I don’t know why I started wondering about Bigfoot this morning. Yes, the actual Bigfoot, as in Sasquatch the large mysterious cryptid hominid of North America’s Pacific Northwest region. I don’t put much faith in the whole Bigfoot phenomenon because I think one would have been discovered by now if it existed, making it all that more unusual for me to suddenly have this interest in the topic. If folks want to believe in it then I’m happy for them. I hope they find one. I’ll get excited when I can visit one in a zoo.
There was a particularly famous image of a so-called encounter that seeded my thoughts. I think many 12MC readers might be familiar with it. The photo depicted a critter in mid stride, arms swinging, ambling along a creek bed with trees in the background. Some basic checking revealed it as Frame 352 of the Patterson–Gimlin film. I won’t reproduce it here because of potential copyright limitations. Even Wikipedia used the image with some trepidation so curious readers can follow the link and probably come to the instant realization that they’ve seen it before. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
My actual goal was designed to uncover the exact spot where the Patterson–Gimlin "sighting" occurred. That was relatively easy to find because the notoriety of the image generated a lot of follow-up efforts either to confirm or debunk the story. It was a spot along Bluff Creek in Northern California’s Six Rivers National Forest. Curiosity satisfied, I still faced a quandary. How could I illustrate an event when I couldn’t use a copyrighted image? Let’s just say interesting things happen when one types Bigfoot into the search bar at Flickr. That’s how I got sent down tangents like,
The Hairy Man Festival
Bigfoot / Hairy Man by JD Hancock, on Flickr (cc)
The mere existence of Austin Texas’ Hairy Man Festival seemed completely bizarre. The truth behind it was even better.
The legend of the hairy man dates all the way back to the 1800’s, when Hairy Man Road in Round Rock was just a simple dirt path that cut through a dense wooded area parallel to Brushy Creek. Travelers who navigated the route gained convenient passage in and out of Austin, but at a price: They risked angering a territorial hermit who did not take kindly to trespassers.
So about twenty years ago local residents decided to hold a festival with a Hairy Man theme. It featured lots of live music, a 5K race along Hairy Man Road (map) and even a Hairiest Man Contest with a $500 prize. People will find any excuse for a party and that’s what makes things like this wonderful.
Hairy Hill, Alberta, Canada
Canadians could be hairy too in the form of a tiny village, Harry Hill in Alberta (map).
Hairy Hill was too small to have much of anything recorded about it although Twelve Mile Circle did uncover one local source that claimed,
The unusual name of this small community is rooted in history. The buffalo used to sun themselves on these picturesque hills and had rubbing wallows where large amounts of hair would accumulate. In the 1900’s when the Canadian Pacific Railway laid its tracks they found all the buffalo hair on the large hills and named the hamlet Hairy Hill. The original hamlet site was located two miles south of its present location and was relocated to be closer to the railway. The hamlet of Hairy Hill is only 95 km from Edmonton and plays host to the very popular Hairy Hill Rodeo
Somehow I found bison hair much more comforting as a source of legend than either the possibility of Bigfoot running through dense wilderness in California or the mentally unstable man in need of a barber who harassed travelers in Texas. One would need to move to Manitoba for that level of oddity, where Hairy Man Point (map) was named for the supposed spotting of a large hairy man by the Ojibwa sometime in the distant past.
Yowie! It Must Be Australia
Woodburn Yowie by Sydney Wired, on Flickr (cc)
On a roll, I decided to examine Hairy places in Australia too, encountering both Hairy Mans Rock in New South Wales (map) and Harry Man Creek in Victoria (map). Very little information existed about either place although they both seemed to be related to Yowie stories. I have to admit being ignorant of Yowies until just now. They appeared to be similar to the Bigfoot phenomenon and based upon legends passed down by Aborigines.
That’s enough hair for one day. I think I need a haircut.
Floods are awful in any form and I don’t wish to diminish or make light of that one overriding consideration. However there are floods of a "normal" variety — if an event so awful can be referred to so cavalierly — and then there are truly bizarre floods. Either way, lives are lost, property is damaged, and communities are disrupted. Things seem to be a little different and particularly undignified in certain circumstances though, for example when the flood is a raging torrent of molasses.
The Great Molasses Flood of 1919
Fire House no. 31 damaged, Molasses Disaster. 1:00pm by Boston Public Library, on Flickr (cc)
A large storage tank of molasses filled by the Purity Distilling Company burst in Boston’s North End in January 1919. An official inquiry failed to establish a definitive reason, ascribing it to an "Act of God." Several theories were offered over the years including a buildup of carbon dioxide that may have been caused by an unusually warm winter day. Very recently the Boston Globe reported another possibility:
Now, a study has shed new light on the cause of the collapse, finding that the tank was stressed well beyond capacity and made from a steel susceptible to fracture — the same type used on the Titanic… The steel was too thin to withstand the enormous stress of 2.3 million gallons of molasses, a weakness builders should have known at the time… What builders at the time could not have known was that the type of steel used for the tank was brittle because it contained a low amount of the chemical element manganese, making it more likely to crack.
