The Lope: February 2007

Thursday, February 22, 2007

I've Known Rivers

Thursday night we attended a musical tribute to Gordon Parks sung by Lemuel Sheppard as part of the State Library of Kansas' Kansas Reads program, which is spotlighting the book, The Learning Tree, by Kansas native Gordon Parks.

Sheppard, of Pittsburg, KS, gave an interesting presentation on Gordon Parks, who died last year. Parks was quite a dynamic and diverse person, an African-American who was successful as a photographer, musician, poet, novelist, journalist, activist and film director. You'd never link the career of a sought-after Life Magazine photographer with the man who directed the 1971 film "Shaft," but Parks was both. (Just talkin' 'bout Parks)

The 7PM performance took place at the Hutchinson, KS, Flag Theater, which just had its neon refurbished as part of a renovation.

As for Sheppard, I was impressed.

He's one of those people I think of as a "bridge" personality: a person who can effectively take you into his world - in this case, the history of African-American music - and make you feel quite comfortable there.

Having been born and raised in Joplin, MO, I take a certain pride in African-American poet Langston Hughes, who was born in Joplin in 1902. Thus I was happy to hear his poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," set to music by Sheppard:

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow
of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went
down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy bosom turn
all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
- Langston Hughes

Sheppard is a self-taught guitarist, having learned at age nine in Kansas City, a hotbed of jazz and blues at that time. He has played the Kennedy Center and that performance can still be seen at their website.

And a good, enlightening time was had by all.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Mardi Gras 2007

Today is Fat Tuesday, also called Mardi Gras.

Harlequin-types abound and there is much exchanging of beads.

In the public eye, Mardi Gras is strongly associated with New Orleans and its French Quarter, although Mardi Gras is celebrated in many cities and the larger Mardis Gras parades in New Orleans occur outside the quarter. Locals tell me the ones in the French Quarter are for tourists and the ones downtown are family events, with "Girls Gone Wild" behavior not welcome.

I always find it interesting to see how the residents of an area view tourists and the media, of which I am definately one and nebulously the other. It's the same curiousity that causes me to look at local newspapers wherever I go, a trait I picked up from my brother. If you're the curious type also, you might enjoy this link to a group of articles from the website of the New Orleans newspaper, The Times Picayune. It spans their pre and post Mardi Gras coverage from 2006 and 2007. It's an insight into the way they see us seeing them, post-Katrina - the view of the fish looking out of the cracked bowl, I suppose.

This past year or so, New Orleans is inseparably associated with crime. However, when I think of the city these days I have only to glance up at a shelf to remember an act of kindness bestowed upon one person by a large group of people - most of whom she had never met - and her subsequent gratitude. Last year, members of the internet group tikicentral helped one of the group's flood-sticken members by purchasing special edition tiki mugs, designed by the member herself and made by Tiki Farm, which sent her a check from the profits. I didn't have a set in time to include them in last year's post, but here they are in the three colors of New Orleans' Mardi Gras: green, purple and gold. They also feature the fleur de lis, a symbol of New Orleans, in the design. You'll also notice the tragedy and comedy masks paired with "remember" and "rebuild" on the base. It was a nifty way to help someone - a win-win solution all around.

Since last year's post, I've had requests for more cemetery pictures from New Orleans' Saint Louis Cemetery #1. Apparently, a small but vocal portion of my readers love cemeteries, and that's cool. I didn't take all that many pictures on that 2001 trip and I used most of them last year, but I did find these.

This was one of the vaults in the inside of the outer wall. There was no legible writing on it, so I'm afraid I do not know its story. Perhaps one of you does?

Happy Mardi Gras! If you drink, try not to behave like an idiot, unless your friends are accepting of that. As for Ace, he prefers the other aspects of the holiday.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Red, Gold and Almost Gone

Happy 4705!

Sunday was the first day of the Chinese New Year and it got me thinking about visits to a couple of Chinatowns last year.

