Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 29 What Was On The Table That First Thanksgiving?

Written By: admin - Nov• 20•17

When we gather around the table this Thanksgiving, we’ll probably have turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing and mashed potatoes.  

Turkey wrapped in bacon. Because? ‘Murica, I guess.


Turkey is such an iconic part of Thanksgiving that there is even a giant turkey float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade.  
 

 
But the first Thanksgiving may not have even had turkey. 

I Am Not Making This Up: The Multiple “First” Thanksgivings

Written By: Tracy - Nov• 13•17

We all know the story of the first American Thanksgiving, when in 1598, the Spanish under Juan de Oñate reached the Rio Grande and held a party because: Yay! We survived crossing a desert with no water!

No?

Or maybe on December 4, 1619, when settlers arrived along the James River in Virginia and hit their knees to thank God they were finally off that boat.

That’s not what you learned in school, either?

The fact is, the calendar is littered with “First Thanksgivings.” In the early days of settlement, there were a lot of private companies forming colonial settlements in North America.

So why is our cultural memory one of Puritan pilgrims and a turkey? Probably because that particular Thanksgiving narrative fit the needs of the people who created it.

Throughout the world, there has been a longstanding practice of setting aside a day to give thanks. “It’s been a good harvest. Let’s take tomorrow off to give thanks.”

This is the tradition the Puritans were following when they held their day of thanksgiving.

Even during the American Revolution, the Continental Congress set aside a day of thanksgiving. And in 1777, George Washington observed a day of thanksgiving to celebrate his victory at the battle of Saratoga. These days were probably more about prayer than pudding.

In 1863, prompted by a campaign from Sarah Josepha Hale (who also wrote Mary Had A Little Lamb), Abraham Lincolon made Thanksgiving a national holiday.

So how did Puritans and turkeys come to dominate the Thanksgiving narrative?

My research was inconclusive, but my theory is that we can thank the same people who gave us the “Washington could not tell a lie about chopping down his father’s cherry tree,” story.

These are simple, moralistic stories that are easy to teach to kids. The story of the Pilgrim Thanksgiving has people coming to America for a better life, seeking freedom to worship as they please. They are taught to survive by welcoming, friendly locals and they all come together as family to celebrate.

Compare this to the story of the Jamestown Settlement, which has people seeking gold, starvation and cannibalism. Even sanitized, it has fewer “American” morals.

And while the Pilgrim Thanksgiving narrative is more fairy tale than facts, that hardly matters when your kid is six. This is the same age when we still tell kids that Santa and the Easter Bunny are real.

We can probably wait until they are too old for Santa to teach them that the Europeans were douchy land-grabbers. They’re ready to believe it by then, anyway.

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 28 John Smith Is The Wrong John

Written By: Tracy - Nov• 06•17

This Thanksgiving, remember that long before the founding of the United States, some of the first colonists didn’t have much to be thankful for. Including food. They called that season the starving time.

I Am Not Making This Up: Monster, Hollywood Star.

Written By: Tracy - Oct• 30•17

When most people move into a new home, they expect to contend with vermin. Maybe a rat or two, or some roaches. They don’t expect to have a maybe-bear come at them through a window.

But that’s what happened to Elizabeth Ford in 1971. And her story would go on to chill and thrill millions when it was made into a movie – The Legend Of Boggy Creek.

Fouke, Arkansas is in the same general area as Texarkana. (Which I wrote about last Monday in connection with a series of murders that may have inspired the hookman urban legend). It’s a quiet, mostly rural area where you might expect to see wildlife. (Even today, a few people will get into car accidents by hitting a deer.)

So when Bobby and Elizabeth Ford heard a large animal around their new home at night, they assumed it was a bear.

They weren’t thinking of The Jonesville Monster, a large, ape-like creature that locals had occasionally seen in the woods around Southwest Arkansas over the past century.

Unlike Grizzly bears, the Black Bears that are native to Arkansas are not an aggressive species. If you leave them alone, (the saying goes) they will leave you alone.

But this creature didn’t leave the Fords alone. On The night of May 1, 1971, while Elizabeth slept on her couch, some kind of large animal reached at her through her screen window.

Elizabeth’s husband Bobby and her brother Don scared the creature away by shooting at it. They claimed that throughout the night, the creature kept coming back. When they called police, a constable responded by bringing them a strong light and a shotgun.

At one point in the night, Bobby said that something with a hairy arm tried to grab him. He would be treated for scratches at a local clinic.

The inhabitants of the house described the creature as being seven foot tall, three foot wide, hairy with red eyes the size of half-dollars.

They said that they shot at the animal seven times throughout the night, and believed that they hit it. But no blood was found on the property. A daylight search revealed three-toed tracks and scratches made with something that had three claws.

