia, Gowan Pamphlet has stood outside an archaeological excavation, jovially saying hello to passersby. He’s not the original Pamphlet: That one died in 1809, and was the first ordained African American in the United States. This Pamphlet—one of two “actor interpreters” who portray the enslaved Black man who helped found Williamsburg’s First Baptist Church—has reason to be happy. Behind him, archaeologists are slowly revealing the foundation of a historic church. Near this site, nearly 250 years ago, Pamphlet led a mixed congregation of free and enslaved African Americans who once worshipped in secrecy, with no permanent home.

“As people walk by, not only do they get to see the archaeology, they get to hear firsthand from Gowan Pamphlet about the history of the church,” says Jack Gary, director of archaeology for Colonial Williamsburg. “It's a really nice marriage between our research and our interpretation to our guests.”

The ongoing excavation, which is slated to complete its first phase by early November, is one of two current digs in Colonial Williamsburg. (The other, on the nearby four-acre plot of Custis Square, has been going on for five years.) So far, the foundations of the 1856 church have been revealed, as well as an older brick foundation which may be part of the original 1818 meeting house. A posthole (which is exactly what it sounds like) was also found, along with a number of nails and glass, ceramic, and brick pieces.

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Archaeology is part of everyday life in Colonial Williamsburg, and it has the power to change the story that the town tells about itself. As the past is performed aboveground, more of the reality of that past—as it was actually lived—is coming out of the ground. The First Baptist Church’s excavation is a unique reminder of how recent and palpable that history is: People who once worshipped there are still alive.

“These descendants are getting to the age where they're not going to be here much longer. And every day, I think about the fact that we owe it to them,” says Connie Matthews Harshaw, president of the Let Freedom Ring Foundation, which preserves the history and cultural heritage of the First Baptist Church. “Their grandchildren and their children who probably moved away, are going to be able to come back and say, ‘You know what, this matters.’”

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The first meeting house on the site was completed more than two centuries ago, and the first church was erected at the intersection of Duke of Gloucester and Nassau Streets in 1856. But a century later, it was torn down. (Black worshippers weren’t even allowed to be present where white residents voted on its destruction, according to Harshaw.) The First Baptist Church was moved to Scotland Street, and where the congregation once gathered, they put up a parking lot.

“You had one segment of the African-American community that were educated land owners, free blacks. And then you have the others that are enslaved. However, because of the melanin—the color of their skin—they were all recognized as one,” says Harshaw. “They had a common bond, and that was their belief in the God that they believed one day would free everybody.”

This isn’t the first time the old church has been sought out. In 1957, before the site was paved, a small crew of Black laborers, all but one of whom are unidentified to this day, dug into the site and found some of the brick perimeters of the historical structures. Though the work was catalogued, the work wasn’t seen as compelling enough to stand in the way of a car park. The efforts were lost to time until now, when documents from the dig 60 years ago helped Gary’s team figure out the locations of the buildings on the site. “That story wasn't one that was as of much interest as it is to us today,” Gary says. “As 2020 has progressed … it's more important now for us to turn to these types of sites.”

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The church excavations are the culmination of discussions that began in early 2020 between Colonial Williamsburg and the current First Baptist Church community. A candlelight vigil on the site, which kicked off the digs, was attended by at least two individuals who were baptized in the old church before its destruction.

After the coronavirus pandemic escalated in March, new protocols were put in place on the dig—archaeologists now wear masks and maintain a minimum six-foot distance from pit to pit. The two Gowan Pamphlets, along with the rest of the actor interpreters at Colonial Williamsburg, have era-appropriate cloth masks made by the site’s costume-design center.

Despite the social distancing measures, Gary says, the excavation is a testament to how archaeology can be done in a way that brings communities together. The most important thing, he says, is doing archaeology that’s in keeping with the wishes of the church’s contemporary congregation. “It’s using the archaeological resource to be able to help to spark conversations and to collaborate with the community,” he says, “and to really be a servant to the community, to help you help understand their history and to convey that history appropriately.”

The Festival That Celebrates Anti-Colonial Struggle in Cameroon

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On and around Mount Djim, the Nizà’à people tell the story of finding refuge and fighting back.

On a warm day in February 2018, a nimble 63-year-old named Oumarou Alim leads the way through the dramatic stone caves of Mount Djim, a rocky peak in the Central African nation of Cameroon. Holding up an arm with a flourish, he declares that this cave “holds the traces of those who came before us.”

Mount Djim is said to be the place where Alim’s ancestors—members of the Nizà’à people, one of more than 200 ethnic groups that live in Cameroon—staged a resistance against two waves of colonization. Every year, hundreds of people gather for an epic festival that celebrates this history of struggle. Alim, who has 19 children, is one of the local leaders who narrates the story.

The first wave of colonization came in the early-19th century, when an Islamic scholar named Usman dan Fodio led an uprising against the Hausa people in what is now northern Nigeria. As dan Fodio’s forces recruited followers and spread into present-day Cameroon, they also enslaved huge numbers of people under the Sokoto Caliphate. Mount Djim, Alim says, is the place where the Nizà’à found refuge and escaped that somber fate.

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Alim slides through a narrow space between rocks and a sudden breath of fresh, humid air hints that water flows nearby. This meager stream, Alim continues, helped the Nizà’à survive for years without leaving Mount Djim. In a larger cave, farther away, a hut made from soil stands intact on a rock. It once stored the food that sustained this community. From here, it’s easy to understand why Mount Djim was a strategic refuge: Through a slit in the granite, the savannah is visible more than 4,300 feet below.

The second wave of colonization came from Europe. In the 1880s, after German colonizers built plantations across West Africa, the German Empire seized the lands it called Kamerun. Germany referred to its colony as a protectorate, but protection was not what came. The Germans exploited trade routes, extracted agricultural products, and profited from the slave trade.

But they also encountered resistance. Standing on a rock plateau, Alim gives the Nizà’à account. “A chief was betrayed and [the Germans] tied [him] to this tree by the beard,” he says, acting out his story and pointing to a lone, stunted tree. “When the Germans tried to kill him, he resisted rafts of gun fire.” According to Alim, the chief killed the traitors on a rock. “Look at the white traces,” he goes on. “That is left by the blood spilling out of the traitors’ beheaded bodies.” Similarly, in nearby Yoko, Tibati, Ngaoundéré and Mora, local people took up arms and amulets to battle the colonizers and their guns. As Alim tells it, all but the Nizà’à eventually gave up.

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These stories of resistance would not have been welcome under decades of European rule. During World War I, the French and the British took control of the region. Only in 1960 and 1961 did both nations give up the territory. Finally, Cameroon united as one country.

In the town of Galim Tignère, however, the history lives on in the yearly Mvouri festival. Hassimi Sambo, a slender archaeologist and the first Nizà’à to earn a university degree, made the festival the center of his academic research. On the first day of the celebrations, he stands proudly in the Nizà’à Royal Cemetery atop Mount Djim and explains the history to a diverse crowd. The mountain “is a place of memory, where an epic moment of the Nizà’à history unfolded,” he says. “It is a strategic zone for security and defense, but also a place where the cult of our ancestors is preserved.”

