1300's, Alternate History, History, Revisionist History, Uncategorized

A New Concept in Cruise Lines. Charon’s Ferry


"Charon and Psyche" by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope

Just a quick swab, and you’re welcomed aboard.


History teaches us that every disaster is also a great opportunity.

Starting in grade school, we were taught to regard failure as a “teachable moment,” and every fiasco was a chance to grow and mature.  Boy have we been growing lately.

And it’s true, that a real catastrophe can stimulate reform, societal progress, repentance, and all that kinda stuff.

For example, without the bubonic plague of the 1300’s, The Black Death, which led to much greater freedom of movement for the peasants, we might still be mired in the Dark Ages.

We’d be subject to deadly epidemics, bizarre and ineffective eye-of-newt cures, fickle and thoughtless leaders, chronic conflicts and massed armies, endless labor to erect crenelated walls, crumbling infrastructure, superstitions running rife, distrust of science, …

hey…wait a minute…

Well anyway, suppose for the sake of argument, that we’ve progressed.

But let’s not talk about disasters’ silver linings.

Let’s talk commercial applications. 

Let’s talk how to profit from all this.


A guy who knew how to make an honest buck. And avoided that like the plague.


This train of thought started with an old-time Milwaukee mayor,

Byron Kilbourn

Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of him.  A businessman/politician/crook, the kind we’re all so very, very familiar with nowadays.

Scandals, schemes & scams  – but none too sensational, or clever, so there’s nothing to imitate. Pretty honest, about all the bribes he passed out, and yet was never jailed.  He helped start the city’s “Bridge War,” by making sure the streets in “his” part of town, didn’t line up to connect with the other neighborhoods.

He was Mayor of Milwaukee, back in the 1800’s, and a big-time real estate promoter.  But a whole lot of his investors lost their shirts, and finally, late one night, he thought he’d better develop arthritis and move to Florida, where he raised some oranges and died, in 1870.  And he never came back.  For quite a while.

Back in Milwaukee, a century or so later, he was missed.

The history buffs here, picked three early mayors to be The Three Founders.  The first two were still around town, buried somewhere, but the absent Byron bugged the buffs — without #3, they didn’t have the complete set – the Fab Founding Fathers, the troika, the Merry Milwaukee Musketeers.

So in 1999, a guy named Frank Matusinec, in Milwaukee’s Historical Society, called up a lady in Jacksonville’s Historical Society, and asked if Milwaukee could have Byron back.  Since he wasn’t famous, or a Confederate, she said sure, and they dug him up.

But…he was in a ½-ton cast-iron coffin, and Northwest Air didn’t want to fly him.  A trucking company, and then UPS declined (this is all true).  So, Road Trip!  

Frank flew down to Florida, rented a U-Haul van, and drove back north, keeping the windows cracked open, got a flat tire, etc. but eventually, he and Byron got back to Milwaukee.

The locals popped the lid, like you would, if you bought an old used car at auction, took a few snapshots, some guys played “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes, etc…. and Byron Was Back in Town!  just shy of 129 years after his first funeral.

So, that’s not much of a travel story, really, just one postmortem outing, 1,157.6 miles.

He was kind of a jerk, but he did get the city a working harbor, started a newspaper, founded a railroad, etc

Basically, he got some things moving.  And then continued to move, after he was dead.

And that started me thinking, and that’s never good.

As soon as you start thinking about it, wow, so many dead people, have logged so many miles.


I always try to stick some Shakespeare, or stuff like that, in my posts, to make it seem like I’m well-read. I thought this could be an ad called, “Totally Immersive Experiences.”  But Ophelia is useless for my project, which is “Long Distance Voyages by Dead People.”  I looked at a map of Elsinore (Kronberg Castle) and don’t see any little willowy streams like this, feeding into the Baltic Sea, or into the Øresund, the strait between Denmark and Sweden. As near as I can tell, she must’ve been in the moat, near the Café Brohus and across from the souvenir shop, and couldn’t have traveled more than 1/8 mile. But what a great painting.  [by Millais, in the Tate]

Look at this next restless soul:

Evita had a lot of good qualities, but also suffered from a strange form of kleptomania, as seen in this photo – – a compulsion to steal fancy bedspreads.

Eva Perón

(Better know as Evita, as in “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.”)  Died in 1952, only 33, but was at least spared from seeing herself played by Madonna in the movie.   After she died, her body was displayed in the Ministry of Labour Building, then the Congress Building, then she was wheeled over to her office in the trade unions’ building.

And there she stayed, in her office, on display, for roughly two years.

Juan Perón believed he had some English ancestors, and thought the British custom of keeping dead, or near-dead, people in office (professors, bureaucrats, politicians, etc.) was charming.

