Sunday, August 28, 2016

Salt Mine Tours

Taking a tour of a salt mine? On the surface, it seems like a strange way to spend a day. What could be so interesting about seeing miners dig salt out of the ground? After all, it's not like taking a tour of a location steeped in history such as the Alamo or the Tower of London. Or a famous government building such as the White House. Or a tour of an interesting city such as San Francisco.

But a salt mine? You'll be surprised…

WIELICZKA SALT MINE IN KRAKOW, POLAND.  I saw a segment on the Travel Channel about this unusual tourist attraction. The mine consists of a lot more than just the tunnels and pits where they have been extracting salt for approximately 700 years (one of Europe's oldest salt mines). It was opened in the 13th century with commercial mining discontinued in 1996 but it continued to produce table salt until 2007. This is a unique tourist attraction and is listed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list.

The tour is spread out over the three upper levels of the mine complex, ranging from 64 to 135 meters (208 to 439 feet) below ground. You'll need to take nearly 400 steps down to the mine but there is an elevator that returns visitors to the surface. Tourists can walk the 3 kilometers (1.8 mile) trail through a collection of objects related to the mine and mining industry over the centuries. You'll see underground lakes. But perhaps the most surprising and fascinating feature of this salt mine is all the works of art made by the miners themselves over the centuries, hand hewn entirely of solid salt—statues, frescos, beautifully adorned chapels including one very large chapel with chandeliers and staircases made entirely of salt along with other hidden treasures. In addition to the spectacular works of art, the complex has a reception room used for private functions including weddings.

The salt mine reaches a depth of 327 meters (1065 feet) and is over 287 kilometers long (172 miles) with the tour covering only a small portion of this total area. The tour welcomes 1.2 million visitors each year.

Descend nearly 400 steps into the mine

One of four chapels--everything made from salt including the floor, walls, art work and even the crystals of the chandeliers are made from rock salt that has been dissolved and reconstituted to achieve a clear, glass-like appearance.

STRATACA IN HUTCHINSON, KANSAS, USA.  Interactive dinner theater below ground in a salt mine? Scout campouts below ground in a salt mine? A large Hollywood film storage/vault facility underground in a salt mine? An event center underground in a salt mine? Yes to all of these…and more.

This salt deposit was formed approximately 275 million years ago when the Permian Sea dried up. This is one of the largest salt deposits in the world covering 27,000 square miles in central and south central Kansas. Adjacent salt deposits extend the entire area to include parts of Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle and south eastern New Mexico for a total overall of 100,000 square miles. The purest portion of the main salt vein is 650 feet underground and is still being mined. Strataca (when first opened for tours was called the Kansas Underground Salt Museum) has access to about 300,000 square feet of the mined out area.

Salt was discovered southwest of Hutchinson in 1887 by a land developer who was drilling for oil as a means of increasing land sales. Instead of oil, he struck salt. Strataca is located in the original Carey rock salt mine.

Even though the mine tour existed earlier and a large storage facility had been there since the 1940s, in 1999 the Reno County Historical Society recognized the importance of preserving and presenting to the public the Hutchinson salt story. Today's museum is the result of a collaboration of the Historical Society and two businesses that already existed in the mine—the Hutchinson Salt Company and the Underground Vaults and Storage. In addition to storing a vast number of original Hollywood movies (such as the master prints of Gone With The Wind and The Wizard Of Oz), it also stores millions of documents and items from around the world in a secure and environmentally conducive atmosphere.

The newly revamped and renamed Strataca was opened to the general public May 1, 2007. Their first Murder In The Mine interactive dinner theater was held in 2007 as was their first underground scout campout. The Visitor Center opened in July 2008. And in 2013, they launched The Salt Safari Adventure Hike.
film storage vault

 tour train

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Hollywood Living Legends

Hollywood…the film industry in general…has many people over the decades who are considered legends in the business.  Right now, there are several who are living legends, most of whom are still working in the business and providing us with marvelous entertainment.  Following is a list of living legends who are 80 years of age and older.

Robert Redford, 80 years old this year: 1 Oscar.  Probably best known for his acting roles in Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, The Sting, and All The President's Men as well as his Oscar for directing Ordinary People.  I remember seeing a very young Robert Redford in an episode of the original Twilight Zone (in black and white). Through his efforts in creating and supporting the Sundance Film Festival, many talented newcomers have been discovered. Career 1960 to present.