As Hassimi speaks, spectators circle a hut, on top of which are three pitchforks. They symbolize three chiefs—Wànn Mansourou (1842-1862), Wànn Ngù (1862-1878), and Wànn Njómna (1878-1915)—who led Nizà’à resistance movements. The guests have come from all over Cameroon for the opening ceremony, dressed in an eclectic mix of imported clothes, hunter garb, and wax-coated bubus. In front of the crowd, a bony, elderly man designated as the Prince of Mount Djim places ritual offerings of food under a granite rock, to feed the ancestors’ spirits. Then, from the hut’s low entrance, he pours ceremonial wine on the ground while participants recite their hopes of good fortune, good health, and marriage.

Around midday, the hot sun starts to disperse the crowd. Some climb higher rocks, trying to catch a glimpse of artifacts that mark the Nizà’à occupation of Mount Djim. Others run down to Galim Tignère for the many rituals that come next.

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Back in town, by the palace of the highest local authority, the Lamido, men on horseback kick sand into the dry air. They race each other, then rear their horses. This demonstration, called Fantasia, was adopted from the Nigerians who once fought against the Nizà’à. Local authorities, dressed in traditional fighting attire, raise their weapons in solemn salutations to the Lamido. Most possess weaponry that was inherited from their grandparents or great-grandparents. "Who knows how many Germans this weapon has killed,” one of them says. “Maybe five, maybe 10, or more."

Hassimi Sambo stands off to one side, greeting locals and narrating the events. “The re-enactments of the Mvouri festival are the commemoration of the Nizà’à myth,” he says. “The staging of past resistance is part of our community’s identity.”

Mamadou Bouba, one of Sambo’s mentors and the head of the history department of Ngaoundéré University, views the festival as a form of resistance against ignorance. “Colonization was not accepted by all Africans,” Bouba says. “Showing its negative impacts would provoke new questions about this invasion that was presented as a humanitarian and civilizing mission. The Mvouri festival is important to fight against forgetting history.”

For the Nizà’à people who live in Galim Tignère, the newest form of resistance is learning to write their language. There are hundreds of languages and dialects in Cameroon, and Nizà’à is spoken by only a couple hundred people around Mount Djim, where the last descendants of the rebellious chiefs live. In a freshly painted pink house called the Center for Nizà’à Literature, which was partially financed by Christian missionaries, 35-year-old Hamadjoda Yougouda teaches language classes. He learned to write it in 1993. “This language is disappearing,” he says. “The only way to save it is learning to read and write it.”

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Meet the Artist Who Does Extreme Close-Ups of Utility Poles

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Rosamond Purcell finds stories, landscapes, and more on their mottled surfaces.

The first utility poles in America weren’t really supposed to be there. It was 1843, and telegraph inventor Samuel Morse was granted $30,000 by the U.S. Congress to construct a line that could send messages more quickly than had ever been possible before. Morse started by trying to bury the cable to carry the messages underground, from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, about 40 miles away—but it didn’t work. Running short of time and money, Morse and his team desperately decided to hang the telegraph wire above ground on posts and trees. In 1844, once the wire was strung up on hundreds of wooden poles, Morse successfully transmitted the words “What hath God wrought?” in his eponymous code to a fascinated audience of politicians. From there, the march of wooden utility poles swiftly spread across the East Coast, and eventually the entire country.

Today the ubiquitous utility pole is less technological marvel than easily ignored fixture of life or outright eyesore. However, artist Rosamond Purcell, who first started photographing these utilitarian bits of infrastructure in her hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2017, finds their weathered and transient nature evocative. She explained in the Od Review, “Poles have complicated surfaces—wood attracting staples and nails over generations of such notices, iron covered with paint and stickers, and heart-breaking notes about lost pets.” Entranced by their visual impact, she added, “A few inches across becomes a landscape.” When her eye catches a compelling composition on a street pole—perhaps a figure created by ambient light or a sign sadly faded by sun and rain—she shoots quickly with her iPhone. “Small landscapes and color effects are created by even the slightest weathering or damage to iron, pine, or stainless steel poles (used for streetlights),” she writes in an email. The artist, whose past work includes photographing the unexpected poetry of objects in a Maine junkyard and recreating an ancient cabinet of curiosities, has always been fascinated by the unsettling beauty of decay, how nature and time intersect with the human-made, especially the mundane.

Atlas Obscura spoke with Purcell about her hometown, anonymity, and the sadness of lost pets signs, and has a selection of her photos.

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What made you start taking a closer look at utility poles as a subject for your photos?

Many decades passed before I noticed the diversity of aesthetic aberrations that occur on the surfaces of ordinary telephone and trolley poles. Not only have I been devoted to the effects of weathering for a long time, but because Cambridge, where I was raised, is also city of transients from all over the world—students, visiting professors, interim professors—who, as they slow-ghosted through, left ephemeral traces in their wakes. In Harvard Yard, on modest bulletin boards were posted notices for concerts, lectures, personal messages, stuck up, torn, faded, and renewed throughout every season of the academic year. Such graveyards of events past are marked by staples upon staples.

In recent years wooden telephone poles around Cambridge have become to some degree curved bulletin boards for notices of upcoming events, available lodging, portraits of pets lost or found. The expression of the pet owners’ hopelessness and sorrow appears in the worn-away “MISSING Cooper Anderson” (who looks like a Yorkie). There is a blue inked message along edge of paper: “Please Bring Me Home.” To add to the sense of loss, the phone number or address of owner has been washed away. Sometimes the information is legible but there are warnings: “Lost Cat; may or may not answer to the name ‘Melissa,’’’ or a pole may bear a mute memorial tribute to a traffic victim—pet or person.

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What do you know about the origins or history of the utility poles in your area?

In the 1950 and 1960s, when we were in school, the poles were either wooden for telephone lines, or painted iron to support the wires that brought power to the trolley buses. Tracks for the older trolleys now lie buried, but trackless trolleys still run in Cambridge. Each type of utility pole weathers in different ways and at different rates. Currently a number of older poles are sagging, snapping, and some are crippled, tied to supports, some feet off the sidewalk, needing a block or bricks to hold gravity at bay.

Wooden poles used to carry telephone and electrical wires came from yellow pine forests (in South Carolina and Georgia). Some may grow to 60 feet tall before they have branches. This is also true in northern New Hampshire where, two summers ago, my husband, Dennis, and I began to look along trails where poles and trees intermingle.

It is a landscape where poles turn back into trees and, as our son said, “The poles are fingerprints of the place,” as if they came from native northern trees from beginning to end.

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Has anything surprised you while shooting the poles?

The most surprising thing is that no one seems to pay the slightest attention to an older person with an iPhone. I am as anonymous as the pole itself. I usually see the photograph ahead of time and from a distance; this sport has more to do with recognition than with lengthy deliberation. I depend on that seal of immunity that forms around the photographer and the subject.

You’ve taken so many photos of street poles. Do you have a favorite?

Many favorites.

There’s one that shows the passing of time, the posting of an available apartment and the wearing away of the advertising details of a living room, a memento chain, many used staples. This pole is outside a popular coffee shop. A few months ago a full-page rant appeared on it, posted by a female abandoned by a self-help genius who had inexplicably fled. The next time I checked, the paper was gone.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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How Japanese Canadians Survived Internment and Dispossession

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A new exhibit traces the experiences of seven narrators before, during, and after World War II.