The year of the pig just came racing in. If pigs are a bit too agricultural for you, I've also seen 4705 listed as a year of the boar. Although the intricacies of the Chinese calendar are based on astronomical observations, it has astrological qualities too, hence the animal names that cycle every twelve years. There's also a 60-year cycle of names and the one for this year is "DingHai", according to, which has a wealth of information. (If you click on it, Windows may say you need a Chinese language pack installation, but I refused it and the page loaded just fine.)

Portland's Chinatown

While in Portland Oregon's Chinatown last October 2, We studied an exhibit at the Portland Classical Chinese Garden concerning the Chinese New Year celebration.

Chinese New Year was the most important holiday of the year for Chinese families and represented a starting-over. Houses were cleaned, new clothes were bought, debts were paid off, people got fresh haircuts...that sort of thing. The colors red and gold were thought to attract prosperity and children were given money in small red envelopes, as seen at left. I bet that explains the red and gold decor in Chinese restaurants. Special holiday foods were also served, including chickens with the heads and feet still intact. I suppose such a fowl would not have made a very archival display, so instead we see a tray of traditional treats.

Most children of Portland's Chinese families throughout the 1950s attended not only the mainstream public schools but also studied the Cantonese language at the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association Language School.

Of course, there were the celebrations. Firecrackers were used, ostensibly to ward off evil spirits and men and boys performed Kung Fu in streets. I saw no references to parades, but the exhibit did mention "the lion dance" and showed a photo dated 1937 of two men in a costume with a head like the one on this statue. Apparently, shopkeepers fed the "lion" lettuce leaves and money in an attempt to bring prosperity.

Portland's Chinatown has the sorts of businesses you'd expect - gift shops and restaurants like the House of Louie Restaurant, 331 N.W. Davis Street, which occupies a 1922 vintage building, according to a Portland tourism website.

However, back out in the streets, despite the cool red and gold street lights (red and gold = prosperity, remember?), it is apparent that Chinatown is not very...well, not very Chinese.

Sure there are plenty of storefronts with Chinese characters...but there were few Chinese people around.

The neighborhood seems more like a ghost of a Chinatown, hanging onto the reputation despite being dotted with businesses like the Couch Street Gallery. I did like the gallery's entrance, though.

My image of a Chinatown doesn't usually include a bar with female impersonators as entertainment, but Darcelle's XV has been here since 1967 so what do I know?

Of course, I was largely doing what I always do - walking the streets shooting pictures of signs. The borders of Chinatown vary according to which source you are reading, but the Oregon Leather Company, despite not being near those cool red street lights, is often listed as being in Chinatown. It gets good marks from a comment in a section of the Portland Travel Guide, which is otherwise somewhat critical of Chinatown. I should mention that I missed a few good signs; I only walked NW 3rd street since I was on my way to a specific destination, but I've seen nice pictures of a huge entry gate and a good restaurant sign over on NW 4th Street.

Most of the sources I read considered the north-east border of Chinatown to be Union Station at 800 NW Sixth Avenue; this is the top of its 150-ft clock tower. The station was built from 1890-1896 by the Northern Pacific Terminal Company and the neon "Go By Train" signage at top was added after WWII.

Of course populations shift and Chinatown is no exception. In fact, part of the area was once Japantown. After Pearl Harbor, that changed in a predictable, if not palatable way. Japanese Americans were forced to sell out and were sent to interment camps. It was not, of course, a fair deal financially for them. The property they left behind was largely occupied by Chinese from adjacent areas, and so the present Chinatown took form. This plaque implanted in a sidewalk offers information on The Merchant Hotel, a previous stronghold of Japanese Americans.

Chinese have left Chinatown in a less tragic way, but have largely left, nevertheless. According to wikipedia, another area in Portland has sprung up as a popular area for Chinese. Other sources indicate the ancestrally Chinese population has simply mainstreamed, diffusing into the suburbs like everyone else. In that respect, I suppose the loss of an area of concentrated cultural identity is a good trade, if the people who once lived there have achieved the dream of prosperity hoped for by their ancestors. Maybe red and gold are good colors?

