Friday, October 31, 2014

A Little Halloween History...

(The Staunton Newsleader published this article I wrote in 2009)
Oh yes....it is here. The Great Pumpkin is getting fatter as we speak, the owls are practicing their best sinister looks (over the shoulder is in this year), and the store-owners are cackling and wringing their knotted hands as we buy the latest in hip plastic-tombstones. Yes! We are stocking up on mountains of sugar-rush, pre-packaged joy to unload in mass to the glucose-charged, screaming hoards of pudgy ninjas and historically inaccurate pirates....even the fruit supplies are running low from the old couples who always give away apples, thinking they are somehow saving the children (every street has one).

Oh, we are loading up on miles and miles of colored plastic and cheap, lead-filled, Chinese-imported face paint. The kids mouths are drooling like Pavlovian dogs, their fat little bellies shaking in anticipation. The greatest holiday in the history of holidays is arriving in all its spandex glory, and America, as always, has put it's own unique, neon-green-sparkled twist on the ancient celebration. But where does Halloween come from? Did people always dress up? And what is with that figure standing behind you right now as you read this? (Whatever you do, don't turn around, seriously)

Well, it turns out a lot of the Halloween traditions are oldies, as in "what is that stuff called 'iron'?" oldies. And you thought the whole "ladies-dress-naughtily-as-a-way-to-express-that-desire-yet-not-be-condemned-by-society" was a new fad, didn't you? Nope, it goes back quite a ways (more on that later). At any rate here is a brief history of Halloween. And hey, I want credit for not using any Halloween puns, such as "a brief hisssstory of Halloween"....whoops, I just did it. I witch I hadn't done that. I mean, I wish I hadn't done bat. I mean...oh never mind.

- Where does Halloween come from? Well, the ancient Celts believed winter began November 1st (or around thereof). In modern Gaelic this day is called "Samhain" (meaning end of summer). The beginning of winter was regularly associated with death, and was also the time for slaughtering animals for the winter. For the Celts, the eve before - October 31st - was when the separation between the living and the dead became obscured. Burial mounds were opened, and the spirits could aid the druids in predicting food stores for the coming winter. The Celts would perform rituals such as lighting bonfires to keep bad spirits from crossing over. And so it began...

- All Saints Day - what is the connection? Okay, now pay attention - All Saints Day is a Christian celebration which celebrates Saints and Martyrs. In the 9th century, Pope Gregory IV placed the holiday on....you guessed it....November 1st. This meant that All Saints Day and Saimhain fell on the same day. NOW, All Saints Day is also known as "All Hallows Day", and since October 31st is the evening before, Halloween was derived from "All Hallow Even." If this isn't confusing enough for you, look up the whole Florentine Calendar thing and how they measured the day starting at sunset. Loads of fun!

- Why costumes? One version is that people dressed up as spirits so they could "blend in" with the real spirits (remember the living and dead line was obscured). In addition, "All Souls Day", which falls the day after All Saints Day (confuuuuused yet?) was celebrated with costumes and parades. The traditions of these holidays seemed to overlap with time.

- Bobbing for apples - what exactly is going ON there? When the Romans took over much of Celtic Britain, their holidays began to incorporate themselves. A Roman Holiday celebrating the Goddess Pomona fell in late October, and her symbol was....wait for it......an apple! Okay, so the connection is weak - just stick your head in the bucket and don't ask questions, I always say.

- When did it come to America? The Puritans, or "The Badly Dressed Party Poopers" as the Indians called them, banished Halloween (along with pretty much everything else). However, Americans being Americans, we slowly began to get our groove on, and the traditions popular in Europe made their way to the colonies. Early celebrations included dancing, story-telling, and of course crazed, pumpkin-wielding headless horsemen.

- Speaking of pumpkins - The tradition of carving vegetables into lanterns goes way back in Britain and Ireland. The Irish would carve turnips into faces on Halloween as a prank - it is possible they brought this tradition with them to America, finding pumpkins to be more plentiful. In addition, pumpkins happen to ripen around Halloween, much to the delight of testosterone-fueled, fire-cracker brandishing male adolescents (guilty!).

