Cellphone photo at the Albany Historical Society
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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?
Today’s statue is not just an object of beauty, though often praised and imitated.
And it commemorates more than a single person, Egon Muskie Butterbrot, to whom it’s dedicated.
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.
His workshops blazed with electric lighting all through the wee hours, exciting a good deal of talk and some apprehension in the community, as he frantically experimented with new pumps.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
I’ve always revered architects, and will often come to a complete halt to admire a building.
Even if that’s frustrating to the people behind me, honking their horns.
But while I love architecture, I’ve never really cared deeply about interior design.
So I didn’t immediately identify this statue as one of the founding fathers of interior decorating, Fritz Pingelig, in his day, draped in glory, and known throughout Europe (as well as the Sultanate of Brunei, and some parts of Abyssinia), as “The Iron Curtain” (or “Langsir Besi” in Malay, or “Yebireti Megareja” in Amharic).
He traveled the length and breadth of a war-torn continent, stitching together a more sophisticated lifestyle, advancing civilization yard by yard. And in the process, developing valance theory.
Pingelig felt strongly about home décor, and nothing in his plans was more important than curtains and drapery.
The statue depicts him with a curtain rod, draped in one of his baroque creations.
“I care not a pin for putting up walls, but envision a Running Fence of Fabric, separating culture from the abyss.”
During the endless strife during the Thirty Years War*, Pingelig somehow stayed neutral, traveling from court to court, castle to castle, on the rough corde du roi roads of the day, helping the hidebound to get over their hangups, introducing curtains and a bit of privacy to Europe.
“I can do nothing about this endless war,” he declared, “but at least I can oppose the drafts.”
He constantly exchanged ideas with other artists and architects of his day, through a network of messengers he called “The Silken Web.”
Whenever inspiration struck, usually in the wee hours, ensconced dans les toilettes, he would dash off a textile message.
The archive in Lisle, France preserves some of these notes, written in a tiny hand on scraps of cloth or foolscap – exhorting, self-promoting, criticizing – and they provide us a window into the past, and into Pingelig’s soul.
Essentially, he was mad as a hatter.
Somehow surviving a badly-frayed social fabric, and decades of warfare, his tragic death stemmed from his blind hatred for Venetian blinds.
“A window hanging is too good for them” he would often say.
He greeted each new acquaintance with the question “You know how to make a Venetian blind?”
followed by “Poke him in the eye!”
Then he would laugh maniacally.
He never got tired of that one.
And he had a sword, so most people shuttered, but laughed along.
Finally, he trotted out this joke to a visitor named Andrea Di Pietro della Gondola.
Who did not cotton to this bit of drollery.
Andrea, better known by his professional name, Palladio, was not only one of the most famous architects of all time, but a proud citizen of the Republic of Venice.
Shortly after this, Palladio invited Pingelig to the unveiling of a grand colonnade of his design, hinting that a nice bit of chintz might be the perfect, neoclassical finishing touch.
But due to a typo in the brochures, the affair turned out to be a cannonade, and Pingelig died in an accidental crossfire.
We draw a curtain over his soon-forgotten life, a loose thread in the tapestry of history, his legacy just blowing in the breeze.
No one really pays any attention to that man behind the curtain.
Peace to thy gentle shade.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
* Ok so technically, the Thirty Years’ War wasn’t endless, but a lot of people said it felt kind of endless, between the wholesale slaughter, burning, looting, and the Baroque music – personally, I can only take so much mechanized pluck, pluck, pluck from a harpsichord and sackbuts get on my nerves after a while. A lot of folks at the time said, you know, the papers always call it “thirty years” but doesn’t it feel more endless than the Hundred Years’ War? Which was kind of on-again-off-again, there were famines and plagues to kind of add variety, at least you got a break once in a while?
They would have laughed at the Seven Years’ War, big deal. And in our gone-to-the-dogs modern times, talking about the 1967 Six-Day War, please, people from the 1600’s would find it pathetic. Although the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896 clocked in at under 45 minutes. Some people describe my digressions as endless, come off it, venga ya, they’re no ways as bad as the Thirty Years’ War.
P.S. I did not make up the name Andrea Di Pietro della Gondola, that’s the Palladian architecture guy’s real name. His father wasn’t a gondolier, either, so I don’t get it.
