Saturday, December 20, 2014

ShadowFest motley - Part II

Origin of "honeymoon"

From the label of Bunratty Meade, imported mead from Ireland:

This honey-based drink was believed to have powers of virility and fertility, and it became custom for the bride and groom to drink mead for one full moon after their wedding, hence the word "honeymoon."


Traditional "cinnamon sticks"

From the label of Baker's Select Cinnamon Sticks:

Naturally aromatic Cinnamon Sticks are a traditional staple in American homes. Fanciful craft projects can also be made from this versatile spice. They can be tied together with a decorative ribbon, used with pom poms to make a reindeer or horse using the sticks as legs, make a basket by gluing the sticks together, or boil them in water with apples on the stove to give your home a "baked apple" fragrance. Fit for human consumption.


Wild animals up close

A short while back, while sitting on a deck overlooking a vast hillside which is connected to a state park, I suddenly saw what I momentarily thought was a German shepherd galloping up the hillside towards me. Before I could even think to react, at about ten yards away from me, the animal veered off and scampered off towards the park in broad daylight. Just last week while hiking, a raccoon lunged after me. Apparently it was a mother who was concerned because I was too close to her young.

A few days ago I saw the movie 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes'. The apes were portrayed as quasi "people" engaging in simple "politics" with humans. It reminded me of the strangest experience that I ever had with animals. While hiking in the early evening early this year, I encountered a group of about twenty raccoons who were moving in the opposite direction. As we all stopped to access the situation, the raccoons all stood up on two feet looking at me. They were like little people, subtly negotiating a peace treaty. After about thirty seconds, they moved over to one side to pass. I'll never forget that.

Raccoons and coyotes are two wild animals which have adapted to encroaching civilization by engaging in covert or guerrilla-like tactics. Interacting with wildlife doesn't have to be something so dramatic. Sometimes you can just enjoy a bluejay or two which come upon your space; or enjoy listening to a bird concert when they occur.


'Search for the Lost Giants' (History Channel)

Although this subject is not one generally covered on this blog, it is curious in that the fossil record is very clear about eight to nine foot "giants." Unlike the Bigfoot legend, which has little physical evidence, this subject could easily be blown wide open. Clearly the Smithsonian and other institutions don't want to touch it, and often the remains just disappear. They're usually more like seven to eight feet, which isn't so hard to imagine since the Dinka tribe in Africa average about seven feet.


Jesus the sun god married to Mary Magdalene the moon goddess?

The other night on the Science Channel, an episode of 'Biblical Conspiracies' presented evidence in script and art that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, that Jesus was a Hebrew from Judea of the Jewish faith and Mary Magdalene was a Phoenician from Phonicia-Canaan of a pagan tradition, and there was at least one clear ancient depiction (in tile I think) of Jesus as a "sun god" with Mary Magdalene as a "moon goddess."

Of course, there is evidence to the contrary, evidence that they never existed at all, evidence that Christianity was plagiarized from ancient Egyptian sun worship, etc. Still, it was curious to me to ponder the concept of an Egyptian sun god (Horace) manifesting in Judea; and married to what possibly could be a European moon goddess (Hecate in Greece/Asia Minor) manifesting in Phoenicia. Even if it was mere mythology, it could possibly represent an interesting spiritual cross-bridge of cultures.

Also, Mary Magdalene--whether literally or mythologically--could be the co-founder of Christianity. Could the Catholic obsession with "Mary" have an origin as Mary Magdalene? Negative depictions of Mary Magdalene may have been later added, perhaps to discredit the rival Phoenicians. Hebrews were the "chosen people," so you can't have a Phoenician goddess. There were many different Christian sects back then; how do we know which one was right? The "moon goddess" may have also come from the Egyptian goddess Isis, and that gets to become more complex with many possible conflations...


Friday, December 5, 2014

'Murder in Minnesota' (book review) - Part 2

Some of the accounts in this book unfolded along with American history at large, so that is another smaller dimension… making something of a window into Minnesota and American history from 1850 to 1960. Another subtle but consistent theme at work was “Americans” vs. “immigrants.” Since the immigrants were largely Scandinavian or German, the rivalry (Anglo-Scot settlers vs. Nordic-German immigrants) was subtle, but it was there… early on at least. Native Americans, within the concept of law enforcement, were subjected to rougher treatment if they didn’t comply.. more so than say the Germans or Irish.

