19th century, Alternate History, Arrant Nonsense, hiking, statue

Learning All About History by Looking at Statues ~ ~ Chapter IX ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Captain J. S. Bevel-Gearing ~ Friend of Lost Hikers.

Statue IX:  J. S. Bevel-Gearing, a man with a lot of time on his hands

Most of us can all recall a time or two, when we’ve been, if not lost, at least a bit disoriented during a hike in the woods.

Sometimes, I think that’s A-OK.

Like so many situations, you can fret about it, and let it upset you, or just consider it “unstructured playtime” and no worries.  I follow the same strategy in writing these meandering posts.

 

North Point Tower, a Milwaukee landmark since the 1870’s.

 

My workdays are organized to a nicety, and scheduled to a fare-thee-well, so every so often, it feels nice to be wayfaring without much of a plan.

Go roaming, off the clock, off the grid.  If your mind is already wandering, let your feet join in, too.

 

Bevel-Gearing’s granddad, who started the clock business, made stuff like this. They were mostly given as wedding and anniversary presents, or as door prizes for good deportment, but the astronomical timepieces didn’t sell as well in the 19th century, and in Milwaukee, most people didn’t have enough room in their dens, so the company changed gears and made alarm clocks.

 

When that mood strikes, I’ve got no use for  guidebooks, pedometers, compasses, watches, maps, GPS, etc.

More fun to just strike out and follow a deer path or old logging road, or go bushwhacking cross-country.

In the Finger Lakes region, not to worry, you can’t get too lost.  If you just keep on keeping on, you’re sure to hit a lake, they’re really hard to miss.  Just ask one of the guys fishing, which lake it is, and bingo, you’re no longer lost.

 

This was made for the U.S. Capitol, where it now graces the Crypt. Some of the congressmen complained that the figures leaning on it didn’t look too industrious, and just seemed to be slouching around. So, Bevel-Gearing took it back to the shop, added weapons for both figures, stuck an angry bird on top, and everybody went home happy.

 

If you somehow manage to miss the lakes, and are still lost, you’re sure to stumble across a winery or microbrewery.  The kids they hire to pour out Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Imperial IPA’s usually don’t really know jack about wine or beer, or who won the last presidential election, or which way is North.  And mostly cannot give you coherent directions to the parking lot, much less to town, but they’re always friendly, and if you just mention you like their Phish tee-shirt, they’ll lend you a cellphone so you can call somebody for a lift.

Just keep your chin up and keep walking, there’s always locational clues.  Worst case, if you really keep wandering, eventually someone will say politely “Eh, pardon me, are you lost, do you require assistance, eh?” Or “Yo, let’s g’down ta tha WaWa and getta pork roll”  And then you’ll know where you are – southern Canada or northeast Pennsylvania, respectively.  So again, you’re no longer lost.

Anyway, it’s probably time to launch a new series, “Confused Wanderings Around Milwaukee & Wisconsin.  And Possibly eastern Minnesota?”

 

Bevel-Gearing’s “Wayfarer’s Lighthouse”  I went back to that forest with a camera, to take better pictures, but never found it again.

 

So, traipsing through the Wisconsin woods  one day, perhaps slightly unsure of my location, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter the guiding beacon in the photo, a kind of land-locked lighthouse, and find it was a Victorian innovation for lost foot walkers.  I read up a bit about the inventor and philanthropist who built it, although I’m unable to pin down exactly where this tower is located.  Somewhere north of Milwaukee, but shy of Green Bay, most likely.

 

The North Point Tower is great for navigating my way through town toward the lake.

 

Finally home that night after my hike, I looked up this lighthouse off in the woods, a hundred miles from Lake Michigan, and learned a bit about a local hero, “Captain” John Stryker Bevel-Gearing II.  (Called “The Second” by his clock-obsessed family.)  That’s his statue in my first photo, and he’s become kind of a patron saint for lost hikers.

(Travelers, sailors and mountaineers usually look to Saint Christopher, but there’s a technicality – he’s assigned to help people trying to reach a specific destination, not just gallivanting aimlessly.)  (Although I don’t know how the Vatican delegates this stuff, but I’ve always thought Chris seems like the kind of guy who’d help out anyway, even if you’re a wandering heathen.)

Bevel-Gearing was an innovative clockmaker, entrepreneur, and philanthropist – a product of an earlier, more optimistic time.  A 19th century immigrant, originally a liveryman of London’s Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, he’d traveled six time zones west to pursue his passion for bird call clocks and time-regulated poultry feeders.

 

Sometime during 1870 – 1900, when Milwaukee’s population was quadrupling, the Captain opened a small manufactory of clocks and mechanical regulators, in an isolated clearing, deep in a forest, close by the Wisconsin Dells.

