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- New Jersey
- Since my first trip to Gettysburg as a young boy, I've been captivated by History. I get it from my mom. Although she passed away when I was just 13, she still had an influence on me. All our family vacations were stitched around some historical site. So, history geeks are in my blood. I'm a graphic designer by profession and a semi-amateur painter. I love to explore history through my paintbrush. I've also done living history to get a first hand feel for "what it was like". Looking at history through the eyes of the common man (or woman) and understanding the personal, human drama is really the spice that flavors the historical stew!
Posters, Prints and Stuff
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Yesterday we had a memorial service for my uncle Ray. He loved history and lived it too. We were close and I was honored to give the eulogy. Although I didn't do it word for word, below are my notes. Everyone should be blessed to have an uncle like him.
George Raymond Hayes (1922-2012) was devoted to his wife, family, country and church. He was my uncle and one of the best friends I've ever had. Although he was related by marriage only, when you're a kid an uncle is an uncle. In the end, he became as much a part of my family as his own. One by one he took care of three of my aunts in their last days; Aunt Julia, Aunt Nancy and his own Polish bride, Olga. You could never say that he shrunk from a difficult responsibility and was always there when he was needed.
When I was little, my mom would take me and my twin sister down to the wilds of Brick to visit Uncle Ray and Aunt Olga all the time. Since Uncle Ray was at work, I'd spend most of the day surrounded by girls. Aunt Ol', mom, Pam and me. To this day, I still can't stand shopping. If we were staying for dinner though, I knew my time would come. Guy time. I'd hear the truck in the driveway and the front door would swing open to reveal the tall Irishman, filling the door frame and smelling of gas and motor oil.
Once he'd washed up, it was into the kitchen to make a drink (when I got older, it was 2 drinks) and down to the basement we'd go. The original man cave. No, not one with a big screen TV, leather lounge chairs and a sparkling mahogany bar. Instead, there was a scarred, paint stained plywood work bench lit by bare bulbs and a few industrial florescent tubes. We sat on ancient stools with cushions patched in duct tape. Tools of all types were scattered everywhere and a model airplane under construction would be laid out on the work bench. The ceiling was just bare floor joists peppered with nails from which model airplanes were suspended on strings. It was as if the Battle of Britain was being waged right there above your head!
The conversation always started with his latest project, then ranged far and wide, but always ended with a couple of sea stories. You were almost sorry you missed the war. He made it sound like a good time. Eventually I heard some of the grittier stories and understood that it wasn't always a laugh. Before I knew it, Aunt Olga had called us up for dinner for the third time. We knew better than to push it to a fourth! The basement tradition continued almost up to the very end of his life.
Later, there were joint modeling projects and then, gulp, road trips. Before our famous trip to Canada, both of our wives cautioned me to keep an eye on him. He was in his 70's but still thought he was in his 20's. I assured them I would. I even lectured him about it. “Hey, if something bad happens, we'll never be able to do this again.” I said. Our very first night, we just happened to stay in a hotel that had a bar attached to it. No sooner had we checked in when we found ourselves sitting at it. The first test. I stuck to beer so I could keep my wits and be the voice of reason when the time came. It was a good plan with a fatal flaw. Canadian beer was twice as strong than American beer and the results are predictable. When I awoke the next morning in our shared hotel room with a pounding head, what to my bloodshot eyes should appear? Uncle Ray, dressed, showered and shaved reading a newspaper. Then came that broad Irish grin and with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “Thanks for taking care of me last night.” I can't tell you my reply, but it wasn't “Good Morning.” A wonderful sense of humor.
He could squeeze fun out of even the most mundane task. Once I enlisted a buddy to help paint Uncle Ray's house. Upon arrival we were handed two things: a paint roller and a beer. After a couple of beers and about a thousand jokes, the job was done. It was off to Frankie's for a late lunch where he insisted on picking up the tab. When my buddy and I were finally were on our way home I thanked him for giving me a hand. “Thank me for what?” he said, “You just took me to a party where a house got painted.”