Minnesota was, in many ways, like the rest of the United States then. An immigrant could gain quick acceptance of only they became Protestant, learned to speak English well, changed their name (say from Hoogstratten to “Straten”), and embraced American traditions over their own traditions. This, of course, was a very subtle cultural friction; although the book gave a few examples of the “American vs. immigrant” (obviously the old version) rivalry. Also, the “lynch mob mentality” appears to have been an Anglo-Scot American tradition, not an Irish-German-Scandinavian-Polish inspired concept.

Chapter 4, ‘The Christmas Murders’, gave one account of the “Yankee vs. German” rivalry. Again, very subtle, and would have probably disappeared for anyone who was born in Minnesota. The example in this chapter took place in the town of New Ulm, then a German town. “Give me the drinks for us Yankees,” Since the vast majority of men present were Germans, this statement was unwise; the Germans had little love for Yankees even though the cheerfully swilled drinks for which the Yankees paid.

In Chapter 5, ‘Rally Philadelphians!’, the antagonists—from the perspective of the “Yankees” in Duluth—were a sizable number of Irish-American workers brought in from Philadelphia’s Irish districts in 1869. Although “Americanized,” they were still perceived as a foreign element due chiefly to their unruly behavior in town. Another common theme in the book were crimes which were mainly due to excessive drinking… sometimes playing on Irish or German stereotypes, although true in those cases covered at least.

It probably should be stated that Minnesota has not been known, then or now, for murder or crime. Minnesotans are good people; much better than most… in the whole world actually. Even while reading these accounts of murder, one can read between the lines and imagine the excitement of that time period from 1858 to the turn of the century. The railroads were connecting the larger cities, and movement around the state became easier. The growing towns must have been beautiful against the backdrop of the beautiful green wooded landscape and farm fields. The average citizen was very hardworking, independent, honest, and pure of mind. It must have been a wonderful time and place.

It probably should be noted that, even today, Minnesota is about three-quarters Scandinavian (Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Danish) and German (German, Austrian, Swiss, Prussian) as far as ancestry. There actually were cases referencing Swiss and Prussian immigrants in the book. Prussia, of course, no longer even exists.

Lombardy is just south of Switzerland and Austria, and there were Lombardian immigrants in Minnesota. Duluth comes to mind mostly from what I have read. Robert Mondavi, although not specifically Lombardian, was born and partly raised in Virginia, Minnesota… not far from Duluth. He later moved to California where he married a woman of Ticinese descent. Ticinese are culturally and linguistically Lombardian. I’ve felt a strong cultural connection to the Mondavis because of this Midwest, northern California, and Lombardian/Ticinese connection.

Ironically, just a few days ago, I noticed that a frozen food product that I took out to cook was packaged in Duluth by Bellisio Foods. I didn’t purchase it for that reason, just coincidence. The founder of the company was the late well-known entrepreneur Jeno Paulucci of Duluth.. although he later headquartered the company in Minneapolis. World War II Medal of Honor recipient (Europe), Mike Colalillo, was originally from Hibbing, Minnesota… not far from Duluth. He lived the rest of his life in Duluth however. I don’t know if they were Lombardian, although it would seem a good bet. Lieutenant Willibald C. Bianchi also received, after his death, a Medal of Honor for his actions in World War II in the Pacific. He was originally from New Ulm, Minnesota, not far from the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro. The Medal of honor is the highest military decoration presented by the United States government to a member of its armed forces. Not many have ever been given out.

Chapter 8, ‘Highwaymen Came Riding’, covers the famous Northfield bank robbery of 1876 by the James-Younger gang. One curious long-standing phenomenon here, which I think is worth pondering, is when some women become enamored by a murderer who has been jailed. I don’t mean someone who has served time and has been rehabbed already, but a murderer behind bars.. apparently just because he is who he is. This phenomenon occurs much less with men for female murderers.. although women commit much less murder than men. This occurred for Bob Younger when many young local women visited him every day while he was jailed. Evidently it was a daily line of them. The Northfield case was the most famous covered in the book by far.

