The Lope: September 2007

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Fall is Here

Weaver in red sumac

Summer burns in Autumn's fire.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Arrr! (reprise)

Today, Wednesday, September 19 is International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Really, it is. For a full explanation, just read last year's post, Avast, Me Beauties!.

Around here, Talk Like A Pirate Day is no less a holiday than St Patrick's Day. In fact, any day on which I can can speak publicly in a fake accent with less than the normal scrutiny is great...for a day or two, then my friends get tired of it and threaten to make me walk the plank.

And just as with St. Pat's Day, I hoard pictures all year just for this one occasion. Here they are.

Seattle and Portland are big areas for pirates; they even celebrate the pirate life with festivals and such. Here's some merchandise at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop in Seattle, about a year ago.

Pirates are big in London, and why shouldn't they be? This one was part of a display in Hamley's toy store last October.

But the real history of England is awash with pirates, and not just the freelance kind. This is a replica of the Golden Hind (aka Golden Hinde), the ship of Englishman Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596). We ran across it on an October tour down the Thames in 2006.

The galleon was originally called the Pelican, but Drake renamed it in 1577 in honor of a patron who used a golden hind (heraldic term for doe) on his crest. The "ER" is for Elizabeth Regina, the English monarch of the time.

(public domain picture of Drake courtesy of wikipedia)
Whether or not you considered Drake a pirate depended on if his cannon ball was coming toward you - or whether you spoke English or Spanish. Drake plundered Spanish ships and colonies at a time when England and Spain were not officially at war.

Who wouldn't consider him a pirate?

Queen Elizabeth I ("ER", remember?), that's who.

In 1577, Elizabeth (1533-1603) secretly commissioned Drake to attack and plunder Spanish colonies on the American Pacific coast as part of the world-wide power struggle between England and Spain. England eventually came out on top, due in part to Elizabeth's shrewd employment of men like Drake in battles both open and surreptitious. We ran across this 1779 wood carving of Elizabeth by Benjamin Wilson at the Tower of London.

Drake's accomplishments were many - first Englishman to see the Pacific Ocean, first Englishman to circumnavigate the world - and he was a real pirate of the Caribbean.

Although he is generally regarded as a hero in England, it must be remembered that Drake also helped pioneer the trade of African slaves for the "New World". He died of dysentery in 1596 and was buried at sea in a lead coffin off the coast of Panama. There has been serious discussion of retrieving his body for England. Read more about Drake, Elizabeth and the English-Spanish conflicts here and here.

And now, back to the colonies...

Spring brought wenches, faeries and pirates to Wichita, Kansas, for the Great Plains Renaissance Festival. Pirates were more in evidence than usual, partly due to the popularity of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean movies. This is Rick Rousseau, whose card identifies him as Captain Jack Sparrow. I hope Disney does not regard him as a pirate of a different sort.

This pirate ship stage was used by the piratical entertainment group Musical Blades. As I noted in a previous post, I like "piratical" as a word. Mind you, I don't know if it's really recognized, but I don't care as it sounds cool and is self-explanatory. They use it on their website and who am I to argue with people with swords and wenches?

I so seldom feature male pirate-types, but here are some of its members.

But enough of that. On to the ships, flags and wenches.

This is Sheila of Musical Blades. Those of you who enjoy piratical goodness and medievel wenchery might want to check out the 2007 Fall Great Plains Renaissance Festival on September 29th & 30th at Sedgwick County Park in Wichita, Kansas.

September ushered in the Kansas State Fair, and for the third year in a row, someone made a pirate scarecrow. For the second year in a row, it was inspired by Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean movie series. Although I wish there weren't so many media-inspired entries in this category, I've got to say the pirate stands out.

This one was done by Kay Towle of Hutchinson, and featured some fine details. See also the pirate scarecrows for 2005 and 2006.

Ace adds to his pirate gear every year, and this time it was a spyglass and a new hat. You can tell the spyglass is for pirates because of the skull and crossbones, although to be historically accurate, an hourglass would have been better. Hourglasses were used on flags to remind those on ships under attack that they had only minutes to decide whether to surrender or suffer more dire consequences.

Elsewhere at the fair, the White Water ride was decorated with these painted metal panels.

I noticed by comparison to photos from years past that the artwork panels on these things are interchangeable, enabling the owners to adapt to the newest pop culture imagery. As crude as the art is, an exhibit of about 30 years of these things would be interesting.

There was a pirate skeleton lurking in one of the carnival games. Why there is a cowboy riding a parrot in the background, I do not know.