This Dells region is nothing like the pleasant dells and dales of England, and really, as I understand it, should’ve been called a dingle – – a forested gorge along the Wisconsin River.  It’s already a confusing area, topographically, and this sort of definitional sloppiness doesn’t help matters.

Bevel-Gearing had selected this unlikely spot for his business, because he valued his privacy, and sought seclusion to perfect his timepieces and mechanized poultry-feeders, far from competitor’s eyes.

Unbeknownst to him, the beautiful Dells region was becoming increasingly popular with Victorian-era artists, naturalists, and excursionists.  Their volumes of Wordsworth or Whitman in hand, the visitors anticipated uplifting walks in beauty, communing with Nature.

But the forests and glacier-carved hills, ravines, and gullies proved disorienting for many, and their outings turned into a devil of a time.

 

At his clockworks, day after day, hungry and distressed walkers emerged from the woods to ask for directions, drawn to his little factory by the smoke from his chimney, and the bells, chimes, and mechanical rooster- and crow-calls being tested for his clocks.   (He loathed cuckoos, as a silly-sounding, frivolous breed with deplorable parenting skills.)

Oftentimes the clothing of these hillwalkers was a disgrace – disheveled, filthy, stockings and bloomers torn by thorns – and they’d beg a meal, having emptied their haversacks of bully beef, prunes, and hard tack.

The visitors would have to be rested, fed, watered, brushed off and made as presentable as might be.  Those who had lost their shoes in the fens and bogs, had to be loaned a pair of clogs or carpet slippers.  The whole heedless mob was then set on the right path toward civilization, or at least, Milwaukee.

Only to have some of them return in a couple days, having gotten lost again.

 

 

The Captain was a patient and not unkindly man, but very conscious of his time, and eventually he tired of the constant interruptions.  As well as the loss of every single pair of his carpet slippers.  Even the goatskin Moroccan ones, with a matching fez.

The confusion and randomness of the visits were disturbing the precise, even-tempered organization of his days, and this also bothered him.  A mainspring was far more to him than springtime.  He spent his life designing regulators, and all this hullabaloo was highly irregular, and time-consuming.

One day, visiting various toolmakers in Milwaukee, he was taking his mid-day constitutional along the shore of Lake Michigan, timing the waves as they lapped the shore like a metronome.

He came upon a wreck –  an iron-hulled ship, driven onto the rocks by a storm.

 

Like the beam from a lighthouse, piercing the fog, an inspired thought lighted the innermost recesses of his brain.  Hitherto unused gears began turning like clockwork.

 

The vessel’s owner was at hand, surveying the damage and cursing the unlucky vessel in exaggerated terms of opprobrium.

Bevel-Gearing had never commanded a ship (the “Captain” was merely an honorific bestowed by the Independent Protective Order of Agricultural Mechanics & Breeders), but he immediately struck a bargain, and purchased the salvage rights on the spot.  The ship’s iron hull and frame were disassembled, and hauled off to his clock factory.  There, the iron was cut, bent, and then reassembled on a nearby hillock, into the metal signal tower you see in the photos.

 

Any lost tourists, watercolorists, butterfly-collectors, and rock-climbers in the area soon learned to head for the tower, which was stocked with soap, towels, ship’s biscuit and mineral water.  A teetotaler himself, he’d initially installed a cabinet with a case of medicinal brandy, but this was exhausted the first weekend of operation, when a photographer happened by, and the Captain never repeated that mistake.

A well-blazed trail led from the tower to a stagecoach landing.

With this forest beacon in place, Bevel-Gearing was able to happily return to his experiments in blessed solitude.  His crow-call clocks were never commercially successful, although a functioning example is worth a good deal to today’s collectors.  But his clockwork poultry feeder was a huge success, enabling him to retire and set out on a ’round the world peregrination.

 

B-G’s poultry-feeders, with an elaborate system of chimes to call the chickens to dinner, pre-dated Pavlov’s experiments by several years. But he was not interested in conditioning, or salivation, and just wanted fatter, less frenetic chickens, leading a more orderly life.

 

Sadly, during the first stop of his Grand Tour, he came to an untimely demise.  While inspecting, and perhaps attempting to adjust, the double three-legged gravity escapement, on the clock associated with  “Big Ben” at Westminster, his cravat became loosened and then entangled, pulling the Captain to a grisly fate amongst the clock’s gearwork.

But perhaps some particle of the Captain still travels through the clock’s mechanism, greasing the grooves, high in the landmark tower.  Which he might regard as a not unpleasing fate.

 

Well, Bevel-Gearing is just imaginary, of course, but I love lighthouses, and wouldn’t it be great to have them in the forests?

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Finger Lakes, FLX, hiking, Nature, NY, Upstate New York

Walks Around the Finger Lakes. March, Fillmore Glen. Hemlock Varnish Shelf Fungus.

