Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Entertaining Gravestone Epitaphs

Everyone has been to a graveyard at least once in their life. If you happened to walk around and look at a few of the gravestones you probably noticed that most had just the names and dates of the dearly departed. Every once in a while however, you may find one that is actually kind of funny, or one that is kind of spooky. In honor of the holiday season, I compiled a few spooky, but mostly funny gravestone epitaphs. Enjoy!

Effie Jean Robinson
Come blooming youths, as you pass by,
And on these lines do cast an eye.
As you are now, so once was I;
As I am now, so must you be;
Prepare for death and follow me.

Here lays Butch.
We planted him raw.
He was quick on the trigger
But slow on the draw.

Here lies the body of Arkansas Jim.
We made the mistake, But the joke's on him.

In memory of Anna Hopewell
Here lies the body of our Anna
Done to death by a banana
It wasn't the fruit that laid her low
But the skin of the thing that made her go.

Sir John Strange.
Here lies an honest lawyer.
And that is Strange.
Jedediah Goodwin
Born 1828

Here lies
Johnny Yeast.
Pardon me
For not rising.

Here lies the body
of John Round.
Lost at sea
and never found.

Here lies Ann Mann,
Who lived an old maid
But died an old Mann.
December 8, 1767

Anna Wallace
The children of Israel wanted bread
And the Lord sent them manna;
Old clerk Wallace wanted a wife,
And the devil sent him Anna.

Here lies
Ezekiel Aikle
Age 102
The Good
Die Young.

Here lies Pa.
Pa liked wimin.
Ma caught Pa in with two swimmin.
Here lies Pa.

(On a Hypochondriac’s grave)
See. I told you
I was SICK!

Blown upward
out of sight:
He sought the leak
by candlelight

And now for some famous ones:

Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare,
To digg the dust encloased heare!
Blest be the man that spares thes stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.
-William Shakespeare

"That's All Folks!"
-Mel Blanc

At Rest
An American Soldier
And Defender of the Constitution
-Jefferson Davis

“So we beat on, boats against the current,
borne back ceaselessly
into the past”
-Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald

Here was buried Thomas Jefferson,
author of the Declaration of American Independence,
of the statute of Virginia for religious freedom,
and father of the University of Virginia.
-Thomas Jefferson (notice he left the part about him being president out?)

"He could have given us a few more laughs, but noooooo."
-John Belushi

"Gee, he was here a moment ago."
-George Carlin (written by himself)

"There goes the neighborhood."
-Rodney Dangerfield (written by himself)

Now he belongs to the ages.
-Abraham Lincoln (by Edwin Stanton)

-Kurt Vonnegut (written by himself)

Ironic Consequences of Being Superstitious

"When the Black Plague devastated Europe in the 14th century, many people assumed it was caused by witchcraft. And cats, with their glowing eyes and night-prowling habits, were thought to be tools of witches. Thousands of cats (and a lot of women thought to be witches) were slaughtered. Scientists later determined that the plague was transmitted by fleas that lived on rats. Had all those cats not been slaughtered, they might have been alive to kill all those rats, which could have vastly reduced the death toll of approximately 30 million."

"Historical Blunders." Uncle John's Triumphant 20th Anniversary Bathroom Reader. Pg. 481. 2007.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Ah yes. The other side of the Twilight movies. In my opinion, werewolves aren't as popular as vampires. Sure, people go crazy for Taylor Lautner and everything, but werewolves haven't really hit a new growth in popularity like vampires. The name werewolf comes from Germany, literally meaning wolf man. Werewolves have many different names, most often referred to as Lycans or Lycanthropes. Lycanthropy is basically the ability to transform into a wolf. Lycanthropy is also a clinical disorder found in a rare amount of humans where they believe that they are in fact wolves or other beasts.

OK, so basically what most everyone knows about werewolves is that if you are bitten by one, you become a werewolf. That, or you were cursed by a gypsy or something. If you are a werewolf you will turn every full moon and kill a bunch of people and then turn back to normal. If you are a werewolf, you are also screwed, as you will most likely get shot with a silver bullet. How can you tell if someone is a werewolf in their human form? Well, most people in Europe will tell you that the person has a unibrow, curved fingernails, low set ears, and a swinging stride. If you get really close and cut the person, hair should sprout from the wound. They also might freak out every time they hear a full moon will be happening. Don't worry, they aren't avoiding you because they don't like you, it's because they don't want to tear your throat out when the moon comes out.

In werewolf forms, it is said that you can tell the difference between werewolves and regular wolves by the fact that they don't have a tail. Werewolves are also said to retain human eyes and voice. When a werewolf turns back, it is often weak or in a heavy state of depression. There are varying accounts on whether werewolves know what they did while they were in their wolf form. If they did remember, it would cause them to go into a manic-depressive state, agonizing over what things they did. Werewolves are also much much stronger than a man or a wolf, which would only be obvious if they hit you.

How does one become a werewolf, though? Well, there are apparently more than Hollywood has led us to believe. One method is putting on a belt made of wolf skin. This is a substitute for wearing a whole wolf skin, as putting the whole thing on has been described too. This form of werewolf is a hexenwolf. Another way is to rub the body with magic salve or drink water out of a werewolf's footprint. In Italy, France, and Germany, it was widely believed that if one slept outside on a certain Wednesday or Friday and had the full moon shining right on their face, they would turn into a werewolf. Those who threw their lot in with Satan or were excommunicated by the Catholic Church were also said to have been punished with lycanthropy by a divine power. There are cases in which people claimed that they became werewolves for the sole purpose of carrying out God's will and destroying evil. An 80 year-old man named Thiess from Jurgenbeg, Livonia in 1692 testified under oath that he and other werewolves were the Hounds of God. He claimed that the Hounds of God went into Hell and did battle with witches and demons in order to keep Satan and his minions from taking the grain from the earthly farms and bringing them down to Hell. He also declared that when werewolves died, they were openly welcomed into heaven for their efforts. Thiess was ultimately sentenced to ten lashes for Idolatry and superstitious belief. The Hounds of God are further explored in the book, The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. For the most part, the legends tell of people becoming werewolves on purpose. Those who did had surely made a pact with the devil so they could go out at night and kill. If a person was not a werewolf by choice it was because they had been born under a new moon or with epilepsy. For some reason epilepsy was considered a form of lycanthropy. I'm sure that didn't end well. The notion that werewolves had to bite you to turn you into a werewolf are not found in any of the old legends, but are a product of 20th century Hollywood.

In the old European legends, the only guard against werewolf attacks was rye and mistletoe, with some countries legends detailing mountain ash and wolfsbane to also be an effective ward. The notion that silver defeats a werewolf and nothing else is another case of modern depictions of werewolves. Legends on how to cure a person of lycanthropy border on the cruel to just plain stupid. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that a person could be cured by exhaustion. They would force the person to work for a very long time in hopes that they would be cured of the malady. This thought stemmed from the belief that werewolves were often weak and debilitated after a night of murder and mayhem. In medieval Europe, there were three ways to cure a person of lycanthropy: medically (usually by applying wolfsbane), surgically, or by exorcism. Almost all of the remedies to lycanthropy proved to be fatal to the patient. In other certain European countries during the 17th and 18th centuries it was believed that simply saying the person's Christian name three time would cure the person, or by simply scolding them. Another medieval cure was simply having the person convert to Christianity. At least they didn't have to get unnecessary surgery.

