About a mile south of the Mason-Dixon Line, the historical boundary between Maryland and Pennsylvania, the town of Rising Sun rests in the quiet farmland of Cecil County. According to the town’s Facebook page:
The Missouri Compromise of 1820 created the political conditions which made the Mason-Dixon Line important to the history of slavery. It was during the Congressional debates leading up to the compromise that the term “Mason-Dixon line” was first used to designate the entire boundary between free states and slave states.
No Civil War battles were fought in Cecil County, but Frederick Douglass, on his escape from slavery, passed through Perryville, about ten miles south of Rising Sun, and then continuing by train to Delaware.
The Rising Sun Historic Preservation Commission sponsored the Annual Rising Sun Civil War Re-enactment, in partnership with Company A 37th Regiment, North Carolina Volunteer Troops. Over 500 local school children visited the encampment to view the demonstrations. The historical reenactors set up vignettes inside and outside their tents with artifacts and antiques from the time period. Danea Selby portrayed Catherine Virginia O’Connell, sharing her family history and homeopathic treatments.
Dr. Theodore Tate’s display included surgical instruments and medical supplies from the time period.
The Preservation Commission treated the reenactors to a full-course dinner on Saturday night. Both reenactors and guests danced at the Civil War Ball, held on the moonlit night. Music by Kaydence, featured traditional folk music with instrumentation that included guitar, concertina, flute, fiddle, mandola, banjo, and penny whistle. Tom and Lesley Mack, who called the dances, represented the Shenandoah Valley Civil War Era Dancers. A quote from their Facebook page says it best,
a dance was a chance for everyone to be cheerful in order to forget the raging war even for a few hours. It was a place to meet neighbors, friends, or newcomers and enjoy the music and dance of the time.
Near the end of the evening, reenactors fired the cannon one last time.
Awhile back I wrote a post on steampunk and the 1987 television program, Beauty and the Beast, which carried many of the steampunk themes. The costumes, setting and the intersection of fantasy with reality connected the program to the steampunk genre, combining science fiction and fantasy, with overlaying elements of the Victorian era and industrialization, especially the influence of steam power.
In this post I add a bit more to the discussion on steampunk with reflections on a graphic novel, pottery and photography.
Steampunk Graphic Novel: Battle of Blood and Ink
Jared Axelrod and Steve Walker have written and illustrated a cleaver graphic novel with a steampunk setting: The Battle of Blood and Ink. An entire city flies through the sky, which is not an unusual scenario in steampunk literature, where often castles travel through the universe. Ashe, the courageous heroine, sets out on an adventure to discover the secret of how their government officials capture the energy to fly the city. Ashe publishes a newspaper, The Lurcker’s Guide to Amperstam, proving that the pen is mightier than the sword.
Ashe wears an outfit that includes steampunk fashion elements: a corset, bustle and amulet. Steampunk breaks from the Victorian aesthetic allowing creative takeoffs to flourish. Her skirt is short for Victorian standards, and the boots are substantial, appropriate for a high-flying crusading reporter. Ashe is a woman who embarks on a journey into a world unlike anything we’ve ever seen and is dressed for the part.
This photograph recreates Ashe’s steampunk dress and backdrop with a remarkable likeness to the graphics in the book.
Photo Credit: J. R. Blackwell
Ashe and her pilot, speed through the clouds on an airship that models steampunk apparatus, replete with propellers and mechanical engine. Steampunk’s approach to technology combines futurist possibilities with 19th century machines. Flying contraptions have a long history in the pre- and post-Victorian era, representing the possibilities of new adventures through technological innovations, and in this case, with Victorian flourishes etched on the sides.
Today artists capture the visual aspects of steampunk ideas in pottery and sculpture. These industrial-inspired ceramics can be adorned with gears, keys, chains, pipes, clocks and a variety of industrial antique components. In most of these pieces I used metallic black glaze, which leaves a golden metallic sheen. By adding the elements of steampunk, the pieces become lively and interactive. Displayed on Victorian needlework, the industrial pottery juxtaposes the softness of delicate fabric.