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Finger Lakes, FLX, hiking, Nature, NY, Upstate New York

Walks Around the Finger Lakes. March, Fillmore Glen. Hemlock Varnish Shelf Fungus

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Finger Lakes, FLX, hiking, Nature, snow, Spring, Upstate New York, Winter

Walks Around the Finger Lakes. March, spring thaw.

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Finger Lakes, FLX, Nature, Spring, Upstate New York, Winter

Walks around the Finger Lakes. Connecticut Hill, spring thaw

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Time for Old Man Winter to make tracks & beat it. 

Nature, snow, Winter

Late Afternoon, Late Winter

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One more cellphone B&W.  For some reason, the low-resolution look just feels correct for this scene and a very cold February.

I think most of us, when we think of “tree” in our mind’s eyes, see a trunk and a mass of leaves.

But in this part of the world, these trees spend most of their lives leafless.

And on a warmer note, although I generally don’t photograph nudes, it’s a pleasure to be able to see the architecture of the trunk and branches.

 

 

snow, Winter

February – – two trees

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snow, Winter

February – – a bench

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Cellphone snap of two pine trees, looking just as cold as me.

It’s black & white, but this is the time of year I really appreciate pines, for a bit of green.

Evergreens, when it’s ever snowy, ever gray skies, ever blue fingers, ever red noses.

 

 

 

snow, Things to Do When Your Water Crystallizes on You, Uncategorized, Winter

February — two pine trees

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Good morning!

When the autumn leaves had all fallen, I began leafing through old photos.

And…here’s a random closeup.

Not a thing of beauty, but just kinda interesting.  Can you guess what it is?

(I show the answer in just a minute.)

This fall, turning over a garden bed (but not a new leaf), this odd stratified object was unearthed.  It looked pretty ancient, but isn’t – based on a couple minutes of research on the manufacturer’s stamp, it was made sometime after 1929.  Because it’s stainless steel, I think these veins and patterns are some sort of mineral deposits on the surface, rather than corrosion, but basically just thought it looked kinda interesting.  Some sort of tiny electro-chemical mystery, transpiring down there in the dark substratum beneath the innocent-looking cabbages.

Here’s some other archaeological treasures from the garden:

 

 

 

An old medicine bottom, fragments of china, stoneware, and glass. I think the metal ornament isn’t a toy, but a kind of hood ornament – we’ve never had a snowmobile, but one of our neighbors enjoys fixing up vintage Ski-Doos, and sometimes rides around the neighborhood, so that probably explains that.

Here’s another picture of the strata:

 

 

Yes, an old spoon.  Who would dare say, we don’t have an exciting time of it in my hometown.

When I was a kid, I was excited to dig up a couple of horseshoes.  Although it was sad to think of some horse years ago, limping around, or left jacked up on blocks by shoe thieves.

But the artifacts turned out to be stragglers from the lawn game, not actually from shoeless horses.  (Un-shod horses?  De-shodded?  Slipshod?  Shoe-eschewing?)

Yes, people still play horseshoes in my town, and the previous residents of our house had installed lighted, sand-filled pits in the backyard.  I did wonder, since they had this opportunity to practice whenever they wanted, why I found the horseshoes buried in a flower bed twenty feet away.  Excess enthusiasm, I guess, or evidence of some long-forgotten domestic tiff?  And I also wondered, if a pit is filled up with sand or sawdust, is it still a pit?  You have time to contemplate such deep thoughts, while you’re throwing pieces of metal at a stick.

There have been people living in this house for 150 years or so, all of them pretty steadily dropping things in the yard.  My dad’s thing is coffee cups, left half-full in odd places – behind some tomato cages, in the crook of a tree, under the pole beans –  we usually harvest them all during the fall cleanup, but probably a few have ended up sinking beneath the sod.  Kind of a mug’s game, and some future generation will find all these ceremonial chalices, and be wondering, who exactly was this nameless World’s Best Dad.

An old lady used to live across the street.  Mrs. Z told me her uncle and aunt lived in our house, in the ’20’s, when there was still a barn, chicken coop, and grape arbor – all of those long-vanished – and that explains the rusty plowshare, bits of chain, etc. I sometimes dig up.

So – getting close to New Year’s – – out with the old, and in with the new.

But instead of throwing this stuff in the trash, I’m going to (if the ground isn’t frozen too hard!)  find a spot at the base of a maple tree, and bury these fragments of history, for some kid to find in the future.

I’ll throw something into the treasure trove, too.

Trying to decide between a fork, a subway token, or a Jabba the Hutt figurine.

Heck, all of the above, I’ll just dig a bigger hole.

 

History, Uncategorized

A strata gem for the new year

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