Sunday, August 31, 2014

So…You Want To Own An Entire Town?

Have you ever been fascinated with the idea of buying a town?  Owning the entire thing—land, buildings, streets—along with the perks such as being the mayor and chief of police, being able to set down the rules and institute local laws.  However, along with that also comes the responsibilities and obligations to the town and the residents.

Owning a town is not such a far-fetched idea.  From time to time small towns and villages will come on the market for sale.  There are, of course, exceptions but the desire to buy a small town generally falls into three categories:

1)  Someone with a lot of money who's looking for a hobby, usually an ego thing of being able to claim ownership of a town and a personal zip code.

2)  Someone who is trying to create a 'green community', usually a commune type settlement or an artist's colony.

3)  A family project where they want a place to live away from the confines of the city where they can ranch or farm but also have already established businesses and rentals as a source of income.

The biggest problem is funding.  Banks do not look at generally run-down isolated villages as good collateral.

Here's an example of some small towns and villages recently on the market for sale.

Henry River Mill Village, North Carolina:
On sale for $1.4 million, this was the location used as the downtrodden community of District 12 in the film The Hunger Games.  The property covers 72 acres and has over 20 buildings.  The town's current owner says he's had several interested potential buyers since the release of the movie…and lots of tourists with cameras at all hours of the day and night.

Pray, Montana:
Also on sale for $1.4 million, this 5 acre town is located 30 miles from Yellowstone National Park and has been privately owned since it was founded in 1909.

Buford, Wyoming:
Auctioned off on April 5, 2012, for $900,000, this approximately 10 acre town is reportedly the second oldest town in Wyoming, located 28 miles west of Cheyenne and just north of the Colorado border.  It was built in 1866 for railroad workers.  Businesses included in the sale were the Buford Trading Post consisting of a convenience store and gas station, U.S. Post Office boxes, a cellular tower with lease, and five other buildings.

Monse, Washington:
Originally put up for sale in 2003 with an asking price of $575,000, this 60 acre town about halfway between Seattle and Spokane included an old schoolhouse, 7 houses, a general store and post office.  In spite of that, it remained unsold for several years until the owners split up the land into parcels.

Courbefy, France:
This French village was put up for auction in February 2012 for an asking price of euro 300,000 (approx. $400,000 U.S. dollars at that time), but no one bid on it.  The owners had run it as a luxury hotel and restaurant, but abandoned it in 2008.  The property, located 280 miles southwest of Paris, also includes a tennis court, horse stable, swimming pool, and more than a dozen buildings.  The deserted French village was finally sold at a follow up auction to a U.S.-based Korean photographer for euro520,000 ($663,000 at the time of sale).

Scenic, South Dakota:
Originally put on the market for $3 million, the 12 acre town plus surrounding land for a total of 46 acres remained unsold for 2 years until the price dropped to $799,000 in July 2011.  The property was purchased by a church which was established in the Philippines in 1914.  Someone from the church is living in the town and working on repairs, but the group's plans are still unknown.  There is a post office in the town and, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, no decision has been made about whether it will be closed as part of the moratorium on post office closings.

Garryowen, Montana:
Put on the market in 2008 for $6.5 million, this property is near the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument where, in 1876, Sioux and Cheyenne warriors defeated Custer's 7th Cavalry.  The property includes a trading post, museum, office complex, bed and breakfast, post office, gas station, restaurant, and a 4000 sq. ft. residence.

The Grove, Texas:
Purchased in 2008 for $200,000, The Grove was founded in 1859 as a farming community and eventually turned into a ghost town in the 1930s when the highway was rerouted away from the town.  The woman who purchased the town was the granddaughter of the former owner of the town's general store.

Rocky Bar, Idaho:
In June 2007, 9.8 acres comprising about half the ghost town of Rocky Bar sold for $250,000 giving the new owner a hotel, mine, wading pool, town jail, plus timber and mineral rights.  He plans to restore the old buildings to their original 1800s.

Palisade, Nevada:
The 160 acre town was purchased at auction in 2005 for $150,000.  Located halfway between Reno, Nevada, and Salt Lake City, Utah, the 135 year old town was once a railroad connection for nearby mines and included a cemetery.  According to local legend, an assassination attempt on President Herbert Hoover was thwarted in 1932 when dynamite was found on a railroad trestle minutes before his train was scheduled to pass through there on the way to Palo Alto, California.