When Yon Shimizu heard the news that Japanese forces had bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, he was on his hands and knees, scrubbing his family’s linoleum floor. Living in a rented house in Victoria, British Columbia, with his sister, two brothers, and their widowed mother, he was listening to the radio while completing his chores. He raced from the room to tell the rest of his family. “I was frightened and dismayed,” he recounts in the prologue to his book, The Exiles. Life had never been easy for his family, he adds, “but none of us were really prepared for the devastating events which were to unfold in the coming months.”

In 1942, the Canadian government declared a “protected area” along the Pacific Coast—a buffer zone between the water and the Japanese-Canadian communities that had flanked it. Under pressure from officials such as Ian Mckenzie, a cabinet minister from British Columbia, elected officials at federal, provincial, and local levels insisted that the Japanese Canadians who lived there be forcibly relocated. Nearly 22,000 people—roughly 90 percent of the Japanese Canadian population at the time—were uprooted.

Many were first gathered in a facility in Vancouver’s Hastings Park, the site of the sprawling Pacific National Exhibition, which still hosts an amusement park, horse-racing track, and other attractions. At Hastings Park, families were splintered—husbands separated from wives, children pried away from their parents. There, Japanese Canadians were housed in barracks or former animal stalls on the fairgrounds. From there, they were shipped out by car or train and scattered around the interior of British Columbia or farther east. Some were transplanted in Ontario, more than 2,000 miles away.

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The daily realities of internment* varied from one family to another. Some were crowded into large, purpose-built centers, while others lived in buildings that had been converted to hold them. Some were recruited into labor contracts, and others lay down roads or harvested sugar beets. Some lived in so-called “self-support camps,” independent settlements that they set up with government approval. (One was in a resort on the shores of British Columbia’s Christina Lake.) Several thousand were stripped of citizenship and deported. The homes and properties that they were forced to leave were ransacked, and ultimately seized and sold by the government.

This period of systematic disenfranchisement lasted well after the combat of World War II had ended. Surfacing the history of this time remains an ongoing project. Since 2014, historians, elders, archivists, community leaders, and others have worked to excavate and preserve stories about this period as part of The Landscapes of Injustice project. Their work has led to a book and a new exhibition, Broken Promises, at the Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre in Burnaby, British Columbia. Atlas Obscura spoke with Landscapes of Injustice Project director Jordan Stanger-Ross, a historian at the University of Victoria, about compiling this history and presenting it to the public.

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The project and exhibition emphasize that these policies had a ripple effect through years, decades, and generations. How did they affect families after the war?

This wasn't just a wartime policy. Since the restriction on Japanese Canadian return to the coast wasn't lifted until 1949, most of the internment era was postwar. All of the possessions and homes and businesses and farms, family pets—every form of possession we can imagine—were looted and stolen and destroyed by neighbors and seized by the federal government. When the internment finally ended and Japanese-Canadian citizenship was restored, many of them had to start from virtually nothing.

They were prohibited from reinvesting in real estate, and the funds that were derived in the sale of their assets were highly restricted, and paid out in a kind of an allowance. I think any of us can imagine that for folks that had established careers and lives, built farms, or were close to retirement, the stripping away of all of their assets, and forcing them to use all of the capital from the sale of all their assets to just sustain themselves in these remote places, had very long-lasting implications for their families on a material level and emotionally—in every facet we can imagine.

I often think about this kind of lesson of the dispossession in relation to a letter than an individual Japanese Canadian, Rikizo Yoneyama, wrote to the Custodian of Enemy Property in 1943, when he learned that his farm, which he'd owned for a couple of decades and had developed by hand, was being forcibly sold. He was almost 60 and had put two of his children through university, and was anticipating putting the other two through university based on the income from the farm. He wrote and said it was worth more than they were selling it for, and he couldn't just start again. He essentially begs, please reverse this decision, please don't sell the farm. Hundreds of letters, thousands of letters like that went to federal officials, and they had a form letter with which they responded, "we understand that the sale of your property can be a personal matter, but it's the policy of the government." The flip side is the multigenerational benefit that someone who purchased a farm like that would receive.

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For the exhibition, how did you find the right mix of voices to speak to people’s varied experiences during this time?

Four major themes carry through the research, and those are reflected in the exhibition and in its structure. First, that the dispossession involved the deliberate killing of home—that homes were destroyed, beyond merely uprooting and internment, though those are themselves devastating policies, obviously. Second, that dispossession required sustained work—ongoing work of administering the properties and dealing with the communications from Japanese Canadians, and the advocacy of Japanese Canadians to deal with the administrative state and its control over their lives and funds. Third, that dispossession required what we call "reasoning wrong." That is, as the government shifted gears from holding property in trust to forcing a sale, they needed to articulate why they were doing that in legally defensible ways, and Japanese Canadians challenged that rationale. We ask, “What do people say that they're doing, and how are those ideas challenged?” And then finally is the claim about the permanence of dispossession, those longstanding benefits and losses.

The co-curators, our post-doctoral fellow, Yasmin Amaratunga Railton, Sherri Kajiwara of the Nikkei National Museum, and Leah Best of the Royal BC Museum were excited about these ideas, and also wanted to integrate those claims with the stories of individuals who'd be foregrounded in the exhibition.

Kaitlin Findlay, our research coordinator, and a research assistant, Trevor Wideman, worked with the curatorial team to come up with a long list of potential narrators. These would be people we followed from before the internment—their settlement in Canada, some of them their origins in Japan—through the internment and afterwards. Ultimately, there were seven narrators selected, on the basis of economic diversity, family situation, age, and geographic diversity, as well as the ones for which we had the richest resources, including objects that could be shown in a museum.

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Are there any specific objects in the exhibition that you think will help visitors empathize with these families’ struggles?

One example is a ledger or invoice from a store in Vancouver. The owner, Rinkichi Tagashira, had hundreds of these ledgers printed up, thousands of pages, at the beginning of the 1940s. He had piles of these. His grandson, Charles Jinnouchi, went to university postwar and took these blank ledgers and used them as notebooks for his calculus homework in the 1980s. Charles describes the emotional impact of trying to work his way through university on these pages from his grandfather’s stolen business, and the motivation that provided him to stick with it.

So much of the work of dispossession was administrative. Is that represented in the show?

At one point, you turn a corner and enter what’s called, in the exhibition, the Offices of Injustice. You see a very large-format photograph of an office with a mid-century triangular desk with little lamps on top. And the curatorial team created a replica of one of these desks, which holds a replica case file for each of the seven families. (It’s curated—an actual archival case file can be hundreds of pages long, and these are maybe 10 pages.) It’s a physical case file; you can pick it up and put it on the desk and read the correspondence and documentation of the loss of property. (There are medical gloves and other COVID precautions in place.) There’s also a big map to show the displacement of Japanese Canadians, and a big display that conveys all the different agencies of government that came together to execute uprooting and dispossession. There are oral histories and letters of protest, as well.

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Was there anything that was particularly difficult to convey?

The challenge was to convey the bureaucracy in a way that was not boring. I think any of us that have dealt with the state, whether it's the frustration of waiting for a driver's license or permits, I think we realized that all of these small details matter, and the way that an individual official, someone who works a desk, really impacts what the policy means in our lives. How do you convey those processes and interactions in a way that doesn't feel like a dry description of the functioning of a government office? So we use the case files and try to limit the text and stick with what's important.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

* The Landscapes of Injustice team uses “internment” to describe the variety of conditions that Japanese Canadians faced, including widespread dispossession and curtailed movement. We’ve followed its wording here, though there is ongoing discussion among scholars and community members about other words, such as "incarceration," that may apply.