The bursting tank sent a huge wave of molasses into the neighborhood. Different sources pegged the wave at between 25 and 40 feet (8-12 metres) high. It slammed into homes, twisted an elevated railroad track, knocked a firehouse off of its foundation, and killed 21 people in its sticky wake. Another 150 people were injured. Local residents swore they could still smell a hint of molasses on particularly hot summer days for years afterwards.
The Commercial Street location where the tank once stood eventually became the infield of a baseball diamond at Langone Park (map). A small plaque reminds Little Leaguers® of the molasses tragedy.
The London Beer Flood of 1814
Dominion Theatre, London West End by Ian Nichol, on Flickr (cc)
How did I miss the 200th anniversary of London’s beer flood? The Independent knew about it and commemorated it though:
An unlimited, free supply of beer – it sounds wonderful doesn’t it? But when it is over one million litres in volume and in a tidal wave at least 15 feet high, as it was in the London Beer Flood on 17 October 1814, the prospect seems less appealing… a broken vat at the Horse Shoe Brewery on Tottenham Court Road flooded the local area with porter, a dark beer native to the capital, killing eight people and demolishing a pair of homes.
The brewery had been set in an underprivileged neighborhood, a slum called St. Giles Rookery. The flimsy buildings couldn’t withstand the onslaught of beer. People were crammed into the tenements all the way down to the cellars, and that’s where much of the tragedy occurred. Those in cellars were trapped as beer poured in and filled to ground level.
This accident was also ascribed to an Act of God even though witnesses had reported signs of an impending rupture earlier in the day. The owner, Henry Meux, even managed to get a favorable ruling that allowed him to get a refund on the taxes he’d paid on the beer. Negligence had much different standards back in those days.
The Horse Shoe Brewery (image) had been founded in 1764. One might think that perhaps this tragedy would have closed the brewery. It didn’t. Horse Shoe hummed along for another century and more, all the way until 1921. Upon closing, the land was put to a completely different use. It became the site of the Dominion Theatre, built in 1928-29 (map).
The Swine Sewage Flood of 1999
The Swine Ballet by Kiesha Jean, on Flickr (cc)
Conditions in tidal North Carolina were favorable for hog farming. However, this industry also had a dirty underside, the bodily wastes of millions of pigs:
North Carolina’s 10 million hogs produce 40 million gallons of manure each day — that’s more than the number of people in the state. In Duplin County alone, 2.2 million hogs produce twice as much untreated manure as the sewage from the New York City metro area.
These wastes were stored in manure lagoons, essentially open pits "operated to encourage anaerobic digestion of organic material while it is being stored." They can be susceptible to spills if not constructed and maintained properly.
Hurricanes do hit North Carolina periodically and that’s what happened with Hurricane Floyd in September 1999. The same area had already been hit by the much weaker Hurricane Dennis less than two weeks earlier so the water table was up and the ground saturated. Floyd slammed into the coast right at North Carolina’s Cape Fear region before moving into the Mid-Atlantic and up into New England. It doused eastern North Carolina with tremendous rainfall as it passed, leading to widespread flooding throughout the area. According to the North Carolina Riverkeepers and Waterkeeper Alliance:
Waterkeepers and other environmental leaders in this state had been warning the Governor and members of the NC legislature for years about the destruction that would accompany a storm like Floyd. Thousands of huge cesspools, called "lagoons," filled with feces, urine and other toxins, blanketed the flood prone area. Many were located in the worst possible area, the floodplain itself.
The noxious sewage deluge polluted many of the local rivers and estuaries, spreading fecal coliform bacteria, polluting wells and creating dead zones were much aquatic life could not survive. The New River (map) was hit especially hard all along its fifty mile course that took it directly past US Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune before flushing into the Atlantic Ocean.
The one thing all of these undignified floods had in common was that they could have been prevented.
I suppose this is something of a Part 3 addendum to the recent Southern Swing articles although maybe it’s not truly the case. Perhaps it would be better to call it "inspired" by those earlier articles. We broke the return trip into a two-day event with an overnight stay in Knoxville, Tennessee. The hotel happened to be located near the Sunsphere, a tower designed for the 1982 World’s Fair. That was a happy coincidence although unintentional. We never saw the tower during daylight because there’s a lot of darkness near the northern hemisphere’s winter solstice. That’s why I couldn’t get a decent photograph although I still gave it a shot. The sight also made me wonder about towers that have been built for World Fairs in general. Some of them became iconic structures while others fell into relative obscurity.