And in conclusion - because some of you have asked for her - here are two previously unpublished shots of Rayne the Pirate Wench.

Arr, 'tis the pirate life for me.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Tweets from the Past

This was a real perk for me. For the first few years that I lived in Hutchinson, back in the mid-80's, there was always this guy at the Kansas State Fair who sat near the Midway constantly tweeting the little plastic bird whistles that he sold. I loved them, though they drove others crazy.

He's long gone now.

However, Amy Hershberger of Hesston says she bought his old stock of the whistles and has them for sale this year at her booth in one of the Sunflower building. It'd been years since I'd heard one of these. Ace got a green one.

I couldn't deprive you of the sound of these, so here's a clip. And doesn't she have a nice face?

New Stuff

There are a few changes this year, the most obvious of which is the renovation of what had been previously been the Professional Arts Gallery back into its original purpose as a shelter building with many places to sit.

According to a history page at the fair's website, the "House of Capper" appeared in about 1913. Kansas Senator Arthur Capper, who was instrumental in the growth of the fair, paid for it and used to stump there.

Who doesn't like giant pumpkins? People who aren't American enough, that's who. Brian and Brianna Stanley of Newton grew this year's 976 pound champion. It's the biggest in the history of the fair and you can see it in the Pride of Kansas building. Makes ya kinda wonder - where will it end?

Apparently the Stanleys also grew the largest watermelon at 133.1 pounds. Someone really needs to check the radiation levels in Newton.

There is always at least one piece of miscellaneous borderline photo-worthy weirdness at the fair. This pipe was surrounded by a growing tree. The result is on display at the Kansas Gas Service booth in one of the Sunflower buildings. I can never tell those two similar buildings apart.

There's also usually some little bit of retro graphic art somewhere that catches my eye, as seen this year on this box of freebie unbreakable combs. Those little asterisk thingies on the box are called "dingbats" by printers, and were popular on commercial art and signage of the 1950's and 60's.

For quite a few years, the fair has featured a butter sculpture. This year it was in line with the fairs promotional artwork of pigs on a motorcycle. This is in the Pride of Kansas building. I think my favorite was the butter Eisenhower from a few years back.

We've already run updates on our beloved Women's Christian Temperance mannequin, Ye Old Mill and Norman The Taffy puller. What follows are updates on some of our other favorites fair photo-ops of the past couple years.

Alas, this year the jail cell at the Kansas Department of Corrections building is locked, so, there'll be no more penal pics. Why have I slapped a copyright notice on this picture? Because for some reason people like to hotlink it to their MySpace pages. Does that mean a lot of people identify with being in jail?

The food is pretty much the same this year, with a minor price hike here and there. Our favorite visual food-related subject is still the approximately 55 year-old stainless steel trailer owned by Zag's popcorn as seen in our food post last year, Eating Our Way Across the Fair.

Candy apples are good for you, aren't they? I mean, there's an apple under there...right?

Masked sheep vs. a woman with shears. See who wins in Some Sheep and a Poem. You know all that agrarian stuff that we city/suburban types gloss over in our everyday existence? Well, some of it is pretty interesting. Challenge yourself to go into a agriculture display or to a livestock judging and learn something. believe me, at some point in the next year, you'll be with friends and some sort of related story will come up, be it the price of beef or the future of ethanol, and you'll look just a hare smarter.

As to rides other than Ye Old Mill, I don't get much of a bang for the buck out of them. But I have had some photographic fun in the past with water spilling from one of the rides in Friday at the Fair. I check the other day and there's still a splash zone around the "White Water" ride.

You deserve a spanking; so says the Hypno-Monkey. Beware of Pigs and Tigers and Hypno-Monkeys. Hypnotist Ron Diamond, seen above in 2005, is back this year and I've already seen him twice at the newly renamed AT&T Arena. Here are some photos from a few days ago of some of his hypnotized subjects reacting to suggestions.

Here, they'd been told that a candy in their mouth was sour.

Above and below, they were viewing the back of hypnotist Diamond, whom they'd been told was wearing only a small swim suit.

This young man was told to forget the number 5, so in counting his fingers he came up with 11. I really admire the lack of self-consciousness demonstrated by these volunteers. Every year I consider going up on stage but I chicken out.

Most branches of the military are represented at the fair. Ace mistook this for a used tank lot and was somewhat disappointed. Whatever will he use for World Domination?

There was, and is, lots of grandstand entertainment this year. I was only interested in Alice Cooper, though, who cancelled. I'll just have to revel in the memory of 2005's Prairie Lope Companion. I'm also throwing in this photo because Ace's meeting with Garrison Keillor is referenced in a current Route 66 Pulse article.

