Today’s statue is not just an object of beauty, though often praised and imitated.
Butterbrot was a hero of course, a visionary and one of those eminent Victorians of brains, pluck, and intestinal fortitude.
But the statue also conveys a concept, or ideal, or dream – – toward which humanity still strives – – having great meals, without needing to cook, or go to a restaurant, or having pizza delivered.
Like many visionaries, he looked at problems that had bedeviled humanity for years, but had the gift of seeing them in a different light.
Some of his detractors would say, in retrospect, that the lights were on, but no one was home.
But the fact that his venture was a spectacular failure, and caused a financial catastrophe that bankrupted most of the county, and accidentally killed all of the fish in the Seneca River, in no way detracts from the beauty of his vision.
It was during a stay at Dr. Kellogg’s Battle Creek Sanitarium, that a casual remark changed his entire life, and inspired his quest for Progress.
Yet it proved to be a profoundly depressing experience for Butterbrot. His fire engines couldn’t cope with buildings that soared to seven or ten stories. And like many of the new “skyscrapers,” the hotel was constructed of brick, steel, and terra cotta tile, and advertised itself as “The World’s Only Fire Proof Hotel.” He foresaw a future of such fireproof structures, and financial ruin for his fire engine business.
Worried and dejected, he checked himself into Dr. Kellogg’s spa for treatment. (He would’ve been cheered to know that it would burn down, in 1902).
In the course of a consultation, while enumerating the virtues of “Nuttose” (a meat substitute made from peanuts), and discussing other vegetarian and anaphrodisiac delights he was cooking up, Kellogg indulged in a bit of modern slang, saying “More inventions and patents are ‘in the pipeline‘ every day.”
“Upon hearing the word ‘pipeline,’ as Butterbrot often related, “a Flash of Inspiration nearly prostrated me.”
He leapt up, pumped Kellogg’s hand vigorously, and left for home on the next train.
His Idea, in brief, was to create “food preparatories,” industrial-sized kitchens that would transmit food by pipeline to workers’ homes, saving them the need for stoves, larders, iceboxes, pots & pans, etc. as well as the time wasted on going to the market, chasing & plucking fowl, et cetera & cooking.
Butterbrot described himself as a Techno-Progressive, and having grown up in Seneca Falls, where the first Womens’ Rights Convention was held, he wished to liberate members of the gentle sex from the burden of preparing meals. “Equipping each & every household with its own kitchen is inefficient, individualistic, and immensely wasteful of time.”
By freeing women from household drudgery, he could expand the pool of labor for his factory, and remove one of the incentives for getting married, believing that single workers, if well-fed, would be more reliable and productive. Demands for time off for weddings, unionization and a 55-hour work week would dissipate.
By the time he arrived at the factory in Seneca Falls, he’d filled pad after pad with sketches and diagrams, and immediately chartered a new company, “The Providential Provender Pipeline and Pabulum Pump Co.” or PPPPPCo. for short.
He began raising funds with circulars & flyers:
“Provisions Piped To You Piping Hot,”
“Pumping Iron…and Vitamins!” and
“Why a Duct? (It’s Not Quackery!)”
Seneca County responded with alacrity, as practically every resident invested in his venture, and with funding assured, he assembled his most accomplished mechanics, engineers, and several boardinghouse cooks of local renown.
“What was needed,” he’d explain in his telegraphic terseness, “was a single device that ground up, cooked, and then propelled the foodstuffs.”
Conical burr grinders, sausage-makers, cider presses, and corn-stalk-breakers were studied and quickly discarded. Rotating drums filled with cobblestones and heated with coal gas seemed promising, but lacked sufficient propulsive energy.
A mechanized mortar, pestle & piston machine proved unpredictable, and after a field worker on a neighboring farm was nearly decapitated by a cast-iron tureen of turnip soup, which somehow came loose and was flung two miles by the contraption, this was also abandoned.
“Finally,” as he later wrote, “the solution presented itself as I soaked in an effervescent hydrotherapy tub, studying Kellogg’s ‘The Uses of Water.’ The bath pump, one of my design, which produced the health-giving bubbles, gave a tremendous sort of hiccup, and the water slopped over the rim. I experienced another Flash of Inspiration. Like Archimedes, I leapt from the tub, shouting ‘Eureka!'”
However…this was Upstate New York, not heathen Greece, and folks don’t run down the streets naked & shouting. He toweled off, shaved, combed & pomaded his hair, oiled his mustache, drew on his trousers, buttoned on the braces, fastened the stud in his celluloid collar, tied his cravat, shined & tied his shoes, attached his watchchain & stowed the timepiece in a vest pocket, and arranged a handkerchief in the pocket of his frock coat.
He had by then, completely forgotten the brainstorm.
“Then, by some Benevolent Influence, heedless in my anxiety and distraction, I slipped on the wet flagstones, and cracked my head upon the basin. As I regained my footing, the whole Idea in its entirety again presented itself.”
It was Archimedes’ screw, one of the earliest pump designs in history. Slightly modified, and hooked to a steam engine, it became a “High-Shear Extruder,” whose compression and friction produced enough heat to cook the food, without requiring an external source of heat.