The origins of the werewolf myth have been around since the ancient times but didn't really take off until the 1500's in Europe. Wolf attacks were occasional but still a huge threat in Europe, so it wasn't totally crazy that Europeans projected their most feared enemy into the folklore of evil shapeshifters. This was not a isolated incident as many other regions did basically the same thing, even if they didn't have wolves. Africa has werehyenas, India has weretigers, and South America has werepumas and werejaguars. Some modern scholars blame the disease Porphyria, stating how the symptoms of photo sensitivity, reddish teeth, and psychosis could be grounds for accusing a sufferer as being a werewolf. This theory is argued by those who believe it was started by the disease hypertrichosis, which makes a person grow an obnoxious amount of hair all over their bodies. Another theory states that perhaps rabies could have been the pretext to the belief in werewolves.

The thought that people can transform into beasts is all around the globe, even being spread by to Vikings to the natives in Canada. The early colonial period also brought the belief of werewolves to the American natives eventually evolving over time into the story of the Wendigo, which is a combination of a Native American spirit and the french belief in the werewolf (they called them loup- garou. The Wendigo is a legend that basically covers the lower and upper peninsula's of Michigan, parts of Canada, and northern New York. I live in "Wendigo Alley" so I may have to worry about it, but most of the U.S. doesn't. People who are possessed by the spirit of a Wendigo can be turned into one, or if a person eats another person, they have an increased risk of turning into a Wendigo. Why? Well, because the Wendigo eat people. Watch out next time you take a late night trip through the woods of the Upper Peninsula. Whether it be a Wendigo, loup-garu, hexenwolf, or just a lycanthrope, werewolves are just nasty. There may be a lot of different versions of them, but all agree that they are incredibly strong and incredibly deadly.

Here are a few movies, TV shows, and books that deal with werewolves:

  • The Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr. as the eponymous monster. A bit dated and kind of boring but it had its moments)
  • The Harry Potter series (most notably The Prisoner of Azkaban)
  • The Brothers Grimm
  • Van Helsing
  • Ginger Snaps
  • Big Fish
  • Teen Wolf
  • Scooby-Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf (a staple of my childhood)
  • Underworld
  • The Dresdon Files: Fool Moon (All you ever wanted to know about the different kinds of werewolves. Great book.)
  • Supernatural (There are a few about werewolves and even a Wendigo in the first season)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Ghosts are basically the centerpiece of the supernatural world. They are all over the place when Halloween comes around and you can't even stop seeing them on the TV when its Christmas. Ghosts are very much a part of our culture whether we know it or not, and many other cultures. Ghosts have apparently been around for a very long time. They are not only mentioned in the Bible but are also part of ancient civilizations and their ancestor worship. Basically legends of ghosts have been around forever, and its very unlikely it's going to go away any time soon. Ghosts are not always people, as people have claimed they have experienced ghost versions of animals, trains, boats, and even whole armies. There are ghosts that look like full bodied people, ones that look translucent, and ones that are invisible and choose to throw things to let it's presence be known. Ghosts come in every shape and size, and for the most part scare the crap out of everyone they come in contact with. Though not all are here to do anyone harm, some have been down right evil. Do I believe in ghosts? I'm not sure, really. Throughout the years I've wavered back and forth but haven't seen or heard anything that has made me a strong believer. Is there a chance they exist? Sure, but most would rather pretend they didn't even if they did. I have been at various haunted establishments throughout my life and experienced odd things, but let's just say that the jury is still out.

There are a ton of theories on how ghosts are made. Many ancient civilizations just believed that all their ancestors were spirits that would totally haunt them if they dishonored their memory. Many people today believe that ghosts are made when a person dies and they have unfinished business. Another popular one is that a person that is really connected to a place, like a house or lighthouse, will continue to stay there after death. The more troubling maker of ghosts is a place of a traumatic episode. This would be the case of a brutal murder or a battlefield. The raw emotion of the ordeal bounds the person or people to that certain place. Then there's the revenge one. Person is murdered or dies really angry at someone and basically wills their spirit to stay on earth and torment someone. There are two main types of ghosts, as least to my knowledge. The first is those as part of a residual haunting.

In a residual haunting, you have a place that has a ghost, but is just going through a loop of sorts. An example is a lighthouse keeper's ghost. Every night or every friday, people will see the ghost walk up the stairs in the lighthouse and look like he's working on lighthouse stuff when he gets to the top. In this case the ghost is just a shell of the person, not any part of who they were when they were living. It's basically like watching a continuous video loop. The ghost cannot do anything else and cannot think. If it is experienced, it will not acknowledge the living, but keep going about it's task, whatever it is. The far more disturbing residual haunts are the ghosts of people that were murdered or killed themselves. In this case, you see a person jump of a roof or hang themselves every once in a while. Or you could even hear a scream and see someone murdered. These are very rare, but people have claimed to have seen them, especially on the night of the murder or some other date that was special to the ghost. While still scary, residual haunts will not hurt you or interact with you. Think of the whole scenario as energy manifesting itself to replay past events. Residual hauntings are also very common on battlefields, like Gettysburg for instance.

The next type of haunting is the scary one: the intelligent haunt. These ghosts know whats up. They know that you are there and they will sometimes reach out to you if they want something. Many cultures think that in this case, the person's soul remains on earth. Some people claim that intelligent haunts manifest themselves to have the living help them pass on to the afterlife, to give clues as to who their murderer was, to simply tell a story or show that they exist, or to just hurt people. Intelligent haunts can be invisible and make their presence known by moving things. Those specific ghosts are called poltergeist. Poltergeist is a German word, polter meaning "to make noise," and geist, which means "ghost." Poltergeist are usually fun-loving ghosts like just want to scare people. Some like to throw things at people however. Watch the movie Poltergeist for a good example. Most other intelligent haunts will make themselves visible, though it does take up a lot of energy. That's why many people claim to feel very cold when they think a ghost is around. The ghost uses energy to manifest itself or move objects. Some people have seen translucent ghosts that hardly appear to be there, and some look just like you and me! Frightening! Intelligent haunts, like residual haunts are usually tied to a specific location and won't follow you around. Notice I said usually. In rare cases, people and objects have been known to be haunted. The movie Paranormal Activity is an example of people being haunted. It has nothing to do with where you live, it's going to follow you around until you can somehow get rid of it. A popular urban legend claims that the painting, The Hands Resist Him (left) is haunted and those who have the painting will be cursed with death. The painting has apparently killed off three of it's owners.