I'll close with one of my favorite fair photo-ops of all-time.

Thursday was Governor's Day at the fair. We weren't able to be in Hutchinson due to other commitments, but last year Ace met Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius. We included that picture with a host of others in The Governor, the Jackalope and More Fair Stuff. You can also see funny-looking birds and demonic-looking royal cattle that are there again this year.

The Kansas State Fair continues through this Sunday, September 16.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bugs and Rocks

Every year, I head to the 4H building at the NW part of the 2007 Kansas State Fair to see the insect and geology exhibits presented by kids who are for the most part, 10 or 11 years old. These displays are an under-appreciated treasure of the fair; I'm often one of only a handful of people in the building. And that's a shame, as these people put together better fossil displays than are found in many a small museum, and cool insects too.

You know those sleep aid commercials in which the graceful green butterfly is the harbinger of a restful night? Those are Luna Moths, like this one shown by Michael McKinney of McPherson county.

This evil-looking Dobsonfly was presented in part of a display by Joel Schesser of Brown County. This is a male, and despite the formidable appearance, those mandibles are used only for grasping the female during mating (females can bite). However, both genders of the insect can exude a foul anal spray as a last defence. These are not my favorite bugs.

This ammonite fossil (Scaphites) was found by Joel Schesser in Mitchell County.

Schesser also fond this section of mosasaur vertebra in Gove county. Man, if I'd found this when I was younger, I'd still be talking about it.

A group of three gastropod fossils (Leptoptygma) were presented in their matrix by Alexandra Hall of Shawnee County.

This moss opal was found by Kristin Huser in Phillips County.

Man, what a trophy! Morgan Reeves of Pottawatomie County exhibited this probable Bison Antiquus skull that was found weathering out of a bluff in Scott county.

Bison Antiquus was the direct ancestor of the modern bison. Those displays in the background are 4H photographs. For the best in slick, well-techniqued photographs, go to the professional arts exhibit on the other end of the fairgrounds. But for the pure joy of discovering photography, check out what the 4H kids are up to.

We've also run photos of the 4H exhibit in Fun with Animals at the Fair.

This is unrelated to the 4H exhibit, but I thought it useful. I took the opportunity to photograph this Brown Recluse spider at the Kansas Pest Control Association booth in the Pride of Kansas Building. I've always heard they have a violin-like design on them, but I didn't see it until I was able to handle one (safely in a petri dish). The violin is upside down. I think the general Y-shape is more immediately obvious.

The 2007 Kansas State Fair continues through Sunday, September 16.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Twilight Zones of the State Fair

The 2007 Kansas State Fair started Friday and runs through this coming Sunday. Here are some updates on the deliciously antiquated creepy aspects of the fair.

My Dark Master

Don't abstain from the creepy charm of the Women's Christian Temperance Union's "little man" when Something Sober This Way Comes. Every year, he is the first thing I check on where he lurks the grandstands, just north of the Kansas Dairy Association booth.

I've always wanted to build an urban legend around him. I suppose he might be the soul of rum-soaked sinner, trapped in a mannequin by Carrie Nation herself - damned to abstain from demon rum and to veer others from his decrepit life by turning the pages of a laminated book for all eternity. Lamentation via lamination, as it were. But then I tend to think that about any creepy wood-like automation.

Or perhaps he's not so trapped after all, and sews the seeds of subliminal havoc from his annual perch. If you want to have some fun with your fair-going friends while visiting him, adopt a glassy stare for a few seconds and repeat in a dazed monotone: "Yes, Master. Tonight. When they sleep. Yes."

2007 Update - Impostor

Oh where, oh where has my Dark Master gone? This isn't him. The WCTU has two of these things, and this year they sent the second stringer. This grey-suited twin has had more extensive remodeling over the years and is less menacing (an impression shared with me by several WCTU workers). He rings a different sort of bell, too.

He's got eyelashes, his eyes move less and he runs much more slowly. The latex under his once-quivering lip has cracked away, leaving the impression from a distance of a sort of goatee. Both of the WCTU's mechanical men bear builders plates from the Character Display Company of Chicago, but they are undated.

Say it ain't so!

AND, he has maintenance issues. When I arrived at the fair Saturday, I was informed he'd stopped working that morning.

He'd been repaired by Sunday and I shot these videos:

However, by Tuesday he'd broken again. Here is a look inside his guts, hidden in the wooden podium from which he protrudes. Perhaps one of you knows how to work on these things. If so, you might consider contacting the Women's Christian Temperance Union. They'd appreciate it, and you'de be helping to preserve something unique.