So who lives there, if not Chinese? For quite some time, Chinatown has been known as a haven (or dumping ground, depending on your perspective) for the down-and-out. Several large social service agencies, such as the Portland Rescue Mission, have facilities here, and in the adjacent Old Town district.

A January 11, 2007 article in the (Portland) The Oregonian explains the predominance of social organizations in Chinatown and nearby parts of Old Town.

Many of the former hotels in this area are now low-income housing. A May 2005 article in the (Portland) Daily Journal of Commerce about the Estate Hotel mentions that the 100-plus year old building was to be expanded for that purpose.

My two greatest fun spots in Portland's Chinatown were the Portland Classical Chinese Garden, which I'll post more pictures of later, and a Great Era Oriental Imports, where shopkeepers helped Ace with a wardrobe challenge.

Great Era is housed in the Pallay Building, 239 NW 3rd Avenue, a 1908 building which is listed as a National Historic Landmark.

It had all the stuff you'd expect - Chinese gifts a-plenty, which was refreshing after the un-Chineseness of the area. There also seemed to be things relating to Japan and other Asian cultures.

As valet for Ace Jackalope, it's my job to come up with many of his disguises; I didn't have anything remotely Chinese, however, and needed something for the Chinese gardens across the street. I found it at Great Era, in the form of a six-dollar wine bottle cover. Here I am helping Ace into the much-altered cover. Shopkeeper JoAnne Hong looks on, patient if not perplexed, after furnishing me with the scissors and two kinds of tape needed to tailor the outfit.

For that alone, I would like the lady. And in one of my post-visit, pre-blog google-fests, I found an interview with her as part of a June 10, 2005 story by Ben Jacklet in the Portland Tribune about the afore-mentioned balance between the cultural identity of Chinatown and its place as the district of social services. About the lack of Chinese in the area, Hong said: "You're in Chinatown...Can you roll a ball down this street and hit one single Chinese person?"

When finished, I just had to pose JoAnn with her son, Dan and Ace in his finished disguise.

The finished outfit - now we're ready to go over to the Chinese Gardens, and nobody will be able to tell Ace from a local resident...except maybe I should have thought about the fact that there are few Chinese here and disguised him as a tourist.

London's Chinatown

Just three weeks after leaving Portland's Chinatown, I found myself in London's Chinatown on October 23rd.

I was surprised to read that, according to Wikipedia, the present London Chinatown dates back only to the 1970s. Previously, a different area of London was known by that name. So much for my romanticized notions of trodding the same area in which Conan-Doyle's Sherlock Holmes lay disguised in opium dens. Apparently, before the present London Chinatown, just south of Soho and near the Palace Theatre on Shaftsbury Avenue, a different area of London was the Chinatown.

As mentioned in a previous post, the Chinatown restaurant, Le Hoo Fooks was made famous in the Warren Zevon song, Werewolves of London:

"I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand
walkin' through the streets of Soho in the rain.
He was lookin' for the place called Lee Ho Fooks,
gonna get a big dish of beef chow mein."

Le Hoo Fooks is on Gerrard Street, which Led Zeppelin fans may remember as the place where the band's first rehearsals were held. That was in 1968, before this area was Chinatown. Back then it would have been considered part of Soho, which may explain why Zevon mentions Lee Ho Fooks as being in Soho. Zevon published the song in 1978, when Chinatown would have been new and nebulous identity, if it existed on Gerrard Street at all.

London's Chinatown parallels Portland's in that very few Chinese live there. This is not so much due to a migration as to the fact that the London area is commercial and not residential. London's Chinatown is also slated for a planned commercial development, which has undergone criticism for its potential to dilute the area's cultural identity. Although, since the area has only been "Chinese" since the 1970s and has few residents, It doesn't personally impress me as having a cultural identity so much as a commercial one.