Steampunk images are easy to find, but capturing them in an artistic view proves to be more challenging. Here are several photographs that capture some aspect of steampunk, whether it is the nuts and bolts on the Eiffel Tower or a battered industrial machine left in the ruins of an old mill.
Have you been inspired in some way by the steampunk themes?
Over a year ago I wrote a blog post, Lone Ranger and Tonto: A Nostalgic View and Modern Critique, in which I relate my childhood experiences of growing up watching westerns on television, and in particular, The Lone Ranger, and how those programs influenced the way children of my era interpreted that violence. In that post, I also wrote how as an adult, my perceptions of the program changed, understanding the issues of Manifest Destiny and the complexities of the relationship between Tonto and the Lone Ranger. This post is a reflection on my experiences on how that show might have influenced the way we played as children.
To us kids, the Lone Ranger and Tonto were heroes, unselfishly searching out the “bad guys” and bringing them to justice during the Old West. It would be only natural that we would want to emulate these two heroes. For girls, it may have been less about guns and more about that there could be someone out there who could look after people who were under the thumb of the bad guy and make things right. The Long Ranger knew how to make a plan and carry it out with the help of his trusted friend, Tonto.
As I mentioned in the earlier post, although girls wore toy guns in holsters, usually as part of a costume, we never aimed our guns at each other or played mock shoot-outs. For the boys, it was different.
Photo: Circa 1954
Boys played the games of bad guys versus the good guys, and this play usually involved some degree of aggression, usually in the form of rough housing. If I complained to my mom that the boys were playing too rough, she would say, “Well, it’s time to come in then.” It wasn’t a girl’s place to get involved in fights and tussles. At some level, I thought that boys seemed less civilized than my girl friends because of their aggressive play and coarse language, which sometimes morphed into cursing. Sometimes they could be outright bullies. If they were playing shoot ‘m up with each other, and if we wandered into the action, we’d be shot!
Occasionally, a story in The Lone Ranger would include a woman. I remember secretly hoping that maybe the Lone Ranger or Tonto might find a girlfriend, and always somewhat disappointed, when they would ride off into the sunset again without a storyline that included a woman. Even at age 8, I realized something was amiss.
Got the guns, but where’s the girl friend?
The stories of the Lone Ranger became implanted in our consciousness, and Tonto and the Lone Ranger survive as mythic folk heroes for a generation of television viewers. Children could not grasp the idea that the Ranger was a vigilante who had no authority to enforce the law and who used guns to impose his will. Instead what we seem to remember is that the masked man and his partner played respectful characters who courageously stepped into dangerous situations with the unselfish goal to stand with those who faced injustice. As a young child, I guess I might have thought that any man who was that mannerly and courageous would wind up with a girlfriend . . . eventually.
For some time I have thought about dancing again as I’ve missed my ice skating dance routines ever since my hip replacement. Reflections about dancing brought me back to the time when my girlfriends and I went to the teen mixers at Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church in Springfield, a suburb just outside of Philadelphia. I couldn’t find any references to the dances on the web, but in the mid-1960s, Holy Cross was the place to be on a Saturday night.
Most of the teens who attended the dances came from the working class communities in the adjacent neighborhoods, and most were Catholic, of course. We attended the public school so it was a bit of a leap to attend a dance outside of our school where we wouldn’t know anyone. Some of our friend’s parents didn’t like the idea of their daughters going to a Catholic dance, but somehow we convinced them it would be ok. Secretly, we always thought that Catholic boys were “fast” but not necessarily that was bad, just we had to be aware. I can’t remember that myth ever playing out. We were somewhat protected in our suburban bubble. My sister remembers her shocked reaction when she saw smoking going on around the corner of the church.
The Church kept a strict dress code. Boys had to wear coats and ties and for girls, skirts or dresses. We would spend all day getting ready: washing our hair in the morning and using those humongous plastic rollers so that our hair would have puff rather than curl. We would sit under a hair dryer bonnet for hours. More daring girls would wear heavy eye makeup and challenge the limits on how short their skirts could be. It was a fine line, and the authorities would send you home, if you crossed it. Looking back, I believe the dress code established a certain decorum, even if we complained at the time.