“We could now produce hot slush on a truly Industrial Scale, and Pump the Mash to the Masses!”
This is the End of Chapter One.
Chapter Two, “Persuading the Unleavened Masses to Accept the New Scheme of Efficient Cookery”
Chapter Three, “Early Success & The Later Backlash; Advertising Campaign to Address Malicious & Scurrilous Rumours RE the Currants In the Christmas Pudding”
Chapter Four, “The Hyperion Loop Pipeline Disaster, and Resultant Dying of Fish, Governmental Inquiry, Disgrace & Bankruptcy”
I’ll have to type all this up later, it’s kind of a tragic story.
It goes without saying, that Dr. Kellogg and The Palmer House were real, the rest of this is nonsense. The nice old photos are from the Library of Congress and the Wellcome Library. The statue is made from machine parts, from Goulds Pumps, a very real company, which has been manufacturing in Seneca Falls since the 1840’s.
In the 19th c. they made iron well pumps, corn grinders, fire engines, and now produce state-of-the-art pumps for industrial use.
When I was a kid, my irresponsible parents told me that this object (rusting away in the weeds, a short distance from the statue), was an early Soyuz capsule, from a Soviet space launch that went astray, and splashed down in the canal. You can see why I am the way I am today.
You may want to clear any small kids from the room before reading on.
My hometown barber, Eddie, is one of the nicest guys you can imagine.
The shop has three chairs, but his father and older brother are gone now, so it’s not as busy as it was years ago.
The front window is filled with tomato plants, which continue to produce fruit all winter, somehow. And there’s a lot of fishing and bowling trophies.
And it’s always neat as a pin, so when I received this shocking photo, or at least, a photo of a shock of hair on the floor, I was shocked.
I’d forgotten! Every year, once the Xmas season is over, one of Eddie’s friends stops by, a semi-pro Santa Claus actor.
He got a flat-top and trim, but will then start growing out his beard and hair all over again, only 342 days to go folks.
Random thoughts for 2020, looking through snapshots from 2019
A Tale of Unrelenting Horror & Bad Muffins for Halloween
“Nevermore,” I said through gritted teeth, as I felt my way up the creaking, long-disused stairs, breathing deep the gathering gloom, feeling moody and blue.
Why does gloom always do that? Gather, I mean. It could learn a thing or two from me, learn to dissipate a bit, at least on weekends.
My nerve almost failed – – I mean, it’s hard to say “nevermore” with your teeth gritted, but then, the stairs hadn’t been swept in years, so I guess it would’ve been gritty no matter what I did with my teeth. My throat was knotted with tension and my teeth were already on edge from the howling storm. All in all, it was a desperately nerve-racking situation, dental-wise.
I paused to shield the guttering candle, almost snuffed out by a sudden icy draft. Nevermore will I stay in a haunted B&B, when it’s only rated 1 1/2 stars, and the only muffins at breakfast were prune and artichoke. Another icy draft filled the dank stairwell, and the storm outside rattled the windowpanes. I thought some more about icy drafts, and how nice it would be to have a cold beer, just to wash away the dust on my tongue. But one of the embroidered signs on the bedroom wall asked Guests Please Refrain from Eating or Drinking in Your Room. And Do Not Sit Upon the Counterpane.
I didn’t know what a counterpane might be, so I didn’t sit on anything, and slept in the bathtub.
Or tried to sleep.
The night was wild with a vicious storm, branches tap-tap-tapping on the window panes, some stupid raven trying to get in, too, but what really rendered the night sleepless was a horrible banshee wail from somewhere in the upper, supposedly vacant floors! Finally driven to distraction, I ignored the “Private. & Kind of Creepy” sign, and forced open the door to the back stairs with a poker I’d snatched from the hearth, the splintering wood and rusty screech drowned out by the storm. Man, beast, or spirit, I determined to climb the stairs and confront this evil, poker in my hand & black murder on my mind. The wi-fi was out, so I had nothing else to do anyway.
I also had a candle, the Gideon’s Bible from the nightstand, and the bell from my bicycle. No holy water, but I brought the little complimentary spray bottle of Lavender & Paprika linen freshener, which really stings if you get it in your eyes.
(That’s a lot of stuff to carry, but luckily, I always travel with vintage 1920’s bathrobes from Abercrombie & Fitch, in MacKay tartan, the long-discontinued model called “The Huntsman’s Friend,” with tons of pockets, a hip flask, and ammo loops. You can unravel the belt for fishing line, in an emergency. I really recommend it.)
The horrible keening continued, and I froze for a moment, but with nerves of iron, I steeled myself to, no I mean, with nerves of steel and a backbone of iron, I was galvanized into action. That’s not quite right, either, is it. OK, like an iron, I pressed on. Whatever, I went up the stairs, metallically in some way, and burst open the attic door.
To be confronted
with a scene
of heart-stopping horror,
beyond the capacity of words to express!
Well, actually, we do have words to express it – – it was the B&B’s butler, playing the bagpipes.