One final note on Chinese New Year: despite the year being named for them, I've not heard that pigs are going to be accorded any special privileges this year.

This post has been part of two ongoing series on this blog:

Parts of Ace's Northwest Passage series
Ace's Northwest Passage (Oregon, Washington, Canada) posts (so far):
Everybody Loves the Monkey Neon monkey rules!
Where is Ace Jackalope? (episode 11) - Big brown jug with interesting contents
Northwest Tiki - Tiki bars times three...and tiki art, too!
Where is Ace Jackalope? (episode 10) - Royal Mounted Canadian Jackalope
Where is Ace Jackalope? (episode 7) - I saw a pink elephant at a car wash
Where is Ace Jackalope? (episode 6) - Always talk to a giant bunny.
Where Angels Breathe - Looking down from on high.

- and -

An American Jackalope In London:
More Easter Stuff - Easter Island moai (stone statue) in The British Museum
Good Friday - Crucifix tombstone in Highgate Cemetery and a crucifix at a church in London.
St Patrick's Day Megapost - Celtic crosses in London's Highgate Cemetery.
Red, Gold and Almost Gone - Includes photos of London's Chinatown.
Why Jackalopes Don't Play Soccer - Battered Buckyballs litter London.
Christmas Leftovers - An October shopping trip through Harrods, Selfridges and Hamley's, with lots of Christmas decor pictures.
Spamalot - We go to the Monty Python-based play and meet Tim Curry
London Trader Vic's - A visit to London's oldest tiki bar
Where is Ace Jackalope? (episode 13) - The game is afoot!
Werelopes of London - Lycanthopic jackalopes stalk places mentioned in the Warren Zevon song, plus a few pictures of the London Underground.
Dracula's London - A Halloween tribute to Bram Stoker using London locales implied in "Dracula"
Where is Ace Jackalope? (episode 9) - Mind the Gap

Friday, February 16, 2007

Wigwam Anniversary

This coming Sunday is a date which should be considered a minor holiday in the history of roadside architecture.

On February 18, back in 1936, Frank A. Redford of Horse Cave, Kentucky, was granted Design Patent # 98617 for what would become his Wigwam Village #1.

In these design drawings from the original patent application, you'll notice the swastika. Remember, this was 1936 and the symbol, already well-established in Native American (and other) cultures, was not yet associated with the Nazi party in the American mind.

Still, being fully aware of this, I always experience a nanosecond of "what the?" when I see a swastika in pre-WWII design.

Wigwam Village #1 is long-gone, but it's closest living relative, Wigwam Village #2 (above) is still in business in Cave City, KY.

Notice that the zig-zag design has been maintained. Redford also built this one, and went on to exchange rights to use his design for revenue from coin-operated radios, resulting in the eventual existence of seven wigwam motels.

I wrote more about the history of wigwam motels when we visited one of the three surviving ones in Holbrook, Arizona.

Here's another shot of Holbrook's Wigwam Motel, and a link to more photos of it. Note that just as with the one in Cave City, the zig-zag design is intact.

Eventually Redford retired to what is now Rialto, California and built the last wigwam motel, which, after a chain of other owners, is still going. The Rialto paint scheme uses beige rather than white, and omits the zig-zag.

One of our friends and traveling partners came up with what has become one of our catch-phrases: "When you can sleep in a wigwam, you should sleep in a wigwam. G'night!

Thanks to reader and fellow traveler Mark, who alerted us to the patent anniversary.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

In Appreciation of Female Travelers

Today is Valentines Day, and Ace would like to send special thanks to some of the women who help him travel.

First, to one he hears his main driver call "mom." Here she is in Oatman, AZ on Route 66, discovering that feeding the burros is easier than getting away from them.

Mia, with the setting sun off the coast of the Baja peninsula, and sharing the fun of Route 66 at Eisler Brothers' General Store in Galena, KS.