We would join long lines outside the gym to pay our 75 cents to get in, passing by the three or four priests that lined up near the entrance. Everybody danced on the crowded floor; we didn’t have to worry about being a wall flower. When dancing, the boys would cut in front of us, nudging each other out-of-the-way. We had bragging rights depending on the number of boys that would cut in. The temperature in the room would rise through the night, but the boys still had to keep their jackets on.
Versions of the Bristol Stomp provided the basic dance steps, and dancers would hit the wooden floor with a collective stomp on the beat. That unison had to be a genre of tribal dancing, and while we danced with a partner, it was really a group dance–and that made it exciting!
The kids in Bristol are sharp as a pistol, When they do the Bristol Stomp. Whoa-oh. Really somethin’ when the joint is jumpin’, Ah-ah-ah, ah. When they do the Bristol Stomp.
Kal Mann & Dave Appell
After every dance number, we would escape back to our girl pods and share our analysis. “Wow, that was a cute guy you were dancing with.” “He asked for my number!” “Look, he’s wearing a Beatle jacket.” “Did you see that split?” Boys were considered hot if they did a split; and if a guy had a Beatle haircut, he racked up more status points.
The DJ usually played Doo-Wop music for the slow dances: See the Pyramids Across the Nile, In the Still of the Night, Till Then, You Belong to Me. I remember melting every time the songs played.
Back to the Future: Learning to Dance all Over Again
I looked around the web to find a local dance studio that might offer a few lessons in rock just so I could get dancing again. Ironically, not far from Holy Cross Church, I came across Don’s Dance World, and he was setting up a small adult class in jitterbug. When the class started, what was strange was learning steps to what I just kinda did without thinking when I was a teen. Now, I had to think about it! Don had us repeat the steps many times, switching partners often. He also recited little mantras to help remember the steps:
Sweet ta heart ta back-step
Guy a-turn-a back-step
Girl a-turn-a back-step
Many thanks to Joan, Mike, Robyn, John and Don for their part in the video. At some level, I channeled back to those steamy nights at Holy Cross.
Rock and roll will always be.
I dig it to the end.
It’ll go down in history,
Just you watch, my friend.
Rock and roll will always be.
It’ll go down in history.
The old-fashioned general store has always been intriguing to me. As a child, one of my favorite shopping places was a building called “the Casino,” a large round wooden structure in Cape May, New Jersey. Every summer I looked forward to traveling to Cape May to just walk through the isles of the Casino to glance at the imports lining the shelves from around the world. I especially liked the little colorful cloth dolls holding baskets and brooms. The store offered a wide selection of souvenirs, including metal buckets and shovels for playing in the sand.
W.H. Snowden General Merchandise – Currituck, North Carolina 1895
Today a few general stores remain in operation. The aesthetic appeal begins right at the front door with a lightweight screen door, allowing fresh air into the space. Frequently merchandise spills out from the building, decorated with moldings even if the paint is peeling. Creaky wood floors and long wooden counters represent typical interiors. Wooden shelves and bins built into the walls extend from the floor to ceiling.
While general stores hold an abundance of merchandise, I don’t believe this is about conspicuous consumption, as an overwhelming number of goods are essential to the home and farm with elements of industry and efficiency . . . potato peelers, bolts of cloth, coffee grinders, iron skillets and lanterns.
Mitchell Hardware, New Burn, North Carolina
In the 19th and early 20th centuries general stores were central to small town communities. Selling everything from groceries, hardware items, shoes, pots and pans and other necessities, the store often anchored other small businesses that would line the town’s main street. That town center provided a community-oriented amenities such as sidewalks, parks and theaters. Within a short walk, shoppers could stop in at the library, bank and post office. Upon entering the store, the proprietor, sporting a long white apron, would stand behind a wooden counter and would greet you. Storekeepers had to keep informed on the pulse of the community so that they could order the right materials. Neighbors would meet up at the store and share news as they shopped. Many stores keep a pot belly stove going, and customers played bottle cap checkers near the warmth of the stove.