In an interview with the Texarkana Gazette, Bobby Ford said that he planned to move out of his new home immediately.

In the days following the attack, authorities speculated that the creature might be a large cat, such as a mountain lion. As sightings continued to plague the area, some wondered if the “Fouke Monster,” might be an escaped circus ape. A Little Rock radio station even offered a $1,000 bounty on the monster.

Then in 1973, filmmaker and Texarkana resident Charles B. Pierce made The Legend Of Boggy Creek, a movie about the monster and his attack on the Ford family. Pierce would go on to make The Town That Dreaded Sundown about the Texarkana murders three years later.

Sightings and other signs of the creature have appeared sporadically around Arkansas (even as far north as Russellville) ever since.

Is The Jonesville/Fouke/Boggy Creek monster real? Experts say no. One month after the attacks on the Ford family, an archaeologists at Southern Arkansas University said that there was a 99 percent chance that the footprints were a hoax.

The uptick in sightings of the beast also coincided with an uptick on Bigfoot sightings across the country. In the early 1970’s, Bigfoot and similar cryptids were a trend in the same way that chupacabras were in the mid-1990’s, and scary clowns have become in the mid 2010’s.

It’s possible that someone could have played a trick on the Ford family, or an encounter with a wild animal got blown out of proportion. The story could have fed local pranksters, leading to strange footprints found in later sightings.

Author and skeptic Brian Dunning has noted that all evidence related to the Fouke Monster is anecdotal (therefore not testable).” The implication being that the monster is probably, like the movie it’s based on, more fiction than fact.

But, as the box office returns for The Legend Of Boggy Creek can attest to, it makes for a really good story.

I Am Not Making This Up: The Hookman Didn’t Really Have A Hook

Written By: Tracy - Oct• 23•17

Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this one, because it’s based on a true story.  

The Hookman was even a monster-of-the-week on season one of Supernatural.

A young couple went parking on Lover’s Lane.  The radio is on to set the mood.  In between songs, there is a bulletin: lock your doors.  A mental patient escaped from the local asylum.  He’s known for killing his family with his prosthetic hook. 

The girl gets scared and demands her boyfriend take her home.  But the boy is reluctant.  After all, he’s parked in Lover’s Lane, so he’s not thinking with the right head. And people in horror stories don’t know they are in horror stories.  

In some versions, the girl insists.  With the mood broken, the boy takes the girl home in a huff.  When he goes to open the door for her, they find a bloody hook hanging from her door handle. 

In other versions, the boy gets angry that the girl wants to go home instead of putting out (because all horror stories are really morality plays).  So he taunts her, then gets out of the car and runs off to teach her a lesson.  She sits in the car, terrified.  Then she starts to hear a scratching on the roof.  She musters up her courage and gets out, only to find that her boyfriend has been killed and strung up over the car.  The scratching she heard was his fingers brushing the car’s roof. 

The hookman story is an old standard at slumber parties and around campfires.  It was even an episode of Supernatural back during season 1, when the show was less about biblical drama and more about two guys hunting folklore monsters. 

But like some old favorites, the hookman story might be rooted in actual events: a series of murders called the Texarkana Moonlight Murders.  As the name implies, the murders took place in Texarkana in 1946.

In an article on the murders for Texas Monthly, journalist Prudence Mackintosh remembers Texarkana at this time as a Norman Rockwellesque town. The city straddles a state line, with two of everything.  Two post offices and courtrooms in one building that the state line bisects. Two high schools with an intense football rivalry. 

That same folksy quality was what Walt Disney remembered about Kansas City of the same era, and would try to reproduce in his Main Street USA at Disneyland.

Now imagine a horror movie dropped into Main Street USA.

February 22, 1946 would have been a chilly night.  So when Jimmy Hollis and Mary Jeanne Larey parked on a lover’s lane near the outskirts of town (on the Texas side), their activities would have fogged up the windows of their car.  So neither of them were too alarmed when a man came up and shined a light in their window. 

“You’ve got me mixed up with someone else,” Hollis told the man with the light.  But the guy demanded they get out of the car.  Both Hollis and Larey started to get scared when they realized that the man with the light had a bag over his head to hide his identity.  The masked man demanded Hollis’s pants. Then hit Hollis over the head and chased Larey.  Larey was eventually able to escape, and summoned the police. 

Other young couples wouldn’t be as fortunate.  Four weeks later, on March 23, someone would kill Richard Griffin and Polly Ann Moore.  Then again on April 14, Paul Martin and Betty Jo Booker were killed.  Then the press gave the killer a scary nickname: the Phantom. 