Patsy at the Chinese Garden in Portland and the Mennonite Relief sale in Hutchinson, KS.

Barb, for always knowing where to eat and how to get there - seemingly within about ten minutes of her latest move - and little Natalie, for showing me that a child is not an "it."

Deborah, Dallas Googie guide extraordinaire and sci-fi maven, who's condo is a feast of art, science fiction, philosophy...and six cool cats named for Hitchhiker's Guide characters.

Rayne - our sarcastic Pre-Raphaelite dark faerie pirate wench.

And to all the women who comment, email, send suggestions and pose with Ace for us...Debra Jane, Angelique, Jo, Nicole, Stacy, Debbie, Elissa, Kathryn, Phyllis Renae name just a very few. Happy Valentine's Day! It may be a largely trumped-up holiday, but we love it anyway.

Monday, February 12, 2007

He Belongs to the Ages (but you can still buy a souvenir)

He's been dead for 141 years, but has never left the public eye. In fact I saw him on TV so many times in one week that I lost count - Star Trek, Family Guy, South Park, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Venture Brothers, Robot Chicken...and just now on a commercial for a sleep aid. Today is his 198th birthday. It's a pity he isn't around to enjoy it; they really knew how to make presidents back then.

Abraham Lincoln, Sixteenth President of the US of A is buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. We happened to passing through Springfield last summer - Ace Jackalope, the significant other and I - and we took a little detour off Route 66 to stop in and pay our respects.

Selling Lincoln

Of course, we're tourists - and very into kitsch - so we see Lincoln not just as a historic figure but as a marketing phenomenon. As we approached the cemetery we saw a tourist crap nirvana near the corner of Monument and Oak Ridge Avenues - the Lincoln Souvenir Shop. And, by the way, when I say "tourist crap", I mean that with a sense of personal excitement. I've bought tons of the stuff over the years, though the lessons of middle-aged clutter have taught me to take mostly pictures and leave mostly conversation.

There's an obvious log cabin theme in the architecture.

And that carries through to the display shelves. I believe the building is quite old. I called today to get an age, but they are closed for the season.

As usual, Ace gravitated toward a woman.

And that was just as well, for there are some things that I shudder to think of him noticing.

You could find mementos of Lincoln both classy and kitschy. I'm not sure what episode of his life the pink frogs or glass dolphins related to.

I give extra points to places that sell plastic bows and arrows - so politically fun.

And does anyone else find this juxtaposition rather odd? Notice that Lincoln is turned away from the confederate hats.

I was rather surprised and relieved that Elvis wasn't displayed with Jesus and Lincoln in this assortment of composite graphics. Incidentally, the collection of Lincoln souvenirs began before the man was cold. When Mary Todd Lincoln asked that a lock of the President's hair be cut for her, just after he was pronounced dead, his physicians thought it was a good idea and got locks too.

Ahh, the ubiquitous penny smashing machine. A small panel on the machine, made by Vendors Alliance, Inc., states that the first documented pressed penny was made at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. It also contains a disclaimer which mentions that although it is illegal to alter or mutilate coins, it's OK as long as there is no fraudulent intent.

I hadn't seen auto bingo cards in years. We used to play this on family vacations when I was a kid. I see that Regal Games makes Auto Bingo and Traffic Safety Auto Bingo. I think I remember another variation existing when I was young that involved farm animals. Notice the cool back scratcher behind.

The cards have been updated since I played - A satellite dish has been added. Maybe they ought to update a bit more and lose that public phone in favor of someone using a cell phone while driving.

Switching to seriously respectful mode

The swath of Illinois that we traversed - cities along Route 66 - abounded with castle-like architecture. The office for Oak Ridge Cemetery was a good example of this.