The Peck Basket General Store Moyock, North Carolina
The store owner maximized the floor utilizing boxes and barrels to support merchandise. Generally, the proprietor purchased in bulk quantities. Then he would weigh the purchases on a large scale. Few items were pre-packaged, but canned goods occupied much of the grocery shelf space. Speciality items could be ordered, such as furniture, farm equipment and sewing machines. Deliveries arrived by horse-drawn wagon and later by train.
Bins for nails; no pre-packaging Mitchell Hardware, New Burn, North Carolina
Something from my childhood must have endeared me to the general store that still resonates with me today. Viewing little pieces of this former way of life, is tantalizing enough to make me wonder about what has been lost.
Often times General Stores housed the Post Office.
Do the consequences of losing the small-town general store move beyond aesthetics?
How do our shopping experiences around malls, big-box and strip stores compare with the country store of yore? Today massive shiny lettering in bold colors shouts the store’s name. These industrial style buildings sit at the back of expansive concrete parking lots without hardly a tree or blade of grass in sight. Bland building facades are identical to every other strip mall. Steel doors, cavernous spaces, utilitarian shelving and harsh lighting all contribute to the lack of aesthetic appeal and warmth. With their stark interiors, they are but warehouses for merchandise.
Big-box retailers have reaped economic benefits from their bland design that demands little in aesthetic investment, and consumers may have found these businesses offer the best prices. But what have we lost in the conversion to bear-bones consumerism? Some claim that these retailers boost city revenues, but have we sacrified small businesses at the altar of increased tax revenue and cheaper prices? Small business owners, often members of the community, support local enterprises and charities. Huge corporations have no loyalty to any one town or city. Some research shows that it doesn’t always play out that this increased tax revenue brings in development.
How does the big-box store influence our social relationships? Do you run into your neighbors at the box store? Is there a place to stop and converse with friends? Does anyone smile at you? Wal-Mart has even phased out the paid greeter, not that a paid employee saying “hi” necessarily made any difference. According to an article in Jezebel,
Because big box store are so anonymous and huge, there’s a sense that no one is watching. Social bonds are strongest when people feel like they’re being closely watched, so if the opposite is true, it might make people feel like they could do whatever they like without consequence.
As weird as this might sound, these big-box stores coincide with hate groups, according to a study conduced by faculty at Penn State and other universities. The number of Wal-Mart stores in an area correlated with the number of hate groups in that same area and more statistically significant than other factors, such as unemployment and crime.
What runs side by side of hate group? Gun sales. Approximately a third of all Wal-Mart store sell fire arms, including the “modern sporting rifles” or the type of semiautomatic rifle used in the killing of 26 adults and children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Wal-Mart is the largest seller of firearms in the US. The Christian Science Monitor features an excellent article on the subject.
My original intention of writing this blog post was to describe the pleasing aesthetics of the old-fashioned country store. Analyzing the larger picture of what the demise of country store has meant for America reveals how their absence uncovers much more than just a change in aesthetics.
Growing Up with the Wild West while Living in the Philly Suburbs
Everything we knew about the West we learned from Hollywood’s recreation of the American frontier on television, and we thoroughly absorbed the historical misinformation of the people and culture of that time. By the late 1950s, over thirty westerns, such as Gunsmoke, Have Gun will Travel, Wagon Train, Sugarfoot and Maverick, blazed across the screen. The melodies of the theme songs still replay in my memories. Years later, we learned that what we thought was real about the West was, in fact, myth. As children, we certainly didn’t recognize stereotyping, and we were pretty much oblivious to standardized characters and plot predictability. In looking back, I still reflect with a certain amount of nostalgia just because the television western was a part of my childhood experience.
The Lone Ranger became one of our favorite programs. The TV series began in 1949, and new episodes continued through 1957. I remember watching the introductory episode in reruns many times, which unfolded the story of Tonto finding the injured Texas lawman and his transformation into the Lone Ranger. I was not alone in this infatuation, as almost every child in America knew who Kemosobe was. The Lone Ranger and Tonto stood as heroic figures in the lawless frontier. Later I would learn that Jay Silverheels, who played Tonto, resented that he had to speak in a scripted pigeon. As a child, I thought of Tonto as an equal partner with the Lone Ranger, which is surprising given that the Lone Ranger possessed all the hero accoutrements: mask, silver bullets, white hat and horse. To me Tonto acted as a trustworthy and resourceful partner with the Lone Ranger.
