Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

I Am Not Making This Up: Like Ghost Rider, Only With Camels

Written By: Tracy - Sep• 11•17

In 1883, two ranchers near Eagle Creek Arizona left their wives and children in their ranch house and rode out to check their cattle.

One of the women went to draw water from a nearby spring, leaving the other to tend to the children.

The woman in the house heard a scream. When she looked out the window, she saw some kind of monster, riding a fearsome red beast. Frightened, she locked the door and pulled the kids close. Her friend never returned.

When the ranchers returned that night, they found the other woman’s trampled body, surrounded by cloven hoof prints.

***

We invent tall tales, Folklore and legends to explain the unexplainable. And as more sightings of the ghoulish rider and red monster occurred around Arizona, the creature earned a name: the Red Ghost of Arizona.

Over the next few months, the ghost would appear again and again. It would trample a tent filled with miners near Clifton, and be spotted by ranchers and miners all around Arizona.

Then a rancher named Cyrus Hamblin offered an explanation. Hamblin was working on his ranch near the salt river when he spotted the Red Ghost. But Hamblin recognized the beast. It was a camel.

To Hamblin’s horror, he could see a skeleton tied to the camel’s back.

A few months later, when some miners shot at the Red Ghost, something fell from it’s back as it ran away. The miner’s were terrified to find that what had fallen off was a mummified human skull.

***

To trace the birth of Arizona’s Red Ghost, you have to go back to 1848. Settlers were expanding westward into the American Southwest despite the hostile landscape and even more hostile natives.

‘Why not bring in camels to help settle the land?’ Thought some. Camels are more resilient than horses. They can go longer without water. Their hooves are adapted to cover the sand like a pillow rather than sinking in like a horse’s.

Some prominent men lobbied congress to bring camels over for the army, including Army Quartermaster Major Henry Wayne and secretary of war Jefferson Davis. (Yes, future Confederate president Jefferson Davis. That guy.)

And so in 1857, the army received 72 camels. And they quickly learned that camels would bite, spit, kick, scare horses and wander off at night. Soldiers assigned to the camels hated them.

This is where the legend of the Red Ghost’s skeletal rider came from. Stories say that a young camel rider was afraid to get onto his mount. So his friends tied him on with rawhide rope. Then they slapped the camel on the bottom to make it run – only to find that they couldn’t catch up with it after.

Even though the camel program floundered, the army kept it going. Since the government had payed so much to bring camels to the US, the army couldn’t really get rid of the camels when buyers remorse set in. Some remained in at Camp Verde, Texas while others went to California.

Then the civil war broke out. Suddenly, with the Union’s shifting priorities, the camels were a liability.

Most camels were sold to butchers, miners, circuses and some even worked on the transcontinental railroad.

But when Confederate forces seized Camp Verde, they released some of the animals into the wild. Thanks to that, feral camel sightings were reported from Arkansas to Arizona right up into the 20th century.

But unlike the Wild Mustangs, or Pablo Escobar’s hippos, camels didn’t thrive in the southwest. There just weren’t enough camels concentrated in one spot to create a sustainable and growing herd. So eventually the feral camels died out.

But what of Arizona’s Red Ghost?

In the mid 1880’s a rancher in Arizona spotted a camel in it’s garden. The rancher shot the camel with a Winchester rifle. When he examined the creature’s body, he found scars across the torso from where something had been tied to it’s back with a rawhide rope and left there until the rope rotted away.

If the Red Ghost ever existed, it was gone now.

I Am Not Making This Up: Ep. 24 The Real Rapunzel

Written By: Tracy - Sep• 04•17

There is a story of a girl who is locked away in a tower and forbidden to see her one true love.  But this is no story about a signing princess with a talking animal friend.  And the king in this story is the bad guy.  

I Am Not Making This Up: Killing Sherlock Holmes

Written By: Tracy - Aug• 28•17

Imagine if JK Rowling hated Harry Potter. Hated him so much that she killed– ok, bad example.

But there is one author out there who killed off the protagonist of his best-known work because he actively hated the character. That author is Arthur Conan Doyle.

Doyle’s extended family came from wealth, though thanks to his own father’s alcoholism, his immediate family was impoverished. Thanks to his uncles, he was able to attend boarding school and eventually college.

He took a break from studying to be a doctor in order to work as a ship’s surgeon, first on a whaler in the Arctic, then on a steamer to West-Africa.

His adventures brought him as close to death as Sherlock Holmes would have come during one of his adventures. During the Arctic job Doyle fell into icy water and nearly froze to death. His trip to West Africa involved close calls with malaria, sharks, crocodiles and a shipboard fire.

Later, as he struggled to make ends meet establishing his practice, Doyle turned to writing. First accounts of his trips, then novels. During this time he wrote A Study in Scarlett.

In writing A Study In Scarlett, Doyle was dipping his pen into a new kind of genre: the detective story.

Just a short time earlier, Edgar Allan Poe penned a story called The Murders In The Rue Morgue. The protagonist was a detective with unique talents far beyond those of ordinary men.

In writing A Study in Scarlett, Doyle’s Holmes acknowledges Poe’s stories. Yet Doyle also based Holmes on a real person, a doctor who he had served as an assistant to: Dr. Joseph Bell.

Like Holmes, Dr. Bell could make deductions based on a person’s mannerisms, speech patterns and other tiny clues. To a generation raised on CSI, this kind of thing seems elementary. But to the Victorians reading the Holmes stories, the notion was sensational.

Sensing that he had something in the Sherlock Holmes stories, Doyle switched to shorter works that he could write quickly and sell easily to the magazine market. Because in those days, one could actually make money writing short stories. (Did unicorns exist back then too?)

Then an awful thing happened. (Hand wringing, clutching the pearls, swooning on the fainting couch.) The stories became popular. Holmes captured the public imagination and held it.

Doyle, who wanted to be known for writing serious historical accounts, instead felt pressured to crank out Holmes story after Holmes story. Plus he had to devote mental energy to plotting each mystery so that it would satisfy the reader with it’s complexity.

And while Sherlock Holmes was popular, Doyle didn’t receive the respect he wanted. His name wasn’t emblazoned alongside the names of literary giants. He was a writer of popular fiction, and disregarded as such.

So he killed off his greatest creation. Pushed him over a waterfall. And good riddance.

Except it didn’t end there. Fan backlash like that wouldn’t be seen again until Bella chose Edward over Jacob. . . Or so I heard.

Men wore armbands in mourning. A woman attacked Doyle with a handbag. But eventually money won out. Doyle brought Holmes back in 1902. By 1927 when Doyle published his last Holmes story, he’d written 4 novels and 56 short stories about Holmes and his ever-present sidekick Watson.

Doyle’s adventures continued outside the scope of his detective stories. He served as an army doctor in the 1899 Boer War and wrote a best-selling history of the conflict. He was knighted, not for his Holmes stories, but for his service in the war.

Twice he ran (unsuccessfully) for parliament. He pushed for reform for divorce law, led the move for an English Channel tunnel, and (ironically) got involved in the spiritualism movement (which I touched on in my podcast about the Fox sisters).

Arthur Conan Doyle died in 1930, but Sherlock Holmes has taken on a life of his own. Since his inception, the famous detective has appeared in additional stories, movies, tv, plays and even a ballet. As of this writing there is a BBC series and one on CBS, both set in contemporary times. There was also recently a medical drama in which a doctor is loosely based on Holmes, as well as two movies.

In writing Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle created an enduring character who appeals to every generation. Too bad his creator hated him.

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
img_4153.jpg

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).