'Lovecraft Country' Is Haunted by the Ghosts of Real-Life Places

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The characters in the acclaimed horror drama fight both monsters and white supremacy.

In the third episode of Lovecraft Country, the 10-part horror drama series from HBO, a character named Letitia “Leti” Lewis moves into an all-white neighborhood on the North Side of Chicago. Leti, who is played by Jurnee Smollett, is prepared for backlash from her neighbors. What she isn’t prepared for is a basement haunted by the ghosts of a white physician and the African Americans he experimented on and killed.

As shocking and extreme as these events may seem, they closely mirror real-life trauma and violence that African Americans have faced for 400 years. “So many of our characters are based on something true and historical,” says Shannon Houston, the executive story editor of Lovecraft Country. “That particular storyline that we’re telling is really about the history of the medical industry in the United States and its racist practices against Black people, against Black women.”

The ghosts in Leti’s basement eerily resonate with the story of J. Marion Sims, who is sometimes referred to as the father of gynecology. Sims performed inhumane, experimental surgeries on enslaved Black women and children in his backyard hospital in Montgomery, Alabama. Three ghosts in Leti’s basement—Lucy, Anarcha, and Betsey—are named for real women whom Sims experimented on.

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The history of Black suffering for white gain, from Sims’s experiments to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, is one reason that many African Americans avoid going to the doctor, and particularly to hospitals, says Brandon Jones, a psychotherapist who teaches at Century College in Minnesota. “We have these places and spaces that do hold a lot of pain and trauma, and if we know about the stories behind it, those are places we try to avoid,” Jones says. Research has shown that patients from minority groups report higher levels of mistrust in the medical system, and are most likely to miss appointments or delay care.

In the show, Leti’s 13-room house is the place where Hiram Epstein, a fictional white physician from the University of Chicago, experimented on Black people who may have been kidnapped by a local police officer, Captain Seamus Lancaster. “We found the body parts of eight n*ggers buried in a room beneath the basement,” Lancaster tells her during an arrest. “So if history is any indication, you won’t last in that house very long.”

Even in death, Epstein refuses to accept that a Black person could ever share his space, and the spiritual weight of brutalized Black bodies remains in the house. Leti is forced to lean on her own spiritual convictions to stake a claim on the property.

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Lovecraft Country, from showrunner Misha Green, follows a cast of Black characters on a road trip across the Jim Crow-era United States. It’s based on an eponymous novel by Matt Ruff, and takes its name from the writer H.P. Lovecraft, whose own work often featured bigoted and racist narratives. In his 1936 novella “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” Lovecraft argues in favor of racial purity, writing that people of color are impure and therefore less than human. In his 1912 poem “On the Creation of N*ggers,” Lovecraft describes God’s creation of Black people: “A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,/ Filled it with vice, and called the thing a N*gger.”

Another of the show’s main characters, Atticus "Tic" Freeman, played by Jonathan Majors, recounts how his father made him memorize Lovecraft’s poem so that he would stop reading works by Lovecraft. The main characters in Lovecraft Country fight not only Lovecraftian monsters, but also white supremacy. It weighs heavily on them, both spiritually and mentally, as they suffer from violence and persecution in locations both fantastical and historical.

Lovecraft Country’s exploration of Black suffering and spirituality resonates with the idea of spiritual warfare, which could be described as a kind of inner resistance to both physical and spiritual threats, and to injustices such as racism. C. Vanessa White, an associate professor of spirituality and ministry at Catholic Theological Union, points to a long tradition of worship as a tool that Black people use to survive. “In those sites where there has been trauma, where there have been horrible things that happened, spiritual rituals can help us journey through that and help release that which is bound,” White says. Leti instinctively knows to call an Orisha woman to purge the spirits from her home, and her protection spell also keeps racist police officers and the white daughter of a cult leader from entering her home.

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When Leti purchases her home in an all-white neighborhood on the North Side of Chicago, she begins to reclaim her life, and she gains something tangible to call her own. Her trailblazing act in the show was inspired by other, real-life figures who made similar moves as a means of upward mobility, even in the face of backlash. “We wanted to tell the story of Black people pioneering into white neighborhoods,” says Houston, the story editor. “They were moving into neighborhoods where they were not wanted, and they fought to stay there, and they went through hell to stay there.”

This is a more complex story than some historical narratives that celebrate racial integration. In midcentury Chicago, white mobs incited riots by attacking Black people who moved into all-white neighborhoods. In 1946, one such riot broke out in temporary housing for white veterans in West Lawn and West Edelson, and in 1951, another targeted a new Black family in Cicero.

Episode one, “Sundown,” of Lovecraft Country is also full of places where people of Black ancestry are unable to venture because of their race. Tic’s uncle George, played by Courtney B. Vance, is the editor of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—the show’s take on the real-life Negro Motorist Green Book—and guides Leti and Tic through sundown towns and “white-only” establishments. At a diner that was once marked safe for Black travelers, they find out under a hail of bullets that it’s no longer welcoming to their race.

One other setting in Lovecraft Country, Braithwaite Manor, has a strong similarity to a historical site of Black trauma: LaLaurie Mansion, a New Orleans building once owned by the infamous Madame LaLaurie. Born Marie Delphine MacCarthy, LaLaurie gained a reputation for cruelty toward the people she enslaved in her three-story mansion. According to newspaper reports, her sadism was exposed after the mansion went up in flames, allegedly set by an elderly enslaved cook who was chained to the stove in her kitchen. One paper reported that LaLaurie had tortured numerous Black people.

In the show, Tic is held captive and tortured in Braithwaite Manor—but he is saved by the ghost of his enslaved ancestor, who burns the building to the ground. Tic escapes, and he soon leaves Braithwaite Manor behind. Still, the show seems to suggest, the trauma of the past lingers on. All the characters can do is fight back and focus on the future.

The Segregated Campground That Was a Refuge for Black Travelers

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Preserving the legacy of Lewis Mountain in Shenandoah National Park.

Every autumn, a quarter million people go to Virginia’s famed Shenandoah National Park to see the spectacular fall colors of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Those traveling along Skyline Drive, the park’s main road, pass a routered wood sign pointing to Lewis Mountain.

Eighty years ago, the park marker included an additional line: “Negro Area.” It indicated the way to the only purpose-built segregated camping area in the southern national parks. Today, the Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Project is working to preserve the memory of this easily overlooked piece of park history by interviewing elderly residents who played and worked there, and bringing their story to a new generation.

“So many people don’t know,” says Elaine Taylor Blakey, 81, who grew up in nearby Luray, Virginia, and attended Sunday school picnics at the site as a young girl.

Even though the camping and picnic area at Lewis Mountain was built for racist reasons, it became a refuge for Black families.

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The site was included in the Negro Motorist Green Book, an annual guide listing restaurants, resorts, and businesses across the country that welcomed Black travelers. It attracted church groups from Washington, D.C., 120 miles away, and vacationers from across the East Coast. It also hosted President Harry Truman, who twice went there to dine with Chester A. Franklin, an influential Black newspaper editor from his home state of Missouri, and with Benjamin Oliver Davis Sr., the Army's first Black general.

