Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Funny Fantasy and Silly Scifi

History Ya’ll: That Time Washington wore Falsies

Written By: Tracy - Jan• 21•15

gilbert-stuart-george-2Whenever I see portraits of George Washington (and I see them a lot. I live near an American Art musuem.) I’m struck by how his jawline reminds me of my grandmother’s. Like Washington, my grandmother wore false teeth.

Despite the name, Washington’s false teeth weren’t actually false. Nor were they wooden (contrary to popular myth). Most of his dentures actually had real human teeth in them. During his lifetime, he steadily lost his teeth. Often he saved them and had them wired to his real teeth. By the time Washington became president, he had several sets of dentures made using hippopotamus ivory or metal for the foundation, and “donated” human teeth.

George-Washington-teeth-hippo-ivoryAccording to Mount Vernon, Washington disliked the teeth, because they were uncomfortable and made his lower jaw stick out. The ivory ones tended to stain and needed lots of cleaning.

“Donated” teeth weren’t always donated. After wartime battles, looting of soldier’s bodies wasn’t only confined to their valuables. A looter could pull a soldier’s teeth and then sell them to a dentist. Some career soldiers even carried tools for extracting teeth from fallen enemies in case they had just such an opportunity. After the battle of Waterloo, so many solder’s teeth flooded the market that even up through Victorian times dentures were known as “Waterloo Teeth.”

But Washington’s teeth weren’t “Waterloo teeth.” By the battle of Waterloo, he’d already had his dentures made. The-antique-dentures.

You’re Welcome

Written By: Tracy - Jan• 12•15

I’ve noticed that the more I’m plugged I to the headlines, the more depressed I feel. The local news station, my Facebook, content aggregators like Flipboard. Reading it all makes one inclined to believe the world is a messed up place.

Yet statistically, we live in the most peaceful time ever.

So In order to prevent that negativity here and now, I present to you baby platypuses wearing fedoras.

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Now go pay it forward. Spam the world with awesomeness and cuteness. Kittens and dragons and Darth Vader. Or maybe a kitten riding a dragon battling Darth Vader.

You’re welcome.

So This is a Thing

Written By: Tracy - Jan• 06•15

imageThis came in the mail this weekend.

My story is the second title in the anthology, right behind the editor’s. He must have liked it.

If you want your own Kindle copy, you can get one on Amazon. The title has been out since Halloween.

History Ya’ll: Ain’t No Party Like a Donner Party

Written By: Tracy - Dec• 31•14

imageWhen I was in high school, my sister participated in history day (which was like a science fair, only with history). Her project was based on the Donner Party.

The movie Alive, about the soccer team that crashed in the Andies and had to resort to Cannibalism had just come out, so cannibalism was on everyone’s minds. (Much like recently, with the discovery in Jamestown of Jane, the cannibalized skull from the starving time).

But this isn’t a post about cannibalism, even though I think the way we sensationalize taboo subjects is an interesting, yet morbid part of human nature. Instead it’s about how archaeology can give us new insights into historical events. Especially ones we think we already know everything about.

Take the Donner Party. In 2003, a group of Archaeologists went back to Donner Pass to explore the site. One of the things they thought to do (that hadn’t been tried before) was to ask local Native American tribes if their oral histories held any accounts of the Donner Party.

As it turned out, there were Washoe tribesmen living in the mountains at the time. These natives tried to help the starving settlers out of pity. Unfortunately the settlers shot at the natives who were trying to help them. Later the Washoe say they saw the settlers eating their own dead, and stayed away out of fear.

This same 2003 archaeological study collected artifacts from the Donner site, including hundreds of bone fragments from around one of the campsites. Microscopic studies failed to find human bone among those fragments. But an earlier survey that used archaeological cadaver sniffing dogs (and before today I didn’t even know that was a thing) indicated the presence of human remains around one of the old hearths, so it may just be that any cannibalized human remains have decomposed.

On a less gruesome aspect of the story, IO9 reports that the storm that stranded the Donner Party may have been a cyclical Pineapple Express storm. I like to end on that (slightly less morbid) note. It’s always nice to have a little context to tie an event into the wider tapestry of history.

Yes Virginia, Santa Was a Real Dude

Written By: Tracy - Dec• 23•14

st-nicholasEveryone knows who Santa is, right? Fat dude in a red suit that lives at the North Pole and goes Ho, Ho, Ho! Right? Er . . . maybe not.

The Santa that everyone thinks they know is based on a real person. And that person might just have gone on his own naughty list.

I’m talking about Nicholas of Myra, a third and fourth century bishop who lived in present-day Turkey. In recent years scientists examined the skull of this saint and discovered that in life he had a broken nose. Perhaps he was a brawler? One (probably not true) story is that he punched a heretic in the face at the council of Nicaea in 325.