P.P.S. There’s been a lot of confusion over claims that Pingelig claimed to have designed the Louvre.
He never said that. It was already there, for centuries.
And Cardinal Richelieu told him, they already had enough curtains.
Pingelig designed the louvre, or what we in the U.S. would call the louver.
And when the Venetians came up with a better, adjustable version of slanted slats, that’s when the resentment started.
P.P.P.S. from Carole King’s “Tapestry”
Chap. IV “The Perils of the Pavement” Dog Warden Philip Eckel
Chap. III “A Tale of a Forgotten Colony” Harold, of the House of Hamburg
Chap. II “Giving History an Icy Reception” Teddy Roosevelt
Chap. I “Stumping for President” George Washington
The next statue in our history tour, is of the indomitable Captain P. Eckel.
Now largely forgotten — but in the final decades of the 19th century, he was known to every resident of this city, and to kennel clubs around the nation.
A quintessential Victorian reformer, and, I am obliged to point out, a figure attracting considerable controversy.
Had he remained satisfied with his campaign to create a dog park in every neighborhood, he would, to a certainty, be better represented in the annals of American history.
His inaugural Canine Green (1876) was opened with considerable fanfare, and proved an instant success. As reported in the Post:
“Dog fanciers, sportsmen, and courting couples have flocked to the park. The upper crust rubs elbows with the humbler sort, those who must toil to earn their daily crust, and the Social Register’s pureblood hounds mix in perfect cordiality and democracy with their less-distinguished mongrel cousins…”
Based on its popularity, Eckel was appointed the city’s first Dog Warden — considered a rising political star, being groomed to run for mayor.
Eckel believed there were no bad dogs, only dogs hadn’t been properly instructed on the proper locations to relieve themselves. His philosophy was embraced by adherents of the Aesthetic Movement, the Domestic Animal Welfare Reform societies, and all those grounded in the essential Victorian faith in Doing Your Business.
But his single-minded resolve to place his Patented Canine Sanitary Stanchions, on every street corner, without the blessing of the city council, cost him his job, and extinguished his dog park crusade.
Careful study of the Sanitary Stanchions (seen surrounding his statue in the picture above) reveals to the observant, one of the issues with his invention.
Because they so closely resembled hydrants, the fire brigades were constantly attempting to hook hoses to them.
When, as the result of this confusion, the city morgue burned to the ground, with tremendous loss of bodies, if not lives, the city fathers had had enough, and his political opponents unleashed their resentment.
Eckel, who only wanted to provide hygienic relief, was relieved of his position. Hounded from office, and every one of his stanchions was dismantled and destroyed.
But P. Eckel was not someone to roll over for a pack of ward heelers, or sit idle, or take this lying down.
In his self-designed uniform, he continued to stride along the thoroughfares, up the town and down, six days a week, shouting through his speaking trumpet at miscreant curs befouling the footpath, and sometimes their dogs, too, but sadly, without the authority to collar wrong-doers.
Reading through his voluminous papers, laid down in the archives of the Eastminster Kennel Club, he comes across as well-meaning, but somewhat monomaniacal.
It’s sad to see this forgotten figure, in a park that no longer allows dog-walking.
Carved in stone, his features weathered by a century of rain, he stands forgotten, passed like water through our collective memory.
Old postcards, of a no-longer-extant statue, lead me to an interesting bit of early American history.
In college, I became interested in the study of colonial emigration to North America. It’s a field that’s rich, complex, and often surprising.
Why would people suddenly leave the Old Country, with all the Shakespeare plays, great wines, fun accents, Eiffel towers, etc. and go live in a wilderness?
Religious wars, family squabbles, a gradual weariness with eating bread soaked in olive oil, are the usual back stories. Escape from feudalism and blood feuds, incessant bagpipe and accordion playing, and other loud wheezing kinds of sounds, from aristocrats and their drafty castles. But this statue tells one of the other, less-well-known motivations, and thereby hangs a tale.
One of the most powerful royal families in Europe, the Hapsburgs were a case study in inbreeding. They suffered from an exaggerated chin (“Hapsburg jaw”), gout, depression, dropsy, and an overfondness for Bourbons.
Their cousins, the House of Hamburg, had all these hereditary problems, and more.
Including, in a few cases, and not to put too fine a point on it, tails.
