Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 23 Why You Shouldn’t Order The Lincoln Special

Written By: Tracy - Aug• 21•17
Hearse

This hearse conducted Lincolon’s body from his train to scheduled public viewings.

When you’re a high-profile figure, your life isn’t really your own.  This can even be true of elected officials.  Particularly martyred elected officials.  Such was the case with Abraham Lincoln, who was sent on a farewell tour after his death that would have been worthy of any rock band. 

When Pirates Make Arrrrt.

Written By: Tracy - Aug• 14•17

The artist wears an eye patch thanks to an auto accident. Due to his accident, he no longer works with the glass, but oversees others.

The last weekend of July, awesome hubby took me to Crystal Bridges (my local art museum) for one of their special Chihuly weekends.

Dale Chihuly (who looks a little like a pirate), is an internationally famous American glass artist. If you go into the Bellagio in Las Vegas and look at the ceiling with the glass flowers, you will have seen his work.

He was the first to make large-scale blown glass sculptures. His work reflects influences from many places he’s been, including the American Southwest, the Pacific Northwest, and Venice.

Crystal Bridges brought in two separate exhibits for patrons to take in. Chihuly in the gallery is an exhibit of indoor works. Each carefully arranged, displayed and lit. Many of the displays were cylinders, urn and vase shapes, though there was one which was created to be a department store Christmas display.

The way these vessels were arranged and lit interested me. The fact that people kept looking inside them amused me.

Many of the cylinders were fused with glass rods to mimic the shapes found in Navajo blankets. The vase shapes were allowed to slump before the glass cooled to mimic the slump of old Puebloan baskets.

I admit that I don’t always connect with art. Sometimes my way in is through historical context (go figure).

In this case, I’ve traveled to some of the same places in the southwest that the artist has gone. I enjoyed seeing the ways southwestern cultures influenced his work.

I was also tickled to stand in the corner of the room and watch as other gallery attendees would raise up on their tiptoes to see inside the vases.

The second exhibit was called Chihuly: in the Forest. Nine of his outdoor works were arranged on display around a circular walking path. Some of the sculpture on display mimics fantastical organic growth. One made me think of a giant squid swamping a boat.

I visited the second exhibition two times. Once during the day, and a second time during a special ticketed night event.

Calamari boat (not the actual title of the piece).

The experience was very different depending on what time you visit. Some of the art displays look better at night under dramatic lighting.

 Overall, I ejoyed photographing the exhibit pieces most.  Taking the three dimensional and rendering it two demensional.  Changing the angle to acpture the light in interesting ways, and cropping with the camera lens.  The experience (and the result) is satisfyingly transformative. 

Though the gallery exhibit, and the ticketed night time events are at an end, the outdoor exhibit will remain on display at Crystal Bridges through September.

Crystal Bridges also announced plans to buy one of the exhibits from the display for their permanent collection. Patrons can vote for their favorite on Crystal Bridges’s Facebook page (the Cthulhu boat is one of them).

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 22 He Gave His Life For Tourism

Written By: Tracy - Aug• 07•17
Howard Carter examines King Tut's coffin.

Howard Carter examines King Tut’s sarcophagus.

When he was born, about 1342 BC, Tutankhaten’s life wasn’t his own.  That’s what happens when you’re a public figure. Ask the Queen of England, or any of her relations who show up in the tabloids from time to time.   

But the boy who would become known to us as Tutankhamun would be especially noteworthy because even in death his story isn’t his own.  Rather it’s a blank canvas over which archaeologists and politicians write their own interpretations, only to erase them and start over as the cultural zeitgeist changes. 

 

I Am Not Making This Up: The Real Mummy

Written By: Tracy - Jul• 31•17

Over 3,000 years ago, a 10 year old boy became king. He reigned for nine years, then died and was buried with all appropriate pomp and splendor. Then, just like that scene in The Emperor's New Groove, people said "well, he's not gettin' any deader." And it was business as usual.

Move forward in time to the year 1922, when a former chief inspector of the Egyptian Antiquities Service took a chisel and made a hole in the door of that young man's tomb.

The archaeologist may have held his breath and prayed at this moment. His boss was right there, breathing down his neck. After all, he'd been searching for this tomb for several years. If there was no tomb on the other side of this door, then that would be the end of his funding.

Instead as his eyes adjusted to the light of the candle that he'd thrust into the hole, he saw the glimmer of gold. Piles and heaps of gold. Like Indiana Jones's best daydream.

The archaeologist was looking into the best preserved, most intact pharoah's tomb discovered to date.

That archaeologist was Howard Carter, and the obscure 19 year old king was Tutankhamun.

Carter's discovery ignited a second wave of Egypt-mania (Napoleon's invasion of Egypt and looting of it's treasures kicked off the first wave). Thanks to his discoveries, the treasures found in King Tut's tomb are the image we imagine when we think of ancient Egypt Even the girl-villain from The Mummy (the 1932 and 1999 versions, not the 2017 version) was named after King Tut's sister-wife, Ankhesenamun.

