Out of Season

On September 21, 2017 · 4 Comments

A strange sight confounded my older son as we walked through a warren of shops near the Santa Fe Plaza during our recent New Mexico trip. He spotted a year-round Christmas store. It didn’t register on my mind until he pointed it out, I guess because I’d seen plenty of them before. Although, as I thought about it longer, the notion did seem peculiar. Christmas felt impossibly removed from the high desert in the middle of July. Yet, the shop attracted plenty of foot traffic and presumably did well enough to keep momentum even outside of the advent season. Twelve Mile Circle once posted a story on seasonal towns so it seemed like a fine opportunity to now study seasonal businesses that defied the odds.

More Christmas


DSC_0040
Bronner’s West entrance. Photo by Sue Talbert Photography on Flickr (cc)

I imagined that Christmas stores probably did better than many other off-season enterprises. As I mentioned, they didn’t even register on my mind until my son pointed one out. They’ve done so well they’ve been "normalized" in many people’s consciousness, even though they catered to an event that happened just one day each year. Amazing.

The granddaddy of all shops must be Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Michigan (map). I have a relative that simply must stop there whenever nearby, as just one example. Apparently "over 2 million" other people per year agreed. Wally Bronner founded this epic Christmas extravaganza in 1945 and it grew to cover several acres of shopping space with 100,000 lights, 800 animated figures and parking for a thousand cars.

I enjoy Christmas as much as anybody although I don’t really understand the year-round phenomenon.


Fireworks


South of the Border Billboard
South of the Border Billboard. Photo by SeeBeeW on Flickr (cc)

I understood year-round fireworks just slightly more than permanent Christmas. Sure, almost every firework in the United States detonats on July 4 for Independence Day. Sometimes people saved a handful for special events though, like New Years Eve or if their favorite sports team won a championship, or things of that nature. Generally though, little plywood fireworks stands tended to pop-up a couple of weeks before July 4 only to disappear just as suddenly like mushrooms on a lawn. Operating an all-year fireworks stores didn’t seem like a great business model, yet they existed.

Lots of them seemed to flourish around state borders, generally in South Carolina although I’ve seen them in other states. They found a niche wherever the laws of one state fell out of balance with its neighbor. I mentioned that situation in Right up to the Line when I discussed the ever-tacky South of the Border (map). Plenty of other fireworks warehouses also clustered nearby, tempting drivers along Interstate 95 as they entered South Carolina. Practically anything that blew up could be sold there legally.

Unlike a Christmas shop, a fireworks warehouse probably couldn’t stay afloat just anywhere as an all-year business. It needed to work by osmosis. Sales seemed to focus on outsiders that wanted to bring "the good stuff" back to their home states.


Ice Cream


The Freeze
The Freeze. Photo by Travis on Flickr (cc)Yo

I switched my thoughts from annual events to extreme weather patterns. Near my home, and I’m sure near yours too, an ice cream shop kept selling its chilly treats even through the dead of winter. What if we took that notion to its utmost? Could a business like that survive all year in Alaska? Well, yes.

In Fairbanks, the average low temperatures generally hovered around -20° Fahrenheit (-29° Celcius) in the winter. It could get a lot colder than that, too. I found a bunch of ice cream shops in Fairbanks and most of them opened only during mild months, like May through August. That made perfect sense. Who would want ice cream warmer than the outside temperature? However, I did discover one place that remained open all year, College Town Creamery. They also offered non-frozen items so I’m sure that helped carry them through the cold, dark winter.

Really, I wanted to find something a little more Alaskan, a bit farther away from the city. The Freeze in remote Glennallen, Alaska (map) seemed to fit that definition. Unfortunately it appears they’ve closed. I guess ice cream in Alaska had its limits.


Hot Yoga


Hot Yoga
Hot Yoga. Photo by Todd Lappin on Flickr (cc)

Some people swear by hot yoga. This trend gained popularity largely through a style created by Bikram Choudhury. Other styles of hot yoga also existed. In Bikram yoga, room temperatures hovered around 104° F (40° C) as practitioners cycled through 26 predefined positions. I imagined people felt rather baked after an hour and a half-or-so in that oven. Maybe 12MC readers who’ve tried hot yoga can elaborate on its benefits or drawbacks.

I thought of Phoenix, Arizona where summertime temperatures often topped 110" F (43° C). I’ve never been hotter in my life than a summertime visit to Phoenix a few years ago. Would hot yoga businesses survive year-round there? Indeed they could. I found so many of them that I had to stop counting. It seemed people in Arizona could tolerate a lot of heat.