He did plan on a huge monument, bigger than the Statue of Liberty, where Eva could be kept in the base, like hiding a house key under a candlestick.  Oh crap, I shouldn’t have said that, now I have to find another place.  But when he fled after a coup, he not only left all the lights on in the Presidential Palace, but he forgot to pack Eva.

The generals who took over, turned off the lights, and the body disappeared, for sixteen years.  In 1971, she was located in a crypt in Milan, Italy, under a different name, due to some sort of paperwork issue.  These things happen.

Perón had her shipped to Spain, where he was exiling, and kept her in the dining room (seriously?)(and again, this is all true).  He eventually returned to power, and after he died, in office, his 3rd wife had Eva shipped back home, displayed with Juan for a time, and then finally stashed Juan & Wife #1 in a special tomb, under a trapdoor.

And there, as far as I can tell, Eva remains at peace, except of course, for rolling over when they cast Madonna.   By a conservative estimate, that’s 13,931 postmortem miles, and of course that’s just air travel, and doesn’t include parades, side trips, and excursions.


photo credit: NASA/JIm Ross

Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek) must have set some sort of record, because he, or at least, a sample of his cremated remains, went into space twice.  The space shuttle Columbia took him for a spin in 1992, and then in 1997, a Pegasus rocket took him up into space again, and he circled Earth, every 96 minutes, for over five years.  The Pegasus spacecraft burned up on re-entry, May 20, 2002, somewhere over Australia (where they figured, what’s a little more dust).   Probably something like 17,000 mph, so way above 122 million miles for Mr. Roddenberry.

(I checked, and that’s = the total mileage clocked by the Space Shuttle Endeavour, and the yearly mileage estimated for Santa Claus to complete his rounds.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.)

I’m just not sure how to count the mileage for Dr. Eugene Shoemaker.  Some portion of whom was aboard the Lunar Prospector in 1998, when NASA crashed it into the Moon (on purpose, or so they said).   OK, that’s roughly 239,000 miles to get there, but…the Moon, and I hope I’m not offending anyone’s beliefs by saying this, is generally believed to revolve around the Earth, so do we count those orbits as travel time?   Or just the miles to get to the Moon, where Shoemaker is presumably firmly planted, dust to dust, and not moving.


“Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus” John William Waterhouse (1905). A couple of thoughts on this painting.  First, lax regulation of bottled spring water.  2nd, does it strike you that these two nymphs look more curious than horrified?  3rd, doesn’t that look more like a zither, than a lyre?  4th, how’s a head gonna strum that, either way?


I’ll just mention Abe Lincoln, whose legendary funeral train covered 1,654 miles.  His remains were the object of an attempted kidnapping in 1874, and were famously moved and concealed seventeen times before finally coming to a halt in 1901.  However, this was all in the Springfield, Illinois area, and one of the 17 moves was no more than eighteen inches.

Russell Shorto, in his excellent book Descartes’ Bones, details the complex travels and travails of the skull and bones of René Descartes, but he didn’t include a rule-book on how to score the mileage for people like that.  Heads, etc. off traveling on their own, I mean.  Do we credit the mileage, or pay it no mind.  The Headless Society includes Haydn, Mozart, Mata Hari, and the Marquis de Sade.  Do we credit Albert Einstein with 2892.8 miles, when his stolen brain was removed from a beer cooler, and driven cross-country in a Tupperware bowl??  **

Well anyway, you don’t have to be a genius, to know there’s money to be made here.


If you don’t want to invest in a lengthy cruise, we’d offer day trips, too, just little jaunts around scenic lakes and rivers. Canoeing, kayaking, rowing, paddling…sculling.


So here’s the money-making idea.  All these vacant planes, tour buses and cruise ships companies, could be booking Departures for the Departed.

We can revive the travel industry, without spreading the epidemic, by sending dead people on trips.

It’s a lovely gesture, and expired tickets are so much cheaper than regular fares.  The tour groups can really pack ’em in, don’t have to worry about long lines for the buffet or food poisoning, finding clean restrooms, or getting a room with a view.  You can run the whole operation with a skeleton crew.




“In September for a while / I will ride a crocodile / Down the chicken soupy Nile”


And it’s not some passing fancy, cultures have been doing stuff like this for millennia.    The Pharaohs always had some boats tucked into their tombs, to go cruisin’ in the afterlife.  Canoes were used in funeral rites by ancient Polynesians, some Native Americans, Sarawak islanders, etc.  The British general Pakenham, killed at the Battle of New Orleans, and Admiral Lord Nelson, shot down at Trafalgar, were shipped home in barrels of rum or brandy, 5,060 & 1,300 miles, respectively.  In more recent times, lots of famous people – JFK, H.G. Wells, Neil Armstrong, Robin Williams – and countless others have been scattered at sea.


The Anglo-Saxons and Vikings practiced ship burials, and funeral pyres.

Although, apparently what they didn’t do, is set funeral ships on fire, and then send them out to sea, like they show in the movies.