Sunsphere (1982) – Knoxville, Tennessee, USA
Sunsphere (my own photo)
The Sunsphere that we saw in Knoxville seemed to fall amongst those that didn’t quite capture public imagination (map); "It represents the sun, source of energy, and reflected the energy theme of the fair." I guess that wasn’t inspirational enough. It looked like a giant Van der Graaf generator. I guarantee it would have become iconic if it actually shot giant bolts of lightning. Sadly, it did not.
During the fair the Sunsphere featured five primary levels, an observation deck, a kitchen, two dining levels, and a cocktail lounge. It had a hard life once the fair ended, standing either vacant or underused for three decades and counting. However, it’s available for rent should someone want to use it for a wedding reception, a corporate event, or a 12MC reader happy hour.
As an aside, I wasn’t aware that the World’s Fair was still a thing. Apparently those events still exist and one will be held in Milan in 2015. None have occurred in the United States since 1984 and that’s probably why I though EPCOT or something must have replaced them by now.
La Tour Eiffel (1889) – Paris, France
La Tour Eiffel by Christopher Chan, on Flickr (cc)
I had no idea that the Eiffel Tower in Paris was a remnant of a World’s Fair (map). It served as the centerpiece of the Exposition Universelle of 1889 which also commemorated the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. The tower that Gustave Eiffel erected brought strong negative reactions from critics at the time and became a beloved symbol despite their pronouncements. Twelve Mile Circle doesn’t need to mention anything else about the Eiffel Tower, right?
It would be many years before another World’s Fair would attempt to feature a tower. How could any other city top such an iconic structure?
Atomium (1958) – Brussels, Belgium
Atomium landscape by Vase Petrovski, on Flickr (cc)
Neighboring Belgium made an honest attempt in 1958 with its Atomium for the Brussels World’s Fair (Brusselse Wereldtentoonstelling / Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Bruxelles) (map). This was the height of the atomic age. An oddly shiny building with 9 interconnected spheres climbing 102 metres and fashioned in the form of an iron atom enlarged 165 billion times seemed to be an optimal choice for the times. The Atomium can still be visited today and its website describes it as,
A seminal totem in the Brussels skyline; neither tower, nor pyramid, a little bit cubic, a little bit spherical, half-way between sculpture and architecture, a relic of the past with a determinedly futuristic look, museum and exhibition centre; the Atomium is, at once, an object, a place, a space, a Utopia and the only symbol of its kind in the world, which eludes any kind of classification.
Readers can also use Google Street View to go inside of the Atomium. It’s quite a structure.
Space Needle (1962) – Seattle, Washington, USA
Space Needle and Pacific Science Center by Terence T.S. Tam, on Flickr (cc)
Seattle’s Space Needle (map) didn’t quite hit the same iconic status as the Eiffel Tower although it probably came closer than any of the other examples. Certainly, it would be recognized instantly by many people far beyond the Pacific Northwest. Fashions had begun to transition from the atomic age into the space age and the Seattle World’s Fair reflected those changing times.
Tower of the Americas (1968) – San Antonio, Texas, USA
Tower of the Americas (my own photo)
I’ve been to the top of the Tower of the Americas. San Antonio’s convention center is located next to HemisFair Park where the tower was built (map). I went to San Antonio a few years ago for a conference and I had a little extra time so I rode to the top.
This World’s Fair featured "The Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas" as its theme. I’m not sure how the tower reflected that concept although it’s still impressive. The fair commemorated the 250th anniversary of San Antonio and supposedly the theme also referenced several nations that held sway of Texas territory. Some might say 6 Flags Over Texas, other might claim 7 Flags, or whatever.
The Skyneedle (1988) – Brisbane, Australia
Entire Skyneedle by Mervin, on Flickr (cc)
The weirdest World’s Fair tower might have been the Skyneedle in Brisbane (map). It reached 88 metres and appropriately matched World Expo 88. However the tower did not accommodate visitors. It was too small. Instead it shot a beam of light around the city. The Skyneedle was supposed to be relocated to Tokyo Disneyland once the fair closed. Instead, it became the possession of a local hairdresser entrepreneur, Stefan, who moved it to his headquarters nearby. Yelp had a number of amusing reviews:
Standing tall, proud and pointless Brisbane’s Skyneedle is capable of the occasional light show and little else. Even its powerful beam is only allowed to be used on special occasions as it is a potential risk to plane’s coming in to land at Brisbane airport. But despite its inherent absurdity, or more correctly, because of its inherent absurdity Stefan’s Needle has become a much loved part of the city skyline.
Pity the Skyneedle.