Many things can happen to you if you have a intelligent haunt. First off, it can do nothing and just walk up and down your stairs every night. It can also flush your toilet and turn lights off and on. It can also tickle your feet while you are asleep. This apparently happens a lot in haunted hotels. Or it will just appear in front of you when you wake up suddenly in the middle of the night. In rare cases, the spirit will try to hurt you, most likely throwing an object at you, pinning you down in your bed, or even scratching you. The real spirits you have to worry about are the ones that are apparently not human. Though extremely rare, there have been supposed cases where the spirit haunting the house or location was not a person but a demon. As you can probably assume, a demon haunting a place is extremely bad and should be avoided at all costs. How does one get rid of a ghost? Well, a lot of people believe that you need divine intervention like a priest coming over and blessing the house. Some believe you need a spiritualist to banish the spirit. Then there's the belief that you have to help the ghost move onto the afterlife, however that may be. There's apparently a lot of ways, most have been elaborated on in movies.

People have been trying to contact the dead for hundreds of years, and many believe they have through mediums. Mediums are spiritualists who believe they can communicate with the dead. They hold seances to usher up spirits so that grieving people can communicate with their dearly departed. Mary Todd Lincoln was way into seances and held many after her husbands death. Mediums are usually put in the same realm as fortune tellers, as in they are thought of as con-artists who just want to get your money. I have never met a medium or done a seance so it's hard for me to take them seriously. I think why many don't like the thought of mediums is the Christian belief that we should not conjure up spirits from the dead.

According to a poll done by CBS in 2009, 48 percent of people believe in ghosts, while 45% say they do not. While the side that believes barely wins out, that's still almost half the US population. In the poll it also found that women tended to believe more than men and experiences happened to women more often too. There are groups that are specifically out there to prove that ghosts exists, some of them with TV shows like Ghost Hunters. I used to watch the show all the time as it was pretty entertaining, but since that show started, a bunch of other ones have shown up. Most follow the same premise: group goes into supposedly haunted house or building, walk around in the dark, get spooked by any noises, and sometimes they actually see something that the home audience doesn't see. While Ghost Hunters did the same thing, I liked that they at least tried to take a scientific approach to their investigations, and nine times out of ten they would say that the place wasn't actually haunted. Other shows that I've watched are a bit goofier and some use mediums. I'm honestly not a fan of any of the shows that use mediums but that's just me. How do these people attempt to hunt these ghosts though? It's the general consensus that ghosts have a certain aura of electromagnetic radiation around them. Thus, a EMF meter, or a Electromagnetic field detector will help people determine where ghosts are. Consequently, if you have a product in your house that is giving off a ton of electromagnetic energy, then you think you have a ghost, as the massive amount of energy has been known to cause hallucinations and that sense of someone watching you. The other big tool that ghost hunters use is an EVP recorder, which records sounds that are out of our hearing range. This is how they attempt to hear ghosts. They will usually have the EVP recorder out and ask questions, pausing for responses. After the investigations are done they go over the many hours of EVP recording and see if they hear anything. This is massively creepy when you do hear something, though it's usually kind of garbled. Thermal detectors are also used in investigations, used to detect the heat that ghosts give off when they use up energy. The ghost hunting shows and other groups that hunt ghosts are challenged by skeptic groups who feel that these people are wasting their lives and peoples time with their parlor tricks and pseudo scientific findings. Check out one of the shows sometime! Most are pretty silly, but can be scary! One of freakiest things I've seen was the St. Augustine Lighthouse episode of Ghost Hunters.

Science does usually explain away any evidence that people find of ghosts. Either it's too much electromagnetic energy being emitted from a device in the house or a gas leak that leads people to hallucinate and feel like someones watching them. Orbs, mist, and faces are the fault of the camera due to double exposure and dust. If there was legitimate proof of ghosts out there, I'm pretty sure more people would believe. Most photos you see that claim to have ghosts are issues of double exposure or are just plain photoshopped. There are still a few pictures, old ones, that make you think though.

Ghosts are most likely to show up at night, as that is the scariest time of the day. Figures. Thunderstorms are basically a big battery for ghosts, as they use the energy flying around everywhere to manifest themselves or cause mischief. I'm not sure where we got the white sheet thing from, but that's the first thing that people think of when they hear the word ghost. A floating white/translucent sheet with two eye holes. Ghosts are apparently everywhere: houses, battlefields, lighthouses, prisons/sanitariums, old buildings, graveyards, and basically anywhere you can think of. They're even in our movies and TV! Ghosts show up in Hamlet (left), A Christmas Carol...movies with Patrick Swayze. There are a ton of ghost stories, movies, and TV shows in our culture. So, whether you believe in them or not, they are a big part of our entertainment industry.

Some of my favorite ghost stories:

  • The Others
  • The Sixth Sense
  • The Frighteners
  • Paranormal Activity
  • House on Haunted Hill (1959)
  • Thirteen Ghosts (1960)
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and the first adaptation of it, The Haunting (1963)
  • The Willows by Algernon Blackwood
  • Poltergeist
  • The Shining
  • The Canterbury Ghost
  • High Spirits (Yes, a silly Steve Guttenberg movie)
  • Ghostbusters 1 & 2 (Couldn't leave these two out)
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • Grave Peril by Jim Butcher
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (one of my favorite stories of all time)

Saturday, October 8, 2011


This will be the first post in my Halloween series. I hope to get through all the main supernatural creatures by the end of October. We appear to be in the middle of a vampire craze. That is to say that we are in the middle of a craze that surrounds supernatural beings that feed on our life-force and are generally dangerous to be around. I blame the Twilight books but I'm sure there are many factors that have led up to this sudden fascination with the supernatural blood-suckers. All I know is that it's all gotten very annoying. I can't go to a bookstore without seeing the young adults section completely filled with vampire novels and other brooding tales. I am almost absolutely certain that as soon as authors realized that kids liked the Twilight series, they wanted to match it by crafting a similar story but with just a few differences. God forbid these young adult authors spend their time actually coming up with new material. Anyhoo, the Twilight books have brought up a few points about vampires. Namely about what they can and can't do. It strays away from the turning into bats folklore and vampires burning up in the sun and instead creates it's own myth that vampires instead sparkle in the sunlight. This has caused much outcry in geekdom which I think has added to the reasons that many people despise the Twilight books. My point is that the myth that surrounds vampires is always changing. Depending on what source you read, vampires are generally described as bloodsucking zombies that die in the sunlight and can be killed with a stake in the heart. Also, they can turn into a bat and despise anything holy like the Cross. That's the general consensus, but again everyone has a different version. What we are perhaps most privy to is the story of Dracula. Well, the basic outline of Dracula, not the whole story. I'll get into Dracula later though, as I first want to describe where the legend of vampires first came from.