Dame Julie Andrews, 80 years old: 1 Oscar, 2 Emmy, 3 Grammy.  Best known for her roles in The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins.  Many Hollywood insiders felt her Best Actress Oscar for Mary Poppins (although certainly deserved) was a sentimental/sympathy vote by the Academy members because she had been skipped over for the Eliza Doolittle role in the film version of My Fair Lady, a role she originated on Broadway to great acclaim.  Career 1945 to present.

Dame Judi Dench, 81 years old: 1 Oscar, 1 Tony.  Considered by many to be the greatest Shakespearean actress, also adept at comedy as evidenced by her leading role in the British produced television series As Time Goes By (airing on PBS on American television). Career 1957 to present.

Dame Maggie Smith, 81 years old: 2 Oscar, 3 Emmy, 1 Tony.  Currently entertaining audiences with her role on Downton Abbey.  I really enjoyed her performance in Death On The Nile, an Agatha Christie mystery with an all star cast. Career 1952 to present.

Shirley MacLaine, 82 years old: 1 Oscar, 1 Emmy.  Started her career as a dancer on Broadway with her big break coming when the star of Pajama Game broke her foot and Shirley stepped into the starring role.  She has entertained us in many musicals as well as dramatic roles. Career 1953 to present.

Carol Burnett, 83 years old: 6 Emmy.  Certainly best known for her marvelous weekly television variety series, The Carol Burnett Show.  She has also done many television movies, guest starring appearances on other television series, and theatrical movies.  Career 1955 to present.

Sir Michael Caine, 83 years old: 2 Oscar.  His starring role in Alfie put him into the international star category. Equally adept at comedy and drama.  One of my favorite Michael Caine movies is Without A Clue, a comedy where he played Sherlock Holmes to fellow Oscar winner Ben Kingsley's Dr. Watson with a fun twist on who the characters really were. He has recently moved back to England after living in the States for many years where he continues to provide entertaining performances.

Ellen Burstyn, 83 years old: 1 Oscar, 2 Emmy, 1 Tony. Won her Best Actress Oscar for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore.  Her career started on Broadway before moving to films and television.

Gene Wilder, 83 years old: 1 Emmy.  Starred in some of Mel Brooks' films including the original version of The Producers and Young Frankenstein. Currently, he is concentrating on writing novels. Career 1966 to present.

Kim Novak, 83 years old.  Best known for her roles in Picnic opposite William Holden, Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo with Jimmy Stewart, and Bell Book and Candle also with Jimmy Stewart.  She is currently retired with a career from 1954 to 1991.

Rita Moreno, 84 years old: 2 Emmy, 1 Grammy, 1 Oscar, 1 Tony (known as EGOT when at least one award is received in each of the four Arts categories).  Probably best known for her supporting role in West Side Story.  She keeps very busy with her many guest starring roles on various television series.  Career 1942 to present.

Debbie Reynolds, 84 years old: 1 honorary Oscar.  Best known for her starring roles in Singing In The Rain and The Unsinkable Molly Brown.  And yes…she's real life mother to Carrie Fisher (Star Wars' Princess Leia). Career 1948 to present.

William Shatner, 85 years old: 2 Emmy.  Certainly best known as Capt. Kirk from the original Star Trek television series (late 1960s) and 6 Star Trek theatrical movies (my personal favorite being Star Trek IV-The Journey Home where they go back in time to present day San Francisco). He also starred in 2 other successful television series, T.J. Hooker and also as the irascible Denny Crane in Boston Legal. There's also an early career performance on the original black and white Twilight Zone series that has become a classic where he sees the creature on the airplane wing. Career 1954 to present.

Robert Duvall, 85 years old: 1 Oscar, 1 Emmy.  Best known for the three Godfather films, Apocalypse Now, and television's Lonesome Dove. Career 1952 to present.

Leslie Caron, 85 years old: 1 Emmy. An unknown hand-picked by Gene Kelly to co-star opposite him in An American In Paris. Currently starring in the British television series, The Durrells. Career 1951 to present.

James Earl Jones, 85 years old: 3 Emmy, 1 Grammy, 1 honorary Oscar, 2 Tony (another EGOT recipient).  Best known today as the voice of Darth Vader in the Star Wars movies. Career 1953 to present.

Sir Sean Connery, 85 years old: 1 Oscar.  A former Mr. Universe. The first movie James Bond, appearing as the character in several films, and many say still the best James Bond. He is currently retired with a career 1957 to 2003.

Clint Eastwood, 86 years old: 2 Oscar. Started his career as an actor on television, went to Italy and made several westerns. Portrayed several memorable characters in movies (Dirty Harry Callahan) before turning to directing and producing. His 2 Oscars were for directing and producing Unforgiven. Career 1954 to present.

