On This Day in History

by Bob Sparrow

I’m starting a new feature here at From A Bird’s Eye View, which will occur whenever we haven’t traveled anywhere or we temporarily run out of other things to write about. This feature will recount some historical events that actually took place on the days of this week, along with my illuminating comments of little know facts.

Monday, May 25th

1803 – Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American poet and philosopher was born and lived in Massachusetts, but later in life, health issues caused him to move to South Carolina, then he moved to Florida, then he moved to . . . well, they don’t exactly know where, and thus the game ‘Where’s Waldo?’ was born.

1925 – In the ‘Monkey Trial’, John T. Scopes was indicted for teaching the theory of evolution in a Tennessee classroom. Within the state the event was more commonly referred to as the ‘If-I-Divorce-My-Wife-Is-She-Still-My-Sister Trial’.

oprah1997 – At age 100, Senator Strom Thurmond retires as the oldest serving senator in U.S. history; he had actually passed away three years earlier, but the first ‘Do Nothing Congress’ thought he was just sleeping at this desk again.

2011 – After 25 years, Oprah Winfrey, weighing in at 223 pounds, aired her last TV show as she finally ran out of fad diets to promote.

Tuesday, May 26

1936 – The House Un-American Activities Committee begins its first session of searching for subversives in the U.S. and had to go no further than their own congressional chambers to find some.jackson

1946 – A patent was filed in the United States for the H-bomb.  Later, when ‘Hell’ was more readily accepted into the American lexicon, it was replaced by the ‘F-bomb’.

1994 – In what turned out to be a ‘Bad’ ‘Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Love’, Michael Jackson weds Elvis’ daughter, Lisa Marie Presley.

Wednesday, May 27

1927 – After 15 million cars, the Ford Motor Company ceases manufacture of the ‘Model T’ and begins to retool plants to make way for the car that will change Ford’s history, the Edsel.

1941 – U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared an “unlimited national emergency”. Yes, in May not on Dec 7th. Conspiracy theorists say that when no one really paid attention to Roosevelt’s declaration, he staged Pearl Harbor.

jones1997 – The U.S. Supreme Court rules that Paula Jones can pursue her sexual harassment lawsuit against President Bill Clinton while he is in office. Unfortunately she had to get into a line that stretched for a half a mile down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Thursday, May 28

1952 – The women of Greece are granted the right to vote. Yes, in 1952!!!  Sixty-four years later in 2016 Saudi Arabia put the ‘woman’s vote’ up for consideration, but it was voted down – BY AN ALL MALE ELECTORATE!

The ‘all male’ voting rule also exists today in Vatican City, which only allows cardinals under the age of 80 to vote and since canon law does not allow women to be ordained as priests, there are no women cardinals and thus they have been able to both age and gender discriminate with one simple law.

Quayle1972 – White house ‘plumbers’ break into the Democratic National HQ at the Watergate Hotel and while searching through George McGovern’s room, find a poster of Bernie Sanders above his bed.

1987 60th National Spelling Bee: Stephanie Petit wins spelling ‘staphylococci’ – she beat out future Vice President Dan Quayle, who just barely missed the spelling of ‘potato’.

Friday, May 29

1916 – To get a pre-season ‘patsy’ game win under its belt and warm up before entering World War I, the U.S. invades the Dominican Republic

1919Einstein’s theory of relativity (the light-bending prediction part, my personal favorite) in 1916 is confirmed by Arthur Eddington; I’m sure you’re more-than-familiar with this simple formula below.einstein

1942Bing Crosby records Irving Berlin’s White Christmas and it becomes the best-selling single in history. Today he would have to also record  Black Christmas, Brown Christmas and Rainbow Coalition Christmas.  In a separate, but related story, in an effort not to slight the Smurfs, Elvis records Blue Christmas.

1953Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay become the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest where they find the world’s first Starbucks.

I hope these events will help you feel a little more connected to this week and get you through it with a smile.

 

The Queen Mary – Luxury Liner, Troop Carrier . . . and Haunted

by Bob Sparrow

G&L2     In an effort to get our readers and myself into the ‘spirit’ of Halloween this week, I visited, what has been billed as, ‘one of the most haunted places in the world’ – the Queen Mary. Not the actual queen, although by the looks of her picture in the grand foyer, she could have haunted a house, but I’m speaking of the ship the RMS Queen Mary, now docked in the port of Long Beach. Two ‘Haunted Tours’ were offered, I took both of them, but first a little history of this grand ship (Don’t worry, I’ll make this the Reader’s Digest version).