Even More Spooky

On September 17, 2017 · Comments Off on Even More Spooky

It served me right for trying to guess what might please the Twelve Mile Circle audience. Longtime readers know that I’ve never been able to do that in the past even after all these years of trying. I probably should have waited until closer to Halloween. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this series — the exact locations of events even more than the stories themselves — and I still had a few spooky places on my mind. Bear with me one more time and then we’ll return to our regular content.

Typhoid Mary


Riverside Hospital
Riverside Hospital. Photo by reivax on Flickr (cc)

One doesn’t hear much about Typhoid Fever in the Western world anymore. This bacterial infection causes fever, headaches, body pains, weakness and rashes in its most virulent form. It might take weeks or months to fully recover. Sometimes it even kills. Typhoid practically disappeared when society started focusing on cleanliness and once antibiotics became the norm.

Some people appeared asymptomatic. They carried and spread typhoid without suffering any ill effects. That condition befell Mary Mallon, and Irish immigrant who lived in and around New York City. She cooked for several wealthy families and she didn’t believe in washing her hands before handling food. Good cooks found easy employment so she simply left each family after they contracted the disease and the cycle repeated. Outbreaks followed her several times as she switched to different families between 1900 and 1907. Authorities finally tracked her down and quarantined her at Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island (map). The hospital sat within eyesight of New York City, safely separated from the general population by the East River. Newspapers dubbed her "Typhoid Mary" and the name stuck.

Mary disavowed all responsibility and refused to be tested. Even so, the hospital released her after three years, stipulating that she must never work as a cook again. She kept that promise for a few years. Then she changed her name to Mary Brown and started cooking once again. The previous pattern of typhoid infections followed her. Once again authorities tracked her down and quarantined her, this time for life. Mary remained at Riverside Hospital from 1915 to 1938 until she died at a ripe old age… of pneumonia.


The Headless Horseman


A Ride in the Hollow
A Ride in the Hollow. Photo by Jessie Hodge on Flickr (cc)

The Headless Horseman starred in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," a short story published by Washington Irving in 1820. In this fictional account, the schoolmaster Ichabod Crane and his nemesis Abraham "Brom Bones" Van Brunt both sought the favor of the same young woman, Katrina Van Tassel. She dashed Ichabod’s hopes one evening at a party at her home.

Crane left dejected, riding on horseback through spooky woods thought to be haunted by a headless horseman. According to the legend, a Hessian soldier fighting in the American Revolution lost his head to a cannonball and he wanted it back. The spectral figure chased Crane through the eerie forest, as Crane raced towards a bridge at the Old Dutch Burying Grounds that supposedly marked safety. The ghost threw his decapitated head towards a terrified Crane. The next day they found his horse and a splattered pumpkin, but Crane was never seen again. The story implied that Brom Bones played on Crane’s superstitions and orchestrated the whole thing to get rid of him.

Of course, Washington Irving created the story as a fictional work. However he used a real setting. Sleepy Hollow existed as did legends of a headless spirit wandering there. Irving lived nearby so he set the story in a familiar place. The area came to be known as North Tarrytown. It fell on hard times long afterwards as the 20th Century wound down and a local General Motors factory closed. That’s when the village voted to change its name back to Sleepy Hollow to hopefully draw more tourists and help the local economy. They also erected a sculpture of the Headless Horseman chasing Ichabod Crane near the spot where the bridge stood in the story (map).


Jack the Ripper


Ten Bells, Spitalfields, E1
Ten Bells, Spitalfields, E1. Photo by Ewan Munro (cc)

Jack the Ripper terrorized Whitechapel in the East End of London for three months of 1888. The serial killer victimized prostitutes in slums, cutting throats, slicing abdomens and removing organs from bodies. As in the case of Typhoid Mary, an overly-competitive press in search of lurid headlines seized upon the story and sensationalized it to the point of frenzy. Numerous deaths were attributed to the killer, and dozens of theories spun from the imaginations of armchair detectives during the next century and beyond. Nonetheless, only five murders could be attributed to Jack the Ripper with any degree of certainty. These became known as the "canonical five" in the parlance of those who studied such things.

Much of Jack the Ripper’s London went the way of the wrecking ball a long time ago. However, a pub called The Ten Bells included a tenuous connection to two victims of the canonical five, Annie Chapman and Mary Jane Kelly. It still exists (map). Annie may have patronized the pub on the morning of her murder; and Mary Jane supposedly attracted clients on the street outside its doors.


Mothman


Mothman
Mothman. Photo by jmnecrikt on Flickr (cc)

A strange creature tormented residents near Point Pleasant, West Virginia in 1966 and 1967. It flew low over the treetops, a devilish figure with outstretched wings they dubbed Mothman. Allegedly it followed cars, killed farm animals and generally harassed and scared locals in a rural area outside of town near an old TNT plant. Then, on December 15, 1967, the Silver Bridge over the Ohio River that connecting Point Pleasant to Ohio collapsed. It happened during the evening when many people were returning home from work. Forty six people died. Witnesses claimed Mothman sightings that same evening and many locals blamed the creature for the tragedy. Some also claimed an appearance of a mysterious Man in Black soon thereafter, and speculated Mothman might be an alien connected to UFO sightings.