Joanne Woodward, 86 years old: 1 Oscar.  Known as much for her 50 year marriage to Paul Newman (until his death in 2008) with whom she made 11 films as for her own acting career.  Best known for her Oscar winning starring role in The Three Faces Of Eve.  Career 1955 to present.

Gene Hackman, 86 years old: 2 Oscar.  Best known for his award winning role in The French Connection. Currently retired from performing. Lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he writes detective novels. Career 1954 to 2004.

Christopher Plummer: 86 years old: 1 Oscar.  At 82, the oldest actor to win a supporting actor Oscar.  Best known for starring opposite Julie Andrews in The Sound Of Music.  Career 1953 to present.

Gena Rowlands, 86 years old: 1 honorary Oscar, 3 Emmy.  She did an episode of NCIS where she portrayed Gibbs' first mother-in-law. Career 1954 to present.

Max Von Sydow, 87 years old. Swedish actor (this came as a surprise to me, I always thought he was German) known for his many films with Swedish director Ingmar Bergman.  Best known to American audiences for his roles in The Exorcist and Three Days Of The Condor. Career 1947 to present.

Sidney Poitier, 89 years old: 2 Oscar (1 of them honorary).  First black actor to win the Best Actor Oscar (for Lilies Of The Field).  Also known for his starring role as Virgil Tibbs, In The Heat Of The Night. He also served as American ambassador to the Bahamas (where he holds dual citizenship). He is currently retired with an acting career 1947 to 1997.

Angela Lansbury, 90 years old: 1 honorary Oscar, 5 Tony. Although best known today as Jessica Fletcher on the long running television series, Murder She Wrote, she started her career in films with her Oscar nominated role in Gaslight. Has graced the Broadway stage many times, starring in such productions as Sweeney Todd and Mame. Adept at playing the villain as well as the heroine, as evidenced by her performances in Gaslight and another Oscar nominated performance in the original The Manchurian Candidate (who would ever have thought that sweet Jessica Fletcher could be so diabolical). Career from 1943 to present.

Dick Van Dyke, 90 years old: 4 Emmy.  Best known for his television series The Dick Van Dyke Show with Mary Tyler Moore, and Diagnosis Murder.  He celebrated his 90th birthday with a flash mob singing of songs from Mary Poppins (in which he co-starred with Julie Andrews). Career from 1947 to present.

Mel Brooks, 90 years old: 4 Emmy, 2 Grammy, 1 Oscar, 3 Tony (another EGOT recipient).  Like Alfred Hitchcock, he made a brief appearance in many of his movies.  The Producers is my favorite of his movies, but we can't overlook Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, High Anxiety, and many others.  Both The Producers and Young Frankenstein went to Broadway as successful productions. Career 1949 to present.

Cicely Tyson, 91 years old: 3 Emmy, 1 Tony.  Currently has recurring roles in How To Get Away With Murder and House Of Cards. Career 1951 to present.

Doris Day, 92 years old.  A very successful career in movies, including popular romantic comedies with Rock Hudson, and a successful television series.  Retired from performing, but currently an animal rights advocate. Career 1948 to 1973.

Eva Marie Saint, 92 years old: 1 Oscar.  Best known for her performances in On The Waterfront (supporting actress Oscar) and North By Northwest where she co-starred with Cary Grant. Career 1954 to present.

Carl Reiner, 94 years old: 9 Emmy, 1 Grammy.  Creator, writer, and featured actor on The Dick Van Dyke Show, director of many projects (recipient of the Director's Guild of America lifetime achievement award), and real life father of actor-director Rob Reiner. Career 1950 to present.

Betty White, 94 years old: 7 Emmy, 1 Grammy. Television series include Life With Elizabeth (black and white in the early days of television), The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls, and Hot in Cleveland.  The Guinness Book Of Records says she has had the longest television career of any female entertainer—75 years.  Career 1939 to present.

Kirk Douglas, 99 years old: 1 honorary Oscar.  Of his long list of film credits, he's probably best known for his staring roles in Spartacus and Lust For Life.  My favorite is The List Of Adrian Messenger.  He's the real life father of Michael Douglas.  He is retired, his career 1946 to 2008.

Olivia de Havilland, 100 years old: 2 Oscar.  Best known for her role as Melanie in Gone With The Wind.  Co-starred with Errol Flynn in several films including the popular Adventures Of Robin Hood.  She is retired, her career 1935 to 2009.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

11 Famous Products Originally Intended For A Different Purpose

Many of the world's most famous brands and products started out as something entirely different than what they are known for today. Some of the best discoveries have happen by accident, such as Silly Putty…and, of course, the 11 products listed here that range from soft drinks originally laced with powerful mind-altering drugs to medicines with unexpected, but profitable, side-effects.