According to Wikipedia, Oak Ridge is the second-most visited cemetery in the United States, after Arlington National Cemetery. The plaque near the entrance reads:

OCTOBER, 15, 1874

On the short path to Lincoln, you'll pass a few interesting monuments to other residents of Oak Ridge Cemetery. This imposing structure belongs to John R. Tanner, Governor of Illinois from 1897-1901. Work on Lincoln's tomb occurred during his administration and the body of the President was moved for the last time.

My favorite was the final resting place of Roy Bertelli, "Mr. Accordion" (1910-2003). It looks like he had a long life and had the courtesy to leave us something interesting to look at. That tall structure behind Roy is Lincoln's tomb.

Again we see a castle-like building. This one is the Custodian's residence and is President Lincoln's neighbor.

And here we are at Lincoln's tomb.

It's an impressive structure, though the upper part was under renovation while we were there.

Prominent in front of the tomb is this reproduction bronze head of Lincoln by sculptor Gutzon Borglum. The original is in the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.

People rub his nose. Why? I don't know. In other cemeteries, churches and monuments I've visited, people rub feet of statues for luck, fertility, marriage prospects - you name it. Usually they rub the foot of a full-body statue or the nose of a bust. In Pere Lachase Cemetery in Paris, there is even a prone statue of man who is rubbed elsewhere by women seeking fertility.

Just inside the monument, you'll see this imposing statue in the rotunda. If it looks familiar, you're thinking of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC (below), of which this is a miniature replica. The artist was Daniel Chester French.

A bronze plaque on wall shows the layout of the current monument. It had been altered, expanded and upgraded over the years, the last time being in 1930. In fact, Lincoln's coffin has been moved 17 times, mostly due to such reconstructions and to assure the safety of his remains. There was valid reason for such fears; one attempt to kidnap his corpse for ransom almost succeeded. The coffin itself has been opened 5 times; read about the last time in 1901.

This is a nice pattern in the tile around the upper wall of the rotunda.

And here's a neat column detail.

The corridors leading to and from Lincoln's burial chamber are decorated with miniatures of important Lincoln statues by various artists. I have arranged the following in the order you'd see them in a clock-wise walk around the outer corridor of the tomb. I'm including these for Lincoln purists and out of a sense of completism.

The original of "Lincoln the Soldier" by Leonard Crunelle is in Dixon, IL.

"Lincoln the Ranger" is by Fred M. Torrey. I could not read the inscription in my photo so I do not know where the original is.

The original of the tomb's miniature "Standing Lincoln" (right) is in Lincoln Park, Chicago, but I shot this full-size copy on the left in London near Westminster Abbey last October. I was puzzled at seeing a statue of Lincoln in London and it was a case of "shoot it now; explain it later." I still don't know why it was in London, but the sculptor was Augustus Saint Gaudens.

I loved the eagle detail in the chair. Again, this one is in London.

"Lincoln the Circuit Rider" is another statue by Fred M. Torrey

Now we're halfway through the tomb all the way to the back chamber, in which Lincoln is actually buried. There is an aire of solemnity here that does not have to be requested.

Lincoln lies buried ten feet under the floor and his coffin is encased in 4,000 pounds of cement. This was done at the request of his son, Robert, in 1901, as an attempt to thwart grave robbers.

"Now he belongs to the ages," is a quote attributed to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton at the time of Lincoln's death. It is inscribed in the wall above the U.S. Flag.

Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882) and three of Lincoln's four sons are entombed in crypts across from the President.

Moving on around the structure you'll see four more miniature statues. The original of this seated Lincoln by Adolph A. Weinman is in Hodgenville, Kentucky.

The original of "Lincoln the Debater" by Leonard Crunelle is in Freeport, IL.

The original of this "Standing Lincoln" by French sculptor Daniel Chester is in Lincoln, NE.

The original of "Standing Lincoln" by Lorado Taft is in Urbana IL.

