Thomas Jefferson Carver

“And the final use for peanuts!?!… Murder!”

-Thomas Jefferson Carver, the last line of his “Peanuts, Peanuts, Peanuts!” expo, circa 1934; originally named Wilfred J. Carver, Thomas Jefferson Carver adopted his new moniker to capitalize on the then famous George Washington Carver.  Like his G.W. Carver counterpart, T.J. Carver earned moderate fame for creating new uses for the common peanut, though T.J.’s were much less scientific (i.e. packing peanuts were originally just peanuts before the invention of styrofoam).  In March of 1934, as the grand finale in his keynote speech at the “Peanuts, Peanuts, Peanuts!” expo in New York City, Thomas Jefferson Carver confessed to a full crowd that he had murdered his estranged wife, who had a documented peanut allergy.  Carver was arrested on the spot and was soon sentenced to life in prison.  As a result of his brash confession and his signature top hat, monocle and cane, Carver became somewhat of a celebrity inside the walls of Sing Sing Prison and earned the nickname, Mr. Peanut.  After his death in 1942 (ironically choked on a cashew), the Planters Nut Company capitalized on his odd image with their new cartoon mascot.-

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“Ask Brett” – History Of Oktoberfest… Kinda – Sept. 22

On September 20, N.S. wrote:

Happy 1st day of Oktoberfest 2014! Do you have any historical insight regarding this party?

Dear N.S.

First and foremost, yes.  I do have historical insights regarding this celebration.  For those who don’t know, Oktoberfest is a German/Bavarian beer fueled festival that is sandwiched between two less popular festivals: Sekstempberfest and Nokemberfest.  The latter being a month long festival celebrating unique and often elaborate hangover remedies, the former being self explanatory.

The origin of Oktoberfest dates back to 1810 and was originally a festival celebrating the marriage of two German royals.  Over the years, the celebration evolved (let’s face it, ideas always get more elaborate after a few beers) into the 16 day celebration it is today.  Historically, the Oktoberfest celebration would conclude on the first Sunday of Oktober, but in 1994 the rules changed so that the earliest the celebration could end is October 3rd, which is Germany’s “Unity Day”, the day in which they celebrate East and West Germany being reunited.  What you probably don’t know is that “Unity Day” also celebrates the reunification of North and South Germany after a brief (four hour) civil war erupted in 1992 over who loved David Hasselhoff more.  This is why if the last day of Oktoberfest lands exactly on October 3rd, it is customary for all participants to wear bright red swim trunks and fake chest hair; thus proving once and for all that, in the words of the great news caster Norm Macdonald, “Germans LOVE David Hasselhoff”.

Hope this helps.

Brett

Sept 16, 1620 – The Speedwell And Hemingway’s Cats

On September 16, 1620, the now famous Mayflower departed England on its path for the New World.  What you probably don’t know is that this was not the only ship to leave the English port of Southampton that week, bound for the New World.  Below is the story of the Speedwell, the Mayflower’s ill fated sister ship and the striking parallels in their journey to the America’s.

In August 1620, the Mayflower and the Speedwell, captained by John Thomas Chappell, had attempted to depart England twice, but were forced to return to port both times, as the Speedwell proved unseaworthy.  To the dismay of Captain Chappell and the Speedwell passengers, it was decided that the Mayflower would go on the voyage alone.  At the time, maritime travel was run a lot like modern day airlines and tickets were non refundable. Speedwell passengers were offered vouchers for the port’s only hotel, the Southampton Inn, which most of them opted for.  It wasn’t until the following day when many of the passengers discovered that the vouchers did not cover meal expenses, did they became enraged and returned to the port.  Fortunately for the passengers, (and more likely for the ship’s crew) Captain Chappell, motivated by delinquent child support payments, had hired a crew of men to repair his leaking vessel.  By the next morning the crew had pinpointed the origin of the leak to be a gaping cannon ball hole in the bow, which Captain Cappell comment in retrospect “seemed pretty obvious”.

With their ship watertight once again, the Speedwell set sail that same night and Captain Chappell became obsessed with making up the lost day and catching the Mayflower before it reached the new world.  Unbenounced to Chappell, rough seas had pushed the Mayflower off course, which resulted in it landing 500 miles north of their intended destination on the American coast.  Encountering similar rough seas in the days following, the Speedwell was also thrown off course, but in the opposite direction.  Landing about 1000 miles south of their intended destination, the Speedwell became the first English vessel to land on what is now modern day Key West which was then considered Spanish territory.