So who was the real Santa? And did he belong on the naughty or nice list?

To answer that question, we have to go back to 170, when Nicholas was born in a port city of Patara. At the time, that part of Turkey was culturally Greek and politically Roman. Nicholas’s wealthy parents died while he was still young, and the boy was raised by his uncle (also named Nicholas). Since Old Nicholas was the bishop of Patara, it seems logical that when young Nicholas went into the church that he was engaging in family business. Eventually Nicholas became Bishop of Myra.

According to legend, Nicholas performed so many miracles throughout his life that people called him “Nicholas the wondermaker” and even “Saint Nicholas.” That was to his face, Ya’ll. Notable actions include raising the dead, helping sailors, solving murders and giving to the poor in secret.

I kind of want to read a book about St. Nicholas, gumshoe P.I. now. He could find the bodies and then bring them back to life.

So the stories go, on one occasion a man had three daughters but was too poor to afford a dowry. He worried that his girls would go into prostitution to support themselves if he didn’t find them proper husbands. Hearing of his plight, Nicholas hid bags of coins in the girls stockings that they had set out to dry overnight.

Many of these legends are probably just made up, but the one about the daughters is probably true.

After his death, Nicholas was a very popular saint in the early church and the later middle ages. Unlike many of the saints, Nicholas seemed approachable. This was a man who punched heretics, but also gave to the poor. He could be any of us, just . . . you know, with a job that involved wearing a funny hat. So many people loved Nicholas that there are churches dedicated to him all over Europe. Eventually, immigrants from the Netherlands brought their tradition of honoring “sinterklauus” to North America along with Christmas trees and other holiday trappings.

As for the actual St. Nicholas, when the Turks took over his homeland, sailors from Bari stole his remains. Trafficking in relics was a common practice in those days. A good relic would bring in tourists pilgrims to a city. Venetian sailors stole the bones of St. Mark for their own city in just this way.

So what did the real Santa look like? In the 1950’s scientists made a cast of the saint’s remains. A few years ago, a facial reconstruction was made based on that cast. Based off of that, this is probably what he looked like:
St-Nicholas-forensic-reconstitution

Keeping up Promises: My Charlie Brown Ghost, and Shelf Without an Elf

Written By: Tracy - Dec• 16•14

A while back, I promised to post pictures of my Charlie Brown Halloween Ghost. So here it is.

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The legs are my daughter’s. She was a pink dragon. I wish I’d taken photos of the process, but here is what I did:

1 I bought a twin sheet from Wal Mart. And I don’t think I’m the only one with the sheet=ghost idea. Because that was the last plain white sheet in the store. People coming into the store after me to get their ‘Ye Olde Tymey Ghost Costume’ we’re having to settle for Ironic Hipster Care Bear Sheets instead (and hey, there’s a band name for you).

2. I bought very thin black knit stretchy fabric. The kind they use for those no-face Halloween masks.

3. I bought black felt and fabric glue. Because I can’t cut or sew in a straight line.

image4. Using a big drinking glass as a guide, I cut circles from all my black fabrics, and eye holes from the sheet. Then I glued the knit fabric over the holes in the sheet. (I tried on the sheet first to figure out where the eye holes should be).

5. I lay the sheet out flat and glued the felt disks on for eyes.

6. Lastly, I sewed the top of the ghost to a ball cap. This helped keep the sheet from shifting and the eyes in place.

And to show that I didn’t forget it’s Christmas time, I also thought I would post what our family decided to do instead of Elf on the Shelf.

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It’s an advent calender made of stockings. I can fill each stocking with candy, gifts or slips of paper with fun Christmas activities. I’ll be thinking up things to do all this next year.

Take that, creepy Christmas-themed doll.

History Y’all: That Time the Mummy Sank The Titanic

Written By: Tracy - Dec• 09•14

This one is a twofer, because I stumbled over two crazy stories about mummies.

Firstly: did you know that you don’t have to make arrangements in your will to become a mummy? You can diy yourself right into mummification right now.

imageAt least, you could if you wanted to practice an extreme diet for 10 years. The end result isn’t guaranteed. And even if it succeeds, you wouldn’t have the amazing powers of Imhotep from The Mummy.

Buddhist monks in northern Japan from the 11th century to the 19th century undertook the process, known as Sokushinbutsu as a means of achieving greater enlightenment.

Monks who wanted to become Mummies started with 1,000 days of living only on nuts and seeds while exercising to eliminate all body fat.

Next came another 1,000 days of eating only bark and roots.

In the final stage of mummification, practitioners would drink poisonous tree sap. This would cause vomiting that removed fluids from the body, while making the tissues poisonous to maggots.

When the self-made mummy was ready, he would seal himself into a stone tomb barely larger than his own body while sitting in a lotus position. A breathing tube would bring in air. Each day he would ring a bell to let his fellow Monks know that he was still alive.