There were dark times too. We buried my Aunt Olga on September 10, 2001. The next day the world changed. Not long after that, my marriage ended. While he mourned a life and I a marriage, we began meeting for lunch almost every Sunday to watch the Giants or the Yankees. For a few hours each week, we were just a couple of friends swapping stories. His were about shelling the beach during the invasion of Normandy from the deck of the USS Temptress or of chasing subs in the Atlantic and mine were, well, just not quiet that good. We had an unspoken rule to never interrupt each other, even if you'd heard the story a hundred times before. Another thing that we both knew, but never spoke about was the fact that those hours helped get us through a tough stretch and find the sunshine again.
I'm sure that many, if not all, of you in attendance today were helped or touched by him at some time or another in some small way. That was his nature. It paid off in the help he received over the last few years by his wonderful neighbors. Special thanks to his M&M girls, Margret and Maureen. And, of course, Bea, for her companionship. Both he and I are extremely grateful.
It has been a long journey from his childhood in Newburg, NY and he enjoyed the whole ride. Now he has gone to be with his Polish bride and is in good hands I'm sure. I'll end with words from an old Irish song called The Parting Glass:
But since it falls unto my lot,
That I should rise and you should not,
I gently rise and softly call,
Good night and joy be with you all.
See you down the basement my friend.
I'll bet that the vast majority of folks who settle in to watch the big game on Sunday have never even heard the name Amos Alonzo Stagg before. Yet, his importance to the game of football is immeasurable.
Before I get into that, let me give you a little story. Some years ago, a reenactor friend of mine asked me to help out in a presentation he was giving to a boyscout troop who was about to embark on a field trip to Gettysburg. So a couple of other guys and me donned our uniforms and performed some demonstrations on stage while my friend, a grammar school principal, gave a narration. Like many of us history geeks (myself included) he has endless info stored in his brain that just comes spilling out once the spigot is opened. It wasn't long before I could see he was losing them. It was becoming just another school lecture. So I stepped in. I got them out of their seats, formed them in ranks and taught them how too maneuver like Civil War soldiers. The kids loved it! So did the scout masters who asked us to teach them too so they could use the commands to move the kids around in a orderly fashion on the battlefield that weekend. A boring lecture turned "hands on" proved to be a big success! It was an eye-opener for me.
Ok, now check out The Family Learning Forum which is conducted by the USS Constitution Museum. Take a look at the ReThinking Exhibitions tab and the section called Steal this Idea. Those ideas, which I find instictive, are seldom used by history museums. I don't know why. They use hands on experiences, miniatures (which kids find interesting in and of themselves), and costumes to stimulate interest. Those are all elements children use when they do what they love the best: PLAY! Duh. It seems pretty obvious now, doesn't it? Here's a good article of a mom's account of her and her kids experience there. The method seems to be working.
I've only explored a small portion of The Family Learning Forum but I have a feeling I'll end up reading the whole thing. Designing spaces like the USS Constitution Museum would be a dream job for me. For anyone who wants to pass on their love of history, there is so much to be learned!
It's time to start thinking outside the display case.
OK, no Bigfoot jokes. Just hoaxes. I did this little doodle while on a less-than-interesting conference call the other day and I thought I'd explore this subject. After all, Halloween is coming up and what better time to turn to the subject of legendary monsters?
I admit that I'm fascinated with the big guy. Bigfoot has a rich and far reaching history, but the biggest headlines come from the hoaxes. Let's take a look at a few.
American Indians may well have been hoaxing Sasquatch for hundreds of years. Some Indians believe that he only manifests himself to those who have lost their way in life as a sort of warning. Can't you just see some tribe throwing a bear skin on the biggest guy and having him stomp around in the woods to scare some wayward teen back to the straight and narrow? They may well have used the same method to scare off early European settlers. OK, I watched a lot of Scooby-Doo when I was a kid but none other than Teddy Roosevelt related his own story that sounds a lot like a scare tactic to me. Europeans reported seeing a big hairy man-like creature as far back as the 1830's. Hmmmm? You can check out some more Bigfoot history here, including a sighting by Leif Eriksen in 986 AD!