Dr. John Pemberton invented the original formula of the syrupy soft drink in 1886. He had been badly injured in the battle of Columbus and, as a result, had became hopelessly addicted to prescription morphine. Being a trained pharmacist, Pemberton decided to come up with his own addiction cure. This resulted in Pemberton's French Wine Coca, a drink that contained alcohol and cocoa leaf extract—the same ingredient that makes cocaine. When Coca-Cola first appeared on the market it was labeled as a nerve tonic that "relieves exhaustion." Cocaine was removed from the product in 1903.

Surprisingly, the mouth was you've been using for years was originally marketed as a floor cleaner, a cure for gonorrhea, and was also used as a surgical antiseptic. It did not become commercially successful until re-branded as a cure for bad breath.

Marc Chavannes and Alfred Fielding had been attempting to come up with a new style of textured wallpaper and as a result of their efforts, according to Forbes magazine, in 1957 they created bubble wrap. They sealed together two shower curtains, which made the first layer of the bubbles. They tried selling the product first as wallpaper and later as greenhouse insulation without any success. It was not until IBM launched the 1401 computer in 1959 that bubble wrap was first used for the purpose of keeping products safe in transit.

According to Time magazine, the slinky is one of the most influential toys ever. However, the fascinating metal springs were originally invented for a much more practical purpose: stabilizing devices on ships on choppy seas. It was not until the instrument-stabilizer was accidentally knocked off a shelf and appeared to walk across a desk that its inventor, Richard James, realized that it could be a toy. James once said: "Strictly speaking, I didn't invent the Slinky. He practically walked into my life."

Scientists who developed Sildenafil Citrate, better known today as Viagra, were hoping it could lower blood pressure and treat the heart problem Angina. During clinical trials they discovered some surprising side effects—the male participants experienced erections. Curing erectile dysfunction became an incredibly lucrative future for the drug. In 2007, its original purpose was vindicated. Scientists showed that as well as boosting blood flow to the penis, the drug could also increase the amount of blood sent to the heart and lungs according.

7UP started out with a long and boring name: Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda. As the name implies, the lemon-lime flavored drink contained lithium, a drug used in the treatment of people suffering from bipolar disorder. According to The New York Times, 7UP contained lithium until 1950. It has even been suggested that the "7" in the name refers to lithium's atomic mass and "UP" had to do with an improved mood after using the product.

Rogaine is the commercial name for minoxidil—a drug which can help reduce high blood pressure. It's second use was discovered by patients taking the blood-pressure medication Loniten (which also contains minoxidil). They noticed increased hair growth on their scalp. Realizing the commercial value of this side-effect, Rogaine was made available as a hair loss solution in 1988.

William Russell Frisbie bought a bakery in Connecticut in the late 19th century, which he called the Frisbie Pie Company. After Frisbie's death, his company continued to flourish and in 1956 reached a peak production of 80,000 pies per day. Pies and cookies made by the company were purchased in a plate-shaped tin bearing the name "Frisbee Pies." Yale students discovered a second use for the tins, and began to hurl them around the university campus. As the flying disk approached its target, the thrower would shout "Frisbie" as a warning. The slightly different spelling "frisbee" is now used for the toy.

The earliest mention of the chainsaw comes from the Canadian Medical Association Journal, which says the original purpose of the chainsaw was to cut bone in operations. The journal says: "Orthopedics became a specialty with the help of a new instrument, the osteotome, invented around 1830 by the German Bernard Heine. An illustration from a contemporary inventory of surgical tools shows that this clever master of prosthetics had in fact invented the chainsaw."

WD-40 is most commonly used to protect metal implements from moisture and to loosen tight screws. Around 80% of US households own a can of the stuff. It was originally used for lubricating nuclear missiles during the Cold War era. It was created by a small San Diego company, Rocket Chemical, and its retail name of WD-40 is an abbreviation for "water displacement, 40th attempt" at coming up with a viable product for the initial use.

Cleo and Noah McVicker developed the putty in 1933 to help clean up soot-covered walls [the Travel Channel's Mysteries At The Museum did a segment on this]. Made from a simple combination of flour, water, and salt, it was meant to be rolled across walls to remove dirt. However, the introduction of vinyl wallpaper (easy to clean with just soap and water) meant the concoction became unnecessary. But then, the company discovered that the formula could be used as a pliable modeling clay. Renamed Play-Doh, it was put on sale for this purpose in 1956.

This is just a sample of the many products invented for one specific purpose and ultimately used for something completely different.