Bridgeville, California:
Is currently on the market (2012) for the third time in four years, the 64 acre riverfront town has an asking price of $1.35 million which includes riverfront lots, 10 rental houses, and a building leased by the post office.

Swett, South Dakota:
The town's current population consists of two (the owner) and includes 6 acres of prairie, a house, three trailers, and its own bar.  The current owner bought the town in 1998 and now has it on the market for $400,000 (July 2014).

Harmony, California:
A small, unincorporated town that recently sold for an undisclosed amount, located on scenic Highway 1 on the California coast approximately 15 miles south of Hearst Castle.  The one block, 2.5 acre town has a consistent population of 18 and is an artists' community. Of the towns listed here, this is the only one I've visited.

Have you ever had a desire to own a town with your personal zip code?  You may find that the economic inconveniences far outweigh the prestige perks.  Prospective owners quickly realize that owning a town, handling the responsibilities and obligations to the residents, is a bigger job than they thought and a lot more costly.  They need to maintain the public areas including streets and sidewalks, keeping the all important infrastructure in good repair such as clean water and power and sewer, and keeping the rental properties in good repair.

Buying your town is a step that should not be taken without researching all the aspects of ownership—good and bad.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Real Story Of The Hound Of The Baskervilles

 Cromer Hall

Several months ago I was watching Castle Secrets And Legends on the Travel Channel.  One of the segments was about Cromer Hall in England (located just outside Cromer, about 140 miles or so northeast of London).  The Cabell family have been owner and residents of Cromer Hall for the last 150 years.

A local legend told to a visiting Conan Doyle, along with the physical description of the actual Cromer Hall built in 1829, are said to have been Doyle's inspiration for The Hound Of The Baskervilles published in 1902. Being a Sherlock Holmes fan, I was pleased when they showed that episode again about a month ago.  I augmented the information they provided with a little research of my own, starting with locating Cromer on a map.

According to a legend told to Doyle, on August 5, 1577, a large black Hound of Hell materialized in a local church and brutally mauled two people to death.  The hound glared at the other people in the church with red blazing eyes, then disappeared leaving only a scorched claw mark on the stone wall to confirm its presence—a mark that remains to this day.  The beast was called Black Shuk and blamed for all unexplained gruesome happenings that took place after that.

Another legend tells of Richard Cabell, a 17th century country squire. After seriously mistreating a village girl, he was hunted by wild hounds until he died of a heart attack.  Considered to have been an evil man and feared by the local villagers, they entombed his body in a small building by the church and placed a heavy stone slab on top of his grave so he couldn't escape.

The Cabell family has their own version of this legend.  Richard Cabell believed his wife had been unfaithful.  He chased her out into the night and viciously stabbed her to death.  Her loyal dog retaliated by tearing him to pieces.

Doyle took the basics of the the three legends along with a detailed description of Cromer Hall, and transported it all to Dartmoor.  And the name he gave to the family cursed with the presence of a Hound From Hell due to an ancestor's misdeeds?  The coachman who drove Arthur Conan Doyle to Cromer Hall that fateful day for his visit was a man named…Henry Baskerville.
The huge popularity of the story continues today.  Devotees of The Hound Of The Baskervilles often dress in period clothes, including the infamous deerstalker cap, and search Dartmoor for the origins of the story.

They do need to keep in mind that it's a fictional story, not a documentary.  :)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

10 Thoughts To Ponder

These were sent to me in a email from a friend.  As she said, they are funnier when you're older and have one foot on that banana peel.

10)  Life is sexually transmitted.

9)  Good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.

8)  Men have two emotions: hungry and horny.  If you see him without an erection…make him a sandwich.

7)  Give someone a fish and you feed that person for a day.  Teach someone to use the internet and that person won't bother you for weeks.

6)  Some people are like a Slinky…not really good for anything, but you still can't help but smile when you shove them down the stairs.

5)  Health nuts are going to feel stupid some day, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.

4)  All of us could take a lesson from the weather.  It pays no attention to criticism.

3)  Why does a slight tax increase cost you $200 and a substantial tax cut saves you $30?

2)  In the 1960s people took acid to make the world weird.  Now the world is weird and people take Prozac to make it normal.