For more information on Lincoln's Tomb, see this page at the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

And back to the pop-culture references:
South Park - a giant Lincoln is defeated by a giant John Wilkes Booth.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force - Meatwad morphs into samurai Lincoln
Venture Brothers - The Ghost of Abe Lincoln saves the President
Robot Chicken - George W. Bush, believing he is a Jedi, gets into a light saber duel with Abe (whom the dullard Bush calls "George Washington")
Family Guy - I really don't remember, but I know I saw Lincoln.
Star Trek - In the episode "Savage Curtain" it is revealed that Kirk idolized Lincoln. I never bought this; I always thought of Kirk as admiring the guy who invented the pan-species STD vaccine.

I conclude this post with two thoughts in mind:

1. Lincoln was a very impressive man, worthy of the veneration he receives. I shan't begin to tell you about the man himself because his is a life worthy of much passionate study and I haven't the time to do that right. I can just show you what I saw that day in Springfield.

2. I really should have bought those auto bingo cards.

For more of our exploration of Illinois, keep checking for our "Ace Does Illinois Route 66" series (coming soon to a computer near you).

And because the Augustus St. Gaudens Lincoln statue was shot there, this can marginally be called a small installment of An American Jackalope In London:
More Easter Stuff - Easter Island moai (stone statue) in The British Museum
Good Friday - Crucifix tombstone in Highgate Cemetery and a crucifix at a church in London.
St Patrick's Day Megapost - Celtic crosses in London's Highgate Cemetery.
Red, Gold and Almost Gone - Includes photos of London's Chinatown.
He Belongs to the Ages (but you can still buy a souvenir) - We run into an Abraham Lincoln statue in, of course, London
Why Jackalopes Don't Play Soccer - Battered Buckyballs litter London.
Christmas Leftovers - An October shopping trip through Harrods, Selfridges and Hamley's, with lots of Christmas decor pictures.
Spamalot - We go to the Monty Python-based play and meet Tim Curry
London Trader Vic's - A visit to London's oldest tiki bar
Where is Ace Jackalope? (episode 13) - The game is afoot!
Werelopes of London - Lycanthopic jackalopes stalk places mentioned in the Warren Zevon song, plus a few pictures of the London Underground.
Dracula's London - A Halloween tribute to Bram Stoker using London locales implied in "Dracula"
Where is Ace Jackalope? (episode 9) - Mind the Gap

Sunday, February 04, 2007


Ace Jackalope might be camouflaged under a Thorny Orange Tree if he weren't wearing a bright red vest. The Thorny Orange Tree (Poncirus trifoliata) is along a trail at the Dillon Nature Center in Hutchinson, Kansas. We'd been here before, but never noticed this tree.

The plant is native to China and sometimes makes small sour fruits that can be used for marmalade or jelly. This day, however, it just furnished a sharp change in the texture of the frozen landscape, and that was enough.

The half moon rose last week over...uh, another sort of tree. Man, I do have to remember to look at labels and take more notes when I shoot this stuff.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Groundhog Day...or Prairie Dog Day?

Yesterday, Ace Jackalope met Wilma the Hutchinson (Kansas) Zoo's groundhog. Wilma, who goes by the name "Hutchinson Hanna" when helping in educational presentations, is a senior citizen by groundhog standards. She'll be seven years old this Spring, and groundhogs usually live 4-6 years. Normally a groundhog has hair on its tail, but as Ace is noticing, Wilma has lost hers with age.

Why were we seeking a groundhog? Why, to get the advance scoop on the weather a bit before Groundhog Day, which is tomorrow, February 2nd. We can already tell you that Wilma will not see her shadow tomorrow, and thus, will not predict six more weeks of bad weather. We know this not because we are great prognosticators, but because Wilma stays indoors in the winter; a kindly zoo person brought her out to meet us.

Normally, groundhogs hibernate, digging substantial burrows with the claws you see here, but, as Wilma is kept inside, she has no need to do so. Oh well, so much for old world prediction methods in Hutchinson, Kansas.

