Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Outhouses and Other Important Places in History

Tonight I boarded a plane bound for Seattle from San Jose. It was a nonchalant flight until I realised I REALLY had to go peepee (pardon my use of the infantile word for 'urinate'). Coffee apparently seeks revenge on those daring enough to drink it before a flight. Anyway, it was all I could do to get off the plane with a quickness. "Can I please get by you? I feel sick" I implored, lying, to all the people standing in the aisle in front of me. They all looked annoyed but gave me the right of way. I trudged up the jetway slowly for obvious reasons, and was relieved to find a restroom right out of the gate.

Suffice it to say, I think that the conveniences of modern restrooms are one of the miracles of modern life. Of course, ancient civilizations like the Aztecs, and some more recent societies like those in Paris have recognized the need to channel human waste. I mean, if s*** has been happening since the dawn of time, there has always been a need to contain it... right?

Here are two photos of pooping locations that just happen to be in ghost towns. I guess that means they are the sites of many ghost poops. One of them is in St. Elmo, Colorado, and the other (on the open plains) is in the town of Keota, Colorado. How many butts have graced each location is anyone's guess, but the answer is clear: convenience is the answer when you've gotta go.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Train Ride Home and Wreath Making

These photos have sentimental qualities that remind me of traveling home for the holidays, with the sailors on the train and the woman making a wreath from a pattern available on the copy of Ladies Home Journal which is visible in the lower right corner of the picture. Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

School's Out For... Forever

This spooky old school foundation was found in the ghost town of Keota, Colorado. It's not a big place and has only a few remaining buildings, including the foundation of a school, which is shown here. This place has an interesting history as the center of the cattle industry and certain kinds of agriculture. I also learned that the author James Michener based his book Centennial in the area. Now I'll have to go read it.

Words can't describe the scary feeling that crept over me as I approached this building. Unlike peering into the window of an abandoned building, there was something particularly affecting about the vacuousness of this building placed on such an empty piece of land. It was just too empty.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wide-Open Colorado

A lot of people don't realize that most of eastern Washington State consists of flat desert; in other words, much of the state resembles the high plains of Colorado or Wyoming -- treeless and desolate. Additionally, the weather is similar, reaching negative numbers in the winter and often over 100 in the summer. Washington is an interesting place! It seems that a lot of people think of Seattle and rain, but the state is quite varied.

This is a photo from Colorado. However, it could have been from a lot of places.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hypothetical Question...

If you were driving around in the remote bleak landscape in Northern Colorado in the middle of winter, and you encountered an abandoned house, would you go over to it? Well, 104 year-old bloggers don't have much to lose, and that's just what I did! However, I got an acute case of the heebie jeebies when I realized that most of the garbage littering the main room was from hundreds of video tapes that had been unravelled... seemingly in a deliberate way. They were also all over the branches of a tree outside, fluttering in the wind in a very creepy way. I have no idea why they were there in this old house, but I made haste getting out of there!

The Sunlit Road

Lydia E. (Estes) Pinkham was born in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1819. She had a background as a political activist who wrote pamphlets condemning slavery and supporting women’s rights, which came in handy later in her life. Her ability to write successful sales pitches would project her to later fame and wealth as the most successful female business women of her time. She had been of a Quaker background and her father was a profitable shoe maker, so she received a good education for her time. She married a shoe maker who became a real estate mogul, and started a family. Her husband eventually suffered a financial ruin in 1875 and was left unable to care for his famly.

At this time, Lydia, who had always been plagued by “female ailments” that today would be treatable with Midol, began selling a herbal concoction that she had invented herself. It was meant as an all-in-one women’s remedy containing black cohosh, life root, unicorn root, pleurisy root, fenugreek seed and a large quantity of alcohol. Lydia was smart to take a measure of protection by filing a patent on her remedy, and successfully kept the business as a family-run operation. It was a hugely successful company, too – by the time she died in 1883 her mainstay Vegetable Compound was selling $300,000 a year, and by 1925 her profits reached $3.8 million. Quite an accomplishment for a woman of her time!

Part of what made her company so successful was the publication of her “Pinkham Pamphlets” which touted the benefits of her concoctions, along with recipes and answers to medical questions that her compound was supposed to help.

One interesting fact about her vegetable compound is that it contained about 20% alcohol, which (in spite of her involvement with the temperance movement) she claimed was used as a solvent and preservative. Not surprisingly, the product experienced a surge of popularity during the 1920s when alcohol was prohibited in the United States!

The pictures shown above are the front and back cover of a Pinkham Pamphlet that I bought not too long ago. I had no idea what it was initially. The inside of the book features a lot of recipes that are suitable for picnics, as well as testimonials about the effectiveness of the Pinkham Vegetable Compound against virtually every ailment. It’s amusing to read.

I think Lydia would be proud of the legacy she left, and prouder still that a variation of her original product still exists on the market!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008

New Towns Are Built From Pieces Of Old Towns

This photo is of old Seattle, and I mean, REALLY old Seattle. The picture shows the founding of the University of Washington, which is now a huge school of tens of thousands. The fact that this image shows what looks almost exactly like a mining boom town highlights just how differently we relate to the idea of what is "urban" now. Urban now means large towering buildings and dense populations. Urban then... well, it may not have even existed as a term, but it was sowing it's own seeds -- perhaps without knowing.

Tomorrow I will travel to Cheyenne, Wyoming for a week. I have never been there and I never considered the possibility that I would ever go there in December. I have joked to some people that I'm going there to work on my tan -- however it's much more likely that I'll end up with wind burn, if anything. Temperatures are in the teens and snow has been coming in flurries. In telling people that I'm going to Wyoming, I have received MANY quizzical looks, as if to question why anyone would go there. Well, why not? Whyoming? (Sorry! It was too obvious a pun!)

Cheyenne will have a lot of historical interest value, I'm sure. The attractions may be offbeat, but that's the way I like it. I know there there is a historic train depot museum, and Cheyenne is the state capitol (the largest "city" in Wyoming at around 50 thousand people), so I'm sure there will be some vague governmental intrigue. Wyoming also a lot of horizons -- or so I've heard. I will also be celebrating my 104th birthday on Sunday. Perhaps a good buffalo steak on the frontier is in order.

If time and weather permit, there is a chance I will be able to visit St. Elmo, Colorado, which is 200-odd miles from Cheyenne. I spent a considerable amount of time living an imaginary life there while I transcribed family letters from my great-great-great uncle, who was a telegrapher in St. Elmo for two years during the town's peak. Ever since I read his the stories of this place at the time it was alive, I have wanted to be able to say that I've been there. I have heard that road to St. Elmo is plowed all winter, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that I can see this place for once and for all!

I have been reading a book called Wyoming Ghost Stories by Debra Munn, and I am now feeling pretty exuberant about meeting Random JoeBob Ghost! Some of the stories in the book (all purportedly true) gave me real chills, so perhaps this is just the landscape to be in if you have an active imagination!

Wyoming is the least populated state in the U.S., in spite of being the 10th largest state. Hee-haw, everyone, I'm going to the Cowboy State!

The reason I posted the photo of Seattle is that I am drawn to the layers of time that put their marks on every place that people live. Many houses have many histories; there may have been three or four generations born and raised in a house, only to have it sold to a new family raising young children. I think that the feelings and realities of the past are really not that far; you can sense them in any place that has history -- which is all places, if you think about it.