Blakey says that she never asked why her family visited this one park area when she was young. “I am more upset about it now that I’m older and think about,” adds the retired banker, who grew up in the region, moved away for school and career, and returned for retirement.

As a national park, Shenandoah, should have been fully integrated, some government officials argued at the time. But state leaders insisted that Virginia’s Jim Crow laws applied even on federal property. The park’s few Black visitors had to eat in the staff area of its white-only restaurants. Most bathrooms, picnic sites, and camping areas were off-limits.

So Lewis Mountain began as an uncomfortable compromise, a way to serve Black visitors and still abide by state law. Built by the same Civilian Conservation Corps workers who constructed facilities, trails, and more for the rest of Shenandoah, it resembled other national park areas, using local stone and materials. It opened in 1939 with 40 picnic tables, 12 fireplaces, 30 tent and trailer spaces, and a bathroom.

In its first year, it welcomed about 9,300 visitors. The next year, it was more than 10,000. Even so, that amounted to just one percent of all park visitors, a figure that remained the same in 2011, according to a park study.

The history is today recounted in a marker set among the RV sites at Lewis Mountain and in an exhibit at the park’s Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center, named for Virginia’s segregationist U.S. senator who was instrumental in having the park constructed.

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Despite its separate status, by all accounts, Lewis Mountain was beloved by those who recreated there. It soon added rental cabins, which remain in operation today, and a dining lodge, where big bands played on weekends.

“Everyone had fun, enjoyed the scenery and each other,” said Lloyd Tutt, the lodge chef and manager for 12 years, in a 1978 oral history of the park. “Tired people … left there relaxed and happy.”

The lodge served what was widely considered the best food in the park. Tutt and his wife Mittie, a pastry chef, were known throughout the Shenandoah Valley for their cooking, says Blakey, who is related to them by marriage. “He was really a legend on the mountain. They did the fried chicken, and the mac and cheese, the potato salad, all sorts of pies and cake. The good Southern dishes.”

Tutt said that although he was told to turn whites away, they still came: “Our food was that good.” He said he did his best to keep the races separate by seating them at different tables.

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Federal efforts to end park segregation accelerated after World War II, and Lewis Mountain finally integrated in 1951, more than a decade before the color barrier was, officially at least, dropped elsewhere in the South. It maintained its popularity with Black visitors through the 1950s.

Robin Lyttle, president of the Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Project, says that older residents have fond memories. “You mention the name Lewis Mountain and people smile,” she says.

The park itself applauds the effort, says superintendent Patrick M. Kennedy. "We are pleased to collaborate with the Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Project in our ongoing efforts to learn about and tell the stories of Lewis Mountain, and the people who worked and recreated there.”

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All this was new to Brianna Madden-Olivares, a 20-year-old intern with the history group. Although she attended high school in nearby Harrisonburg, she didn’t know about Lewis Mountain. “Even my Dad had never heard of it,” she says.

The Black history group had planned a Lewis Mountain reunion this fall, but it was canceled due to COVID-19. Instead, Madden-Olivares, now a drama student at the New School in New York City, joined a small group at the park site and presented a spoken word performance about the area.

She says the campground, though small, is important. “Black history should be more than slavery and sadness and despair,” she explains. “We were able to gather around and have time together in a place where we could go safely and enjoy. We survived because of places like these.”

Inside One Man's Quest to Taste Every Fruit on Earth

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Around the world in 300 fruits and counting.

In 2015, Pablo Salvatierra was a 23-year-old Argentinian student struggling with a severe case of a skin disease called psoriasis. With no true cure on offer, his doctors had suggested a four-week fast of no solid food, followed by a permanent change in diet. It was a skinny, skinny Salvatierra who left his bedroom the final day. But, now free of scales, patches, and flare ups, he had a new life goal inspired by his veganism: tasting every kind of fruit the world has to offer.

His vegan, fruit-focused diet was not a one-morning idea. The rashes had affected his skin for years, so, almost in despair, he tried the fast, inspired by old customs of a full psychological and physical cleansing, with the assistance of a professional. (Modern medicine has not found any one diet that prevents the immune-system problems behind psoriasis, but some studies suggest a link, and many patients try changing or improving their diet.) Going vegan would be the final sea change. After 26 days of leaving bed only to go to the bathroom, get some sun, and be checked, he tasted solid food again: He ate some fruit. And decided to never stop doing it.

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Salvatierra had a traveler’s spirit, some savings, and a desire to make the most of his new life. So over the past four years—until the pandemic forced him to return to his natal Buenos Aires—he went to 15 countries and tasted nearly 300 different kinds of fruits. So far, he has enjoyed giant fruits that taste like white chocolate, tiny fruits that resemble oysters and pearls, fruits with skin like snakes, and, in every place, unique bonds between people and their environment.

“I was shocked and delighted by local-markets culture,” says Salvatierra, who used to buy all his produce from supermarkets in Buenos Aires. “You can get fresh, tasty, nutritious fruits right from the hands of the family who harvested them in their very own house—people who have trees in the backyard!” This experience has left him with an appreciation for not only the superior taste of homegrown fruits, when compared with industrial-grown products, but the fair commerce of the markets.

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Salvatierra documents his progress toward tasting every fruit—depending on how you count, the number of fruits out there is either very large or impossibly large, making his quest somewhat quixotic—on Instagram, where he writes about flavors as he encounters them for the first time. After sampling terap in Borneo, he wrote that it’s not just the vanilla and white chocolate flavor, as well as the texture reminiscent of condensed milk, that makes the fruit, also known as marang, a “heavenly joy,” but how easy it is to open and “the pleasure you feel when each slice melts in your mouth.” He found chempedak similarly engaging—it reminded him of toffee chocolates he ate as a child. “A delirium of pleasure in every bite,” he wrote.

As for the famously smelly and polarizing durian, Salvatierra joined Team Durian. He calls the famous fruit “a sensory ecstasy.”

While Salvatierra’s quest is about him trying every fruit, he is not merely a consumer: The process also led him to learn about the people and lives behind the bounty he is experiencing. When harvesting durian in an Indonesian jungle, he realized the link between the diversity of fruits and the lives of people he was meeting. Modern agriculture, after all, tends to produce a limited number of monocrops, while the farmers and families harvesting more obscure varieties often fed themselves from the jungle, or in the way their ancestors did. “Experiencing cultures in which you can explicitly see how food is so tied to nature has changed the way I perceive myself and my needs,” he says. “I used to live in a city where people do not pay attention to the tastes, rhythms, and value of nature.”

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Inspired by his growing appreciation of abundant nature and living in harmony with it, Salvatierra spent his time at home growing a food forest in his parents’ neighborhood. The term refers to a kind of sustainable agriculture that was once common, and is now mainly practiced by indigenous people, although it’s increasingly popular with sustainability advocates. On a friend’s land, he’s growing oranges, mandarins, plums, walnuts, almonds, apricots, peaches, apples, pears, grapefruits, avocados, grapes, olives, and figs.

But travelers do not remain still for long—Salvatierra has entrusted his skinny saplings to others as he heads to Río de Janerio in search of more fruits and flavors.

What Ancient Toilets Reveal About the History of the Human Gut

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Scientists are learning loads from medieval latrines.