Too bad.  When I was a kid, I remember asking my grandfather why they stopped doing that, sending people off in ships, it seemed pretty cool.

He said, during the Depression, when he was a kid in the Bronx, there were always guys seeing people off at the pier.  People who were dead to them.  But there were no boats, just a washtub full of concrete.  Farshteyn?  Ya get me?

So we’ve got Tradition, and Hollywood, Vikings, Good Fellas, and the Almighty Buck, what else do we need?


Folks in the U.S. have always been restless, a people in motion.

Movement, of all kinds, defines us, like the Beach Boys, hotdogs, or a rotten healthcare system, Americans Are On The Move.

So…why should a catastrophic pandemic mean you have to settle?  Why should dying mean you have to just lay around?

Before you even get started with objections – – how you hated “Weekend at Bernie’s II” etc. or how the local DMV told you letting dead people drive is a misdemeanor and non-moving violation, etc. — let’s just settle down, take a deep breath, get the historical perspective.  Release the deep breath now, while counting to ten.  Times like this, pard, you want to keep a cool head.  Even if you have to stick the head in a beer cooler, to do that.

This is in the worst possible taste?

Oh yeah?  Really?  After the last 3 years, 5 months, and 28 days, in a pig’s eye, comrade, good luck with that “good taste” argument.  And incidentally, Liberace and Jeffrey Dahmer were from Milwaukee, so we know a thing or two about good taste.  And if you didn’t take a deep breath, shame on you, do it now.  Count to ten while breathing out.  It helps somehow, and think of the all people we’re going to be discussing, that can’t enjoy this kind of thing, so just do it.

My goodness, tut-tut, you’ll see that you’ve known about, and accepted, postmortem travel all your life.


Just think for one sec.  One wordMummies.

(Maybe with mummies, I should’ve said extra-dry or brut, instead of sec?)

I’m sure some of you think I’m “not wrapped too tight,” well, styx and stones – – you must’ve seen a few well-traveled mummies, right?  Pretty much every old museum or art gallery I’ve ever visited has a couple.  The Met in NYC has thirteen, the British Museum has 140, for pete’s sake.  Even the college library near my hometown, kept one in the bottom of a stairwell – when I was a kid, I’d stop by to visit the mummy, all the time.  If I remember right, her toes were sticking out.



I calculate the body in the library stairwell, traveled at least 6,211.18 miles, figuring Abydos necropolis > Cairo > NYC > Geneva, NY.*

The University of Manchester recently sent 8 dead people out to cover thousands of miles.  The “Golden Mummies of Egypt” made it to Buffalo (in February!  brrr, better stay wrapped up!) but I imagine this tour unraveled as things shut down for the epidemic.  They were looking forward to swinging by Raleigh, North Carolina, before returning to the damp gloom of Manchester.  7,829 miles, not bad for dead guys.  And people say my posts wander!


Joanna of Castile, Queen of Spain, was expecting her sixth child, when her husband, Philip the Handsome, passed away. She’d just booked a stagecoach ride for two, from Burgos to Granada, non-refundable tickets, so she brought the body along, 413 miles.  OK, the mileage isn’t impressive, but they spent eight months on this journey.  Juana delivered a daughter, and stayed at monasteries and villages along the way, keeping the coffin and un-embalmed Phil close to hand.  This is a snapshot, taken shortly before his death, with the travel agent.  (Notice how everyone is pretending not to notice the huge rats running around the palace?  The Queen was known as Juana la Loca, because she fed them, thinking they were little dogs.)


OK, I see I’ve run long again, so, as the ancient Pharaohs used to say, let’s wrap it up.  Spirit Airlines in Miami has expressed interest, and I’ll let you know when I’ve got Greyhound or a cruise line onboard with the concept.



P.S.   About the name for my new business. 

What do you think of Charon’s Ferry?  I think it sounds pretty upscale.  Don’t think I could get away with Grateful Dead on Tour, so I’m also considering Sic Gloria Transit. 

That phrase is based on an incident from the ’60’s, that would’ve been forgotten, if Van Morrison hadn’t written that tribute song.  Gloria was a street musician, with a cardboard sign “Sic.  Any $$ Helps”  When she finally passed away, some of NYC’s finest couldn’t be bothered to drive her to the coroner’s office, so they just snuck her onto a bus.  Where she rode for several days, before anyone noticed.

No one knew her last name, so the transit authority buried her in the Hart Island potter’s field, under the name “Gloria Transit.”  I think it would’ve been nicer to have her cremated, and send her urn traveling on the bus in perpetuity.  Maybe the S78 route on Staten Island, that always seems interminable.


* The mummy in the Geneva, NY library died around 320 B.C., during the days of the Ptolemaic Kingdom.  Did you know the ancient Greeks, who were running things in those days, didn’t have “silent letters?”