The Hamburgs are usually only remembered now, because their difficulty in chewing caused them to create ground-meat patties, which became popular for a time as “hamburgers”.
Examine the portrait above – – around this nobleman’s neck hangs a tiny dead sheep.
Now look at the pedestal in the picture below, with its goat heads.
What are the artists trying to tell us?
The pedestal was inscribed “Postremo superbia semper,” and “Last to leave the fight,” although a more literal translation would be, “Bringing up the rear with pride”
A sword hilt is visible, but in fact, the Hamburgs never carried on their persons, so much as cuticle scissors, due to a neurotic aversion to the sight of blood.
The hilt is just a prop.
Poking out from under the cape, disguised as a scabbard, but fooling no one, we see the hereditary Hamburg tail.
The family fled the Old World — which had turned it’s back on them – – subjected to persecution, and often painfully pinched, when people were too quick to slam shut those enormous bronze doors they have on castles and churches.
Aristocrats who were destined to never sit upon a throne, because they just couldn’t sit comfortably on anything other than ottomans.
Off they went to America, back to fundamentals, to establish a new family seat, a place to rear their young.
But their New World colony “Hinterland” (near present-day Piscataway) was short-lived and tragic, and with the exception of a huge number of porcelain cats, no artifacts of any note have been unearthed at the site. Why did they settle on that particular spot? No one knows. The Hamburgs, famously articulated in some ways, never clearly articulated their plans.
They left, but didn’t leave a note, and probably became extinct or something.
So there’s really no reason to talk about them anymore.
[Second in my Monumental Series “Learning All About History by Looking at Statues”]
As you will recall, however regretfully, we began the series with the Father of Our Country, George Washington.
George was made for statues.
Statuesque since he was a lad.
Strikingly tall, striking a pose in almost countless statues, struck onto coins and then stuck into vending machines, stuck on letters as a stamp, stuck onto dollar bills, and also sometimes stuck on stumps, possibly of cherry trees.
Moving on, here we have a New Yorker, reproduced in numerous statues, and stuffed animals.
Governor, Soldier, President.
In the pictures above and below, “Theodore Roosevelt, Modeled in Butter”.
This was an exhibit at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904, commonly called the St. Louis World’s Fair.
As I pondered this monument, done in a style called baroque arteriosclerotic, a thought suddenly occurred to me.
And, man, that’s annoying.
How many times, have I told my brain, “Don’t do that!”
A historian’s thinking process should be like a bank robbery – – “Don’t nobody make no sudden moves!”
I hate it when random ideas pop up, like a deranged Whac-A-Mole game, and you just cannot pound them back in their hole with the hammer. So I was dismayed to realize that Teddy’s 1904 butter sculpture for the St. Louis World’s Fair, had somehow brought up a new and timely topic – the removal of statues.
Well, my brain can go off wherever it wants — so long, good riddance, write if you get work — and I’ll go my own way.
But here’s a concept that could help with that debate over taking down monuments.
My plan, the Statue Statute, combines the oleaginous evasiveness of a politician, with the icy reasoning of a historian.
Chill out, dude. It’s simple. In future, we’ll make all our statues out of butter or ice.
Stick ‘em in a refrigerated case — and here’s a key concept – – fans of the statue have to pay the electric bill to keep things cool.
You can donate online, or by feeding change into a meter.
Way more hygienic than having the actual person there, like Disney’s longest-running show,
“What a Sleeping Beauty! Lenin on Ice!” in Red Square.
If we have a burning desire to see Jubilation T. Cornpone memorialized in the park, we have to pay to keep him
— in sparkling ice, granita, or well-marbled butterfat.
The Popsicle Pantheon, The Immortal Icebox of Heroes, La Crème Glacée de la Crème.
Ice, pure and transparent, is obviously the wrong medium for politicians, so we can “laud him, all ye people, in lard.”
If we don’t keep the power on, if we waffle, our hero turns into a pool of melted butter.
When memories and passions cool,
and their snow jobs come to light,
and there’s no frozen slush fund to pay the electric bill,
the Sub-Zero Politicians will just melt away
… dissolve like such stuff as bad dreams are made on.
And most likely, the world will just carry on
…spinning in greased grooves.
And in the end, even when all the lights go off,
and the stuff in our refrigerators has gone very bad, become sentient, and taken over the planet,
the people we actually want to remember, will remain
…frozen in our memories, in the times and forms we most love to recall.