Westerns influenced our childhood games and apparel. The boys in our neighborhood played with toy cap guns. Several regularly wore their cap pistols in holsters and donned cowboy hats. I didn’t like cap guns because my fingers usually got pinched when the hammer mechanism sprung closed to make the “pop” sound. While the boys aimed their guns at each other in mock battles, for us girls, the guns were merely a fashion accessory, part of our cowgirl outfits. I’ve seen many pictures of our friends and relatives from that era, and not many escaped without being photographed in cowboy-girl attire. Our Sally Star dolls even came with holsters and guns, but we never played “shoot outs” with them.
How did I interpret the gun violence on television as a child? Well, I don’t remember either relatives or teachers offering any analysis of the programs or discussions of Western history or violence. Adults purchased the cowboy attire and the toy guns, so I think we assumed these had some legitimacy. At least on the Lone Ranger show, most of the villains never seemed worse for wear for being shot; Hollywood sanitized the effects of gun wounds with an arm in a sling as the typical portrayal of an injury. I think even as a child I realized that TV westerns were pretend–just like our plastic guns.
Retrospective: Forty Years Later
Revisiting some of the episodes offered insight into a comparison of what I remembered from my childhood and the real program content. Now the benefit of scholarly historical analysis uncovers the stereotypical Hollywood interpretation of the Old West and portrayal of Native Americans. In his essay, “I hated Tonto then and I hate him now,” Sherman Alexie writes his views from a Native American perspective about his complicated relationship with Indians in the media.
Upon viewing some of the episodes, what immediately struck me was the Lone Ranger’s diction and demeanor. Clayton Moore, the actor who played the Lone Ranger, practiced duplicating the radio voice of the Lone Ranger; his enunciation was impeccable but sometimes comical. “How-dy” came off as a pronouncement rather than a greeting. However, it seemed easy to forgive that overly formal manner as contrasted with so much the gruff and coarse discourse we get today on television; the Lone Ranger was refreshingly polite and well mannered. The program had several other redeeming qualities. This conversation in the first episode revealed an essential tenant of Long Ranger stories: he never shoots to kill but rather only to disarm his opponent, as painlessly as possible.
Tonto: Here gun to kill bad men.
LR: I’m not going to do any killing.
Tonto: You not defend yourself?
LR: I’ll shoot if I have to, but I’ll shoot to wound, not to kill. If a man must die, it is up to the law to decide that not the person behind the six-shooter.
Tonto: That right, Kemosabe.
The Lone Ranger decides to use only silver bullets as a reminder that life is precious. Along those lines, the Lone Ranger usually comes up with a thoughtful plan for dealing with the outlaws. He cautions against rash actions and his plans include deliberately reducing violence.
During the series, few story characters trusted the Lone Ranger, because he wore a mask, or Tonto, just because he was an Indian. The Lone Ranger said, “You’ll have to trust me.” That trust contrasted with some of those characters who held respectable positions but who were not always trustworthy, whether doctors, judges or sheriffs. I’m not sure this is the result of watching the program, but I usually don’t ascribe trust to those in power just because of their position or status.
The Lone Ranger stories could be characterized as light entertainment that often relied on clichés, such as manifest destiny, the 19th century belief widely held by Americans that the United States, destined to expand across the continent, would bring democracy and rule of law to the world. Manifest destiny rationalized violence, justifiable because of always being on the “right” side; the gun then became a primary symbol of moral violence. Unfortunately, the Lone Ranger was just another vigilante. Shooting to maim was legitimated because neither the legal process nor morality could prevent the violence. The superhero guaranteed and assured the audience that the outlaw will meet his deserved demise. Rather than the legal process, however, violence became the solution to the criminal problem.