According to Piers Mitchell, a paleopathologist from the University of Cambridge, scientists have been extracting data from ancient human poop for over a century. “In the past, we’ve been able to look at a single coprolite from a single person”—that is to say, a preserved turd—”and study the microbiome of that one individual.” (The microbiome is the complex collection of microbes living in every animal’s digestive tract.) Now, in a newly released paper in Philosophical Transactions B, Mitchell and co-authors Susanna Sabin and Kirsten I. Bos have blown the lid off of single-turd analysis: by analyzing two medieval latrines’ worth of number two.

After receiving samples from a 15th-century latrine in the Christian quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem, as well as a 14th-century latrine in Riga, Latvia, the team was able to successfully separate fecal material from environmental contaminants in the soil. “By looking at the mixed fecal material in these communal latrines, we’ve been able to [study] whole population groups all at once,” Mitchell says. “And what it shows is that the modern, industrialized lifestyle is changing the microbes living in our intestines.”

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Mitchell knows his shit. As the director of Cambridge’s Ancient Parasites Laboratory, he’s studied storied stools across Europe, Asia, and Africa, some more than 9,000 years old, and when it comes to ancient piles, Mitchell keeps his finger on the pulse. “Whenever [an archaeologist] finds a latrine or coprolites in a part of the world where no one’s done any intestinal fecal analysis, I send them an email.”

According to Mitchell, our intestinal microbiome isn’t keeping up with the rapid pace of globalization. “Things are changing incredibly quickly,” he says, “but our genetics are still pre-industrial.” He associates modern ills such as high rates of allergies, obesity, and inflammatory bowel disease with modern substances that affect the gut, from antibiotics to fast food. “Parts of us are coping, but other parts are suffering,” Mitchell says.

By mapping the pre-industrial microbiome, archaeologists hope to understand how we developed the internal ecosystems that contribute to our digestion and health. Stephanie Schnorr, a biological anthropologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who was not affiliated with the new study, says these particular latrines led to a great leap forward. “These data are a great contribution to helping us better resolve our reference taxa for ancient specimens,” she writes, “and they hint at a vast trove of yet unseen microbial diversity hiding in the past.”

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“These ancient populations had a broader range of microbes than we have now, and they have some types of microbes that seem to be rare or have disappeared in modern people,” Mitchell says. Only hunter-gatherer communities seem to have microbiomes that roughly match those of pre-industrial people.

With a clearer picture of ancient and modern microbiomes, Mitchell hopes we can develop treatments that get our guts to a more pre-industrial place. “We’re not trying to give everyone cholera and typhoid again,” he says, “we’re just thinking which are the healthy bits to put back while leaving out the scary nasty diseases.” He imagines treatment could look something like a pill, for example, that would reintroduce or rebalance our inner microbes. Whatever it looks like, the key to a healthy gut-scape may lie within ancient toilets, and Mitchell and his cohort intend to find out.

In France, Farmers Still Tend Age-Old Island Gardens

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Les Hortillonnages d'Amiens survived a plan to pave it over.

In and around Amiens in the French Picardy region, a stretch of floating farmland poses an unusual challenge to local farmers and gardeners. Les Hortillonnages d'Amiens are an age-old, 300-hectare area of marshland where vegetables and flowers grow on gardens connected by 40 miles of canal.

One legend claims that the Hortillonnages date back to Roman times, with the term for market gardens, hortillon, originating from the Latin word hortus. But it was in the Middle Ages that locals mined marshland around the loops of the Somme river for peat to burn as fuel. The network of trenches eventually filled with water, creating a labyrinth of highly fertile land and canals, soon utilized by farmers who sold their fresh produce to the bustling market halls of nearby Paris. Hortillons varied in size, and just as with fields, some farmers had larger plots while others cultivated only one. But throughout the years, the work has always been a family affair.

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Without roads, the only way to navigate the vast area is by the flat-bottomed boats used by farmers for centuries. Today, many of the boats take visitors on tours to spot wildlife and the many birds that call this unusual habitat home. The fertile gardens burst with cabbage in all its forms, carrots, leeks, turnips, and radishes, as well as seasonal vegetables such as eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, and melons. The entire area is an oasis of calm, with water lilies floating on the canals, shimmering kingfishers diving for fish, swans gliding past, and dragonflies hovering.

Sadly, the old ways of the Hortillonnages are dwindling. Farming is a work-intensive career at the best of times, but having to farm in swampland, where your vegetable patches flood every time it rains more than usual and where temperatures near freezing can wreak havoc on delicate crops have turned many people away from the age-old practice. Not to mention, working by boat is a challenge that only a few people are willing to take on.

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One of those people is Thérèse Nowak. Not only does she work with her husband René in the Hortillonnages, but she also runs a small museum showcasing the region’s history. It’s a hard job, she stresses. “You don't count your hours, you work even in the rain and in the cold,” she says. “But it's such satisfaction to work this rich and black soil, to see such beautiful vegetables grow, to feed families with fresh, healthy and tasty products, to meet customers in the markets.”

At the end of the 18th century, there were about 50 hortillons. However, with the development of intensive agriculture and increased imports during the 20th century, many hortillons ceased cultivation, and most of the market gardens have been transformed into pleasure gardens for the people of Amiens who live in town. Today, there are only around 10 hortillons left, most belonging to just one family.

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These remaining farmers are struggling to keep the tradition alive in modern times. Some, such as Perrine Parmentier, use Facebook to coordinate vegetable deliveries. Others still bring their produce every Saturday morning to the city’s pretty Saint-Leu quarter, to sell at a floating market. Once a year in June (cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19), the farmers dress up in traditional costume and hold an extended floating market, as a reminder of the old ways.

Nowak (who is also Perrine Parmentier’s aunt) stresses the significance of this unique way of life. “It's a profession to which I am very attached,” she says. ”It is the job of my parents, of my great-grandparents.”

But it is not just history and tradition that keeps her going. To her, being a farmer of the Hortillonnages symbolizes all that is wonderful about life in Amiens. "At the gates of the city, we work in sublime nature. Between land and water, we move in a boat,” she says. “It's magic!”

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Nowadays, tourism is helping keep this unique region afloat. Aurélie Wallet, from Somme Tourism, explains that opening up the Hortillonnages to tourists played a large part in saving them from being drained and paved over as access roads. It could have been the end of an era, if locals had not leapt into action. “We feared the disappearance of Hortillonnages in the 1970s because of the construction of the bypass and the motorway,” she says. “But the Amiénois mobilized to save their heritage.” Now, sightseeing tours float along the canals, with curious visitors packed into the traditional cornet boats.

What may best sum up the unbreakable tie between Amiens and its farmers is the story of their cathedral. The country’s largest, dwarfing Notre-Dame in size, it dates to the early 13th century. A farmer donated a drained plot of the Hortillonnages for its construction. Reportedly, the plot had been an artichoke garden, and the artichoke farmer’s good deed was honored by including a statue of him on the face of the cathedral, tying the two wonders of Amiens together for all time.

Once a Boom Town, Now a Ghost Town, Always a Hometown

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The Soto family has lived through Arizona's mining booms and the broken promises that come with them.

This piece was originally published in High Country News and appears here as part of our Climate Desk collaboration.

Centuries-old sycamore trees tower over the dry riverbed of Harshaw Creek, in the Patagonia Mountains of southern Arizona. Where houses once stood, flat, barren earth stretches to the base of nearby low, oak-covered hills. A crumbling wooden building, relic of a mining supervisor's home, and a cemetery are all that remain of what once was one of the West’s richest mining towns.