We’ll get back to Teddy, another time, don’t worry, I won’t forget.
“Memory believes before knowing remembers.” William Faulkner
Visiting an art museum in a new city, I saw this little statuette, and liked it.
I also had an immediate and very strong feeling…like I ought to know her from somewhere.
I’d never been to Pittsburgh before, so it was surprising to run into someone familiar.
There are countless statues like this, drawing on Greek and Roman religion and images, around the older cities of the U.S.. Our museums, public buildings, squares and galleries are pretty much an endless toga party in stone and bronze. But somehow this one caused an instant sense of familiarity.
I don’t usually hang out with people dressed this formally. So where had I met up with her?
A protest march against palm oil production?
A militant vegetarian crosswalk guard?
An advertisement for Ivanka’s new “Agent Orange” line of radioactive spray tan?
It was closing time at the museum, and we were hurriedly hiking out of the back forty, having wandered way out there, out of our comfort zone, way past the post-Impressionists, lost in the surrealist and abstract boonies. Footsore, and in my case, eyesore.
There are never any restrooms in the wings with the more avant-garde art, have you ever noticed? And when there are, I always worry that the fixtures are just some sort of ironic statement, and not meant to be used. I don’t want to get arrested for relieving myself on the priceless “Empty Black Suicidal Despair & Soulessness of Modern Life,” thinking it was a toilet.
Anyways…it was closing time, and we were being flushed out by the security guards, and didn’t have time to read the little sign. So a quick photo with my phone, and two days later, saw the the picture, it instantly popped into my head, where I’d run into this lady, years ago – – walking in the park.
She’d looked bigger then, a bit more weather-worn, but it was definitely her.
We’d met at the southeast entrance to New York’s Central Park, near the Plaza Hotel.
On that busy corner, called the “Grand Army Plaza,” which holds memories for many people of chestnut vendors and horse-drawn carriage rides through the park, she has a companion. Two, actually, if you count the horse. She’s walking in front of William Tecumseh Sherman, the Union general from the Civil War.
She symbolizes “Victory” or “Peace” depending on what tour guide you read.
The turn-of-the-century monument was created by Saint-Gaudens, and was his last major work — a middle-aged William Tecumseh Sherman on horseback, almost sixteen feet high. It’s an excellent statue, like everything the artist did. He’d met with Sherman, and liked him. But by the time the monument was dedicated, on Memorial Day 1903, Sherman had been dead ten years, and Saint-Gaudens had only a few years left himself.
Sherman is famous for pointing out the obvious “War is hell.” Well, the climate in New York ain’t such a picnic, either. Winters can be rough, even if you’re tough and brassy. At the time I took the photo, years ago, both figures looked like hell. Or I should say, like they’d been through the wars — peeling, patchy, leprous, badly in need of re-gilding. The ugly blotched look seems like a distraction from this post, which is about memory, but just as statues are a form of memorial, I suppose loss of memory is a type of corrosion.
My first impression when I saw this scabby-looking statue of a woman, was that she was Moira, Goddess from the Department of Health, warning of the oncoming Pestilence on Horseback.
The artist incorporated pine branches under the horse’s feet, to symbolize Sherman’s March through Georgia. Richard Brautigan wrote (with irony, I think) that the Civil War was “the last good time this country every had…” but perhaps the gold-leaf keeps flaking off, as a sign that the war was not all that shiny and happy an experience for some folks.
Periodically, the bronze statues are restored to golden radiance, waxed and buffed, in celebration of civil warfare and burning stuff.
In its distressed state, where the gold leaf had come off, the bronze underneath had oxidized to a very dark color, closer to black, than verdigris.
Turns out, under the Greco-Roman robes and gold paint, Victory was a black woman. The primary model for the statue was a southerner, named Harriette Eugenia Anderson. She was born in Columbia, South Carolina, although she lived most of her life in Harlem.
Anderson also posed for the figure of “Liberty” on the beautiful $20 double eagle, created by Saint-Gaudens at Teddy Roosevelt’s request, and minted the year the artist died, 1907. I saw on a coin collector website, that it is often reckoned to be the most beautiful coin this country has ever created, but almost all of them were melted down, when we left the gold standard.