And the number 1 thought:
Life is like a jar of jalapeno peppers—what you do today might burn your ass tomorrow.

And as someone recently said: "Don't worry about old age.  It doesn't last long."

Sunday, August 10, 2014

6 Important Lands that Never Existed

Island of Thule

Ancient travelers (and by ancient I mean many centuries ago) told stories of mysterious places located in the unexplored reaches of the world—fabled cities, phantom islands and exotic civilizations.  Even though these lands were usually dismissed as myths and legends, a few of them found their way onto world maps and helped inspire some of history’s most important journeys of discovery.  From a fabled Christian empire in Asia to a supposed lost kingdom in Canada, find out more about six of the most influential lands that never were.

1) Thule
A subject of fascination for ancient explorers, romantic poets and Nazi occultists.  Thule was an elusive territory believed to be located in the frozen north Atlantic near Scandinavia. Its legend dates back to the 4th century B.C., when the Greek journeyman Pytheas claimed to have traveled to an icy island beyond Scotland where the sun rarely set and land, sea and air commingled into a bewildering, jelly-like mass.

Many of Pytheas’ contemporaries doubted his claims, but that didn't stop distant Thule from lingering in the European imagination.  It eventually became synonymous with the northernmost place in the known world.  Explorers and researchers variously identified it as Norway, Iceland and the Shetland Islands, and it served a recurring theme in poetry and myth.  The island is perhaps most famous for its connection to the Thule Society, a post-World War I occult organization in Germany that considered Thule the ancestral home of the Aryan race. The Munich-based group counted many future Nazis among its members, including Rudolf Hess, who later served as Deputy Führer of Germany under Adolf Hitler.

2) The Kingdom of Prester John
For more than 500 years, Europeans believed a Christian king ruled over a vast empire somewhere in the wilds of either Africa, India or the Far East.  Talk of this mythical land first surfaced in 1165 after the Byzantine and Holy Roman emperors received a letter—most likely a European forgery—from a monarch calling himself Prester John.  The mysterious king claimed to serve as supreme ruler of the three Indies and all its 72 kingdoms.  He described his realm as a utopia rich in gold, populated by exotic races of giants and horned men.  Perhaps most important of all, Prester John and his subjects were Christians—even the name Prester meant Priest.

Despite the fact that a Papal mission to find Prester John’s court disappeared without a trace, the myth of his kingdom took hold among Europeans.  Crusading Christians rejoiced in the idea that a devout ruler might come to their aid in the struggle against Islam during the Crusades, and when Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes conquered parts of Persia in the early 1200s, many mistakenly credited Prester John’s forces with the attack.  The kingdom later became a subject of fascination for travelers and explorers.  Marco Polo provided a questionable account of encountering its remnants in Northern China.  Vasco da Gama and other Portuguese mariners searched for it in Africa and India.  While explorers eventually discovered a Christian civilization in Ethiopia, it lacked the grandeur and the gold Europeans had come to associate with Prester John’s realm. By the 17th century, the legend had faded, and the famed empire was dropped from most maps.

3) Hy-Brasil
Long before Europeans ever stepped foot in the New World, explorers searched for the island of Hy-Brasil, an ethereal land said to exist off the west coast of Ireland.  The story of Hy-Brasil most likely comes from Celtic legend—its name means Isle of the Blest in Gaelic—but its precise origins are unclear.  Hy-Brasil first appeared on maps in the 14th century, usually in the form of a small, circular island with a narrow strait splitting it in two.  Many mariners accepted it as a real place until as recently as the 1800s, and it became popular as the basis for myths and folktales.  Some legends described the island as a lost paradise.  Others claimed that it was perpetually obscured by a dense curtain of mist and fog, only becoming visible to the naked eye every seven years.  [which sounds as if it might have been the genesis of the Lerner & Lowe musical BRIGADOON about a village in Scotland that appeared out of the mist every one hundred years]

Despite its somewhat whimsical reputation, Hy-Brasil was widely sought after by Britain-based explorers in the 15th century. The navigator John Cabot launched several expeditions in an attempt to find it.  It's suggested that he had hoped to locate it during his famous journey to the coast of Newfoundland in 1497.  Documents from Cabot’s time claim that previous explorers had already reached Hy-Brasil, leading some researchers to argue that these mariners may have inadvertently traveled all the way to the Americas prior Christopher Columbus.