And the Ugly
While representations of violence in the media offer many complexities not easily understood, my theory is that children take on the beliefs of their parents, who are the mediating factors and why it is difficult to arrive at an overreaching theory on how the media influences each child. I wrote about this issue in this post. It seems that generations of young people have accepted the mandate to solve conflicts through defensive gun violence and ignore the concept of the rule of law and reason in their justification of violence. If parents promote vengeance philosophy or celebrate power through weapons, the impact of the media reinforces these views. Although I don’t recall my parents offering any commentary about the westerns, they held firm beliefs against fighting and aggression, which I believe was the greatest influence on my thinking about gun violence. Most of what I watched on television years ago held little sway over my views today. Right there is one of my main arguments against possession of guns: how is justice served if the shooter is the jury, judge and executioner? I guess that’s where the Lone Ranger and I would agree.
Mary Alice Smith, Riley’s inspiration for the poem. Wikipedia
In an earlier post, I described our family’s celebration of Halloween and how my Mother, who was born in Scotland, followed the Celtic Halloween traditions. Our grade school classes also had Halloween celebrations–everyone would dress in costumes and parade around the school grounds, followed by parties in the classrooms. Homeroom mothers would serve cider with orange and chocolate cupcakes.
One year my Mother came up with an idea that I should dress up as “Little Orphan Annie” – not the comic book character, but from the poem by James Whitcomb Riley. Riley based his poem on a real person, Alice Smith, who became orphaned when her father died in the Civil War. Allie, as she was known, came to live with the Riley family, and she would tell stories to the younger children after finishing chores at the end of the day.
For my orphan Annie costume, I wore a dress with an apron and black stockings and carried a dust cloth and broom. I memorized the poem for a classroom presentation; Mom coached me on the proper inflection at the end of each stanza, “and the goblins will get ya if ya don’t watch out!” On looking back on the poem, I recalled these lines . . .
and cherish them that loves ya, and dry the orphans tears and help the poor and needy ones that cluster all about, or the goblins will get ya if ya don’t watch out!!!
In thinking about those words in the poem, I became inspired to rewrite the poem for today’s current political climate just before the 2012 election.
Over the past few months, I have received forwarded emails, not about a particular political issue or articulated argument advocating one position or another, but rather content that focused on rumors and lies with obvious prejudicial biases. In rewriting the poem, I included the lines above, written over a hundred years ago, as they apply today as well.
I guess if I could give a dedication to someone, it would be to those folks forwarding those emails.
The Ghost of Little Orphan Annie on Election Eve
The ghost of orphan Annie has somethin’ strong to say,
Things you might’ve heard before but may have brushed away.
About payin’ those taxes, is that so very bad?
Or are ya worryin’ and fretin’ and makin’ yourself so sad?
For all the roads an’ bridges, schools, an’ parks an’ like
Just let them go to dust? Well, that would be a fright.
If you’ re complainin’ then finishin’ with a shout
The goblins will get ya if ya don’t watch out!
There’s ways to pull together as Americans will do
But a bake sale to cure a kid with cancer, mumps or flu?
Or how about a doctor for the child ill next door?
Or are ya a listenin’ to that politician’s unrelenting roar.
Now payin’ fair share, that’s not a scary scheme.
Those with more wealth could help, or so it would seem.
So let’s all pitch in together, please, don’t be a lout
Or the goblins will get ya if ya don’t watch out!!
Are ya balkin’ to give to causes that benefit us all?
Or is money is better spent for merchants at the mall?
With the social security Grandma can live her own
Rather than in your basement without a telephone.
And those that will follow you, fond an’ dear,
Take care of them, please, an’ dry the orphan’s tear
An’ help the poor an’ needy ones that cluster all about,
Or the goblins will get ya if ya don’t watch out!!!
So who are the goblins, do they hide in the night?
They’re just right in front of ya, in your plain sight!
They tell ya that science is not on your side.
They tell ya not to worry, take your car for ride.
They point to your working pal as stealing your dough.
When its unregulated Wall Street that’s really the foe.
They make up a story so you’ll hate those abroad,
Those many poor souls, also victims of fraud.
Think: is it your anger what this is all about?
Then the goblins have got ya, ya didn’t watch out!!!!