This WCTU volunteer closes the door on the little man after my peek inside. She told me that the exact age of the two automatons was a subject of much debate within the organization and that the 1935 date listed on the WCTU brochure is a best guess. She also informed me that the organization began their presence at the fair with a small building near one of the south gates of the current fairgrounds, the purpose of which was to allow women a private place to breastfeed babies, which was not accepted publicly at that time.

Not a Good Year for Automated Men at the Fair

The huge automated skeletal barker for Ye Old Mill isn't working either. Here it is being covered Sunday night. At the time of this writing, Wednesday night, he's still cloaked and dead - not undead, just dead. I'll miss him. People would lean against the white fence that surrounded him and then be really startled when he lurched to life with his booming voice and sweeping movements.

Here he is back in 2005, giving a vampire jackalope a lift.

That year, we were given a back-stage tour of this 90+ year-old "water dark ride" and saw how 80,000 gallons of water moved through the 1,000 feet of serpentine tunnels. Go behind the scenes with us and see how it works in Ye Old Mill.

I rode through Ye Old Mill a couple times this year. It's still pretty cool, but if you have an aversion to being squirted, beware of the giant nose about halfway through and the clown toward the very end of the ride, which is about 3 minutes and 45 seconds long.

And this was last year. See more in Bride of Ye Old Mill. I may nominate Ye Old Mill in the current "Eight Wonders of Reno County" contest.

Ye Old Mill is always a favorite subject of mine, in any weather. Here it is during this past Spring's (that's right, Spring) MCC sale.

One stormy night during last year's fair, I basked in it's resemblance to the ubiquitous village windmill in an old black and white horror movie. Walk with me in thunder and lightning as we recall Ray Bradbury's Mr. Dark and ask when Comes the Storm?


Of my three favorite creepy automatons at the fair, only Norman the taffy puller remains active and in good health. He's possessed of an octogenarian wooden gaze and a repetitious motion - but he sure makes tasty treats. His repetitious weaving suggests a snake charmer who calls forth taffy rather than cobras.

Well, sort of at work. They weren't making taffy at the time I was there, but you get the idea.

Well, back to the fair for me. I must download orders from my Dark Master.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Before it was Ground Zero

One summer in the early 1980's, I went to New York with a friend and we stayed with his family. It was my first time away from home for any amount of time. Though they lived on Long Island, we drove into the outer part of NYC and took the trains and subways into the city. Of course, the World Trade Center, also known as the "Twin Towers" or 1 WTC and 2 WTC, was one of our stops.

There were sculptures in the plaza below the buildings. This one was called "Sphere for Plaza Fountain" and was made by Fritz Koenig in 1969. Water flowed from the black granite base of this bronze sculpture. It was intended to symbolize world peace through commerce, which was also the theme of the World Trade Center.

If this isn't irony, I don't know what is. Here's a link to a Port Authority photo of Sphere for the Plaza Fountain after the 2001 terrorist attack.

This was James Rosati's "Ideogram", a stainless steel sculpture from 1971; it was often used as a background for fashion shoots. That's my friend, Ray Brown, walking at left. I was never really taken with the sculptures, or even the buildings, but I did like the three-pronged design of the facades.

These are slides - Ektachrome 200, mostly - and they are very blue and cyan. This was a bias of that film, and it's gotten worse with age. My Kodachromes have fared better.

This was the view of the north tower (1 WTC) from "Top of the World", the outdoor viewing platform on the 107th floor of the south tower (2 WTC). The buildings below and at right show just how high we were - 1,377 feet. Looking at these photos, I find myself astounded that something that big could be taken down so easily, until I remember that its very mass worked against it.

In a more innocent New York, all we were afraid of were the muggers.

This year at the Kansas State Fair, you can see Ground Zero, a quilted tribute to those that died in that place 20 years after I shot the photos above. Lois Jarvis of Madison, Wisconsin, took 90 hours to make this quilt and finished it in January of 2002. She says the shades of gray are meant to capture "the colors of those days following Sept. 11, the smoke, the dust, the sadness of a city in mourning."

Upon closer inspection, one sees all the people. I know nothing about quilts, but everytime I run a photo of one, somebody writes with a question, so I jotted down a few facts. Jarvis says she used the Lone Star pattern because she could convey an explosion with outward movement.

Just over 700 photos were used in the quilt, which portrays only people lost at the World Trade Center. The quilt is on display in the Domestic Arts Building. Read more about the quilt, here.