      Commissioned in 1936 as a luxury liner, she was soon put to work as a troop carrier when World War II broke out. In fact, she still holds the record for the most people (troops) transported across the Atlantic in a single voyage – 16,683! She was painted gray to help avoid detection and was ironically called the ‘Gray Ghost’, long before any ghost stories about her emerged. Hitler actually had a bounty on her, offering over $2 million to any U-boat captain that could sink her. There were two reasons the mustachioed maniac never had to pay up, 1) the Queen Mary was actually quite fast and could outrun a German submarine, and 2) the code breaker, Enigma, helped identify the location of German U-boats.

qm troop carrier

Troop carrier

      After the war she went back to being a luxury liner and for a mere $1,400 you could cross the Atlantic on her. Doesn’t sound like much now, but the average income in the U.S. in the late 40s was right around $2,000 . . . a year! Which is why the ship’s manifest included such names as, Bob Hope, Fred Astaire, Greta Garbo, Bing Crosby, Clark Gable and Elizabeth Taylor.

      OK, let’s get to the spooky part. The first tour I took was called ‘Ghosts & Legends’ and was much like Disney’s ‘Haunted Mansion’; it was a walking tour that took a group of about 12 of us into the bowels of the ship, down narrow stairs and dark passageways with special effects along the way. We stopped at one of the two indoor pools where we could hear people splashing and playing – real water drops hit our face, despite the fact that the pool has been empty for decades. We continued further down in an elevator, but when we exited, the doors jammed behind us and we had no way to get back up. Just then, leaks began to appear in the ships ironclad walls and water came pouring in – we seemed doomed, but we escaped just in time as our guide lead us to a secret passageway to safety. This tour is definitely not for those afraid of the dark or the claustrophobic.

b340

Room B340

      The second tour I took was called ‘Haunted Encounters’, where a guide took us throughout the ship and related real ghost stories evoking such characters as the last captain of the ship, a ‘lady in white’, a young girl who still swims in the pool, a crew member who was crushed to death in the engine room by the closing of ‘Door 13’, as well as other various ‘shadow people’ and balls of light. One of the most intriguing stories was about Room B340, where a man was purportedly murdered, faucets turn on by themselves and bed sheets fly across the room. The room has provided so many paranormal experiences that it is no longer rented out, in fact, as the picture I took when in the room shows, it is completely bare of furniture.

      The tour ended with our guide telling us of several ‘ghost stories’ that he     experienced personally including seeing wet footprints by the pool that’s been dry for decades. I couldn’t tell if he was telling the truth or he had to make up those stories so he could keep his job. Either way, the stories were very entertaining. The tour ended and we were left to wander the ship on our own to see if we could have any encounters of third kind.

foyer

Grand Foyer

      As I walked through the Grand Foyer and poked my head into the Grand Ballroom to get a peek, I was struck by how truly grand this ship is, even today. The art deco décor was so 40s that it seemed ‘in’ today. It truly must have been magnificent in its day.  My visit to the Queen Mary was complete, including a honest-to-goodness paranormal experience . . . or was it just a coincidental iPhone malfunction?

     Oh, the paranormal experience? I swear this is true; back when I was visiting room B340 I waited until everyone had cleared out of the room so I could take a picture of it with my phone. I took the shot you see here and then my phone vibrated and showed the ‘Ringer Silent’ and the symbol of the bell with a line through it (putting my phone on vibrate), then it vibrated again and the symbol ‘Ringer’ and the bell with no line through it; that happened three times in a row! Yes, vibrating frantically each time as it went on and off, and I never touched the vibrate on/off switch – honest!

 Have a Happy Halloween – may the ‘spirits’ be with you!

Opening Day at Del Mar (Part 1)

by Bob Sparrow

DSC00657      I can count the number of horse races I’ve been to by scratching the ground with my hoof three times, and the number of Opening Days I’ve been to without scratching the ground at all.  But I live about an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Del Mar where Bing Crosby, Gary Cooper, Jimmy Durante, Pat O’Brien and Oliver Hardy, all part owners, celebrated Del Mar’s first Opening Day back in 1937, so I felt it was time for me to join some 43,000 other fans and open up this year’s racing season at the Del Mar Race Track. 

     I was told to get there early and use the entrance by the ‘Turf Club’ – that’s where all the Hollywood stars go in.  As I’m waiting for the gates to open there, I did see a couple that was trying very hard to look like Scarlett Johansson and Bradley Cooper, but came off looking more like Rosie O’Donnell and Alice Cooper, in stupid hats.  It seemed as if Silicon Valley had moved a little south for the day, but this day was not about nipping and tucking, in fact it wasn’t even really about horse racing . . . it was mostly about hats!  One could find hats of every shape, color and description, and some that were beyond description – some elegant, some hideous.

   DSC00636    DSC00666   DSC00646   DSC00662

     The ‘show’ had started and I wasn’t even inside yet, and it became painfully obvious that I was not going to be let in at the ‘Turf Club’ entrance (I think my skin was too loose), so I meandered down to the ‘Steerage’ gate and was herded through.

“I’d like to buy a  . . . schedule . . . a list of the races . . . a program, a . . . ”                                                                                                                                         “Racing Form?”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         “Yes, that’s it, thank you”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     “Good luck buddy!”

With racing form in hand, I pretend to study it, or do whatever it is one does with a racing form.  It makes me thirsty and son of a gun if they don’t have plenty of places to buy a drink.