Another aspect of the cases in this book was the struggle between co-conspirators or parties within the social circle around the murder. That is what I think makes the true crime genre of books, television, and movies so popular. There’s plenty of that drama in the book, before and after the murders. Many or most of the murders were stupid and pointless even from the criminal point of view. Sometimes a person gets themselves killed, such as the teller in Northfield. I don’t consider his brave actions the same as in other instances where there’s a bigger picture to consider.. and maybe where risking ones life may be worth the risk. I think it’s pretty clear that most people who commit murders suffer from some degree of mental illness, chiefly because the crimes don’t even make any sense. There’s often no gain, even from a vengeance angle.

Chapter 14, ‘The Case of the Convenient Cliff’, relives the account of who I believe to be the worst scoundrel in the book… Frederick T. Price. He destroyed his wife—a totally innocent, slight woman—in a poorly thought out plot for inheritance. That was the only case where I was hoping throughout that he would meet justice, although the death penalty had been eliminated by the early 1900s. He deserved to be hanged.

On a side note, the book shows an old photograph of the original Ramsey County courthouse. I really like the architecture of this small building, which had two main floors, an attic-like floor above, what looks like a windowed dome at the top, I'm guessing a basement, and with the county jail detached in the rear. You can see an image in part one. It was constructed in 1850, and designed by Dr. David Day, with Roman-syle columns and pointed roof. I couldn't Google the answer as to whether the building is still around, although it has to be I think.


1-20-15 Addition: "The mare Lucy"

I had intended to make mention of a mare named "Lucy," who had witnessed one of the murders. In chapter eleven, 'High Stakes and Green Good', a victim named Kitty Ging was brutally murdered along Minneapolis' Lake Calhoun in a rented buggy driven by Lucy on an evening in 1894.

Kitty had previously driven a quiet, gentle, buckskin mare named Lucy, and she specified that this horse be given her for the evening. At 7:08 P.M. Kitty appeared at the West Hotel, climbed into buggy number twenty-seven, which was waiting for her, stirred Lucy into motion, and drove away. The night of December 3, 1894, was brightly moonlit until 8:30 P.M., when the moon sank below the trees.

After the grisly act.. at 9:10 P.M. the mare Lucy had returned to her stable with buggy number twenty-seven--empty. The horse was cool and gave no indication that it had run away. I was struck by the plight of this gentle animal having to watch a barbaric act, by the "superior species" which she faithfully served, then returning to her stable by herself.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

‘Murder in Minnesota’ (book review) - Part 1

A talented writer with an incisive wit, Trenerry chronicles sixteen famous Minnesota murder cases from 1858 when Minnesota became a state to 1917, revealing the gradual changes in social attitudes from the frontier justice of the 1850s to the abolishment of capital punishment. —Michael B., reviewer

Immigrants from Lombardy settled around the Great Lakes region in small numbers from approximately 1850 to 1880, after which the numbers picked up from approximately 1890 to 1920. Duluth, Minnesota, along Lake Superior, was one such location where Lombardians settled and is worthy of note. However, Wisconsin and Michigan were locations of considerably more Lombardian influence; but the basic way of life was no different.

Although the cases presented in this book have no direct connection to Lombardians, I thought it gave many clues of what life was like from the period mentioned above. It also gives many clues about the lives of other European immigrants (Germans, Scandinavians, Irish) settling in this region, so I believe that it was worth reviewing as well as noting many of these clues as they could have pertained to Lombardians around the Great Lakes.

Walter N. Trenerry was a retired lawyer and former professor at the St. Paul College of Law when he wrote this book as an amateur historian. He chose fifteen famous cases to include in the book. On the back cover description of the book, Trenerry wrote: My investigation of Minnesota murders over the years revealed no new motives for killing anyone. The old ones were perfectly satisfactory. I thought that made for a thought provoking quote.