Now a ghost town, Harshaw was one of nine mining camps in the area that saw waves of prospectors come and go in the 19th century. It held some of the Arizona Territory’s highest-grade silver, lead, and gold ore, so when the U.S. government passed the General Mining Act in 1872, giving prospectors the right to claim mineral deposits on public land for no more than five dollars per acre, investors poured in. A patchwork of mining claims soon covered the region, with 40 operations in Harshaw alone. Within three decades, the Patagonia Mountains had produced 79 percent of all the ore processed in the territory, with a total value exceeding $2.5 trillion yearly in today’s currency.

With the mines came thousands of workers and their families, most of them Mexican Americans and Latinos. For nearly a century, they drilled and transported ore through tunnels for two dollars a day—half of what their Anglo counterparts earned. But in 1925, and again in the 1950s, the combination of collapsing metal prices and exhausted mineral veins sent the mining companies looking elsewhere, leaving tons of untreated mineral waste behind and no future for the workers who’d powered the industry. Now, more than half a century later, mining is coming back to Harshaw: South32, an Australia-based polymetallic mining company, estimates that there are still at least 155 million tons of high-grade metals hidden deep underground. It is currently doing exploratory drilling half a mile away from the ghost town, acquiring permits and gearing up to operate in the near future. But whether modern mining—with its much greater profits and the promise of better environmental safeguards—will leave a better legacy this time around remains to be seen.


Frank, Henry, Mike, and Juan Soto grew up in Harshaw in the 1940s and ’50s with their parents and three sisters. On a recent spring day, they sit around their family dining table on the south side of Tucson, 70 miles north of Harshaw. Angelita Soto, the fourth of the siblings, joins in by phone as the conversation flies back and forth in English and Spanish. The siblings laugh and reminisce about their childhoods: the pranks they played on each other, their backyard with its bounty of black walnuts, acorns, watercress, and fruit trees. The Soto kids grew up running around barefoot, without tap water or electricity. “We were poor, but we had everything,” says Angelita.

“Harshaw was named after the guy [who] founded the mines, but it already had a name: El Durazno,” says Henry Soto. “We still call it El Durazno [the peach].”

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The Sotos have been in the West for nine generations, since before it became part of the United States. They came from Mexico in 1775, with the Spanish expeditions that founded San Francisco and Los Angeles. However, after the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, they suddenly found themselves foreigners in their own land, when the U.S. failed to honor the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and took their property rights away. The Sotos believe this is what pushed Angel and Josefa, their great-grandparents, to leave California in the 1870s. During the gold rush years, the couple headed eastward, jumping from mining camp to mining camp until they finally reached Harshaw—then a town bustling with 2,000 people, 30 saloons, several breweries and shops, a church, a school, and a post office. Only 8 miles away, in the town of Patagonia, the Pacific Railroad connected the local mines to the rest of the West.

“Harshaw at that time was booming, and word got around,” says Frank Soto, the oldest sibling.

According to the Soto brothers, Angel’s first job was probably at World’s Fair, the district’s deepest mine, extracting silver, gold, lead, and copper with chisel and bar through nearly two miles of underground shafts, 500 feet below the ground. Less than two decades later, Angel’s kids and grandkids would do the same work with air-pressure jackhammers, powder, and dynamite.

Most mining companies relocated when the Great Depression took its toll, leaving toxic waste rock that would leak acidic surface waters downstream for decades to come. The workers left town or survived by taking jobs in railroad and highway construction; the Soto family joined the Civilian Conservation Corps. The once-thriving town dwindled into a scatter of abandoned shacks. “There was nothing else, so people just packed up and left the houses,” says Mike Soto, the second of the siblings.

When the American Smelting and Refining Company (Asarco) took over in 1939, it resumed operations at the Trench and Flux mines, where Miguel, Mike’s father, pushed mineral-bearing ore wagons out of the shafts. Less than three decades later, however, Asarco halted operations and abandoned 2 million tons of untreated hazardous waste. The workers’ families moved away. The Sotos left Harshaw in 1956 and eventually relocated to Tucson’s south side, where Miguel Soto and three of his kids found work in the nearby Pima Mine.

With mining in retreat and no one staking deeds over the land, the U.S. Forest Service reclaimed Harshaw in the 1960s, knocking houses down as soon as the occupants moved out or passed away. Eventually, the entire town was bulldozed.

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Today, half a mile from the Soto homestead, a third wave of mining is gaining speed. A dirt road passes the old Harshaw cemetery and climbs a four-lane drive to the hilltop where South32’s mining operation is located. Galvanized fencing and security cameras line the nearby roads.

South32, which purchased the Hermosa project in 2018, is currently doing exploratory drilling in what is probably the largest undeveloped zinc deposit in the world. The “Mine of Tomorrow,” as South32 calls it, would be largely underground, 2,000 to 4,000 feet. Most of the mining will be on private property, but some of the tunnels will extend horizontally into the deposits of zinc, lead and silver that exist underneath Coronado National Forest.

Not everyone welcomes the prospect of renewed mining: The Patagonia Area Resource Alliance (PARA), a local environmental organization, fears that South32 could deplete the region’s water supply and pollute the surrounding environment. “They go through aquifers when they drill to get their core samples,” says Glen Goodwin, a longtime local resident and PARA co-founder, explaining that the company would need to draw large volumes of water in order to reach the deposit. “They claim that there is no cross-contamination. How they can guarantee that, I don’t know.” A South 32 spokesperson has assured Patagonia residents that there will be little to no environmental impact.

While mining technology has evolved from what it was a century ago, environmental policy has lagged behind: The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that, over a period of just 11 years, taxpayers had to pay $2.6 billion for the cleanup of abandoned mines. Only in 2001 did the Bureau of Land Management start requiring mine operators to prove they can pay for their own cleanup, though the GAO later acknowledged that the requirements were insufficient and the system used to track financial assurances was unreliable.

Through it all, the Sotos have continued to visit El Durazno almost every week. In fact, they never really left: In the 1930s, their grandfather, Tata Mariano, acquired 60 acres on the edge of Harshaw through the Homestead Act, thereby ensuring his family’s legal claims to the land. Some of his descendants still live there today. “I have a theory of why my grandfather had the vision to get a homestead when other Chicanos didn’t,” says Juan Soto, the self-described family historian. “It was the memory of dispossession.” He went on to explain how the memory of the broken Guadalupe Treaty left Mariano Soto feeling wary, pushing him to get titles on land that others took for granted.

The Sotos keep a calendar to rotate visits to their homestead, where they spend the night, breathe the fresh air, and pick acorns and wild oregano in the nearby mountains. Yet they, too, have mixed feelings about the resumption of mining.

“We are a mining family, so to me a mine is just another mine,” says Henry Soto, who worked as a surveyor at Pima Mine for about 10 years. Still, he can’t help worrying that the new venture will entirely transform the place where he finds peace. “But it is too close to home,” he says, “kind of a ‘not in my backyard’ thing.”

Meet the Man Who Walked from York to Hastings in Medieval Armor

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He was fighting not Normans, but the stigma of mental illness.