The 1884 story of "Jacko" a Canadian Bigfoot reportedly captured turned out to be a hoax. Just over 70 years later, the discovery of foot prints (the very prints that spawned the "bigfoot" nickname) caused a minor sensation. Later, these were found to be the work of Ray Wallace who'd been using wooden "feet" to make the tracks for years. Then, as recently as 2008, two Georgia men claimed to have a bigfoot corpse. It quickly turned out to be just what it looked like: a monkey suit stuffed into a freezer with some road kill gut thrown on it. Hardly worth mentioning really.
Then, in 1967, Bob Gimlin and Roger Patterson may have produced the most successful hoax of the 2oth Century. They filmed the creature in the aptly named Bluff Creek area of California. Here's the clip. The only footage subjected to more scrutiny may be the Zupruder film! Experts of all kinds have analyzed the film and most findings are that it can't be disproved. Some even believe it couldn't have been hoaxed as humans aren't capable of duplicating that famous Bigfoot gait. In the end, it may have been good old detective work, not science, that exposed the hoax.
The author of The Making of Bigfoot, Greg Long, has apparently exposed Roger Patterson as an extraordinary con man and connected the dots to the person who made the suit and the one who wore it. Intriguing details, such as the suggestion by Philip Morris, the suit maker, that football shoulder pads be used to bulk up the beast lend an air of authenticity to the story. Experts have always pointed to the fact that Patterson's Bigfoot is obviously female (she's affectionately called Patty) and it's highly unlikely anyone would have thought to hoax a she-squatch. That is unless they were familiar with William Roes famous 1955 affidavit of his sighting and detailed description of a female sasquatch. Patterson was reported to have been interested in the bigfoot mystery so he may have based Patty on that description.
Still, many refute Long's work as flawed. Shows like Monster Quest still analyze the film. People still believe. People still see bigfoot too. Take a trip over to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization and check out the recent sightings (attention scout masters: great fodder for campfire stories!). He's seen all over this country and others; Australia, China, and Poland to name a few. It seems every human culture has a legend similar to Bigfoot.
Many of the sightings can be explained has lies, hoax victims, wacko's or mistaken identity. But there are surely a few made by rational people who believe what they saw. Perhaps the great mystery then is: what did they see? Not: is bigfoot real? Maybe there's a deep human instinct that hearkens back to prehistory when Homosapiens competed with other human species. Who knows?
One school of thought is that, for every day that goes by, we are one day closer to finding the hard fast proof that the creature exists. On the other hand, it may be that for every day that goes by without evidence, it becomes less likely evidence exists. I guess it depends on what you believe.
Me? Well, I hope he is out there and that we never find him. I love mysteries....
Forget what? Forget that a power crazed pyschopath orchestrated a mass murder of almost 3,000 Americans in one day in such spectacular fashion? Forget the sight of the symbol of US financial power slowly sinking into an awful cloud of dust? Forget the sight of people choosing to meet death on their own terms, with fresh air in their lungs, rather than be incinerated by burning avaition fuel? Forget the smoldering, gaping hole in the symbol of national defense? Only an alzheimer patient could forget that. Even then I'm sure the memory remains. No, nobody can forget the events of this date nine years ago. It's absurd and thoughtless.
We have forgotten something though. We've forgotten how we felt on this date nine years ago. There was a national sense of unity that only an enormous tragedy could produce. We helped each other. We were decent to each other. We cared about each other. A flag flew over almost every front door. I remember calling the Highlands, NJ police to offer to give rides home to evacuees from Manhattan. The dispatcher took my number and asked me to stay home unless they called me. There were already far more rides than riders. Everyone wanted to help. Petty differences and bigotry seemed to disappear for a while. People understood that this idea of America was bigger than any one of us. People believed in selflessness that is usually reserved for the soldier or public servant. There beneath the spooky, quiet sky, we really were one nation under God.
It was a lesson the terrorists never intended nor could have forseen. I was never more proud to be an American than in those darks weeks following 9/11. While we are all busy "not forgetting" today, let's remember more than just the horror. We owe at least that to those who had their lives snatched away that day.
Another thing we should do while we are not forgetting is think. The events of 9/11 weren't about religion, extremist or otherwise. It was about power. Power sought by psychopaths who only use religion to build a fantasy of justification for their blood lust. Burning the Quaran or protesting the building of a mosque only fuels their fantasy. It's exactly what they want. Don't give it to them. We all need to think before we act.