The original Ramsey County courthouse 1859
“Lynch mob culture”

One observation that I made early on was the insincerity of the lynch mob mentality. A  few of these cases were from the very early period of Minnesota statehood, and the victims were very recent settlers. Yet the lynch mob seemed to clearly and passionately take the ingenuine stand as like “ohh, he killed my best friend.” I know, that’s a lessor aspect of a reaction to a murder. Still, when reading about these accounts, it felt like such a misguided reaction that I thought was worth noting. A very immature reaction.. a rush to judgement without the facts, which sometimes were in dispute. Minnesota probably did have much less of a lynch mob mentality, which was an American phenomenon, than other states… probably because most of the people were immigrants more so than American settlers.

Part of the theme of this book, published in 1962, was the progression from lynch mob mentality, to state sponsored hangings, to the abolishment of the death penalty, to the rehabilitation concept. In Europe it’s very different. Police can legally beat a suspect with impunity, and yet murderers go free after only a few years. I think we can at least say that the American system has been much better.. at least in that way.

I read a book entitled ‘The Lombard Laws’, which was about the post-Roman laws of the Langbard Kingdom. The laws were initially set up in northern Europe, where the Lombard tribe was made up of clans of related families. If, for example, a woman from a certain clan was raped, her clan were go berserk! A terrible bloodbath would occur, and the tribal chieftains had to do something to prevent these blood feuds. Theoretically, if you had a peaceful, harmonious, homogenous, fair, spiritual, non-violent society; you could possibly operate without laws or prisons… up to a point. However, the revenge factor would probably be the one thing which would demand some type of criminal system.

Chapter 3, entitled ‘Not to Foster, But to Slay’ (The Murder of Stanislaus Bilansky, St. Paul, 1859), was for me the most memorable chapter in the book. The basic gist of this case was fairly simple. Older man, younger wife, no children, wife has younger lover, and poisons her husband so she can marry her younger lover and gain the inheritance.

On the surface, the case seems fairly cut and dry. A total betrayal in every way, and a person not worthy of any consideration. To backtrack a bit, in many of these cases, I found the guilty party to be of particularly unsavory character. However, in this case, the guilty party wasn’t just any ordinary murderer. Mrs. Ann Bilansky was apparently a real chip off the old block.. a real character. I found that I at least gained some sympathy for her, and evidently the public felt the same way at that time; which is saying a lot since this was during the days of the “lynch mob mentality.”

Minnesota was, of course, a mere frontier in 1859.. only one year after gaining official statehood. However, the Minneapolis-St. Paul area was already an impressive settlement; and even had its own element of sophisticated, upper class “socialites.” The Bilanskys were at least on the fringes of that social milieu. There’s not really anything which could be said on her behalf as far as the crime, although some believe that there was reasonable doubt. She did what she did, with any justification whatsoever beyond simple greed.

Stanislaus Bilansky was apparently a divorced Polish immigrant of mild wealth, living in St. Paul. Evidently he was in his fifties, and was both gruff and hard to get along with as well as being lonely, not in especially good health, and vulnerable as a result. Ann Bilansky was a tall attractive well-dressed blonde widow from North Carolina who was thirty-four when she came to St. Paul. She was vivacious and talkative, and to quote the author.. although St. Paul was a substantial small city by 1858, one can imagine that this striking Southern woman would attract attention on the streets of Minnesota’s new capitol.

Had Mr. Bilansky not been murdered, one may find this mismatched couple rather humorous. I don’t recall if the book mentions what I have already heard numerous times, that poisoning has historically been a woman’s method of getting rid of someone. Although I cannot go through the entire long chapter here, suffice to say that Ann Bilansky’s sassy-flirty personality along with her dress and manner really came through as I read it.

As silly as it might seem, it appears that she had some affect on the male public. On one evening, the jail guards at the Ramsey County courthouse actually allowed her out of her cell so they could converse with her. Later, as they tired, she simply walked out of the courthouse and walked away. Some time later, she was found and arrested again.

At another point during her trial—and remember this was a murder trial where she would likely be hanged if found guilty—some of the witnesses were being cross examined, and Ann Bilansky was seen laughing when one of them got her facts confused slightly.. and appeared amused throughout much of the questioning.

The whole long process in which she was found guilty and there was much support for her, mostly because society at large did not want to hang a woman. Many men in high positions took her side to the point of trying to commute her sentence. I won’t give away what happened, but you may read a short account of it here, including the result.