I thought they were supposed to be pretty advanced in science and art and philosophy, and stuff, and were aware of the concept of zero… and yet they hadn’t figured out how great silent letters are??  It’s true, and so without knowing better, they pronounced the “P” in words like “pneumonia” and “pterodactyl,” and “Ptolemy,” and when this Egyptian lady, the mummy in the stairwell, was introduced & tried to say “Ptolemy, Pharoah & Highest-Praised Priest of Ptah,” she got the giggles, and was executed.

**  The preserved body of the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, of course, is displayed at a college in London.   His head was severed from the body, and the preservation process was not cosmetically successful, so they put a lifelike wax head in it’s place, and the real head sits on the floor, like a butternut squash gone bad.  But he’s of no interest to us, because neither he, nor his head, ever get out and about, they’re not a traveling exhibit.



1600's, Arrant Nonsense, Colonial History, Early American History, History, New York City, NY, Revisionist History



Elegant al fresco dining & social distancing.



A few days ago, I posted some pictures of a young cardinal, and mentioned that even though the chick had left the nest, its parents would continue their GrubHub deliveries.

That prompted me to look up “grub.” Because reading the big dictionary, that’s the kind of excitement you can have, after months of quarantine.

I’d always thought that grub, in the sense of food, was cowboy slang – kind of surprising to find out, the OED lists its first use as 1659!

I took that as a Sign.

Thinking about 1659 + grub +cowboys . . .

I should write about Old New York, back when it was The Frontier.



Once upon a time, New York (then called New Netherlands) was the Wild West — a rip-roaring settlement, clearly no country for old men.  Like a colonial version of Dodge City – – cattle grazing, land barons, company stores, unprovoked attacks on Native Americans, gullible hayseeds from Weehawken, etc.

“Hayseeds” have been sticking around since 1577, to provide comic relief, and to hire on as Barney Fife deputies, the ones whose only line is “They went thataway.”  (“Hicks,” “yokels,” and “rubes” wouldn’t shamble along until much later.)

“Comic relief” wasn’t invented until 1783, and people pretty much just scowled all through the colonial era.



“Bandannas” didn’t mosey along until 1741. The Dutch proto-cowboys used to lament “How you gonna look tough / When you’re wearin’ a ruff?”


In those bucolic days of yore, Manhattan was a lush, verdant island, a little slice of Edam.

And the European settlers brought in livestock.

(Out-of-towners might say “Cattle drives?  in New York?!” and the locals reply, “Haven’t you ever been to New York?  They let anybody drive!”)

And I thought, they must’ve had cowboys.

But I was wrong.

It turns out to be an example, of Just How Badly History is Organized.

Because according to the big book, there weren’t any “cowboys” to eat the grub in 1659.  That word didn’t ride over the horizon until 1725.

Before that, those folks were saddled with a lame, generic job description, just lumped together with “herders” (1625, from a Dutch word), and shepherds tending their flocks, sometimes by night (without getting paid time and a half).

So, if there weren’t any cowboys, just who was eating this antique grub?

And prior to 1725, did the cows just wander around, running roughshod, unsupervised and untutored, in the streets?

I checked, often they did.

“Milkmaids” (invented in 1552) had a surprisingly strong union, and refused to do any “herding, wrangling, or bovine guidance of any kind.”

Cattle & swine roamed freely for centuries, rooting around in gutters, eating the nasturtiums out of folks’ flower beds, leaving hoof marks on the Bowling Green, and making the tavern floors quite a mess.

With no cowboys to keep order, it was just the Dark Ages, practically, and you really had to watch where you stepped.



“Howdy!” The greeting is derived from the old-time, cheese-loving cowboys of New Netherlands, from their salutation “Gouda!”



Even when History finally had cowboys, and could’ve gotten things organized, it wasn’t that great.  Turns out, the harmonica, which to me, is another essential part of the oater scene, wasn’t invented until 1821, so for almost a century, these old-time cowboys had to lug guitars around, and maybe harpsichords.

And History didn’t think of “chuckwagons” for another forty-five years, so they had to brown-bag it until 1866.

Without chuck wagons, there’s no chance of carrying eggs for a Western Omelette, or ranch dressing for your salad.  “Sandwiches” had been created in 1762, but after hours in a saddlebag, no way they’re going to be in good shape.

Kind of a personal night mare.

If it was me, I’d ride down the interstate until I found a “diner,” but that’s even more recent (1935).

You see what I mean about disorganized history?  Nothing happens in the right order.



If you’re planning on obtaining an animal this size, it would behoove you to actually read the operator’s manual, and go through an approved cow-owners’ training class, run by a professional cowboy. (“Behoove” from the Old English “behōf,” meaning, to not get underfoot or trampled by cows.)



Anyway, despite these obstacles, New Amsterdam had cattle grazing, out there in Big Sky Country (Manhattan), by 1625.