The term vampire was not popularized until the early 18th century, but that doesn't mean that its basic description wasn't around before that. In fact, many believe that the bloodsucking creature has been a mainstay of early civilization. While many areas around the globe had their vampire like legends, the true vampire legend took off in Eastern Europe in the early 1700's. People living in the Balkans and Eastern Europe passed down stories of vampires who they believed were revenants (ghosts or undead versions) of evil beings, suicide victims, or witches, but could also be created by being bitten by a malevolent spirit possessing a corpse, or by being bitten by another vampire. Things got so bad in the area that mass hysteria broke out and people were randomly staking corpses and accusing their neighbors of vampirism. Though not the case that started the widespread panic, a reported case of vampirism in Croatia got things going a little bit. Giure Grando was a local peasant that had died in 1656 but had risen from his grave to drink people's blood and sexually harass his widow. The town's leader ordered for the undead monster to be staked which apparently didn't kill him, so they cut his head off, which did the trick. I have no idea how the village mistook someone for a dead person and surmised he was a vampire, but perhaps Giure wasn't actually dead at all and only appeared dead to his family. In any case, this scared the crap out of the whole region who thought there were now a bunch of these creatures lurking around and word soon spread. What started the real widespread panic was a few cases in Serbia. In the first officially recorded vampire case, Peter Pologojowitz and Arnold Paole allegedly rose from the grave and started harassing their old neighbors. Peter died at the age of 62 but rose from the grave to ask his son for food. The son refused and he was found dead the next day. Peter's neighbors were also found dead in the next couple days, all of blood loss. Paole was a ex-soldier turned farmer who was said to have been attacked by a vampire years before he died while haying. In the subsequent days, Paole's neighbors all turned up dead. Everyone assumed that Paole had come back from the grave and drained the neighbor's blood. The 18th century was supposed to be the Age of Enlightenment, an age in which most superstitions and myths were stamped out, but for some reason the vampire legend still spread across all of Europe. When word of vampire attacks hit Germany and England, things really got out of hand and the legends really spread throughout every land the two countries made contact with. Books were published about the two cases and everyone was thrown into a frenzy. Even the writer Voltaire seemed to buy into the Vampire pandemic in Europe. The panic only subsided when Empress Maria Theresa of Austria sent her physician out to study the bodies and determine whether vampires were real or not. He concluded that they weren't, so the Empress made it illegal for people to open up graves and desecrate bodies. This proclamation soon became commonplace in European countries, but that didn't mean that the legend was dead. Vampires lived on in artistic pieces and in local superstitions.

How we basically interpret vampires though is mainly thanks to the Slavic and their beliefs about what vampires are. The Slavic people, though eventually Christianized, held onto their pagan beliefs, especially when it came to honoring their ancestors and believing that there was a stark difference between the soul and the body. In their opinion, the soul was not perishable and would leave the body after death, roaming around the person's neighborhood for forty days before heading into the afterlife. People would leave a door or window open in their household so the soul could pass more easily through. During this time however, the soul could go back to it's deceased body and occupy it for a time. The reanimated corpse would either bring glad tidings to it's neighbors, or wreak havoc on them. Slavs took extra care in providing the appropriate burial rites for the dead, as they believed that if they did it wrong, the soul would become unclean and had a much better chance of coming back and taking out some zombie vengeance. The souls of wizards, witches, suicides, murderers, and unbaptized babies were also considered unclean souls and many believed that they could be possessed by more than one undead being. Thus, the Slavs came up with the word Vampir for a decomposing body that had come back to life. These being were vengeful and jealous of the life that humans had. To stay alive in their reanimated corpse, the Vampir had to drink the blood of the living.

How were people fooled into thinking that bodies were coming back from the grave and seeking vengeance? Well, there were a few reasons. One was the way the bodies decomposed. Gases inside the stomach make bodies swell and appear well fed and give them a little bit of color. When the people dug up the graves of some recently dead folk, they saw what they thought was a vampire that was fat from drinking blood and still had color to their features as if they lived again. In fact, in the Paole case, an old woman was dug up and the villagers determined that she looked more healthy and full of color than she did when she was alive. Another prominent reason people thought that the dead were rising was because of premature burial. Yes, this is one of the most terrifying things that can happen to a person, but medieval medicine wasn't that great and sometimes people were thought to be dead when they really weren't. Some people would dig up the newly dead only to discover claw marks on the inside of the coffin or blood on the corpses face where the person most like hit their head or face while trying to escape. The diggers took this as the undead trying to get out and the blood as proof that the corpse had been feeding. In the cases of Arnold Paole and Peter Plogojowitz, the likely cause of the death all around the men was disease and not vampires. In both cases the neighbors all died from what appeared to be a loss of blood, but was most likely an effect of whatever contagion they had. So, even though all the cases could be explained away, the thought of vampires still lingers to this day. While almost no one believes they are real, the legend of them is alive and well.

So where did the attributes and ways of destroying vampires come from? Well, with any creature of the night, it was thought that vampires could only come out at night and that eventually evolved into that vampires are destroyed by the sunlight. The whole vampires turning into bats wasn't an integral part of the legend until the 1700's with the discovery of the vampire bat in South America. Sure, they aren't in Europe, but many people believed that vampires could turn into any nocturnal bird such as an owl. Vampire bats do only drink blood, though it's always from cattle. The frightening creature and it's blood sucking ways eventually made it a part of vampire lore and cemented it's own name as a "vampire" bat. We think of vampires of being kind of pale, but like mentioned before, a lot of people thought them to be bloated and looking a little purple, seemingly from feeding on people. This was of course the look of a decomposing body. In more recent years, people have instead pictured vampires as pale creatures since they don't get any sunlight. The stake being used as a weapon against the vampire goes back to the Slavs and other scared Europeans. They noticed that when they stabbed the corpses, the bloated look went away and thus they believed they had killed the evil being. The corpse was of course just getting the gas stabbed out of it. While the Slavs would stab in the heart, others would stab in the chest or even in the mouth (example in the above picture, though they used a sharpened brick instead of wood). The type of wood it took to kill the vampire varied from country to country. Early vampires weren't even thought of as having fangs as we think today. That was just an added feature onto vampire lore, something that made sense when thinking about someone drinking another's blood. The Holy Cross as a weapon against the undead vampires is just practical. As agents of evil, they can be warded off by the ultimate sign of the Holy Spirit.

The vampire's depiction has changed a lot over the years, and we know think of them as being kind of a suave villain or not even a villain at all. Sightings of vampires are still reported every year and there are vampire hunting groups worldwide. Urban legends have popped up in America, London, and countries in Africa detailing a group of vampires that have either taken over the government or haunt a local graveyard. A professor at University of Central Florida wrote a paper about the existence of vampires, namely how it's impossible due to geometric progression. He argued that if the first vampire bit a person in 1600, and then from then on the victims would bite another person every month, then in two and a half years the whole population of the Earth would be vampires. This study was assuming the part of vampire lore that once you are bitten by a vampire, you become one yourself. Vampires have now become part of our culture. It's basically a sub-culture that influences kids who consider themselves goths. And of course with the whole Twilight thing you have even more people getting into the vampire legend, no matter how cheesy and out of order with prior vampire lore it is.

