Trick Or Treat

October 31, 2008

Have you had hordes of little and not-so-little kids coming around this evening, banging on your door and demanding free candy? We haven’t, but that’s only because we live in an apartment and despite the fact that it’s easily accessible, trick-or-treaters tend to avoid apartment buildings for some reason. My husband did take our three-year-old earlier for his first trick-or-treat ever, and he caught on quickly; when they came back an hour later our son had a bag stuffed with candy and a gleam in his eye that suggested he was on to a good thing. It seems like a fairly random sort of custom – going from door to door, expecting something in return for dressing up – but unlike a lot of other traditions (diamond engagement rings for example) it’s not the invention of any remotely modern entity. While candy companies doubtless bless Halloween, the begging tradition far predates them.
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Vote for Laura Masterson and local food

October 31, 2008

In Portland, Oregon, Laura Masterson of the 47th Avenue Farm is an urban farmer and advocate for local food, food security, and soil management. This year she’s on
the Multnomah County ballot as a candidate for East Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District, Director, Zone 2, as I learned from a friend in Portland who enthusiastically voted for her.

Those of us who don’t live in Multnomah County can’t do that. Luckily, there’s another way for us to support Masterson and the causes she represents. In addition to running for public office, she’s also one of 11 finalists for the Dreamers into Doers Award, which is apparently a $10,000 award sponsored by the website which honors an entrepreneur or activist who has turned her hobby into a business or nonprofit organization. Not only can anyone vote, we can vote multiple times — once a day until voting closes on November 18, in fact. Of the eleven finalists, she’s currently in third place.

Unfortunately, voting requires making an account on, which is annoying, but at least it’s not very hard. From the Dreamers into Doers page, click “meet the finalists”, then click “vote” next to Laura’s name. If not signed in, you’ll be asked to register/sign in at that point.

Please do vote — early and often! — and pass it on.

The Goatman Cometh

October 29, 2008

Another post which is not exactly a ghost story. . .I thought I’d introduce one of the local boogey monsters. The Goatman of Beltsville.  A fearsome melding of man and beast who has it in for necking teenagers and barking dogs, he prowls the wooded Maryland suburbs of Washington DC following a horrific (but unspecified) accident at the USDA agricultural research facilities. I’ve added a few links below where you can read in more detail, or simply do a google search for “goatman beltsville”.’s summary & map 

Goatman PDF

American Ghost Morality Tales

October 27, 2008

This may not be a ghost story, but it’s a scary one we used to tell around the campfire, the flashlight held up under our chin so our faces took that eerie, scary red glow. For those who don’t know, Shawno is a town in Northeastern Wisconsin, not too far from where I grew up, but far enough away to run out of gas and get lost…

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Before And After – Some Norwegian Ghosts

October 26, 2008

In keeping with Dana’s idea about posting a ghost story a day, here are two Norwegian stories – you’ll see that the first one isn’t precisely a ghost story in the classic sense of the word, but there’s a definite creepy otherworldliness to it. Both of them are folk stories which were collected about two hundred years, but are probably much older than that. They come originally from Scandinavian Folktales, translated by Jacqueline Simpson, but I’m retelling from memory as I haven’t got the book by me.

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The Tale of Hoichi the Earless

October 24, 2008

Yesterday, I had to act as an usher for a school performance by a visiting artist sponsored by the academic department I work for. Lest you think I’m complaining, I assure you I’m not; what this meant was that I stood in the cold for maybe as many as 10 minutes instructing middle schoolers on where to sit once they got into the auditorium, and then I got to enjoy a free performance for the next two hours. I suspect I enjoyed it a great deal more than the 7th graders.

The performance was given by a Japanese biwa player, telling a legend about The Tale of the Heike. For the middle school students, she chose the story of Hoichi the Earless, which is, appropriately for October, a ghost story. Since the actual singing/story telling is in Japanese, she gave the students a background explanation and an unsung version of the story in English. So here’s a ghost story for you all. (Note that I am retelling it from my memory of how the artist recited it, and am not looking up the official version, despite the lure of the internet.)

Background: Many years ago, in the days of the samurai warrior in Japan, there was a war between two clans, the Heike and the Genji. A decisive sea battle came at the Battle of Dan-no-ura, as the Genji fleet defeated the Heike. To protect the infant Heike emperor from the shame of defeat, his (grand?)mother took him in her arms and jumped over the side of the ship, drowning them both. Many other Heike warriors also jumped into the sea, and many more died in the battle. The beach forever after was haunted by their spirits (which are said to have taken physical form in the Heike crab, whose shell resembles a samurai’s face.)

The story:

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The Sheik, Changing Social Mores and French Algeria: A Semi-free Association Writing Exercise Part 1

October 15, 2008

Last week I was browsing YouTube for clips of Rudolf Valentino, which got me thinking about The Sheik, Hollywood blockbuster of 1921 and the movie that made him an icon. I first saw the film in my early teens and it went straight to my limbic system. Instead of New-Kids-on-the-Block, I was the classroom eccentric who was into Weird Al Jankovic, Dvroak’s New World Symphony and film star who’d been dead since my grandmother was 4 years old.

That phase passed, and I hadn’t really thought about either the film or actor in at least a decade, when the idea came to me that YouTube might be a source for bits of silent movies. I set out to look for Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera and The Shiek. Both films having been major productions in their day, I figured the odds would pretty good that clips from them as well as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis would be available. I needn’t have hedged my bets, though, since along with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and a Danish film from 1923 I hadn’t heard of (Vampyr) were readily available, mostly as music video-style tributes. A couple were even offered as full length downloads posted by some serious connoisseurs.

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Early American Feminists, Real and Fictional

October 15, 2008

This has been one of those weird and inadvertantly synchronous weeks, where the same topic keeps cropping up in completely different and unrelated ways. Since I find early American feminism and the suffrage movement interesting, I decided to share.

First, on Monday, I heard a teaser for an NPR story that I made a mental note to go back and listen to later online. I just did, and it was the fascinating story of Victoria Claflin Woodhull, “The First Woman to Run for President – in 1872.” Woodhull turns out to have been quite a controversial figure, stating in speeches her opinion that marriage was akin to slavery and advocating her right to practice “free love,” meaning that she should have the freedom to both love and change her mind. (She had been sold into marriage very early in life to an alcoholic, so she had some strong views on the matter.) She didn’t sit well with many of the suffragists of middle class, “more serious” backgrounds, but she was quite sincere in her beliefs and did become the presidential nominee for the Equal Rights Party. (Frederick Douglass was nominated as her vice-president, but without being asked. He declined to even acknowledge the nomination.) In the end, her name didn’t even appear on the ballot.

This tied in eerily well with the mystery series I recently rediscovered at the library and had just checked out two more books in, the Seneca Falls series by Miriam Grace Monfredo.* The series begins during the events surrounding the Women’s Rights Convention of 1848 and then continues on through the Civil War. The main character, Glynis Tryon, is the librarian for the town of Seneca Falls, NY, and a very independent, staunchly unmarried woman. While the mysteries she keeps getting somewhat reluctantly embroiled in are obviously fictional, as are many of her friends and relatives, the reader still encounters quite a bit of historical fact as well.

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