Amazon wasn’t around yet, but the West India Co. offered Free Cow Shipping, if you purchased land in the new colony (seriously).

There were even (honestly) honest-to-heck prairies in those days, in the Hempstead Plains region of Long Island.

And “desperadoes” (1647) roamed – this is a real reward notice from those days:  “And whereas complaints are made that the Gardens of many persons have been robbed and their Poultry taken away, if there be any one who can give information of the Thieves…he shall be paid five & twenty guilders…”  Yes, there were no trains or banks to rob, but chickens lived in fear.



Whoa, take ‘er easy there, Pilgrim. When New Amsterdam was founded, these Puritans had been living next-door in Plymouth for four years already. The Dutch remembered them, living in Leiden for ten or twenty years, and had wondered where the heck they’d gotten to.



New Amsterdam was a company town, just like Durango, Colorado – full of fur traders & colorful eccentrics, a Wild Bunch, on the frontier. Only half this bunch was Dutch (there were Danes, Swedes, Germans, Walloons, Sephardim, Huegenots, Holsteins, etc.), and it was a tolerant place, by the standards of the time — a wrangling, polyglot-trouble-spot of the good, the bad, the ugly.

And there were all those cows – then and now, The Big Apple was all about the bull market and branding.



Each year, more people are killed by cows, than by sharks. Cowboys monitor and prevent gang activity, and keep ’em on the straight ‘n’ narrow.



So by 1659, when people started eating “grub,” New York had all the makings of a good western – prairies, cows, sheriffs (called “schouten” in those days, as in “Fill your hands, and come out schouten!”), soldiers fighting Native Americans, a stockade, and windmills.

As far as I’m concerned, you have to have a clacking, creaking windmill for the right atmosphere, whether you’re filming Hans Brinker or Rio Bravo.




The stockade, along what’s now Wall St, was actually to keep out English & Yankees, not Indians, but again, a great backdrop for a western.  The beer was weak in those days, but a “vaquero” (1519) could have a medicinal shot of Holland Gin, good for arrow wounds, lumbago & sciatica, which you’re gonna get after a long day in the saddle.

But tragically, in its disjointed way, poorly steered, History still lacked chuck wagons, diners, harmonicas, really portable harpsichords, steam locomotives, six-shooters, and cowboys.



Cowboy’s Lament – the end of free range beef and traditional windmills


Sorry to say a discouraging word, pardner, but it’s kinda sad, thinking of those early Dutch herders,  home on the range, making sure the windmills didn’t spook the herd, and yet not considered to be cowboys.

Maybe some of them, who didn’t have horses, would just take the Broadway stage to work.

Glumly setting around the fire, eating their “grub” – probably pickled herrings, maybe a bowl of succotash – washed down by a tankard of warm heiferweizen.

And those colonial range riders, darned if they didn’t feel kinda unappreciated somehow, kinda…undefined, you might say, because they weren’t just herders, they were cowboys…but the word just hadn’t sprang into existence yet.

Dang it.

History is just a mess.


Yep, lose the fancy duds, trade that lace ruff for a bandana, and this Dutch feller’s ready to ride.  That looks to be at least a ten gallon hat.


portrait by Fredric Remington (born in Canton, NY)



Big hats, big boots, horses, cows, prairies, an addictive tobacco habit, windmills, lack of concern for personal hygiene…they were all set for to be cowboys, just didn’t have the right word for it.

But on a happier note, in the morning, there’d be cardinals singing in the trees, beautiful birds which they didn’t have back in Holland – the cardinal chick was what started this whole discussion, remember?  And about exactly the same time in history that people started eating “grub,” the Dutch also started coffee plantations, in Ceylon, India, and then Indonesia, so the 17th c. cow-herders could at least have a cup of Java with their donuts.

They’d sing an ol’ cowboy lament from the Lovin’ Spoonful, accompanied only by guitar, since there weren’t no harmonicas yet:

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck gettin’ dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a cowboy in the city


Far as I’m concerned, it ain’t a real western without a few windmills.



When my relatives Out West, roughing it in the Wasatch Range, want to do some real cowboy-style cooking, they build a fire, shovel the coals into a pit, and do Cast-Iron Dutch Oven Cooking


A native New Yorker, and cowboy, of New Netherlands descent.  Teddy Roosevelt, at the chuck wagon. Lookin’ kinder ornery, like a man who spotted a saddle sore on his steak.


Yep, most a these here pictures are from The Nat’l Gallery of Art,
The Met & the U.S. Library of Congress.
I don’t hold with readin’ much, myself.
It’s jest a sight easier to make stuff up.










Well kids, we’ve been learning a lot of History by looking at statues, haven’t we.  Well, listen my children, and you shall hear.  Today’s entry is Paul Revere, an amazing guy – – silversmith, engraver, industrialist, propagandist, volunteer soldier, and patriot.