Like their freezing and starving Mayflower counterparts, the crew and passengers of the Speedwell had a rough first winter in their new settlement as well.  The Spanish merchant ships that passed the island proved to be infrequent and the settlement was constantly running out on of their supply of rum.  In the Spring months, the settlers began to explore the island more in an effort to make contact with native inhabitants.  In a chilling discovery, the settlers found that the island was largely covered in bones, as native tribes had used the area as a communal burial ground for many years.  To add to the mystery of the island, the settlers often noticed roving clowders of polydactyl cats (house cats with abnormal amounts of toes) constantly watching them.  By late November of that year, the settlers paranoia over the creepy cats had reached a feverpitch.  In a last ditch effort to appease the cats, Captain Chappell and the settlers invited the cats into their walls for a feast of ocean fish and goat’s milk.  A sort of “thanks giving” for their good fortune over the last year.  This is the last recorded history of the little known Speedwell Settlement of Key West, but it is often assumed that part way through the dinner, the cats turned on the settlers and devoured them.

*Some of Hemingway’s cats were polydactyl cats and likely descended from this same group that plagued the Speedwell Settlement.  Some of their bloodline still reside in the Hemingway house on Key West… waiting for their next victims.

Hemingway's Cat

William Shakespeare

“The eyes are the window to the soul… and the mouth is the front door to the soul…. which makes thine head the soul’s house.  I would venture thine ears serve as some sort of irregularly shaped chimney or something, but I doth not know for certain. Thus, the point I’m trying to pass tis that a man’s home is his castle, so it doth makes sense that a soul’s home would be its castle…. therefore thine head be a castle.  Halt… about what were we conversing?”

– William Shakespeare, circa 1615; it’s often debated as to whether or not the opening line of this quote was a Shakespeare original. It is known, however, that in his later years Bill would often hang around his bar (MacBeth’s Scottish Bar & Grill) and make drunkenly profound statements to anyone who would listen to his incoherent ramblings.  Most nights would end with him challenging bar patrons to do shots of whiskey out of the prop skull used in his production of Hamlet.-

Sept 12, 1940 – Cave Art And Meddling Kids

On September 12, 1940, near Montignac, France, four teenagers followed their dog down a narrow cave entrance and discovered a caveLascaux2 full of the worlds best examples of Paleolithic Era cave art.  The cave, named Lascaux Cave, contained over 600 paintings and 1500 engravings of a variety of animals and mythological creatures said to date back as far as 17000 B.C.  Of all the paintings and engravings, there is only one representation of the human form.  The figure is dressed entirely in black with a black beret and is clearly being condescending to the other painting, proving that French artists were pretentious jerks even back then.

The cave was opened to the public in 1948, but had to be closed again in 1963 as the artificial lighting and tourist’s stanky breath had noticeably degraded the vivid colors of the paintings.  In 1983, a replica cave was opened to the public in which cave officials claimed that painstakingly crafted recreations allowed its visitors the experience of the original cave without having to compromise its integrity.  In actuality, the replica cave was finger-painted by Ms. Dubois’ third grade class from Montignac Elementary School.  It still draws thousands of tourists each year.  Unfortunately, the third graders were strong armed into signing releases and were therefore not entitled to any royalties coming from entry fees.

As for the original four kids and their dog, they went on to solve a series of mysteries all over the French country side.  In the late 1960’s, American writers Joe Ruby and Ken Spears learned of the teen’s exploits and created a television show around the concept.  On September 13, 1969, 29 years and 1 day after the cave was discovered, “Scooby Doo, Where Are You!” aired on CBS and became an American classic.  As tribute to a their French inspiration, an episode was crafted around Scooby and The Gang finding a cave of ancient art.  The episode did deviate from the original story though, in that the cave was suspected to be haunted and Don Knotts and the Harlem Globetrotters helped the group unmask a cantankerous old farm couple who wanted to drive the tourists from their land.  They would have got away with it too if it wasn’t for those meddling kids and their dog.

*Note:  There are actual two dates in this post applicable to this week.  You’re welcome.

Edwin Land

“A picture is worth a thousand words… and a piece of your soul.”