Encounters seemed to curtail although the old stories became the basis of a book called the The Mothman Prophecies in 1975 and a film of the same name in 2002. Point Pleasant loves its Mothman too. Entrepreneurs there erected a statue (map), opened a museum and started an annual Mothman Festival. Someday, as I finish my county counting efforts in West Virginia, I will stop there and see if I can spot Mothman myself.

More Spooky

On September 14, 2017 · 3 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle examined several infamous places in Spooky. I came up with a long list of possibilities to review although I had room for only a bare few in that first attempt. That led me to the conclusion that I should write another installment. There’s no sense wasting any more time so let’s get at it.

Roswell UFO


Roswell, NM
Roswell, NM. Photo by Tea on Flickr (cc)

One of the more well know incidents of Unknown Flying Objects took place in 1947 in Roswell, New Mexico. Witnesses saw a mysterious sphere crash into a remote corner of the desert (map). They figured it had to be aliens and that authorities were hiding the evidence. Stories of flying saucers captivated the public frequently during that era. This one seemed to fit the same general pattern and the account spread widely. However the United States government insisted emphatically that a UFO did not crash at Roswell. It was actually an identified flying object, an Air Force weather balloon. Detractors naturally thought that government officials would lie so their explanations only strengthened UFO conspiracy theories.

It turned out the government did lie to the public. The military finally confessed — fifty years after the fact — that witnesses hadn’t seen a weather balloon. According to the revised explanation, the object had been a balloon used to monitor nuclear tests. The government kept nuclear capabilities super-secret in the years after the Second World War so the weather balloon served as a convenient cover story. Or so it said.

If the government could lie once it could lie again, according to those who continued to believe that officials were hiding alien bodies somewhere in a military freezer. The Roswell incident created a whole cottage industry in that part of New Mexico, including a UFO Museum.


Lizzie Borden


The Borden House
The Borden House. Photo by WBUR Boston’s NPR News Station on Flickr (cc)

Lizzie Borden probably got away with murder and earned instant infamy for it. This also led to something of a nursery rhyme about the incident, although I couldn’t imagine anyone would teach their child to recite it. Nonetheless it became popular at the time and many people still recognize it today.

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Actually the (step-) mother got 18 whacks and the father got 11. That didn’t really matter though. They both died.

This horrific event took place at the family home in Fall River, Massachusetts (map). Circumstantial evidence pointed straight towards Lizzie.

Andrew Borden amassed a sizable estate by investing in textile mills and commercial properties. His first wife, Lizzie’s mother, passed away and then he married Abby Gray. Lizzie didn’t get along well with her step-mother. She thought Abby married her father for his money. After a particularly heated argument, Lizzie and her sister left town for several weeks in July 1892. Family tensions continued upon their return and the murders took place in August. Lizzie offered all sorts of suspicious and contradictory alibis. Even so, a jury failed to convict her and prosecutors never charged anyone else.

The family home still stands at its original site. It has been converted into a Bed and Breakfast inn. Rather than hid the building’s grisly past, the proprietors play it up about as much as humanly possible. It even offers an "official psychic" for spiritual readings in a particularly spooky setting. The most morbidly obsessed guests can even stay overnight in the room where Abby Borden died.


Loch Ness Monster


Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness
Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness. Photo by David McKelvey on Flickr (cc)

Of course Scotland’s Loch Ness made the list, perhaps the most famous monstrous place of them all. Sightings of the Loch Ness Monster went back centuries, supposedly all the way back to St. Columba in 565. Legend said he repelled the snakelike Nessie by making the sign of the cross. Accounts remained sporadic through the ages until taking off dramatically in 1933 and 1934. This included the ubiquitous "Surgeon’s Photograph." You’ve seen it. The grainy black and white image showed what appeared to be a serpent with its long neck and head rising above the waters of the loch. It turned out to be a practical joke that spiraled out of control. The hoax didn’t get exposed until more than a half-century later.

Some of the more well-known sightings took place at Urquhart Castle, on a promontory above the waters (map). I went there a number of years ago and looked all across the loch for quite awhile. I even went to the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition. However, as much as I wanted to join the list of witnesses, I never say anything out of the ordinary. Several high-tech expeditions have tried to find the hidden creature too, although success continues to elude them.


Bonus

The Salem Witch House also came to mind as I considered my list. That one got a mention by 12MC quite awhile ago in Halloween Spots. Feel free to head over to that earlier article if you want to see its exact location.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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