When I examined this statue, I noticed straight away, something very odd – – no pigeons were roosting on it. 

It’s always nice to see someone on horseback, who isn’t brandishing a sword.  But I also found his pose a bit odd, and wondered aloud, why Paul was depicted with his arm out like that.  A well-informed passerby informed me that Revere was famous for feeding the birds as he rode, and told me the story of “Paul & the Pigeons in the Park,” which has been set to verse.  I also have his recipe for Pigeon Pie, if anyone wants it.    


In days of old

Pigeons were bold

And chased all the kids from their play.

Never seen in the park,

Were the robin or lark,

Only pigeons on pavements gray.


In parks they’d lurk

Twice as big as a turk-

Ey, in days of yore


Kids sad as Eeyore


Then a hero did appear,

Named Paul Revere.


Paul mounted his steed,

And cast down bird seed,

Luring pigeons onto the highway.

On they came, bad and fat,

And Paul’s horse stomped them flat.

And for dinner they had them that day.


Boston loves its beans and cod,

Banks and money, more than God.

And Sam Adams rocks –

A very fine beer,

But after the Sox,

It’s Paul they Revere.





Granny Hitchborn’s Receipt for Pigeon Pye

Take ye the pigeons that look to be young fat & sweet.   After ye have trimmed them, drawn them, and trussed them as ye would a squab, scrub in salt water & then scald in fair water, heated ‘til seething.  Beat with a billet of wood & pluck them.  Then kill the birds & boil them until it be sufficient.

Lay the birds in a charger & add a handful of whortleberries, unless they be more sour than a Pilgrim at a May Pole Dance, then add rather a goodly store of currants instead.

Now boil the blood and with it Madeira & plenty of mace nutmeg & pepper.  Gum Arabick if needs thickening.

Roll a crust of flour & lard, or lard & hard tack, broke into pieces, or lard, flour, lard, hard tack & lard, and lay on it the crust daintily and bake it

When it has cooked sufficient, on top scatter rosemary & thyme, to lay the smell a bit.

Let cool before cutting and watch ye out for beaks.

Alternate History, Arrant Nonsense, Boston, Colonial History, Early American History, food, History, Public Art, Removing Statues, Revisionist History, statue, United States

Learning All About History By Looking at Statues. Chapter VII. Boston – – Paul’s Pigeon Pie

Alternate History, Arrant Nonsense, Art, History, Removing Statues, Revisionist History, Sculpture, statue, Waterloo, William Seward

Learning All About History by Looking at Statues. Chapter VI. It Was a Dark & Stormy Night…

Chap VI.

Our next statue, “Nydia,” was chosen because its creator was born in my hometown.

I wanted to discuss the intellectual and aesthetic question “Why is this artist’s most famous work, the most-replicated statue by an America sculptor, during the 19th century, like a chronic sinus infection?”

The answer to the question:  Drip, drip, drip.

I’ll explain the dripping in just a sec.

I am from Waterloo, NY.

If you ask people in my village, the only famous person from here is a football coach, named Coughlin.

He’s depicted in a mural, painted on the side of a bar on Main St., overlooking a vacant lot where they play quoits.  Genuine old-time residents pronounce his name like a cat hacking up a hairball.

Runner-up is a guy named Gridley, who invented an improved washboard. (No kidding.  It was curved.)

The back of the village garage, which faces a defunct grocery store, and a crumbling, unusable bridge, has a mural, showing two more local heroes:  Murray & Welles, who began the village’s Memorial Day observances in 1866.

Then one day, by chance, I found out that one of the most successful American sculptors of the 19th Century was born here.

Not only is there no statue of him in Waterloo, but in all seriousness,

I’ve never once heard his name mentioned in his birthplace.

It’s Randolph Rogers.  Born 6 July 1825.

You can see his works in parks, galleries, and the better sort of cemeteries in NYC, Hartford, Gettysburg, Cincinnati, Detroit, Richmond, Philadelphia, Washington, etc.

His “Columbus Doors,” all 20,000 pounds of them, are the main entrance to the U.S Capitol.  They’re an homage to Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Renaissance masterpiece, the “Gates of Paradise” in Florence.

Randolph Roger’s versions are 17′ tall, and depict everyday life in Columbus, Ohio, during a political convention.


One one door, a stylized border of venial sins surrounds panels with scenes of graft, extortion, lobbying, malfeasance, pettyfogging, etc. while the other door depicts the politicians’ torments in the afterlife.

Rogers created statues and busts of Adams, Lincoln, William Seward, General Lew Wallace (of “Ben Hur” fame), and allegorical figures like “The Genius of Connecticut” for the top of their statehouse.  (This last one was later re-named “We’re All Above Average” and then melted down for scrap during WWII.)

His Civil War monuments include the Soldiers’ National Monument at Gettysburg.