When the bell stopped ringing, the monks would remove the breathing tube, then wait another 1,000 days to see if the mummification worked.

If the priests found a mummy in the tomb, they venerated the remains. If not, they still honored the monk for his efforts.

Before Japan outlawed the practice, officials believe that hundreds of monks attempted to mummify themselves. Only somewhere between 16 and 24 were successful.

imageOn to something more cheerful: a story about a princess. The kind of princess story that would curdle Micky Mouse’s blood.

Once Upon a time, there was a princess of Amun-Re. (The story specifically calls her a princess, not a priestess.)

When the princess died, her priests mummified her, placed the body in an elaborate coffin and put it to rest in Luxor, where it stayed until the 1890’s.

When it was discovered, an Englishman purchased it for his manor house, as one does when one is stupid rich and English and in the grip of Egypt mania.

So the story goes, the Englishman never made it home, but the princess mummy did. While it resided in the manor, three members of the house were injured in an auto accident, and the house caught on fire.

To get rid of the mummy, the members of the house donated it to the British Museum.

The Princess Mummy must not have liked her new home any more than the last one, because night watchmen swore that they could hear banging and crying from the mummy’s case.

imageThe museum eventually tried to get rid of the Princess, but no one would take her. Finally an American Archaeologist took the mummy and had it shipped aboard the Titanic, where the legend says she caused the ship to strike an iceberg.

Is the legend true? There is no record of a mummy on the Titanic’s very detailed shipping manifests. As for the Princess of Amun-Ra, the British Museum does display the coffin lid belonging to a priestess (not a princess) of Amun. But all they have is a lid.

The story was probably made up by a journalist named William Stead and a friend named Douglas Murray. At the time, tall tales about Mummy curses were as popular as Mummy unwrapping parties. It’s likely that Stead and Murray made up the story after seeing the Priestess’s coffin lid on display in the museum.

The story became linked to the Titanic when Stead joined the maiden voyage. During the trip, the Journalist repeated his favorite tall tale to some of the other passengers. Although Stead didn’t survive the crossing, his story made it’s way into the papers when some survivors recalled it.

These days, you can see artifacts from the Titanic at Titanic museums all across the country. But the Princess of Amun-Ra isn’t among them. If you want to see the coffin lid of the Priestess of Amun, that is still on display in the British Museum.

History Ya’ll: The Custody Battle on the Mayflower

Written By: Tracy - Dec• 01•14

ferris-the-first-thanksgiving-1600x1025

The kid next to the dog might have been dumped on some pilgrims so she couldn’t inherit a fortune.

Now that Thanksgiving is over, it’s a little odd to revisit the pilgrims. But I ran across this story that seemed like something out of a Gothic novel.

We all have this idea of the first Thanksgiving. It was the Pilgrims and Indians Native Americans and turkey. But that’s about the extent that most people think of things.

But the founding of Plymouth Colony is a little more complex than that. More than half of the first settlers on the Mayflower weren’t part of the religious group fleeing persecution in England. This group (which were known as “The Strangers”) included orphans picked up off the street to serve as indentured servants in the new world. And four children who might have been dumped on them by their legal guardian–who didn’t want them around anymore, but didn’t want their mother to have them.

It all starts in 1610, with Jasper Moore. Jasper was the owner of a 1,000 acre estate. He was also the father of several sons and a daughter. In a twist worthy of Charles Dickens, Jasper’s sons died leaving just Katherine — who couldn’t inherit the estate because it was entailed.

An entail is something the British used to do to keep land in the family. Basically only the men could inherit. This was a thing up until the early-mid 20th century. Just watch Downton Abbey to see the kinds of problems it could cause for a family. It was also something that fiction writers liked to play with. Because: Drama.

Jasper’s solution (rather like Mrs. Bennett’s solution in Pride and Prejudice) was to marry Katherine off to Samuel Moore, the son of the next living male relative (the Mr. Collins of this story). Problem: Katherine was already in love with someone else (possibly). A childhood friend named Jacob Blakeway.

Over the next four years, Katherine had four children: Elinor, Jasper, Mary and Richard. Along the way, Samuel noticed that his kids looked an awful lot like that tenant that Katherine was so friendly with.

To say that he didn’t take it well would be an understatement. Samuel dragged the dirty laundry into court. He refused to claim the four children and cut them out of his will. Then he took the kids away from Katherine (which he could legally do, despite claiming that the kids weren’t his, because he was still their guardian.)

Katherine and Jacob tried to make an end run around Samuel by applying for an annulment. They claimed that they had been betrothed before Katherine was forced to marry Samuel. But since they couldn’t find any living witnesses to verify this, the local priests wouldn’t give them the annulment.