- Why "Trick or Treat"? Well, it seems on All Souls Day Christians would beg for "soul cakes" which were square pieces of bread. The beggars would then say prayers for the donor's deceased relatives. In addition, Irish in America were particularly "prank-prone" on Halloween, blaming mischief on the spirits roaming about. "Trick or Treat" seems to be an evolution of going door to door in combination with a general prank-friendly atmosphere. This is before people sued for "ghost-costume-shock-trauma", of course.

- Mischief Night? In the US, Mischief Night falls on the 30th. For those that don't know (or were never a teenager) mischief night is like distilling the pranks of Halloween into a pure, potent form the night before. Again, this is likely an evolution of various prank traditions, although the severity of it varies from region to region. A notable modern Mischief Night occurs in Detroit, where it is known as "Devil's Night".

- The whole "sexy" costume phenomenon - is it new? Halloween may be the one night a year where women can show off as much as they want at the company party and no one has a heart-attack. Interestingly, there is a long tradition of this. For example, during the Regency period women of status could put on "shows" where they dance and dress scantily - all in the name of art. Another example is benefit concerts done by woman's charity organizations, where they can wear "showgirl" costumes, show off a little leg, etc. A chance to let loose and not be tsk-tsked by old-lady Marge from the yacht club. And so the tradition continues!

- The old "razor blade in the apple" - is it true? Well, yes and no. It seems there have been cases of razor blades in apples, but they are somewhat suspect and possibly hoaxes. It is true that in 2004 James Smith in Minneapolis was charged with putting needles in children's candy. However, these instances are much rarer than popular legend has it.

- What about some other customs?

~ After bobbing for apples, if you peel the apple and throw it over your shoulder it might form your Love's initial. Particularly good if his name is in Klingon.

~ To protect your children from spirits, try sprinkling a little salt in their hair (Note: Do not do this before sending to a man-eating troll).

~ Mexico celebrates "Dia De Los Muertos" or "Day of the Dead" on November 1st and 2nd. It is an interesting mix of old and modern cultures.

~ A variation of the bobbing for apples is to hang it on a string, or use a fork in your mouth (Also great if you run out of black-eye makeup).

~ In Ireland, women would put slugs in a plate of flour. The subsequent shape in the flour from the moving slugs would supposedly make the face of your future love. This is probably more useful in divorce cases.

~ In Scotland, children "guise", or walk from house to house and perform a song, poem or other way to earn the treat. Imagine American kids having to earn anything? I can hear the lawyers shuffling their papers now.

- So Jarod, what are you wearing this year? I'm not telling! But it may involve some sort of...(message cut off)


Well folks, that is all for now. There is so much more, and I encourage you all to do some research into Halloween's history. In the meantime, close your windows, light your candles, and please......don't give away fruit.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

As Volunteer Firefighter Ben Franklin Said, "What's The Dealio, Yo?"

I know, I know - You've been sweating all week wondering when, oh WHEN will somebody post some firefighter facts? I mean, you were making phone calls to the government, frantic telegrams to your friends and family, begging, pleading. Well plead no more, young seeker of hydrant knowledge and explorer of hose wisdom - here are enough facts to last you until the next time you set the house on fire making your traditional holiday napalm.

- Dalmatians, what's the deal with them? Well, Dalmatians were used since the 19th century when firemen used horse-drawn trucks. You see, Dalmatians get along well with horses, are intelligent, and have good stamina. They were used to chase off the other dogs at fires, and horses could distinguish them because of - you guessed it - their spots. Plus, who doesn't like a Dalmatian? Just wook at dem cutey eyeballeys and spotsies, awwww
- What was the first major fire in the colonies? Get this - no sooner had Jamestown been settled than it is destroyed by fire in 1609. "For goodness sake, keep the Jedediah away from the matches!"

- What are some early forms of firefighting?
One of the earliest is the good old bucket brigade. Yep, passing buckets back and forth. You see, this was before people sued for breaking a nail, so it worked okay for the time. Another early form was the "hand-tub", which was basically a large wooden tub with a hand pump. How did they keep it filled? Bucket Brigade.


- Fire Hydrants...tell me about them (said with a tweed jacket and pipe in mouth). Well, in the 1600s people would dig holes down to the underground water pipes and use the spewing water in the bucket brigades. They would then plug the holes off. After the great fire of London in 1666, the city installed water pipes with access holes and risers. Humans being somewhat clever now and again, people invented all sorts of interesting caps for these systems which one might call hydrants. Modern fire hydrants began springing up probably around the late 1800s.