4) El Dorado
Beginning in the 16th century, European explorers and conquistadors were intrigued by tales of a mythical city of gold located in the unexplored reaches of South America.  The city had its origin in accounts of El Dorado (The Gilded One), a native king who powdered his body with gold dust and tossed jewels and gold into a sacred lake as part of a coronation rite.  Stories of the gilded king eventually led to rumors of a golden city of untold wealth and splendor.  Adventurers spent many years—and countless lives—in a futile search for its riches.

One of the most famous El Dorado expeditions came in 1617, when the English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh traveled up the Orinoco River on a quest to find it in what is now Venezuela.  They didn't find any trace of the gilded city, and King James I later executed Raleigh after he disobeyed an order to avoid fighting with the Spanish.  El Dorado continued to drive exploration and colonial violence until the early 1800s, when the scientists Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland branded the city a myth after undertaking a research expedition to Latin America.

El Dorado wasn’t the only gilded city supposedly tucked away in the New World.  European explorers also hunted for the Seven Cities of Cibola, a mythical group of gold-rich settlements said to be located somewhere in what are now Mexico and the American Southwest.  The most famous search for the Seven Cities came in the 16th century, when the Spanish conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado scoured the Great Plains in search of a city of riches called Quivira.

5) St. Brendan’s Island
St. Brendan’s Island was a mysterious manifestation of Paradise once thought to be hidden somewhere in the eastern Atlantic Ocean.  The myth of the phantom island dates back to the Navigatio Brendani, or Voyage of Brendan, a 1,200-year-old Irish legend about the seafaring monk St. Brendan the Navigator.  As the story goes, Brendan led a crew of pious sailors on a 6th century voyage in search of the famed Promised Land of the Saints.  The journey on the open sea describes attacks by fireball-wielding giants and run-ins with talking birds.  According to the tale, Brendan and his men landed on a mist-covered island filled with delicious fruit and sparkling gems. The grateful crew are said to have spent 40 days exploring the island before returning to Ireland.

Although there is no historical proof of St. Brendan’s voyage, the legend became so popular during medieval times that St. Brendan’s Island found its way onto many maps of the Atlantic. Early cartographers placed it near Ireland, but in later years it migrated to the coasts of North Africa, the Canary Islands and finally the Azores. Sailors often claimed to have caught fleeting glimpses of the mystical isle during the Age of Discovery, and it’s likely that even Christopher Columbus believed in its existence.  Its legend eventually faded after multiple search expeditions failed to track it down. By the 18th century, the famed Promised Land of the Saints had been removed from most navigational charts.

6) The Kingdom of Saguenay
The story of the mirage-like Kingdom of Saguenay dates to the 1530s, when French explorer Jacques Cartier made his second journey to Canada in search of gold and a northwest passage to Asia.  While traveling along the St. Lawrence River at what is modern day Quebec, Cartier’s Iroquois guides began to whisper tales of Saguenay, a vast kingdom that lay to the north. According to a chief named Donnacona, the mysterious realm was rich in spices, furs and precious metals and populated by blond, bearded men with pale skin.  The stories eventually transitioned into the realm of the absurd when the natives claimed the region was also home to races of one-legged people and whole tribes possessing no anus.  Cartier became intrigued by the prospect of plundering the riches of Saguenay.  He brought Donnacona back to France, where the Iroquois chief continued to spread tales of a lost kingdom.

Legends about Saguenay haunted French explorers in North America for years, but treasure hunters never found any trace of the mythical land.  Most historians now dismiss it as a myth, but some argue the natives may have been referring to copper deposits in the northwest.  Others have suggested that the Indian tales could have been inspired by a centuries old Norse outpost left over from Viking voyages to North America.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

10 Bits of Historical Trivia or Where Did Those Expressions Come From

Ever wonder about those interesting expressions that have been handed down through the centuries?  Phrases that we all use without giving any thought to where they came from and their original meaning?  Here's a list of ten such expressions a friend emailed to me.  Let's take a look at the historical origin of these expressions.

1)  God willing and the Creeks don't rise
This expression was originally in reference to the Native American Creek tribe and not a body of water and is attributable to Benjamin Hawkins, a late 18th century politician.  While in the south, he was requested by the President to return to Washington.  In his response, he wrote, God willing and the Creeks don't rise.  Since he capitalized the word Creeks, it was assumed he was referring to the Indian tribe rather than water.