-Edwin Land, inventor of the Polaroid camera, circa 1932; After spending a semester in Australia on a “study abroad” program through Harvard, Land became fascinated with the Australian Aborigine’s belief that a photograph could actually steal a portion of a person’s soul.  Secretly, Land took to this belief himself and devoted much of his career to developing his soul stealing technology.  His crowning achievement was the public release of his instant develop Polaroid camera in late 1948 (Land had lobbied to name the camera the “Soul Swapper 5000” but was voted down by the company’s board of directors).  Upon his death in 1991, it is rumored that his personal assistant discovered his “collection of souls”, which consisted of over 5 million Polaroids of complete strangers.  His assistant promptly had them all shredded to avoid Land being dubbed “a real creeper” in the public’s mind. (Fun sub-fact:  Land’s personal assistant was actually a man named Ed Roland, who would later become the leader singer for the band Collective Soul.)

The Prince Of Nigeria

The rusty door to my mailbox was hanging open.  I peered in, as I always do before sticking my hand into small, dark spaces.  Inside was a ragged envelope which sat partially crumpled atop the regular mail.  I could see before picking it up that the return address was in an unfamiliar language and my address had been penned by a hand unskilled in English.  I knew immediately who it must be from.  

My neighbor Frank had mocked me when I told him about the e-mail I’d received a month ago.  “You’re so gullible”, he always told me, “someday it’s going to bite you.”  As alway, I ignored his warning and sent a $2,000 via Western Union to aid Prince Faramade of Nigeria in regaining his throne.  Frank waved me off, when I tried to tell him it was a smart investment.  He had muttered something about eating spam and then went back to tinkering with the old toys he was trying to fix in his garage.

Sliding my finger under the envelope flap, I tore it open.  Inside was a handwritten letter, signed by the Prince himself.  The first half was a gushing thank you for my monetary support, the second, as I had suspected, was a set of instructions to lead me to my reward.  I couldn’t wait to shove this in Frank’s face.  

Following the instructions, I walked down the block to the city park.  There, right where the letter said it would be, under the willow tree next to the pond, was a freshly dug patch of earth. As I sunk to my knees, all I could think about was the smug smile being wiped off Frank’s face.  

My hands began to pull away the dirt; a task that proved to take longer than expected.  Whatever was buried here, was buried deep.  As I dug deeper, one side of my hole began to give way, revealing a small cavern that evidently stretched under the tree’s root system.  It was too dark to see inside, but I knew this had to be it, so I plunged my hand into the unknown.

I groped blindly along the damp dirt floor, reaching farther and farther into the small cavern. It wasn’t until my arm had fully disappeared, that I felt the smooth surface of a metal box.  My heart jumped into my throat.  Within seconds, I was sitting over a small chest under the shade of the willow.  The box itself was made of old tin and had, at one time, been festively decorated, though time had taken its toll.  A small brass placard with the letter “F” adorned the top. My heart was racing now and a small brass latch was all that stood between me and what was sure to be a life altering prize from Prince Faramade.  

The box was heavy and its contents shifted within.  It wasn’t big enough to be a large amount of cash. Precious stones, I thought.  Fingers trembling, I lifted the brass latch.  As the latch left the catch, the box sprung open violently.   The head of a clown exploded toward my face and caught me between the eyes.  I wasn’t proud of my scream, but it escaped my lips nonetheless.  I stumbled back before catching myself, my eyes following the bobbing head of that silly jack-in-the-box.  Across its forehead, someone had scrawled a message in marker.  “A fool and his money…” was all it read.

I was dumbfounded.  Why would he do this?  Why go through all this trouble?  Why send me on this wild goose chase?  

Leaving the box and the hole, I raced back down the street to my house.  My fears were confirmed when I rounded the corner into my driveway.  I could see my front door was hanging open.  Without thinking, I barrelled into the house and to my relief found no one inside.  What I did find, was the now empty spot where my big screen TV had once been.  

Slouching onto the steps of my front porch, I put my head in my hands.  How could I have been so dumb?  Looking up, I could see Frank in his yard, hosing the dirt off of a shovel.  He was going to have a field day with this, I thought.  He’s never going to believe I was robbed by the Prince of Nigeria.

***This short story previously NOT published in an issue of Writer’s Digest as a short story competition winner. 

J.K. Rowling

“If you want to see the true measure of a man, watch how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.  If you want to see the true measure of a wizard, watch how he treats his house elves. Rest in peace, Dobby, I love you.”

-J.K. Rowling, July 22, 2007; the first half of this quote was originally published in J.K. Rowling’s, Harry Potter And The Chamber of Secrets. She later added to the quote in a press release the day after publication of her final book in the series, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows.  Despite the fact she killed the character herself, Rowling was devastated by the death of Dobby the House-Elf and could not write for months after.  In tribute to her beloved Dobby, she gave a single dirty sock to every person at every book signing for a full year after.