Another artist relied on her for the 1916 “Walking Liberty” half dollar, and again for the “Victory” in Baltimore’s “Soldiers and Sailor Monument”.
Anderson was almost forgotten for many years. Hard to understand now, but apparently her identity as the model for these beautiful golden works of art was kept hushed up for many years, because she was a person of color.
When I saw the statuette in the museum, and got that strange sense of something akin to “déjà vu,” it got me thinking about what exactly happens, when we rack our memory.
We say, “if memory serves…” but sometimes, it just doesn’t.
Like a bad waiter, you can snap your fingers, slap your forehead, wave your hands in the air, but it continues to ignore you.
And yet, somehow, even when Memory has knocked off early and gone around the corner to have a drink, there remains a nagging sense of recognition and familiarity.
People used to use the term “familiar” for witches’ little supernatural helpers, often disguised as cats. And there is a sense, when that nagging feeling comes over you, of something hovering near you, but unable to be grasped.
Like a ghost of a memory, invisible but nagging at you.
Studies of the brain find a real difference between our sense of “familiarity,” and our “memory”. They actually are completely different parts of the brain. So what I was feeling when I saw the statuette in Pittsburgh, was technically not déjà vu, because we’re talking about a delay in recovering a little-used memory, rather than a separate brain function altogether.
Oliver Sacks, the famous neurologist and psychiatrist, described a man who had lost the memory of his wife, but who somehow still retained a strong sense of familiarity in her presence. (Sacks himself suffered from “prosopagnosia” or “face blindness,” the inability to recognize the faces of familiar people, even those he saw frequently.)
Sacks wrote: “Every act of perception, is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.”
Proust’s version: “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”
Random Factoid: In reading about this sensation of déjà vu , one site indicates that the people who experience it the most frequently, are age 15-25.
I’m fascinated by the scientific exploration of memory, but don’t know enough about it, to discuss it intelligently. All I want to suggest in this post, is that the next time you feel a sense of familiarity, or déjà vu, take a moment. Pause, look around, breath in the air and its scents, identify the sounds you’re hearing, do a 360, treat yourself to a break from business & busyness for just a few seconds, to see if a memory floats to the surface.
Or “percolates” might be a better term. Like spring water that’s picked up minerals as it passes through the soil and rock layers, our thoughts flow through that mysterious, porous gray matter, and sometimes little particles of memory enter the stream.
For me, the little glinting crystals of memory in the flow, are generally images.
Déjà vu literally means, “already seen,” and based on my limited understanding, it is generally a visual phenomenon.
Music, on the other hand, is preserved in our central brain, right down at the core, and long after all our phone numbers are disconnected and our passwords have passed away. An old tune may bring back memories of a specific time and place, like the theme song from your high school prom, or that high whistling call a red-tail hawk gives, that evokes walking across the farm fields of Seneca County.
My father always talks about a particular train whistle, he’s never known which type of locomotive, that has a cast-iron association with childhood visits to a grandmother in Pennsylvania. Not so much the usual whistle blast, more of a deep hooting horn, echoing along the Lehigh Valley late at night, when he was in an attic bedroom. The vibration from the long trains, or from a thunderstorm, was always joined by a faint chiming sounds, a very musical reverberation from old metal coat hangers, hanging on a hook on the back of the bedroom door. That train horn summons up a dormant memory, but not a mysterious one, since he knows the time and place.
Our sense of smell is supposedly the most powerful prompter of memory, like Proust and his famous madeleines. Personally, I love sponge cake, but the baking smell mostly brings on a mind-clearing “YUM!” and instant salivation, more than a seven-volume remembrance. But every time I open a jar of thyme in the kitchen, the scent instantly carries me back to my grandmother’s house, where it grew in the cracks of her brick walkways.
Other sights may create a more diffused, vague sensation, not tied to a specific incident — the times when we never do recall or recollect a memory, leaving us with that puzzled or even spooky familiarity.
One article suggested it may be your brain discerning a visual pattern it’s seen before, even if you haven’t consciously identified the pattern, and aren’t conscious of the similarity. Another article discussed our brains experiencing something like a computer’s processing delay, so that by the time the thought is complete, it registers as a memory, rather than happening in the present moment.
Well, that’s all I can remember that I wanted to say.
I’d be interested and appreciative, if anyone has a déjà vu experience to share. If you happen to remember one, I mean.
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