2)  It cost an arm and a leg
Since there weren't any cameras in George Washington's day, the only way to portray someone's image was either through sculpture or painting.  Some paintings of Washington show him standing behind his desk with one arm behind his back while others show both arms and legs.  Prices charged by artists were often calculated according to how many arms and legs were being painted rather than the number of people in the painting.  Therefore, if the subject wanted both arms and legs in the painting, they were told, "Okay, but it will cost an arm and a leg."

3)  Here comes the big wig
As ludicrous as it sounds today, back then men and women took baths only twice a year (usually May after the cold winter and October after a hot summer). Women covered their hair and men shaved their heads and wore wigs. The wealthy could afford good wigs made of wool. Since the wool wigs couldn't be washed, they would hollow out a loaf of bread and put the wig in the shell, then bake it for half an hour.  The heat made the wigs big and fluffy, thus the term big wig.  Today we use the expression when someone appears to be powerful and wealthy.

4)  Chairman of the Board
Many houses in the late 1700s consisted of a large room with only one chair.  A long wide board folded down from the wall and was used for dining.  The head of the household always sat in the chair while everyone else sat on the floor while eating.  To sit in the chair meant you were important and in charge and that person was referred to as the chair man.  Today in business, we use the expression Chairman of the Board.

5)  Crack a smile and other related phrases
One result of the lack of personal hygiene back then was that many men and women developed acne scars by adulthood.  Women would spread bee's wax over their faces to smooth out their complexions. If a woman began to stare at another woman's face, she was told to mind your own bee's wax.  If a woman smiled, the wax would crack, hence the term crack a smile.  And when a woman sat too close to the fire the wax would melt, giving us the expression losing face.

6)  Straight laced
Ladies wore corsets which laced up the front.  A proper and dignified woman wore a tightly tied corset and was said to be straight laced.

7)  Not playing with a full deck
Back in the day, a common form of entertainment was playing cards.  When a tax was levied on the cards, it was applicable only to the ace of spades.  To avoid paying the tax, people would purchase 51 cards and ignore the ace of spades.  Since most card games require all 52 cards, those people were thought to be stupid because they were not playing with a full deck.

8)  Gossip
Long ago, before the creation of mass communication such as phones, radio, and television (and certainly the internet), politicians sent their assistants to local taverns to get feedback from the public and determine which issues people considered important.  They were told to go sip some ale and listen to people's conversations.  The two words go sip were eventually combined into one word, gossip, when referring to the local opinion.

9)  Minding your P's and Q's
In the local taverns, people drank from pint and quart sized containers.  One of the bar maid's jobs was to keep track of which customers were drinking from pints and which from quarts, hence the phrase minding your P's and Q's.

And finally an expression that has often been misinterpreted…

10)  Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey
Back in the day when sailing ships ruled the waves, all war ships and many freighters carried iron cannons that fired iron cannon balls.  It was necessary to keep a supply of cannon balls near the cannon while at the same time preventing them from rolling around the deck.  The best storage method was a square-based pyramid with one ball perched on four balls resting on nine which sat on sixteen providing a supply of thirty cannon balls stacked in a small area next to the cannon.  There was a problem, though—how to prevent the bottom layer from sliding out from under the others.  The solution was a metal plate called a monkey with sixteen round indentations.  But again, there was a problem.  If the plate was made from iron, the iron cannon balls would quickly rust to it, especially in the damp ocean air.  The solution to the rusting problem was to make brass monkeys.  But still a problem…brass contracts much more and much quicker than iron when it's chilled.  So, when the temperature dropped too far, the brass indentations would shrink so much that the iron cannonballs would come right off the monkey which means it was literally cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.  Not what you were expecting?  :)

For those of you who find this type of factual tidbit interesting—and have cable/satellite television access to H2 (History channel's digital second channel in addition to their regular The History Channel)—H2 airs a one hour series, AMERICA'S SECRET SLANG, which is all about where and how our slang expressions originated.  The new episodes air on Saturday night with reruns at various times and days during the week.  Season 2 ended last night (Saturday, August 2), but I'm sure there will be reruns between now and the start of Season 3.