The Seward statue is in Madison Square Park, in NYC, and was the subject of a scurrilous rumor that Rogers re-purposed a leftover Lincoln body and stuck on a Seward head.  It’s simply not true.  The proportions are fine – Seward just had a small head, relative to his body and nose.

(Henry Adams wrote that he had “a head like a wise macaw.“)


And one of Roger’s statues has replicas in almost every big art gallery in the U.S.A.

The work is called “Nydia

It was the most popular American sculpture of the 19th Century.

Nydia is based on a character in a book called “The Last Days of Pompeii” (1834).

The author, Bulwer-Lytton, was a politican-novelist, and poet-playwright.  It-is-all-about-hyphens-with-this-guy.

The book was a huge hit.

And it’s absolutely unreadable.  I know that, because I tried.  Really.  Cannot be done.

I mean, I have an exceptionally high tolerance for tedium.  I can show you my survivor badge for “One Thousand PowerPoint Presentations” and once, I stayed awake for 3 ½ minutes of “Twilight.”  But this book – –  I lasted one page.

Here’s the beginning:

’HO, Diomed, well met!  Do you sup with Glaucus to-night?’ said a young man of small stature, who wore his tunic in those loose and effeminate folds which proved him to be a gentleman and a coxcomb.”

Doesn’t that just make you long for a dark & stormy night, so you could rub out the author before he writes anything else?

“Sup with Glaucus”??  Why no, I finally got a prescription for Amoxicillin and it cleared up that Supping Glaucus, boy, I’m glad to be done with all that Mucus and Phlegma.

But it turns out, Glaucus is not a medical condition, it is the hero.  And he and Nydia live in Pompeii.

And also a type of sea gull, I looked it up in Wikipedia.

The glaucous gull …the second largest gull in the world. which breeds in Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere and winters south to shores of the Holarctic.”

I remember thinking that you might want to know that, but now I don’t know why.

(Didn’t you think for sure, Glaucus was a sinus or eye infection?)

One more sentence, and you’re done.

Well, you must sup with me some evening;  I have tolerable muraenae in my reservoir, and I ask Pansa the aedile to meet you.”

Well, sure, I’d love to sup, unless some clever blacksmith has invented tines, and then we could just eat with forks, like grownups, and stop all this supping crap.

Um, aedile is a type of Roman magistrate?

And I found, with a dawning sense of horror, that muraena is a type of Mediterranean moray.

So this idiot  is bragging that his reservoir is infested with eels ?? and no doubt we’re going to be supping up jellied eels for dinner??

That’s not tolerable, it’s horrible.


I misplaced my notes – – this is either a still from the 1913 silent film “Last Days of Pompeii,” or a current cabinet meeting in Washington.


It’s a long, convoluted lava flow of melodrama — there’s Greeks, Romans, Christians, the Cult of Isis, love potions, a witch, and eels.

Most of the characters are wiped out by the volcano, but not nearly soon enough.

Pompeii is depicted as a warped and decadent place, and yet, not fun.  If anyone tried to get a good bacchanalia going, I’m sure Bulwer-Lytton threw a wet toga over it.  His artistic conceit was clearly to deep-fry every sentence into agonized contortions, to mirror the bodies found in the ashes of Pompeii.

Better to dig up roasted Romans than to be engulfed and buried in this book – I never made it past the first page.

So anyway.

The book was a huge hit.

It was 1834.  In three years, if you’d finished the book, Victoria would begin her reign, and you’d have 63 years, seven months, and two days of additional dullness ahead of you.

In the U.S., free from monarchies and elitist literature, we were celebrating Jacksonian Democracy and getting ready for bank failures, 25% unemployment, and a 7-year-long recession.

Most of this wasn’t Bulwer-Lytton’s fault, but he didn’t help.


So…some years after all that, I was in the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY and ran across a statue that I decided was called “The Toothache”.

At the sufferer’s feet rests the broken capital of a Corinthian column, symbolizing an impacted wisdom tooth.




But I was wrong.

It turned out that in 1861, inspired by the book, Randolph Rogers created this depiction of Nydia.

Nydia is guiding Glaucus, the hero, and the love of her life, through the eruption and ash-storm that was engulfing Pompeii, towards the harbor.

There he would be safe, and have lots of lovely eels to eat.

Her mission accomplished, Nydia then continues on, into the Mediterranean, and dies.

I don’t remember why, unrequited love I think, but she drowns, or maybe the eels get her, but she definitely dies.

It’s all very tragic, because she didn’t drag Glaucus and Bulwer-Lytton with her.  Somebody really should have tied them all together and dropped them off a pier, attached to a Corinthian column.

I think Nydia washes up again, in the epilogue.

So, somehow, Randolph Rogers was inspired to depict Nydia, pre-drowning, but already drippy.

The statue was a huge hit.

