Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Seeing Mount Rushmore for the first time was almost a spiritual experience. In spring 2014, a friend and I traveled to South Dakota and parts of Wyoming, stopping at Sturgis, Deadwood, Custer State Park, the Badlands, Devils Tower, and elsewhere. While the Badlands and Devils Tower were visually magnificent, Mount Rushmore really left an impression on me. Two-dimensional media just can’t convey its size and grandeur. Photographs don’t do it justice.

Mount Rushmore, in the South Dakota Black Hills, is known as a batholith–a formation of igneous rock formed from cooled magma. The rock is smooth, fine-grained granite, resistant to erosion. Between 1927 and 1941, Gutzon Borglum and 400 workers sculpted the 60 foot carvings. Gutzon died in March 1941, and his son Lincoln took over construction. It finished prematurely in late October 1941 due to lack of funding.

The sculptures were originally supposed to extend further down, uncovering the presidents’ chests and shoulders. I think the faces peering from the mountainside look better, and apparently the National Park Service agrees. With over two million visitors annually, they could probably get the funds to finish the sculptures if they wanted. It costs $10 to park, but that fee goes toward maintaining the parking garage.

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On the Blair Witch Trail

The documentary didn’t end well for its creators. I’m hoping to avoid a similar fate…

Ghosts: A Natural History

Originally published in Great Britain in 2012, Ghosts: A Natural History (2015) by Roger Clarke is an exploration of the subject framed by a taxonomy of eight varieties of ghosts. Each chapter is a micro history of one or two prominent ghosts and trends in ghost hunting, from the seventeenth century Tedworth House and eighteenth century Hinton House, to the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall and the Borley Rectory in the twentieth.

Through these locations and events, Clarke traces a history of not just ghosts but the people fascinated by them. With the exception of the haunted German U-boat, U65, all of the discussed locations are in Great Britain. Clarke describes the British Isles as being particularly overrun with spooks and specters.

Ghosts: A Natural History is a wonderful book, rich with fascinating places and characters. Clarke brings to life the people involved in these events, some of whom may surprise you. For instance, I knew Royal Society member Joseph Glanville was convinced of the reality of witchcraft, but I didn’t know he felt the same about ghosts. Likewise, I was amused to read that his contemporary, Robert Boyle, father of modern experimental science, joined Glanville in investigating poltergeist activity at the Tedworth House and what became known as the “Devil of Mâcon.”

Religion is another interesting aspect of this book. According to Clarke, much of England’s ghost belief springs from latent Catholicism or former Catholic sites. When Catholicism was suppressed in England and the Church’s property confiscated, many rectories, graveyards, and monasteries were left to decay–attracting a reputation for being haunted. With one notable exception, Protestant ministers tried to stamp out ghost belief, since ghosts were supposedly souls trapped in purgatory–a thoroughly Catholic notion. However, John Wesley, founder of Methodism, not only believed in ghosts, but poltergeist activity plagued his family home at Epworth as a child.

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Civil War Ballads: Paddy’s Lamentation

I first heard this song in the movie Gangs of New York (2002). It’s played during a great scene where Irish immigrants are recruited into the Union Army as they come off the boat. One asks, “Where’re we going?” The man behind him replies, “I heard Tennessee.” “Where’s that?” As they walk onto the cargo ship in uniform, coffins are being lowered into a line on the dock. That probably never happened because it would devastate morale, but it creates a stirring visual. From what I can gather, the song is popular in Canada and is considered an Irish-Canadian folk song. It may date from 1870 or 1880.

Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher, commanded the Union “Irish Brigade”

Well it’s by the hush, me boys, and sure that’s to hold your noise
And listen to poor Paddy’s sad narration
I was by hunger pressed, and in poverty distressed
So I took a thought I’d leave the Irish nation

Here’s to you boys, now take my advice
To America I’ll have ye’s not be going
There is nothing here but war, where the murderin’ cannons roar
And I wish I was at home in dear old Dublin

Well I sold me ass and cow, my little pigs and sow
My little plot of land I soon did part with
And me sweetheart Bid McGee, I’m afraid I’ll never see
For I left her there that morning brokenhearted

Well meself and a hundred more, to America sailed o’er
Our fortunes to be made [sic] we were thinkin’
When we got to Yankee land, they shoved a gun into our hands
Saying “Paddy, you must go and fight for Lincoln”

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Girl’s School Cemetery in Fox Run Subdivision

Today, Fox Run Subdivision is situated off Crissey Avenue near the banks of the Fox River. On the other side of the Fabyan County Forest Preserve and Settler’s Hill Golf Course sits the Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, home of the Kane County Cougars minor league baseball team. On calm summer nights, sounds of the cheering crowd drift across the green and through the trees to the meandering rows of nearly identical houses. The sound disturbs the eerie quiet just inside the treeline, where rows of nearly identical gravestones poke through the grass behind an iron fence.

This tiny cemetery is all that remains of the Illinois State Training School for Girls at Geneva, which for 84 years housed adolescent girls between the ages of 10 and 16 who had been convicted of offenses punishable by law. Inevitably, deaths from illness and suicide occurred at the facility. Girls without families, or who had been disowned, were buried in a cemetery on the property. Several dozen infants were buried there as well, and today the cemetery contains 51 graves. After the institution closed and was torn down, a plaque was erected at the cemetery that reads:

Beginning in 1894, this land was used by various government agencies as a center for ‘wayward girls’. The colonial-style cottages, service buildings and fences are gone, but these 51 graves remain. These markers are a testimony that they are no longer wayward but home with their Creator. My God’s peace be with their souls.

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Devil’s Tower National Monument

In spring 2014, a friend and I traveled to South Dakota and parts of Wyoming, stopping at Sturgis, Deadwood, Custer State Park, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and many other cool places. Devil’s Tower was our last stop. That region defines “wide open spaces.” In eastern Montana, the vast prairie rolls into the Black Hills. Jutting from the undulating landscape, a volcano tens-of-millions of years old left this cone of solidified magma when the surrounding sedimentary rock eroded away. You can see it for miles around.

According to Kiowa and Lakota legend, two girls were being chased by giant bears and sought shelter on a rock. They prayed to the Great Spirit to save them, and he/she made the rock raise toward the heavens. The bears dug deep grooves in the sides trying to climb to the top, but the girls escaped. There are several other versions of the tale, but giant bears are common to all. That’s why American Indians called it “Home of the Bear” or “Bear’s Lair”. Colonel Richard I. Dodge coined the name “Devils Tower” sometime in the 1870s.

In 1906, Devils Tower became the nation’s first National Monument. It rises 867 ft. Apparently hundreds of insane people climb to the top every year. I’m afraid to climb to the top of a ladder, so I enjoyed it from the ground. William Rogers and Willard Ripley were first to make it to the top, on July 4, 1893.

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