“That’ll be nine dollars”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           “I’m sorry I just wanted one beer”                                                                                                                                                                                                                       “That’s all you’re getting for nine dollars”                                                                                                                                                                                                           “But it’s only 10 ounces, that’s almost a dollar an ounce!”                                                                                                                                                                                     “Sir, there’s a line behind you”                                                                                                                                                                                                                               “Fine!”

     The beer went down too quickly (Hey, it was only 10 ounces!) and I soon find myself back in the $9 beer line reading the racing form and having a little trouble understanding some of the jargon therein.  I asked another $9 beer line-stander for the definition of a ‘furlong’; he said, “Let me put it this way, with your racing knowledge and proclivity for drinking, your money won’t last furlong.”  I didn’t like his answer, so I turned to another line-stander and ask him to explain what the ‘odds’ meant.  He said, “All you need to know is that they’re always against you”.  I quit asking, but continued to study the racing form and found out that horses in a ‘Maiden Race’ and I have a lot in common, neither of us have ever won a race.

     But today the horses and racing are really secondary to the festivities, and I don’t want to bury my head in racing form statistics while all the ‘festivities’ walk by in short skirts, high heels and bodacious . . . hats.

     I asked a group of young ladies if they wouldn’t mind posing for me for a picture.  The picture below shows their response.

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Thursday: Opening Day at Del Mar (Part 2)  My ‘pole position’ seat

In Search of the ‘Road to Zanzibar’

 by Bob Sparrow

     I’m not sure if it was the Robert Frost poem The Road Not Taken, Charles Kuralt’s ‘Road Books’ or the old ‘Road Movies’ that got me hooked, but ‘the road’ has always had a certain appeal to me, particularly the one less traveled – like the one to Zanzibar.

     When I was first introduced to the Frost poem in high school freshman English by Miss O’Brien I’m guessing my eyes glazed over as she explained the symbolism presented therein – hey, it was first period and I didn’t drink coffee yet (I was told it would stunt my growth!).  But at some point, much later, I not only ‘got it’, but I embraced it.  So if anyone knows the whereabouts of Miss O’Brien, please let her know that I didn’t turn into the illiterate reprobate that she suggested I might.

     My attraction to Charles Kuralt’s books came later in life – watching him on CBS’s Sunday Morning and then following his adventures through his ‘road books’ as he traveled the back roads of American and, as he put it, ‘drifted with the current of life’.

     But if I’m being honest, my first bite from the ‘wanderlust’ bug came from those ‘road pictures’ (that what they called movies back then) – Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour cavorting in such exotic places as Singapore, Zanzibar, Morocco, Bali – I admit to having all seven ‘pictures’ in VHS and DVD.  OK, I know now that they never got off Paramount Pictures back lot, but as a kid I bought into those phony sets and white men with face-black playing the role of the natives.  It was those movies that let me know at an early age that there were far-off places that were very different from the neighborhood I knew – and I wanted to see them.  Zanzibar sounded particularly mysterious – I wanted to travel that road.

    Now as each summer approaches, I ask myself, ‘Where in the world do I want to go?’  As if in answer to my question, I received a copy of National Geographic Traveler  in the mail.  I don’t remember subscribing to it, but it had my name on the cover label so I guess I did.  I’m a sucker for any travel magazine and subject to impulse buying of such things so I probably ordered it.  In this issue they touted the “50 Tours of a Lifetime”.  I skipped right to page 82 where the article began.  I was intrigued by the kind of places they were naming:  Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Patagonia, Myanmar.  It’s a good day for me when I can work the word Zimbabwe into my conversation – it’s just a fun word to say.  “Oh, that Ivory carving?  I got it in a small village on the border of Zimbabwe and Mozambique.”  I like saying Mozambique too, so it’s really a good day when I can get them both into the same sentence.

     A further examination of these ‘Fifty Tours of a Lifetime’ revealed two things:

           1)  I’d need several ‘lifetime’ just to get to them all in, and

          2)  I’d need several more lifetimes to earn the money necessary to pay for these tours.

To wit:

     Zimbabwe –15 day tour, $6,295 (Side trip to Mozambique and ivory carving not  included)

     Myanmar – 9 days, $7,495 (Previously known as Burma – you remember ‘Burma Road’, or perhaps Burma Shave?  Doesn’t matter, they’re both gone now)

     Botswana – 15 days, $17,825   ($17,825!!!  Wow, I would like to work Botswana into a conversation as well, but not at these prices!)

      I finally came to the realization that looking at the ’50 Tours of a Lifetime’ was like looking at a Playboy Magazine – I’m seeing places I’ll never get to.

      But I will hit some back roads this summer and see if I can ‘drift along with the current of life’ and report back to you; I’d encourage you to do the same thing.  Let us know about your ‘roads less traveled’.

POST SCRIPT:  I’ve yet to hit the ‘Road to Zanzibar’, it actually requires a boat since Zanzibar is a city on the island of Unguja off the east coast of Africa, but I guess you knew that.