And that's too bad, really, because Groundhog Day is pretty interesting. It's a natural time - an instinctive time, I'd even say - for a holiday. It falls about halfway between Winter solstice and Spring equinox, and if you ever needed something to brighten your day, it's now. People who have winter to contend with seem always to have known this; indeed, a celebration during this time has roots going all the way back to pagan times.

(Next two photos and paragraphs added Feb 4): As a matter of fact, after I first posted this, I was invited to photograph a local group's rendition of a February 2 pagan celebration called "Imbolc", "Oimelc" or "Brigit's Day" for the Irish goddess, Brigit. Of course, the origins of such things are usually shrouded, and Brigit (variant spellings exist) is no exception. Some scholors believe she was associated with the return of the sun but there is more agreement that she was associated with fire, hence the candles.

The headdress used in this particular celebration is similar to those used in the Swedish celebration of Saint Lucia in December, which also has pagan origins.

After the Roman Catholic Church's conversion of Ireland, worship of Brigit was discouraged and a "Saint Brigit" (or Brigid) was canonized by the church. Of course, accounts vary as to whether the saint was a historical personage or simply an alteration of Irish Celtic pagan custom to ease assimilation into the church. In any event, February 1 became her feast day and has become closely associated with another Catholic holiday which occurred Feburary 2. The early Catholic church celebrated two events in the life of Jesus on that day, both of which were from Jewish custom: "The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple" and "The Ritual Purification of Mary", 40 days after she gave birth. "Candlemas" eventually became the more common (and less unwieldy) name for the holiday, and it was also used as a day to bless candles, which were much more important then. And still, the date's strategic importance as the middle of winter was not forgotten; an old English saying goes:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.

The European hedgehog became associated with this tradition somewhere along the way. (Every time I see "hedgehog", I think of "Spiny Norman" a giant hedgehog from a Monty Python skit.)

Where did American groundhogs enter the picture? Well, early German settlers of the Pennsylvania area noticed the groundhog's resemblance to hedgehogs and so the candle of Candlemas was passed to another sleeping furry critter.

There has been quite a bit of fun had with the tradition; the most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil of Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, has made a number on interesting statements outside his usual purview, including a prohibition-era threat to impose 60 more weeks of winter if he wasn't given a drink. Those around Phil have built quite the tourist empire and their website has some fun "facts" including: "There has only been one Punxsutawney Phil. He has been making predictions for over 120 years!"

By the way, there is also only one Ace Jackalope - just one - despite a zillion fur-abrading clothing changes, rainstorms, ice-encasements, dunks into two oceans, falls from several neon signs, one cruise ship and one fake castle, attacks by Llamas, geese and other animals, cavity searches by overzealous security people...and you just don't wanna know what else. Yeah, just one.

If your credulity alarms haven't shut you down yet, you might want to check this link tomorrow to see what Punxsutawney Phil says about the rest of winter. As I write this, I'm noticing their website is overloaded every few minutes, so you might have to try a few times.

Back in Kansas, our ability to compete with Punxsutawney is severely limited because groundhogs, also called a woodchucks, exist in Kansas only in the eastern third of the state so they're not available to do their meteorologist routine in most counties. Also, where they do exist they have the common sense to be asleep on February 2, so I suggest we appoint an alternate - the humble and readily available distant relative of the groundhog, the Black-tailed Prairie Dog of central and western Kansas.

The substitution of prairie dogs for groundhogs is not an untested idea. According to a recent article in the Rocky Mountain News, the cities of Boulder and Lakewood in Colorado, and Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico have already declared Feb 2 to be Prairie Dog Day.

Prairie dogs could use the good publicity in cities like Hutchinson, Kansas, where they've been the center of controversies between the city, developers and prairie dog sympathizers. We could just listen to well-trained meteorologists, but as a guy who recently drove in a "trace" of snow that turned out to be several inches, I'm willing to give the rodents a chance.

Update (Feb 4): Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow. If we are to believe the little guy, we'll not have too much more winter. I'm stocking up on "ice melt" anyway.