- This first volunteer company in America, the Mutual Fire Society, was organized in Boston in 1718. However, they only fought fires at their member’s homes!

- Ben Franklin, why the mention? When Ben was not fathering the country or seducing French women, he was a volunteer fireman! He established the Union Fire Company, the first fire organization in Philadelphia and one of the first in America to fight fires for the general public.

- When was the match invented? The first friction match was invented in 1827 by English chemist John Walker. The first dating match was invented by cave-mother Gogamock who set up her daughter with that "nice boy who hoards the fish-guts"

- Was the 1871 Great Chicago Fire really started by a cow kicking over a lantern? Probably not. However, it did start in a shed around Dekoven St. The cow story was made up by journalist Michael Ahern to make the story "more colorful". The fire itself killed between 200-300 people, burned 73 miles of roadway, and left 90,000 people homeless. It was said to have caused more damage than Napoleon's siege of Moscow.

- Sliding poles? Welllll? The first sliding poles were installed in 1873 in New York. They were made of wood, making for some interesting places for splinters.

- Gas Powered firetrucks?
Around the 1910s, but they probably came into real prominence in the 1920s. The last horse-drawn engine was retired in New York in 1922. The horses were overheard to say "Hey Mack, itza 'bawt time! Eh?!"

- The 911 Emergency Number - when? In 1968. The company that choose the number? AT&T.


And finally, I leave you with the Maltese Cross:

One of the symbols most often used by Fire Departments across the world is the Maltese Cross. The cross was originally used by the Knights of St. John, who were known for their courage and service to the people. During battle, the Knights of St. John would often risk their own life extinguishing the fire-bombs used by their enemies, thus becoming some of the earliest firemen. The Knights eventually settled on the Island of Malta, and their symbol become known afterward as the Maltese Cross.

Well, that's enough for now folks. Remember to thank your local fireman for their service, and if you are so inclined, they are always looking for a few good volunteers!

Friday, November 22, 2013

New Photographer page. I'm lucky to be based outside of Staunton, Virgina

Check out the new website format for my photography!
The beautiful Shenandoah Valley is a photographer's dream.
www.jarodkearney.com

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Check out our series Mario Warfare

For those who love video games, action, and a good laugh, check out our online series Mario Warfare. I play Luigi.:) The fan response has been amazing, and we can't thank you enough!

Here are parts 1 and 2:



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Let the Belt-Loosening Begin: A History of Thanksgiving

We all know the drill. Just days from now, your relatives will invade like a crazed faction of clowns on a pie convention. Yes, Uncle Buford WILL talk about his colonoscopy at the dinner table, Aunt Bertha WILL unceremoniously re-arrange your decorations, and the Staler kids WILL ruin your new carpet through a series of carefully planned chex-mix attacks...and you will love every minute of it. After all, this isn't your typical, run-of-the-mill holiday - this is THANKSGIVING folks, and all bets are off. That diet you started after recovering from your Halloween sugar coma? Gone. Your jeans from two years ago you swore you would fit into again by Christmas? Ain't gonna happen. Might as well sit back, relax, and let the mouth-stuffing begin in all it's American apple-pie-with-three-scoops-of-vanilla-and-chocolate-syrup glory.

But where does it come from? Oh sure, we all know that there was something about a group of people with weird hats and another group who didn't really invite them over, yet at some point decided to throw a giant cooked bird and some yams their way....but where does it come from really? Who authorized this thing? And what are the bets that cousin Bart will eat all the rhubarb pie in one sitting? Well, pull up that recliner lever and grab the yams - here are some facts to get you up to speed.

- The "first" Thanksgiving, as you probably guessed, is a point of contention. Spanish settlers under Pedro Menéndez de Avilés held a thanksgiving mass and feast on September 8, 1565 after landing in St. Augustine, Florida. Technically, this was the first recorded "Thanksgiving" on what is now American soil, but ask any mom who watched her kid rehearse for two weeks in a giant, somewhat frightening turkey outfit, and you're likely to receive skepticism. You can decide for yourself.

- The Thanksgiving at Jamestown is another contender. You see folks, a long time ago, in a land, well...not so far away, a group of settlers showed up at "Berkeley Hundred" (December 4, 1619) - a site about 20 minutes upstream from Jamestown. It was declared (possibly with a drumroll) that every year the date of arrival would be a day of "Thanksgiving" to God. Now, were there groups of passed out men on couches with gravy drool running down their faces? Again, you can decide.