The final attack occurred May 3.  A farmer named Virgil Starks was shot through a window at close range.  His wife Kate was shot in the face while trying to phone the police.  She ran to a neighbor’s house and was taken to a hospital.  

There would be no more murders, but the city-wide hysteria was just beginning.  Before, one could avoid the killer by coming home before dark.  Now he was attacking people in their homes.

The city put a curfew in place. Residents began locking doors and pulling their shades at night. Gun and ammunition sales skyrocketed. 

And though both Arkansas State Police and Texas Rangers joined the investigation, they had their hands full dealing with rumors, false alarms and stupidity that was caused by panic.  People booby trapped their homes, a few even accidentally shot their neighbors. Some young adults armed themselves and parked in lover’s lanes in the hopes of getting the drop on the killer. 

Cops had to turn on their sirens and announce themselves, so they didn’t get shot.  Liquor stores refused to sell alcohol to anyone who didn’t seem to have a sound mind, so as not to double the police’s workload. 

Though police never officially caught the Phantom killer, their prime suspect was a local counterfeiter and car thief named Youell Swinney.  Their belief was so strong, they never looked into another suspect.  And while circumstantial evidence linked him to the crimes, it was not enough to make an arrest.  Police were able to gain a conviction against Swinney for car theft. 

A sensationalized account of an already sensational story.

Was Swinney guilty?  No one can say for certain.  His wife believed him to be the killer.  But in 1946 she couldn’t be made to testify against him.  The discription Hollis and Larey gave was contradictory.  Hollis believed their attacker was a dark skinned caucasian, while Larey said he was a light-skinned African American. 

In his book, The Cases That Haunt Us, FBI profiler John Douglas states that a serial killer will usually continue to murder unless he mentally deteriorates, or an outside force (such as being incarcerated) stops him. I think it’s telling that after Swinney was arrested, there were no new murders.  The Phantom seems to have vanished.

Is the Phantom the basis for the hookman story?  The timeline fits.  Accounts of the hookman story began spreading in the 1950’s.  The first printed account was in Dear Abby in 1960.

The Phantom’s story has been immortalized in more than just the hookman campfire tale.  In 1976, Texarkana native Charles B. Pierce (of The Legend Of Boggy Creek fame) made a movie based on the murders called The Town that Dreaded Sundown.  

In Texarkana today, The Town that Dreaded Sundown is by tradition the last film shown during the city’s annual “movies in the park” series that screens each year from May through October.

The Phantom killer may have left one more unfortunate legacy.  His method of killing (murdering couples in lovers lanes while concealing his face with a bag) might have been copied by the more famous and also never identified Zodiac killer nearly twenty years later. 

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 27 Dude! Where’s My Poe

Written By: Tracy - Oct• 16•17

 
Author Edgar Allan Poe is known for some of the best horror fiction around.  He’s also a bit of a sad sack for whom things never seemed to go right.  In the days leading up to his death, he vanished.  He was found in clothes that didn’t belong to him, unconscious.  Though he did wake, no one could make sense of his ravings before he died.

Join author Melanie Miller Fletcher and I as we discuss our favorite theories about what might have happened to Poe.

I Am Not Making This Up: When is a Ghost Not a Ghost? When It’s a Boat.

Written By: Tracy - Oct• 09•17

It seems odd that there are still places where large numbers of people can vanish without a trace. But as recently as early this year, ghost ships have washed up on the shore of Japan.

And while there is an easy explanation for these ghost ships – fishing vessels from North Korea – what happened to some ghost ships remains shrouded in mystery.

Such is the case with the Mary Celeste, possibly the world’s most famous ghost ship.

On December 5, 1872, a Canadian two-masted sailing ship named the Dei Gratia sighted a ship off the shores of the Azores islands. But something seemed wrong.

The ship moved toward them in an erratic line, with it’s sails in dissarray. As the strange ship drew closer, the crew of the Dei Gratia couldn’t see anyone aboard. Attempts to hail the strange ship went unanswered.

So Captain David Moorehouse sent his first and second mates, Oliver Deveau and John Wright in a ship’s boat to investigate. The two men reported back that the ship was the Mary Celeste.

This may have caused some concern for Captain David Moorehouse. As a Captain who sailed the same general shipping route as the Mary Celeste, he would have been a colleague of the Mary Celeste’s Captain Benjamin Briggs — Sort of the nautical equivalent of a water cooler friend. Moorehouse might have known that Briggs sailed with his wife and two year old daughter aboard the ship.

The two man expedition to the Mary Celeste reported that the ship was completely abandoned. Yet they could find nothing wrong with the ship. The cargo of crude alcohol remained intact. There was a single lifeboat missing, and the ship’s log was last updated nine days previously. It was as if the ship’s crew had simply abandoned in a great hurry.