Vampires have been the subject of many books over the years, perhaps most notably in the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. Released in the Victorian age, it struck a cord with many due to it's subject on evil, lust, and vampirism as a disease. Dracula has of course been adapted into many different movies and is now THE vampire that people think of when they hear the word "Vampire." Read the book if you get the chance, as the movie is great and all, but a bit clunky. Dracula also gets it's roots from Vlad the Impaler, someone known for their ruthless and bloody vampires! While there have been countless movies and books on vampires, the two that stand out among pop culture are Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice and Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. I would recommend Rice's novel before the other (yes I have read the first Twilight novel). The movie version of Interview with the Vampire with Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt is also very good. Both books have sparked new interest in vampires and made them out to be a somewhat more sympathetic creature. To end off, here are a few recommendations for movies that involve vampires:

  • Interview with the Vampire (1994) (Modern Vampire classic.)
  • Nosferatu (1922) (Eerie even though it's a silent movie. Hope you like organ music!)
  • Dracula (1931) (Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye are great, not much else. Still a classic.)
  • Fright Night (1985)
  • Shadow of the Vampire (2000) (This is a must. Fantastic movie.)
  • The Lost Boys (1987)
  • From Dawn Til Dusk (1996)
  • House of Dracula (1945)
Other books and shows that heavily involve Vampires:
  • The Dresden Files: Storm Front, Grave Peril, and Death Masks. (All involve vampires but Grave Peril is centered around them. Very good book series. I'm at the end of Death Masks at the moment.)
  • The X-Files: "Bad Blood."
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Obvious addition though I haven't watched it. Heard good things though.
  • Dark Shadows. (Cheesy vampire soap opera. Tim Burton is making it into a movie.)
  • Supernatural. (Several episodes in this excellent TV series deal with vampires.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Chung Ling Soo

Chung Ling Soo was a Chinese magician that became famous in the early 20th century for his act that included the infamous "Bullet Catch" trick. The problem? Chung Ling Soo was not the man's real name, nor was he actually Chinese. Soo's real name was William Ellsworth Robinson and he had actually grown up in New York City. Why did he make people think he was Chinese? He reasoned that it would attract a larger audience to have a more exotic act. Somehow he pulled it off, even though I think he doesn't look that much like an Asian man. Robinson's stage name in his early career was Robinson, Man of Mystery! Pretty original, right? Things must not of been going too well for him though, as he soon decided to change his name and appearance to gain a larger audience. Robinson was dedicated to his act. In his 19 years as the character, he never spoke on stage and always spoke through an interpreter to journalists. Only his close friends and other stage magicians knew his secret.

Robinson took his show on the road and traveled all across the world becoming quite the famous magician. Robinson chose the name Chung Lingo Soo as a variation on the Chinese magician Ching Ling Foo (left), who was also performing around the world at the time. Robinson even copied many of Foo's tricks, using it in his own act. Things came to a head when Robinson and Foo were both performing in England. While performing at different theaters, they both declared themselves the "Original Chinese Conjurer" and the other as a fake. Ching challenged Robinson to show off his skills but Robinson didn't show up at the appointed time. Many have speculated that the feud was in fact a publicity stunt. Robinson's most famous illusion was the "Condemned to Death by Boxers" trick. In it, his assistants would dress up like Boxers (not boxers like the sport, but like The Boxer Rebellion in China) and take two guns up onto the stage. Members of the audience would mark the bullets, which were then loaded into the guns. Attendants would fire the guns at Robinson, who would catch them with his hand and put them on a plate, or sometimes catch it with his teeth and spit it out. What the audience didn't know was that Robinson palmed the marked bullets during the marking and examination. The guns wouldn't actually shoot, but were loaded with fake bullets. The audience always loved the trick, so he kept doing it.

Then things went terribly wrong for Robinson. He was at Wood Green Empire, London in 1918 about to perform his famous trick. "Robinson never unloaded the gun properly. To avoid expending powder and bullet
s, he had the breeches of the guns dismantled after each performance in order to remove the bullet, rather than firing them off or drawing the bullets with a screw-rod as was normal practice. Over time, the channel that allowed the flash to bypass the barrel and ignite the charge in the ramrod tube slowly built up a residue of unburned gunpowder. On the fateful night of the accident, the flash from the pan ignited the charge behind the bullet in the barrel of one of the guns. The bullet was fired in the normal way, hitting Robinson in the chest. His last words were spoken on stage that moment, "Oh my God. Something's happened. Lower the curtain." It was the first and last time since adopting the persona that William "Chung Ling Soo" Robinson had spoken English in public." He was taken to the hospital but died the next day. The police deemed it an accidental death, but only after the wife had to explain the trick.

You may remember hearing about the bullet catch trick in the movie The Prestige with Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman. In it, the bullet catch trick is demonstrated and executed, though it has a much more sinister end in the movie. Chung Ling Soo is actually in the movie, though they changed the character around. In the movie, the man is actually Chinese, but Bale's character believes the man pretends to be a cripple to impress the audience with his illusions. Soo's character demonstrates the lengths a person would go through to devote themselves to an art. This theme plays throughout the movie as we see what Jackman's and Bale's characters will do to perfect their art.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Lost Roanoke Colony

If you are like me, then you like a good mystery. Mysteries are harder to come by in this day in age, with all the technology and new investigative enhancements, so most mysteries have been far before the times of our fancy gadgets. One mystery that seems to have alluded scientists and historians alike is the fate of the Roanoke Colony. There are some theories, but nothing concrete on what happened to this colony. It is still one of the great mysteries of our colonial history.

For a colony to become lost, it had to have been established, so let me take you back to the late 16th century. It was March in 1584 when Queen Elizabeth I granted Sir Walter Raleigh a charter to colonize the area of America known today as Virginia. There was a stipulation however; if he didn't establish a successful colony within seven years, he would lose his right to colonize altogether. This was still in the time where the British, Spanish, and French assumed that the Native Americans had great amounts of gold and treasure somewhere in the New World, and Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth I basically intended the venture to bring them riches. That, and they also wanted to set up a base so the English could terrorize the Spanish ships which had a colonies in Florida and the Caribbean. Remember, when a country decides that looting and pillaging a ship is good for it's people, they don't call it piracy, they call it privateering. It's different. Trust me. Raleigh had actually never been to North America, but instead had been a part of the frustrating expeditions in South America near the Orinoco River to find the golden city of El Dorado.

In April of that year, Raleigh (left) sent an expedition force led by Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe to explore the east coast of the New World. The expeditionary force landed on Roanoke Island and quickly established relations with the local tribes, the Secotans and the Croatans. Amadas and Barlowe took two Croatans with them back to England and once there the natives described the local politics and geography to Raleigh. With this information, Raleigh set up a second expeditionary force led by Sir Richard Grenville. Grenville set sail with five ships from Plymouth, England and quickly ran into a big storm. The storm separated the Tiger from the other ships and it did what it was supposed to do when they got separated; it went to Puerto Rico to meet back up with the other ships. This was a funny plan since the Spanish were crawling all over the area and the English didn't exactly get along with the Spanish. The crew of the Tiger got bored and decided to build a fort where they landed. While building the fort, they established a relationship with the Spanish there, while also sometimes engaging in privateering against them. The English were weird back then. Anyway, one of the other ships finally showed up, of course right when the fort was done being constructed, and the two ships left, tired of waiting for the remaining ones. Today, no one is quite sure where the fort they built is located.