The ghastly shrieks died away, as the fiend drew breath, fixed me with a glittering eye, and intoned sepulchrally, “It’s not keening, laddie, ’tis ‘The Rose of Kelvingrove’.”
I snatched my trusty Webley .455 from my bathrobe pocket, the one with a built-in holster, and emptied it in his direction.
“Ha!” I cried – – the stupid sign in my room said “Please don’t disturb the tranquility of our guests by turning on the shower bath, radio, or TV after 7:15 PM,” but it didn’t say anything about shooting guns!
“Ha!” I said again. (In crisis mode, my thought process was so quick, the casual listener would be forgiven for thinking I’d said “Haha!” instead of two distinct “Ha’s!” but I figured, really, after discharging a large caliber pistol in a confined space, they probably wouldn’t have heard anything at all, so I pantomimed “Ha!” for dramatic effect.)
Six shots rang true. The perforated bagpipe fell to the floor like last year’s haggis after a pub brawl in Glasgow.
The butler never flinched.
Totally impassive, he slowly turned, and bent to seize a large black leather portmanteau.
I felt an instant of dismay, because his kilt was rather short. He dragged the sinister case toward me. I regretted having expended all six bullets on the bagpipes.
Placing it between us, his mad glare never leaving my face, with infinite menace, he slowly undid the clasps and opened it.
An appalling odor of stale mazurka flooded the attic.
His lips stretched into a hideous grin.
“Polka time, then?” he asked, as he removed the accordion.
A tale of B&B horror for Halloween.
Some people say “husks” for the outer layer, but I was struck by how these looked like ships, sailing across the moss.
So it had to be “hulls.”
I’m now on the lookout for leaves that look like barques.
I recently traveled through India for sixteen days, recruiting students for my employer, a university in the Midwest.
It was kind of a blur – – covering over 10,000 miles within the country – – thirteen flights, buses, taxis, 3-wheeled auto-rickshaws, and the occasional sidewalk sprint, to get to college fairs on time.
Very little free time for sightseeing, but I did have the very great pleasure of talking to hundreds of people.
Bangalore > Chandigarh > Ahmedabad > Lucknow > Hubli > Kolkata > Jaipur.
One of the Kinks’ great songs –“This Time Tomorrow”. On the flight to India, I watched Wes Anderson’s “The Darjeeling Limited,” and that was the opening song “This time tomorrow, what will we see? Fields full of houses, endless rows of crowded streets…”
“Will we still be here watching an in-flight movie show?”
In my travel posts, I try to convey something unique I experienced, or showcase a particular element I encountered, that embodies a place for me.
In India, that element is the hospitality of its people.
It’s hard to write a capsule summary that characterizes 1.5 billion people on a complex, continent-sized nation. It’s hard to find words that can describe a place that’s both poor and yet one of the richest places on earth. In a sixteen-day blur, I sped across varied landscapes, from the garden city of Bangalore to a semi-arid city of Mughal palaces to a modern planned city, and many others in between. A nation rapidly modernizing while still entrenched in tradition. I flew over the Himalayan foothills and landed in an airport in Kashmir, where people, surprisingly, looked like me.
The trip was sometimes literally a blur, zooming out of focus as my cabs dodged through traffic, my life flashing before my eyes in some cases, rain streaming down and the windows fogging up.
Neighbors in India are sort of like native New Yorkers. Stacked on top of each other, they’re in everyone’s business and everyone is in theirs, even while an innate sense of decency compels people to thoughtfully ignore each other. Yet everyone shares and helps each other. They are almost an extension of family. The amount of mutual trust in India seems very high to me. Even though there are scams and crime, just like in the U.S., there are also deep social connections, and overall it’s a safe, honest place.
It was like being in NYC and consulting native New Yorkers- my hosts would argue about how best to answer my questions regarding life in India. Hand waving isn’t a big thing there, but hands do move. As do heads. The “Indian Wobble” is a phenomenon that many people have seen, heads moving back and forth, side to side, faster and faster when in agreement. So imagine a mix of Hindi, Gujarati, Assamese, Bengali, you name it, with escalating voices accentuated by constantly moving hands and heads, as the topics would take a heated turn. Add to the dynamic, centuries of caste system, colonialism, rapid urbanization, and you’re in for a lot of mishegoss. Politics was a big source of contention, strong opinions about Modi, Gandhi, and Pakistan. In this sense, they really did remind me of New Yorkers. If cricket was less boring and more like baseball, they’d even be Yankee fans, they love “the cricket” and are even more fanatical about it than they are about politics.
For us, a society of people that values our privacy, this close-knit society, where so much of your life occurs in public, seems crazy. But in India, everything is crazy, everything seems to more-or-less function happily in the craziness — organized chaos & disorganized chaos, if you will, and amongst all that, there is some sort of serenity.
All of that also left me in sort of in a blur.
But I can state, with total clarity, that this was uniformly one of most warm and friendly places I’ve ever been. I was struck by how content people seemed, even the poor. And was amazed by the genuine, deeply-ingrained sense of hospitality. The kindness to complete strangers.
I will count the days until I can return there, and see the place at something less than warp speed!