To this day, what happened to the Mary Celeste’s crew remains a mystery. Theories range from the outlandish — UFOs and Sea Monsters, to practical — the captain may have feared that the cargo of alcohol would explode, and abandoned ship. Suspicion even fell onto the crew of the Dei Gratia, who stood to benefit from salvage of the Mary Celeste.

Even Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the world’s most famous detective novels, weighed in with a sensationalized fictional account that blamed a murderous crew member.

As recently as 2007, a documentary claimed that Briggs ordered an abandon ship due to fear of sinking after a combination of rough seas, a broken pump and a broken chronometer.

Whatever the real story might be, we may never know. But the mystery is what keeps the story alive in our minds.

It could be that some of us would prefer the mystery to remain a mystery.

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 26 The Birth of the Byronpire

Written By: Tracy - Oct• 02•17

Author Melanie Miller Fletcher is my special guest for this episode.  Join us as we discuss the birth of Science Fiction and the modern vampire (A.K.A. the Byronpire).

In 1814, Mount Tambora erupted, sending volcanic ash into the atmosphere and causing an unseasonably cold summer in 1815.  During this summer, called “The Year Without Summer,” poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, writer Mary Godwin (soon to be Shelley), and Mary’s sister Claire Clairmont stayed at Lake Geneva with Lord Byron and his doctor, John Polidori.

To amuse themselves over the long, dreary summer, they told each other ghost stories.  Out of those storytelling sessions we got the first Science Fiction story: Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, as well as the first modern vampire story: The Vampyre (who was totes modeled after Lord Byron).

I Am Not Making This Up : Reality TV Before There Was TV

Written By: Tracy - Sep• 25•17

When we think of reality shows, we think of people who look like rockstars decorating cakes with power tools. But reality-based entertainment is older than you’d think.

The monarchy in the courts of Louis XIV up through Louis the XVI (up until the French Revolution) lived life in a fishbowl, allowing random nobility to watch them do everything from eating to giving birth.

Prior to Louis the XIV, the royal monarchy of France was locked in a power struggle with the nobility. Away from Paris, nobles ran their own lands as they saw fit: avoiding taxes and service to the crown while ignoring pesky laws when it suited them.

Louis XIV changed that by creating a cult of personality around the monarchy. The Monarch ruled by divine right. The power he displayed came to him by divine appointment. And this power should be put on display for anyone to see.

First he moved the royal family to a country home (a hunting lodge named Versailles, which he then renovated into the lavish estate we know today).

Moving the royalty to the country helped Louis control the nobility. If courtiers wanted the King’s favor, they had to spend most of their time at Versailles. And they had to adhere to strict etiquette that determined everything, right down to which stool they could sit on. This kept them from building their own power bases to challenge his rule.

Louis then developed a rigid schedule of ceremony for the royal family and nobles to follow. You could set your watch by the Sun King’s schedule. And tourists and nobles could watch the royal family and officials get up, dress, eat, take walks and go to bed.

During the time of Louis the XVI, nobles could even watch the queen give birth. (The birthing room was so crowded when Marie Antoinette gave birth to her first child, that the queen fainted, prompting Louis XVI to throw open a window and ban courtiers from being present at subsequent births).

Because of the performance nature of life at Versailles, the court became an attraction for tourists from other countries. France gained a reputation for style and taste that it still holds today.

But like many reality shows, the performance of life in Versailles declined in quality after the first season. While the Sun King stuck to a rigid schedule and never varied his performances, his grandson Louis XV (Louis The Good) and great-grandson Louis XVI (The one who got his head cut off) chafed under their lack of privacy and retreated from public life as often as possible. Courtiers often complained that they never saw their king.

To make things worse, neither of the later kings was a very good ruler. Louis XV set the country on a dangerous path to financial instability, and Louis XVI wasn’t able to turn the show around. He was too busy playing with his locks.  That’s not a euphemism.  He had a lock collection the way some modern basement dwellers have a bug/stamp/comic collection.

Ultimately, the French Revolution gave the reality show life at Versailles a literal axe by cutting off Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette’s heads. If you want to watch anything resembling it these days, you have to watch the non-reality-based TV show, also named Versailles.

FenCon Is Coming!

Written By: Tracy - Sep• 19•17

One of my favorite conventions of the year, FenCon is coming. My schedule, however, is here.

Friday:

3:00 Invasion Of The Podcast People

4:00 Return Of Son Of Super – Hero

10:00 Yard Dog Press Roadshow

Saturday

10:00 FenCon Squares (yee Haw!)

1:00 autographs

1:30 Reading

Sunday

11:00 – female Fighters and armor

See you there!