If you were driving through the English countryside sometime in October 2020, you may have spotted a man in a full suit of medieval armor, marching along the side of the road. It was neither a present-day Don Quixote nor a lost LARPer. It was simply Lewis Kirkbride, a 38-year-old charity worker from Durham, in northeast England. Turning heads, in fact, was precisely his goal. Over 20 days, Kirkbride walked some 300 miles to raise awareness of the English population’s widespread, if largely undiscussed, struggles with mental health—struggles he likens to battles fought by the knights of yore. One particular knight, as it happens.

Kirkbride modeled his route after the one taken in 1066 by King Harold Godwinson (or Harold II), the last Anglo-Saxon king of England. On September 25 of that year, King Harold met invading Norwegian forces at Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire and won a decisive victory. Even Norway’s own King Harald (it's easy to get confused) was killed in the action, along with Godwinson’s exiled brother Tostig, who had supported the Norwegian invasion. The victors, however, couldn’t celebrate for long. Immediately after the battle, on September 27, William the Conqueror set sail for England with his Norman fleet, and Harold II had to move his forces south to confront the new invasion. Less than three weeks after his great victory, King Harold was killed at the Battle of Hastings on October 14, and the Norman rule of England began.

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For Kirkbride, there’s a “perfect” metaphor for mental illness built into the story. Harold was “defending his kingdom from all sides, from invaders, and I think sometimes mental health can feel a bit like that—you’re just besieged from all sides and everything seems to be going wrong,” Kirkbride explains. Additionally, he points out, “there’s the metaphor of putting the armor on every day and knowing that I’ve got a 20-mile slog ahead of me … ” Part of the experience of combating mental illness, he says, “is putting on a brave face every day.”

The march itself required a brave face and then some. To prepare, after a former reenactor donated the suit to his project, Kirkbride took short walks around his hometown wearing it, all four-and-a-half stones (63 pounds) of it. He quickly learned that he would have to remain ultrasensitive to the metal’s hold on his body. “[T]he slightest irritation can become a blistering sore,” he writes in an email, “or the slightest misalignment can become a ballooning swollen and stiff joint.... I knew a five-minute adjustment could mean the difference between completing or aborting the challenge in a few days’ time.”

Kirkbride also tried to reconstruct what King Harold’s route would have been, then drew his own as close as possible to it—without denying himself access to food and accommodation, and without putting himself in harm’s way on unwalkable Roman roads. The journey ultimately took him, to name just some of the locales he passed through, from Stamford Bridge to Bubwith, Lincoln to Peterborough, and Royston to Battle, the site of Harold’s defeat. Adding to the Englishness of his mission was the near-daily rain, though Kirkbride came prepared for the mud with a walking spear.

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Kirkbride, a longtime medieval enthusiast whose work sometimes brushes on issues of mental health, had been considering this trek since October 2019. He ultimately made up his mind, however, in April 2020, when he was taking a walk and happened upon a memorial for a local man who had taken his own life. “I discovered that around one in three people I chatted to from villages around home had lost someone ... to suicide,” he elaborates. He partnered with ManHealth, an organization that helps men combat mental illness, and hoped his march would raise £10,660 (more than $13,700) in a nod to the year of Harold II’s greatest victory and subsequent death. As England learned more about his plans, Kirkbride shattered that goal, ultimately raising more than twice that amount.

Indeed, what Kirkbride planned as a solitary march quickly became a communal effort, with supporters glomming on like he was a plodding Forrest Gump in a metal helmet. When COVID-19 lockdowns nearly scuttled his departure, fans offered to smuggle him from home to his starting point in a caravan. At Peterborough, a historical reenactor playing a priest gave Kirkbride a knight’s blessing in front of the cathedral. Others, posing as Normans, followed Kirkbride into Sawtry on horseback. “By the time I reached the finish line” he writes, “I turned around and realized around 300 to 400 people had joined behind me in a socially distant procession!” Breaking character, Kirkbride had packed an iPod for the trek. He says he never used it once.

Kirkbride is an experienced reenactor himself, trained in medieval German sword fighting (“nasty stuff,” he says, and deadly) and a regular performer in staged reenactments at English historic sites. He hopes that his effort can be a shining example for destigmatizing mental illness. “One of the messages I wanted to get across was, ‘Well look, if a 6’2” trained killer in armor can talk about mental health openly, hopefully it’s okay for anybody else to,’” he says. “It’s not unmanly, it’s actually quite a brave, courageous thing to do—to show some vulnerability and reach out when you need it.”

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Found: A Shipwrecked Nazi Steamer, Still Filled With Cargo

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It carried soldiers, military vehicles, and sealed crates that divers can't wait to open.

About 40 miles off the coast of Poland, nearly 300 feet below the surface of the Baltic Sea, a beam of light cut through the cold water and fell onto the metal hulk of a ship. As the light panned across the wreck in September 2020, it cast long shadows across the seafloor. For the first time in 75 years, the Nazi-era steamship Karlsruhe had been seen by human eyes.

“It is one of the last unresolved mysteries of the Second World War,” says Tomasz Stachura, the president of the SANTI diving company and a technical diver who dove on the wreck last month. The steamer “carried quite a large load and was an utterly submerged story … This story must be completed.”

Two German ships called Karlsruhe sank in the Baltic during World War II—one at the beginning of the war and one at the end. Remarkably, both were identified only this year. In September, the German cruiser Karlsruhe—which was sunk in April 1940—was identified off Norway’s southern coast. The same month, to the east, Stachura’s team dove on the German steamer Karlsruhe, which was sunk in April 1945. At the time, Germans were fleeing the Red Army, which was pushing through occupied Eastern Europe and into German territories such as East Prussia.

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Germany’s hasty flight was part of Operation Hannibal, one of the largest sea evacuations in history. During the last five months of the war in Europe, millions of Germans moved westward, as did cargo that was deemed valuable or useful to the war effort—which was looking increasingly grim for Germany. So far, finds from the shipwreck include well-preserved military vehicles, china, and many sealed wooden boxes in the ship’s hold, which require more thorough excavation to unpack and study.

It’s not just in Indiana Jones movies that Nazi crates are cause for intrigue. According to SANTI, Karlsruhe was the last ship to leave the port at Königsberg, the historically Prussian city that is now Kaliningrad, Russia, which has led Stachura to speculate that Karlsruhe may have spirited away the ornate Amber Room of the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg. Originally built in Berlin at the beginning of the 18th century, the room was an ostentatious ensemble of gold leaf, mirrors, and several tons of amber. In 1716, King Frederick William I of Prussia gifted it to Peter the Great of Russia. In 1941, it was dismantled by the Nazis, brought to Königsberg, and then—like many of the war’s looted artifacts—it vanished.

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While some say the room’s extravagant panels were destroyed in bombings, some still hold out hope that the room is intact—hidden away somewhere, or collecting barnacles at the bottom of the sea. “We do not have any hard evidence that the Amber Room is there, but nobody has any hard evidence that Amber Room is elsewhere,” Stachura says. “The truth is that the Germans wanting to send something valuable to the west could only do it by means of Karlsruhe, as this was their last chance.”

Diving on the wreck is laborious: Twenty-five minutes on the site requires two and a half hours of decompression, Stachura says, and his team is seeking funding from the Polish Maritime Office to continue its work. The physical exertion of diving and opening the crates at such a depth carries the risk of blackout, and Stachura says that a diving bell would be needed in order to have enough air for the work. For now, the crates have been photographed underwater, and his team can hardly wait to learn more about their contents. “All we have to do is look into them and check,” Stachura says. Perhaps easier said than done.