In a twist of historical irony, because everyone forgot Tutankhamen shortly after his death, now he's the most famous Egyptian of all time.

I plan to cover a bit more about King Tut next week on my podcast.  Stay tuned!

I Am Not Making This Up: Everyone Knows It’s Aliens!

Written By: Tracy - Jul• 24•17

img_4379.jpgThe Romans are known for phenomenal building projects, such as the Colleseum, the Pantheon and infrastructure such as a system of roads and aqueducts that are still functional today. 

One of the secrets to Rome’s amazing feats of architecture is a form of concrete that mankind hasn’t been able to duplicate. While Roman seaports still exist – and the masonry only seems to get stronger with age – modern Portland cement crumbles after only a few decades.

Though scientists recently unlocked the secrets to Roman concrete through chemical analysis (volcanic ash and in concrete used in port structures, seawater) the original formula had been lost simply because people took basic knowledge for granted. 

At the time, everyone knew that you used volcanic ash as an aggregate. Everyone knew you used seawater in structures that went into the ocean. 

But over time, what everyone knew changed. So that nobody knew how the Romans made concrete structures that weathered the test of time. And thus, a cottage industry of crediting aliens was born. Thanks History channel.

This makes me wonder what “common knowledge” we don’t write down that future generations will puzzle over. 

 

I am Not Making This Up: Ep. 21 The Fabulous Fox Sisters

Written By: Tracy - Jul• 17•17
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The Fox Sisters. Margaret on the left, Kate at center and Leah on the right.

Imagine if you were 11 years old, and your April fool’s prank got out of hand. So out of hand that it spawned a major religion? 

This actually happened to Kate Fox. She, along with her two sisters, Maggie and Leah ended up helping to found the Spiritualism movement after a practical joke got out of hand. 

 

When Apple Pie Came In Coffins

Written By: Tracy - Jul• 10•17
This is the pie I made for Independence Day. The recipe is below.

This is the pie I made for Independence Day. The recipe is below.

Here in the United States, we’ve just celebrated our Independence Day, during which we eat a lot of apple pie. 

Apple Pie is an iconic American food. The saying goes: as American as baseball, mom and apple pie. 

But, like most iconically “American” foods (I’m looking at you, pizza and French fries), Americans didn’t invent the apple pie (We just Americanized it).  Apple pie in some form or another is even older than America. 

The origins of apple pie are murky. Apples are an ancient species related to roses (you can see this in the way both apples and rose hips form: by swelling from the stems of blossoms). Alexander the Great is credited with bringing apples back from Asia. (Although this may just be a story. Archaeologists have found evidence of apples in Iron Age Switzerland.)

The first pies (non-apple) didn’t resemble pie as we know it today. Instead they grew out of the need for food that was portable and would not spoil.  

Wrapping food in a grain shell sealed it away from germs and prevented spoilage. (though early people didn’t know what germs were. They just knew that it worked. And the shell would double as a plate/bowl. So bonus!)

The crust wasn’t edible (usually burned crispy) and would be tossed out once the filling was eaten. (Most of the time.  There are some accounts of people eating the juice-soaked soft inner shells of meat pies.)

This was especially useful for nomadic people, soldiers or sailors, who needed portable food. 

There is a recipe for chicken pie written on clay tablets in ancient Sumer sometime around 2,000 BC. 

The Ancient Romans may have been the ones to spread apples across Europe. No word on if they baked them in pies (though they certainly made cheesecake with a pastry base). 

The first reference to apple pie is in a recipe dating to 1318 England. The recipe calls for figs, apples, raisins, pears and saffron. (No sugar though. In those days, sugar was apparently more expensive than saffron.)

This type of pie was baked in an inedible shell called a cofyn, or coffin in modern spelling. (Which had nothing to do with funerals. The word coffin was once a genetic word that meant chest or box.) 

Variations on Apple pie as we know it appear in recipe books across Europe by 1514. 

The first settlers who came to North America couldn’t afford to be apple lovers. The native apples they found were crab apple species. And although they brought Apple spurs with them, the North American bees didn’t pollinate the trees as well as European species.  

They did love pie, though (colonists, not bees). Pie allowed the colonists to stretch their ingredients, using less flour than bread would. All of this baked into a shallow round dish to cut corners.

Initial apple production was so tiny, apples had to be saved for important things like making hard cider. (Because non-sugar-containing apple pie was not as appealing or as long-lasting to the typical colonial as alcohol.)

So how did America go from the land of cider-makers to the land of apple pie?

We can start with a man named John Chapman. Chapman is known in America as folk hero Johnny Appleseed. In stories, he walked the frontier barefoot with his camp saucepan on his head and a bag of apple seeds over his shoulder. Wherever he went, he planted seeds so that settlers going west would have apples to eat. 

The reality was that Chapman did plant apple orchards, and years later sold the land for profit. But thanks to the story, apples have become part of the westward expansion narrative of America.  

Prior to the temperance movement, apples were still more popular for use in cider than in pie. Because? Booze. 