The Tiger wasn't nearly done with having bad luck and ran into a shoal in the Ocracoke Inlet, located off the coast of North Carolina. Hitting the shoal ended up destroying almost all of their food. Bad day. They finally ran into the other ships, minus the Red Lion who was all "forget this noise" and dropped it's people off and went to Newfoundland to be The expeditionary force started exploring the area and quickly got off to a bad start with the local natives. They blamed a local Aquasogoc native for stealing a single silver cup and in retaliation, burned the native's village down. Overreact much? Despite making enemies and not having a lot of food, Grenville decided to leave Ralph Lane and 107 men to establish a colony on the northern end of Roanoke Island, promising to return in less than one year. Lane and the colonist built a fort, possibly looking like the fort that was built in Puerto Rico and waited til April of 1586. That month came and went and there was still no sign of Grenville or any English ships. To make matters worse, due to the little misunderstanding with the silver cup, local natives attacked the fort and forced the settler's to fight them off. Sir Francis Drake happened to be sailing by on his way back from the Caribbean and offered them a ride home. They accepted and were taken back to England. Because it just figured, Grenville and his relief force came back right after the settlers left and found a deserted fort. Grenville shrugged, figuring that someone else had saved the group and left for England, leaving a small group of people to maintain England's claim on Virginia.

Raleigh wasn't satisfied with the voyage, so he sent another group of people to set up a colony in 1587. With a total of 150 men, the group set out, led by Raleigh's friend John White, to establish a colony on the Chesapeake Bay. The first thing they had to do though was go back to Roanoke and pick up Grenville's men that he had left behind. When they arrived, all they found was a lone skeleton. They figured it was a man from the garrison and assumed the rest were also dead, being killed in the short amount of time they were gone from the area. The men were all set to leave the area, but the fleet's commander, Simon Fernandez refused to let the men back on the boats, declaring that they must establish a colony on Roanoke. His motives for doing so remain unclear. The men had to make due and quickly tried to make friends with the local natives, including the Croatans and the ones that the earlier settlers had been fighting with. White and his men wanted to avoid the same fate as the small garrison. The aggrieved natives refused to meet the new colonists and things went from uneasy to hostile really quick. Shortly after they had established the colony, a colonist named George Howe was killed by some of the natives while he was alone catching crabs in Albemarle Sound. The settlers had remembered well what had happened to Ralph Lane and his troubles with the local Aquascogoc. They pleaded with White, who was named Governor by Raleigh, to go back to England and ask for help. White agreed and left the remaining 115 colonist, as the other 35 had perished since the expedition left. 114 original colonists and one new one. White's daughter had had a baby, Virginia Dare, making Virginia the first English child born in the Americas(her baptism pictured above).

Now things start getting interesting. According to Fernandez, the jerk who wouldn't let them leave Roanoke, White's ship barely made it back to England, since it was so late in the year. Fall and early winter is not a good time to sail. White wanted to sail back as soon as possible but Fernandez was still a jerk and wouldn't sail back during winter. He probably had a point though. Then the Anglo-Spanish War broke out. Every able ship had to be used against the formidable Spanish Armada. White did eventually get two small war-unworthy vessels out to send supplies to the settlers, but alas, the captains of the ships were greedy idiots. They tried to privateer Spanish ships and ended up getting all their supplies stolen. With nothing left to give the settlers, they went back to England. In all, with the war and unfortunate luck, it took White three whole years to get back to the settlement. White landed on August 18th 1590, his granddaughter's third birthday, but found the settlement deserted. They had seen fires from the area the night before and thought this was sure sign of the colonists, so they had a long songfest to show the colonists that they were a friendly party here to help them. When they found the area deserted, they discovered that the fires they had seen were naturally made. There was no sign of man, women, or children. No sign of struggle or battle either. The only clue they had was the word "Croatoan" carved into one of the fort's posts and the word "Cro" on a nearby tree. All the houses and fortifications had been disassembled which meant they weren't in a hurry when they left. The colonists had the orders to carve a Maltese Cross on a tree if they were forced to leave, but no Cross was found. White surmised that they had moved to "Croatoan Island" (now Hatteras Island), but was unable to perform a search of the island for a massive storm was brewing and his men would go no farther. They incidentally left the next morning without searching the island and went back to England. I assume they wanted to not get stranded there and assumed the colony was alright.

It wasn't until twelve years later that Raleigh decided to find out what happened to his colony. He set out to find the colony, but got distracted by privateering and by the time they really set out for the island area, the weather was too fierce and they turned back to England. Raleigh was later arrested for treason by King James I, so Raleigh wouldn't be making any more trips to the New World. The Spanish also set out to find the lost colony, but for different reasons. They didn't want the English to have a base in which they could easily prey on Spanish ships, so they set out to find it and destroy it. They accidentally found the remains of the settlement and apparently couldn't find where the people had gone. They assumed there was a more inland colony and this was just a small outpost, but the Spanish couldn't muster a force to check it out, since they couldn't get support from the homeland.

There are many theories on what happened to the Lost Colony. Most historians believe that the colony assimilated with the Croatan natives on Hatteras Island, or another Algonquin tribe. From there, they either were fully assimilated, or were wiped out by a rival tribe. In 1880, a legislator from North Carolina discovered that his native neighbors claimed to have been descendants of the Roanoke Colony, as they used obsolete English words in their language and some of their last names fit the same of those of the colony. This is pure speculation and there have been other claims by other native groups that they are descendant from the Roanoke Colony.

While that is the most viable answer for what happened to the colony, others speculate that they got tired of waiting and tried to sail out to sea. White had left them with a few small boats and they could of very well used them to escape the island. It is assumed that they were then lost at sea. Another theory floating around is that the colony resorted to cannibalism. This is probably unlikely, but it's not out of the question. Archeological digs still go on so we can find out what we can about this mysterious colony. Unfortunately there is a lack of findings due to shoreline erosion. Lousy ocean! They have found a lion ring that can be traced back to one of the settlers along with a few other trinkets found around Roanoke. There is a DNA project now underway that will attempt to find out once and for all if the colony assimilated into the native tribes or not. Good luck! Maybe someday we will find out for certain what happened to the colony. For now, it's just an interesting story!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Early Modern Baseball

The early uniforms were a bit different from the ones we have now. For example, the 1849 Knickerbockers wore blue woolen pantaloons, white flannel shirts, and straw hats. Not sure if straw hats would really fly these days, but it would sure be hilarious to see our favorite players forced to wear them. I also don't think that a layer of straw is going to protect your head when you have a ball thrown at it. The Knickerbockers lost the straw hats a few years later, probably upon realizing that it gave them little to no tactical advantage. The choice of color was no mistake by the Knickerbockers. Many early teams set out to associate themselves with well-established clubs or organizations, so they would copy their colors. For some reason, red was seen as a color that was used more by lower class clubs so it was generally avoided by up and coming teams. Wool was another sign of status for the Knickerbockers for it was seen as more high class than cotton. Cotton was cheap ever since the cotton gin was invented, so all the commoners wore it. Seeking to not be attributed to the working lower class, they chose to wear expensive and uncomfortable wool. Good thinking!

The Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first professional team in 1868, and thus they felt like they should dress like a professional team. That apparently meant wearing nickers instead of pantaloons. While only mildly less fun to say, they only covered the player's knees, thus making it more comfortable for them. It also showed off their trademark, the red stockings. Remember, this is before teams named themselves after ferocious animals, and instead named themselves after intimidating clothing. Nothing puts fear into a man's heart like baggy pants and red socks. The red stockings apparently worked, as the team went undefeated their first professional year, playing a total of 57 games.

Apparently one day in 1882, somebody decided that they couldn't remember for the life of them which person belonged to which position. Sure, some stood near bases and some stood in the outfield, but which ones were the basemen and which were the outfielders? They attempted to remedy this conundrum by giving the players color coordinated uniforms that let everyone know what position you played. A collective sigh of relief was heard from baseball fans, as they could now pick out which player was the pitcher. For example, shortstops would wear a solid maroon shirts, while the first baseman would wear scarlet and white striped shirts and caps. Only the color of the player's stockings told the teams apart. The uniforms were derisively called "clown costumes" and were dropped mid-season. It was tried again by a few teams in 1888, but they quickly remembered why it was a stupid idea in the first place.

Finding that straw hats just weren't practical, baseball players needed something that would protect them from their greatest enemy: the sun. The first use of the rounded top baseball cap would be by the Brooklyn Excelsiors in 1860. The "Brooklyn style" hat really caught on in 1900, and all the teams were wearing the cap with the bill on the front. Many different designs floated around, but in the 1940's they finally had the latex rubber to make the firm bill on the front, instead of a floppy or less durable firm bill. The bill itself has gotten longer, as evidenced by the picture on the left. I guess short bills were fashionable back then. Though early hats didn't have them, the baseball cap has almost always been used to help identify the team, either with the teams mascot or with a letter.

The rules of the game have evolved over time, just like the uniforms. In the Knickerbocker rules of the 1850's, a person could be called out if the other team caught their ball after the first bounce and the base-runner didn't have to touch each base in order. Starting in the 1860's the pitcher could no longer take a step forward when pitching, he had to keep both feet on the ground. 1864 marks when they removed the bounce rule, and made foul fly catches an out. Batting averages start in 1865 and batters have the privilege of asking for a low or high pitch. "Um yes...could I please get a fast ball, but make it go right down the middle...thanks." -Every batter under those rules. These were just the Knickerbocker's rules mind you. The National league and Major League rules went about these changes. A base runner was out if hit by a batter's hit ball. The catcher became the only person who could register an out if they caught a foul fly. Overhand pitching became legal in 1884. That's right, before they had to throw underhand. All restrictions on a pitcher's delivery were removed in in 1884 along with the privilege of calling for high and low balls. In 1887, you had to get five balls to get on base, and also in this year they started the rule that if you are hit by the pitch, you get to take a base. In the 1891, you could substitute anyone at any point in the game. And the last major rule change was the counting of foul balls as strikes in 1901. All the ridiculous rules you just read and don't see in the game now have been disallowed.

Baseball gloves weren't used for quite awhile in the early years. Players were real men and would catch the balls with their bare hands, though this is probably why they allowed outs on the bounce catch. Not many guys would probably want to catch a high fly ball. Early gloves provided little padding and were really suited for catching, but for batting balls out of the air so they could be picked up easily. By the 1890's the modern baseball glove with better padding was a mainstay for every team, though the glove kept going through changes in the early 20th century to be a perfect ball catching tool.

You may of noticed that there are no New York Knickerbockers, at least in baseball, anymore. There were many teams that started off in the 1800's and didn't find there way into our modern game. By 1875, the National Association of Base Ball Players was pretty weak. It didn't really have a strong authority on what went on in the different clubs due to the unsupervised scheduling, unstable membership, dominance by one team, and an extremely low entry fee ($172 a year in 2011 dollars). This made it so many clubs didn't feel the need to actually listen to the NABBP. William Hubert, the manager of the Chicago White Stockings decided that he would go to a few clubs and talk to them about starting a new league that was stronger and only involved teams from large cities. Once Huber had gotten St. Louis to agree, they all formed the National League in 1876. Here were the starting teams:
  • Chicago White Stockings (now the Chicago Cubs. Weird, right?)
  • Philadelphia Athletics (expelled after 1876 season)
  • Boston Red Stockings (they were the dominant team in the N.A. They are now the Atlanta Braves.
  • Hartford Dark Blues (the most depressing of the teams. So depressing in fact that they folded after the 1877 season.
  • Mutual of New York (expelled after 1876 season)
  • St. Louis Brown Stockings (folded after 1877)
  • Cincinnati Red Stockings (expelled after the 1880 season)
  • Louisville Grays (folded after 1877 when four of their players were banned for gambling)
This meant the end of the N.A. which folded and it's teams basically went to the status of the minor leagues. The National League was tested early when the Athletics and Mutual decided that since they sucked so bad and were so behind in the standings, they weren't going to make western road trips and instead play crappy local teams. Hubert expelled them for the insubordination and that's when everyone knew that the National League was for real. As you can see, most of the original teams were either expelled or folded in the first couple years. This didn't stop the league though, as they acquired new teams from Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo, Troy, Worcester, and Providence. In 1883, the New York Giants and Philadelphia Phillies joined the NL, both making it to our current roster, though the Giants are now in San Francisco.

The National League didn't have a monopoly on leagues though, as another would sprout up called the American Association. It only lasted from 1882 to 1891, but still heavily competed with the NL for dominance in the baseball world. The two leagues even took place in an early version of the World Series for seven out of the ten years the AA was in function. The AA was made up of the "river cities" or the lower class cities that didn't make it in the NL and were looked down upon. The AA decided that they would let their paying customers have more fun than the NL would and offered cheaper tickets and alcohol to be sold at their playing fields. The AA became known as "The Beer and Whiskey League" by the NL and it's supporters, though the AA didn't seem to mind. I'm only going to list the teams that were later enveloped by the NL, as the others are defunct teams:
  • Baltimore Orioles (not the current ones)
  • Cincinnati Red Stockings (current Cincinnati Reds)
  • Louisville Colonels
  • Pittsburgh Alleghenies/Pirates (current Pittsburgh Pirates)
  • St. Louis Brown Stockings/Browns (winningest team, current St. Louis Cardinals)
  • Brooklyn Atlantics/Grays/Bridegrooms (they couldn't make up their minds on a team name, current L.A. Dodgers)
  • Cleveland Spiders
  • Washington Senators
What weakened the AA was not only the NL's dominance and habit of taking their good teams, but the extended competition from the third league the Player's League. The PL was very short lived, but had enormous talent, boasting future Hall-of-famer Roger Conner, Pete Browning, and Hardy Richardson. The competition from different sides and flakiness of their teams led to the AA's folding in 1891. By 1900, the NL was the only league left and they trimmed their lineup to just eight teams, half from the defunct AA. The teams from Cleveland, Louisville, Baltimore and Washington were booted. Louisville is the only one that never got a team back. The league was in trouble however. Conduct among players was something to be desired and fistfights were a common occurrence. I sort of wish this would happen sometimes in our current games. Some players need to be punched out. Players were even fighting umpires. It all came to a head when a fight broke out between the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Beaneaters. While the players fought, a few fans started a fire which incidentally swept through Boston and destroyed 100 buildings. Players and owners constantly got in fights over the players $2,400 salary cap and many players would cause trouble in towns where recreational activities were forbidden on Sundays. A prominent outfielder at the time, Billy Sunday, quit the game and became a preacher because he was so sick of his fellow player's behavior. The fans seemed to have agreed with him, as attendance plummeted at the turn of the century.