- The Plymouth Thanksgiving, or as the Pilgrim marketing people used to say "The Big Gut Buster" (tm), is seen by some as the more direct ancestor of our modern holiday. Here's what we know: The Pilgrims had a successful harvest in 1621 (sound of Pilgrims whooping and high-fiving). There was a Native American named Squanto who taught the Pilgrims how to grow corn and catch eels ("go Squaaanto, go Squaaanto, you're a rooock star!"). The Pilgrims had themselves a big old feast, with plenty of fowl and deer - and there WERE Native Americans present, including King Massasoit, who according to English sources helped save the Plymouth colony from starvation (Massasoit stands on a cliff with a full chorus singing). So yes, there is SOME truth to the classroom plays for the last 50 years. All that paper mache and vicious fighting for the leading Pilgrim role was worth it.

- Thanksgiving began to catch on. The party-crazed Puritans over at the Massachusetts Bay Colony began a Thanksgiving day in 1630, and the good folks at Charleston, Massachusetts "cranked it up" (said with English accent) in 1671. Did they dance the Macarena while doing jello shots? Well, no - it was a day of spiritual observation - but Thanksgiving was here, and like the 2 tons of turkey leftovers in your freezer - it was here to stay.

- So when did it become official? Well, during the Revolutionary War (or the war of Harry Potter-Sounding-Scone-Eating-Aggression) the Continental Congress declared a day of Thanksgiving in 1777. In 1789 ol' George Washington proclaimed a Thanksgiving (the first one by the National Government) for the 26th Day of November. But it wasn't until Abraham "I Wish Big and Tall Stores Had Been Invented" Lincoln that things began to solidify. In 1863 He declared it should be observed the "last Thursday in November. This went on for about 8 decades, until Franklin Roosevelt signed a bill officially making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.

- Canadian Thanksgiving Day? What? Yes, Canada has it's very own Thanksgiving Day the second Monday of October. I mean, isn't that CUTE? (sudden hate mail from geese) Here is the two cent history (in Canadian money): Martin Frobisher was trying to find a northern passage. Fails. Starts settlement around Newfoundland. 1578 has ceremony to give thanks. Boom - Canadian Thanksgiving. Don't try stuffing the moose.

- Whats with the Turkey and Sweet Potatoes? Well, take a look at the traditional Thanksgiving meal and something interesting pops out - most of the food, cranberries, corn, sweet potatoes, etc, are either native to the Americas or brought here by the early settlers. That's right, we may be passed out afterward, but we are passed out AMERICAN style.

- What about that Parade thing? The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Started in 1924 by workers of the company. In 1927 Goodyear threw in Felix the Cat as a giant balloon, and the rest is Helium history. Over the years we've seen Kermit, Bugs, Mickey, Garfield, and even Willard Scott...although he wasn't tethered.

- Black Friday, or as some like to call it "Give-Me-That-New-Toy-Model-Or-Die" Day, is supposed to be the official start of the Christmas season. For those that have been subjected to looped elevator Christmas music at Lowes since August, this is of course ridiculous a joke, but tell that to a 10-foot inflatable Rudolph. The term "Black Friday" was given by the Philadelphia police in the 1960s in reference to the traffic jams and mob-like crowds. Why is it so busy? Well, most of us have off work, AND we have enough carbs in us to kill a small horse - makes sense, really.

So there you have it. Thanksgiving is indeed as American as, well, five or six helpings of apple pie. So, don't worry about the commercialism, the hectic pace, or the in-law arguments. In the end, we are all in this together, and if we truly give thanks for what really matters, we may just earn our seat at the adult table...and possibly an extra helping of gravy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Neanderthals, Cro-Magnon, and Uncle Billy in a Deer-Skin Tube-Top

The idea hit you like a catapulted Dodo bird. You were at the Natural History Museum the other day, and you couldn't help but notice a striking resemblance between the Neolithic Man display and half of your in-laws. The Alpha Male, spearing a 15 foot Mammoth in the buttocks, bore a striking resemblance to your brother-in-law waiting in line at the barbecue. Same gaping mouth, same crazed eyes, same thick, sweat-filled back-hair.