But during the temperance movement, American apple growers needed to find a new outlet for their produce (since there was no more booze.  (Legally, anyway.) So they coined the phrase “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” to encourage more people to eat apples.  (And apples – at least the organic ones – are good for you.  An apple contains fiber and pectin, which help keep your GI tract clean.)

Apple growers may also have come up with “as American as baseball, mom and apple pie.” However, the phrase became popular with soldiers oversees in WWII. 

Today, America is second in apple production only to China. Red delicious is the most popular for eating, though it has it’s detractors.  

For a good pie apple, pick a tart apple like a Granny Smith. Sweeter apples like Red Delicious tend to fall apart and become a mushy mess.

And here is a good apple pie recipe (no coffin needed):

Crust (makes 1 9″ double crust or 2 single crusts)

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 sticks chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • Ice water

Mix dry ingredients.  Cut in butter with a pastry cutter until it resembles cornmeal.  Add ice water and work with hands until a dough forms. Roll the dough into two balls (for a single pie with a double crust, make the disk for the bottom crust slightly bigger) flatten into disks and wrap in plastic.  Refrigerate at least 1 hr and up to 48 hours  (You can freeze up to 4 months).

Pie filling:

  • 8 apples (I like Granny Smith)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Lemon Juice
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon apple pie spice
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter (room temperature)

Peel, chop and core apples.  You want the Apple chunks to be smaller.  Remember, you’re making a pie, not an apple dumpling.  

Toss with lemon juice, flour, sugar and spice. 

Roll out the crust on a well-floured surface and fit it into a pie pan (for a 9 inch pie pan, roll out a 12 inch disk).   Pile the apple filling in the pie, arranging the apples to fit. Dot the butter over the apple filling.

If you are going to use the top crust, roll it out and place it over the top.  Pinch the edges of the crust together and then trim the edges with a knife. Cut slots to  vent steam in the top crust. 

If you are using a single crust, trim the edges.  You can build a lattice with the trimmings, or leave the top off. 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Bake the pie for 45 minutes.  Check the pie and cover the rim with foil to prevent over-browning. Return pie to the oven and continue baking until crust is brown and filling is thick and bubbly (up to 10 minutes more). 

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 20 Tell My Friend Willie Brown

Written By: Tracy - Jul• 03•17
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One of the few photos of Johnson that can be authenticated.

Robert Johnson is known as the king of Blues and the granddaddy of Rock and Roll, influencing some of the biggest names in music from Bob Dylan to Eric Clapton.

Johnson’s life is shrouded in myth, and fans have filled in the gaps with even more myth. Legends say that he sold his soul at a crossroads in Mississippi to gain his legendary guitar skills. 

I Am Not Making This Up: New York’s First Subway Ran On Air

Written By: Tracy - Jun• 26•17

Wasn’t this the wallpaper at Subway for years?

Have you ever used the pneumatic tubes at the drive through of a bank?  The vaccuum cleaner- like tubes that pull a capsule from your car over to the teller seem like they’d be a fun roller coaster if you enlarged them to human size. 

Something similar became New York’s first attempt at a subway from 1870-73.  And while the attempt was not exactly like a roller coaster, it was a novelty to New Yorkers. 
 
The pneumatic transit was the brainchild of Alfred Eli Beach, one of the publishers of Scientific American. He conceived of it to relieve traffic problems along Broadway. 
 
The transit as Beech envisioned it was to be a 5 mile underground tube running from Central Park along Broadway. It was to be built with a tunneling shield of his own design, and consisting of a car that moved by being pushed on a cushion of air. 
 
Beech initially worked with Tammany Hall, but as Boss Tweed fell out of favor Beech claimed that Tweed opposed the project.  Pushback actually came from Broadway property owners who worried that someone building a tunnel under their properties would cause them to collapse. 
 
When Beech couldn’t secure the permits for his project, he instead applied for permits for a pneumatic mail system, then simply expanded that project to encompass a people mover. 
 
The resulting “proof of concept” subway was 1 block long, with a car that could seat 22 people.  The single terminal was very ornate, with frescoes and a piano in the waiting room.  Passengers would board the cars, ride the length of the tunnel, then ride back. 
 
New Yorkers treated the transit as a novelty. 11,000 tickets were sold in the first week. All proceeds went to charity.
 
So why are we riding the subway instead of pneumatic tubes today?  
 
Timing. 
 
Beech had trouble getting permits to expand his project. By the time he got the permits, public interest in the project had dropped off. The ride was closed within three years. 

 

Like much of New York’s forgotten past, the transit captures public imagination.  The Pneumatic Transit has been referenced in books, movies, and TV.  No roller coasters, though. 

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 19 How The West Was Spun

Written By: Tracy - Jun• 19•17

 

*Note: Not With Actual Congress

Go anywhere in the world, and ask people what they think of Americans, and the word “cowboy” is likely to pop up.  How is it that a brief 50 year period involving the least populated part of the United States has come to define the country as a whole? 

 

You can thank – or blame depending on your viewpoint, a man named Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West show.