Then came the American League in 1900. Known as the Western League at first and functioning as only a minor league, they struggled until Ban Johnson took over and made them into a formidable major league. One early difference from the NL was the AL's use of the designated hitter, something that they still have in practice today. Here were the AL's starter teams:
  • Baltimore Orioles (NY Yankees)
  • Boston Americans (Boston Red Socks)
  • Chicago White Stockings (Chicago White Sox)
  • Cleveland Blues (Cleveland Indians)
  • Detroit Tigers (they got their name right the first time)
  • Milwaukee Brewers (Baltimore Orioles)
  • Philadelphia Athletics (Oakland Athletics)
  • Washington Senators (Minnesota Twins)
And just for you people who are curious as to the line up of the NL in 1900 it's:
  • Brooklyn Superbas (L.A. Dodgers)
  • Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Philadelphia Phillies
  • Boston Beaneaters (Atlanta Braves)
  • St. Louis Cardinals
  • Chicago Orphans (WORST NAME EVER! Now Chicago Cubs)
  • Cincinnati Reds
  • New York Giants (S.F. Giants)
As you can see, the teams from there all go on to become the teams we know now, with expansion teams coming in later. The AL enforced strict guidelines on their players, making a more friendly game. The NL at first didn't consider the AL to be legitimate but reality set in when they saw that talent and money were being split between the two leagues, causing less financial gain on their part. After two years of bitter contention, a new version of the National Agreement was signed in 1903. This meant formal acceptance of each league by the other as an equal partner in major-league baseball, mutual respect of player contracts, and an agreement to play a postseason championship-the World Series. The first modern World Series was played in 1903, between the Boston Americans and the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was a best of nine series with Boston prevailing five games to three, winning the last four. This was quite a comeback since they were down three games to one going into game five. With the new National Agreement, the modern MLB was formed and has become what we know and love today.

The next post will focus on the golden age of baseball and some of the stars that caught everyone's attention.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Origins of Baseball

Baseball has a long storied history, one that is a bit controversial actually. No one can quite put a finger on where we got all of our ideas for the modern game we call baseball. So what led to America's pastime? Turns out it most likely started with the English and their games of cricket and rounders.

The English had folk games that appear to play out like a baseball game; a ball was thrown at a target, the opposing team tried to hit the ball with a stick to keep the ball away from the target, and once he hit the ball, he rounded bases trying not to get tagged. These games didn't have any official rules, like Calvin-ball, so it was basically played how people felt it should be played, depending on the group. We honestly don't know that much about them, since they weren't documented, being peasant games that no one of stature would of really taken any notice of. An old English game of "Base" involved a few things we know from baseball, though not much. There were no balls or bats, as it was basically just a game of tag. What did this game bring to the table then? Bases, as the name suggests. The game introduced the notion of safe points. Another game from England was Stool-ball (pictured, left). The earliest known reference to it is in the 1300's, but it was described in detail in the 1801 book, The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England. The target was most likely a overturned stool, and the pitcher threw the ball hoping to hit the stool, meaning the batter was out. Likewise, if the batter hit the ball with a bat, or his hand (ouch!) and it was caught, he was out.

Apparently though, it was in 1744 that a children's book contained the first mention of the word, base-ball in relation to a version of stool-ball. The term used for the game now in England is called Rounders (pictured, left). By 1796, legitimate rules were being laid out for this base-ball game. In a book about English past times it is mentioned that the game is a contest between two teams in which "the batter has three attempts to hit the ball while at the home plate"; only one out was required to retire a side. In 1828, William Clarke in London published the second edition of The Boys Own Book, which included rules for rounders, which described for the first time in English the bat and ball game that included bases on a diamond shape. The book was published in Boston, Massachusetts later that year. From there, Boston printed it's own rules, very much the same, except that it added fair balls, foul balls, and strike outs.

So, as we have seen, baseball has it's origins in many different English sports. One thing we know for sure is that it was not invented by Civil War Union General Abner Doubleday. In the early 20th century, Albert Spalding (the guy with the tennis balls named after him), who was once a star pitcher and later became the leading sporting goods entrepreneur decided that he would make a committee to come up with the origin of baseball. There was a ton of debate of where the modern game came from and they attempted to answer it once and for all. The Mills Commission of 1905, which had the task of digging up the history, were not baseball figures or historians, just Spalding's friends and some politicians. The commission however, cared less about the facts and more about making baseball seem like it was invented by a true American to be the American past time. They published their findings in 1908 which concluded that a West Point graduate from a small quaint town who had served in the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, and the war against the Indians was the originator of baseball. They found that it was invented by none other than Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, NY in 1839, and Doubleday had came up with all the rules that we all know today. Where did they get this information? From a elderly man named Abner Graves, who claimed that Doubleday had invented the sport there. The man's credibility was thrown into question when he later murdered his wife and spent his last days in a asylum for the criminally insane. That, and the fact that Doubleday never went to Cooperstown in 1939. He was at West Point the whole time and there is no record of him leaving. Doubleday never mentioned the sport in his writings and luckily for the commission he wasn't alive to question. So, the myth of Doubleday's involvement in the sport is just that, a myth. This hasn't stopped current MLB commissioner Bud Selig from believing the story however.

Though the rules were laid out as early as 1828, a set of rules for the game of baseball was devised by Shane Foster, the "father of baseball." These were made in 1845 for the American team, the New York Knickerbockers (pictured below in next paragraph). The rules have of course evolved over time, but this is the first instance of set rules by an American sports entity. In 1953, Congress at least had found it's inventor of modern baseball in Alexander Cartwright. Though the claims at his involvement in the modern version of baseball may be exaggerated, he probably has the best case. Cartwright, who was a New York bookseller umpired the first recorded baseball game with codified rules in 1846. He also founded the older of the two teams that played at that time, the before mentioned Knickerbockers. He is also credited with establishing how far apart the bases are, the nine innings, and the amount of players on the field at one time. Cartwright was one of the many men that caught "gold fever" and he journeyed his way out to California, introducing baseball to the cities that he stopped at along the way.

By 1857, a bunch of New Yorkers decided to revise the Knickerbocker rules and devise a concrete set of rules for the game and come up with a organization for baseball players. The group was called the National Association of Base Ball Players, and it ended up governing the rules of the games through 1870, though they scheduled and sanctioned no games. It was in the early 1860's that the NABBP offered games to the general public, though for an admission fee. The Civil War actually helped spread the Association's banner due to the movement of soldiers and exchanging of prisoners. By the end of the war there were scattered members of the NABBP across the U.S. In 1869, America had it's first professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. The team recruited from all over the U.S. and made past teams look like amateurs.

In the next post, I'll focus on the earlier differences from our modern game and how the MLB formed.