"But" you openly cry into the air, beckoning to the great tourist spirit "I thought we were genetically different than our ancestors! I mean, how long have humans been, well, humans? Isn't there something about Neanderthals being pushed out? And most importantly, did cave-women wear leather bikinis?"

These are all interesting questions, and in order to save you from future embarrassing outbursts at the museum, here are some facts for you. Well, facts depending on who you talk to.

- How old are we? It depends on how you look at it. Homo sapiens as a distinct species started appearing approximately 200,000 years ago, however there are millions of years of protohumans running amok before this. Australopithecus, a group of hominids which existed as early as 4 million years ago, were considered for a long time our ancestors, however there is debate about the actual direct connection. Homo Habilis, the earliest fellows in our particular genus, began appearing about 2.4 million years. So where do "we" begin? Perhaps it depends on whether or not you would date a 4-foot hominid with no car. At any rate, probably your safest bet is to say "Homo sapiens appeared about 200,000 years ago" and hope the early hominids aren't offended.

- How long have our ancestors walked upright? Probably somewhere between 4 and 6 million years (those early hominids again). Walking, of course, was invented when "Ook-Ook the Flea Master" tried to impress the good-looking hairy chick down the way. This led to the first "romantic walk on the beach," which ended in disaster as the couple was dragged screaming into the sea by a now-extinct species of sea-cow.

- Tools: How long have we been using them? The earliest stone tools we have found date to around 2.5 million years ago. There may have been bone tools used earlier, but this is...you guessed it...debated!

- Fire: How long? Fast forward a million years, lots of evolution, lots of crazed whooping, and around 1.5 million years ago we started using fire - or more accurately one of our ancestors, Homo erectus, did (hey, no smirking at the name).

- Clothing? Unknown. There are estimates of between 100,000 and 600,000 years ago. However, it is known that the first childish tantrum thrown by a fashion designer followed the very next day.

- Neanderthals: What are they? Okay - now pay attention. Neanderthals started appearing around 250,000 years ago. It is confusing because Homo sapiens started appearing around the same time (remember - 200,000 years ago), and we share many similar characteristics. There is a debate over whether Neanderthals are a subspecies of human, or a completely separate species. However the current consensus is that they are indeed separate, we just shared a common ancestor.

- Cro-Magnon: What are they? Cro-Magnon are indeed modern human, they are simply the group that lived in Europe, named after the cave in France where the first fossil was found. SO...you got your first Homo sapiens appearing in Africa around 200,000 BC, they hang out there for awhile, then about 50,000 BC they start migrating out. The ones that went to Europe? We call 'em Cro-Magnon.

- Did modern humans and Neanderthals come into contact? Yes. there is evidence that in certain areas Neanderthals and modern man co-existed as modern man emigrated into their territories (50,000 BC). However, Neanderthals began slowly being pushed out, and by about 24,000 BC Neanderthals were extinct. Cooiiinciiideeeence??

- Could they mate? DNA evidence suggests no (sorry, Darryl Hanna). But, if you really wanted to, you could have a nice evening with a Cro-Magnon. Ladies, talk about your "real" man (don't put fingers near mouth)

- What exactly then, is a "caveman?" This is simply a pop-culture term for early hominids, particularly Neanderthals and Cro-Magnan. It is not used in scientific terminology, unless the professor is....well...an actual caveman.

- So, did they...(drum-roll)....live in caves? Well, if there was a good one around, sure. There are lots of archaeological sites in caves, or overhanging rocks for shelter. But they also had huts made of branches and animal skins, and weren't "confined" to caves. As the Cro-Magnon used to say "Hut good. Cave Better. Cave with jacuzzi, best."

I know what you are thinking. 'This is all well and good, Jarod, but what about the cavewomen in leather bikinis?!' I'm sorry to report that there is no evidence of bikinis. There is, however, evidence of leopard speedos invented by Gakk-Gakk the Impressive (made out of actual leopards). Ironically, it may have been the tight-fitting speedo which drove the Neanderthals to extinction by causing the females to throw themselves off cliffs in masses. To be sure, something happened to the Neanderthals, and it wasn't pretty.

At any rate, the next time you are visiting your in-laws, have pity. They can't help the grunting, the bad posture, or the odor. They are the result of millions of years of evolution, and guess what, millions of years from now they will be saying the same thing about us. At least, as long as the leopard speedo stays in Europe.