Now Samuel had a problem: Katherine wanted her kids back. He didn’t want them, but he didn’t want her to have them. And, despite the entail, the kids might be able to sue for some kind of inheritance. Samuel’s father Richard (the one who inherited Katherine’s family property, not Katherine’s child) put the kids up with one of his tenants, but Katherine showed up on their door demanding that they give the kids back.

At the same time, Samuel’s boss was a member of the Virginia Company, sending settlers to the New World. He suggested that Samuel send the kids to a place far out of Katherine’s reach. The idea appealed to Samuel, and before you knew it, the kids were taken in by four families headed for America. Then he got rid of Jacob by suing him for trespassing (On land that Jacob’s family had been renting for generations. Because Samuel technically owned it now.) Faced with the possibility of hanging, Jacob ran off, abandoning Katherine and the whole idea of getting the kids back.

Sadly, after The Mayflower had already departed for America, Katherine sued Samuel to find out where her kids were and to get them back. At which point, Samuel said “I sent them away with these nice Christian families so that they could grow up without all this scandal over their heads.”

Suuuurrrrreeee you did, Sam. Out of the goodness of your heart, even.

Things don’t end well for the four Moore children. Like many of the pilgrims that first year, Three out of four of them didn’t survive the first harsh winter. Only the youngest survived. After Katherine’s court case, she disappears from history. There is no record of whether she ever saw her surviving son again.

File this under reasons that I’m glad i’m not a 17th century woman.

Oh Look: Christmas Li-HULK SMASH!

Written By: Tracy - Nov• 25•14

imageSo about three weeks ago, hubby and I went to a bonfire.  On the way home we drove past a house with georgeous Christmas lights.

Me:Really?  We haven’t even gone Trick-or-treat yet!

Hubby: I think you may have some unreasonable rage about this.

Me: TRACY SMASH!

Hubby: You see? That right there is what I’m talking about.

In my house, I live by one rule: no Christmas decor before Thanksgiving.  That, and never wearing your pajamas for more than 24 straight hours, but that’s two rules.  And wow, this is turning into a Monty Python sketch.

imageI just find it very odd that the same people who get up in arms when you wish them happy holidays have let Christmas creep up and swallow Thanksgiving (y’know, the holiday when they are supposed to be mindful of their blessings and thankful to whatever higher power they ascribe to).

People should have a war on Christmas.  Only it should be a war on Christmas in July.

I understand how it happens.  Christmas is fun.  It’s got the guy in the big red suit, and the Little Baby Jesus and presents and trees and stockings.  What does Thanksgiving have?  A bunch of guys wearing bibs and hats with buckles, and a silly looking bird.

But it does have The Sexy Pilgrim.  Won’t someone think of him?

 

 

Santa’s Creepy Little Spy

Written By: Tracy - Nov• 17•14
It's watching you.

It’s watching you.

This sounds like the premise of a horror movie: It watches you when you sleep, and reports back to it’s superiors.  It has a creepy little manequin head, and people aren’t supposed to touch it.  It never moves when you are watching it, but every morning, it’s in a different position.

I’m not talking about some kind of monster that’s just waiting to attack you in your sleep, I’m talking about Elf on the Shelf.

Now that Little Miss is 2, Christmas is Serious Business.  So Hubby and I are looking to start our own family traditions.   A few years ago, a friend introduced me to Elf on the Shelf.  Basically I came over to their house and saw this creepy plastic cousin-of-Chucky peeking out of their Christmas tree.

“We have to move the elf,” my friend reminded her husband.  He rolled his eyes, then promptly pulled the thing out of their tree and put it on their mantle.

“What is that thing?” I asked.  What I meant was: “How do you sleep at night with that in your house?”

“My kids love it,” she said.  “They tell it what they want Santa to bring them for Christmas.”

Sure, they say they love it.  If they didn’t, Santa might not come.

But now that I’m a parent, I can’t help but wonder what’s the deal with that thing. After an extensive investigation (Ok, I asked wikipedia), I discovered that the elf comes with a book that explains things to kids.  Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, a “scout elf” from Santa shows up to watch your kid and report back to Santa on your good behavior.

Parents who get into the game will move the elf every night.  Some parents get really elaborate, making up little signs that the elf has been playing around in the house while their kids sleep.  Others, like my friends just move it around a lot.

I’m a little torn by the idea of the elf.  On one hand, it sounds like a cute Christmas tradition.  On the other. . . . creepy.

But there seem to be some alternatives to Elf on the Shelf.  The company that makes that thing also makes a cuter, plushy version.  As well as a reindeer version.  And a birthday elf.  You know, so that your kids can be traumatized more than just once yearly.

So will I participate in the Elf on the Shelf tradition?  I’m on the fence about it.  Do they make an Elf on the Fence?