It’s displayed in the big galleries in NYC, Washington, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Portland, Providence, L.A., and a whole lot more places.

In fact, Rogers replicated it 167 times (seriously).

Rogers didn’t actually chisel all these himself, of course.  He had a workshop in Italy, where workmen cranked these out for Culture Tourists, in the days when a souvenir was a souvenir, and before snow globes were invented.





Here’s a mention in “A History of European and American Sculpture” by Chandler Rathon Post (1921):

“Randolph Rogers never found his vein.  He tried his hand with tolerable results at several kinds of sculpture, but all his many productions suffer from a blight of dullness…his portrait statues…are fairly respectable performances in stiff rhetoric.”

Well, quite likely, you think I’m all wet, and ignorant, and that Nydia is a lovely statue.  They have one in the Memorial Art Gallery, the National Art Gallery, the Met, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Chicago Institute of Art, etc.  I’m tripping over this thing where ever I go.

But to my uneducated, rustic eye, it looks awkward, and a bit odd.


Like someone you’d feel bad for, if you ran across her downtown, and probably kind of avoid, because she’s hunched and her dress is half-off, and then you’d feel terrible, when it dawned on you that she was blind, and you weren’t sure if she was trying to cross the street, or if she was aware of her wardrobe malfunction, and depending on the angle, she’s either suffering from toothache, or is listening for something, like maybe an oncoming bus, or chariot, so you’d have to go back and hesitantly ask if she would like assistance in crossing the street, and she says, no, thank you, I’m actually listening for a volcanic eruption.

And until Mount Vesuvius actually blows, you’d think she was delusional, and should you call social services or something, the whole thing is awkward.

Oh, I forgot to mention that.  The character was blind.  I hadn’t realized this until I looked at the book, it’s hard to tell with a statue.  The full title is “Nydia, The Blind Flower-Girl of Pompeii”.


Nydia, from the 1913 silent movie “The Last Days of Pompeii” (Library of Congress)


It’s an interesting example of how tastes change.  I don’t know if most people today, would be crazy for the statue, or the book.  I’ve yet to find anyone who’s actually read Bulwer-Lytton.  Because I’ve asked a lot of random people at airports, bus stops, restrooms, and bars, and only gotten funny looks.  Apparently he’s really not popular anymore.


(Do you know he added a third Lytton to his name?  Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton.  Because having it only twice, you might forget??  Or to distract people from “Bulwer”?)

(Today, “Bulwer-Lytton-Lytton-Lytton Disorder is better known as “Compulsive Redundancy Syndrome.”)


Most of us tend to remember and focus on the good stuff.  In the 1830’s, people were reading “Oliver Twist,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Lady of Shalott,” etc.  But just like our own time, people consumed lots of not-so-wonderful stuff.

Maybe that’s the value of looking at “Pompeii” and “Nydia”  – – for contrast, and to show just how wonderful the good writers and artists were.  To remind ourselves, just how exceptional Dickens, Poe, Shelley, Hawthorne, Washington Irving, Byron, Emerson, Delacroix, etc. were.

In 1861, when the statue was unveiled, there were other horrible things happening, like Fort Sumter and the Battle of Bull Run, but there were also wonderful things:  Church’s “The Icebergs,” Whistler’s “Symphony in White, No. 1,”  Manet’s “Music in the Tuileries,” and Leutze’s “Westward Ho!” so Rogers can’t use the Civil War as an excuse.

Nydia is shown as she guides some Pompeii people through the blinding volcanic ash-cloud to safety – the man she loves, his girlfriend, and some really insistent people hawking postcards.  That’s admirable, and that’s why she’s holding her hand to her ear.


Although I still say, she could have had a toothache, too, right?  and that’s why she drowned herself, not the unrequited love thing.

The museum sign informs us, that the statue is evocative.  But would you have understood the situation, if I hadn’t told you? That she’s listening for which way an exploding volcano is located?  If she were a Labrador, would you guess that someone was blowing a dog whistle?  Or figure, poor doggy, has a toothache.

Well, we’re all learning a lot from these statues, aren’t we.

And anyway, Randolph Rogers was born in my hometown, he was knighted by King Umberto I, and Art is in the eye of the beholder.

So is glaucoma, I did look it up, and it’s related to Glaucus, but I forget how.  Something to do with seagulls.


Excavation of the Temple of Isis at Pompeii (Wellcome Library)



P.S.  Glaucus, glaucoma, and the seagull really are all related!  But this post is way too long already.



An earlier, and I think, superior work, “Ruth Gleaning” (1850).  As in the Book of Ruth in the Bible, and “gleaning” as in gathering up leftover barley.





And one final piece, “The Last Arrow” (1880) – – I wonder if his fellow Upstater, Frederic Remington, saw this, since it predates his bronzes by fifteen years.  These two pictures are from the Met website.