The annual autumnal slow-down of regional rail is due to crushed leaves releasing oil on the tracks.
After the leaves change into their autumnal colors they fall to the ground. The ones that fall on rail lines are responsible for slower trains. As trains roll on down the line they crush any leaves on the rails, releasing pectin from the leaves that acts as low-friction grease making it harder to control the train. This is even worse when it rains. It becomes harder to slow down a train and also harder to accelerate again, resulting in delays. This is slippery rail season.
Transit organizations try and deal with leaves in a variety of ways. Trains & cars equipped with pressure-washing machines spray the tracks to remove the residue and uncrushed leaves (NJ Transit calls the train that does this the “Aqua Train”). Some organizations will also apply a mixture of gel & sand to increase traction.
Added info: another place you want traction is Pamplona, Spain during the Festival of San Fermín and the running of the bulls. Every morning, before humans and bulls run down the tight cobble stone streets of Pamplona, crews clean all trash from the streets as well as coat several sections of the route with a chemical anti-slip substance.
The mythical sphinx spans thousands of years around the ancient world. Also, technically, the Great Sphinx of Giza isn’t a “sphinx”.
The sphinx is a human-animal hybrid chimera (except not a literal chimera). At its most basic it was part human part lion with other design options available depending on the culture.
Egypt, the protector sphinx
The first human-lion hybrids come from Egypt. While most Egyptian human-animal hybrids are animal heads on human bodies, the sphinx is the other way around. To borrow from Spinal Tap, “No one knows who they were or what they were doing” – no one knows what these creatures were called in Egyptian culture nor is anyone exactly sure what they were meant to do. It’s thought they were created as protectors, defending royal tombs and frequently carved with the face of whichever pharaoh’s tomb they were beside, but nobody is certain. That said, as they were positioned beside the tombs of pharaohs most Egyptian sphinxes are male.
As for the largest, oldest, and most famous sphinx of them all, while it was built somewhere between 2600 BCE and 2500 BCE, no one is exactly sure who built the Great Sphinx of Giza or why. It thought to have been commissioned by (and is thought to have the face of) the pharaoh Khafre. It’s positioned facing East near the Great Pyramid of Khufu (the tomb of Khafre’s father). Khafre also built himself a pyramid caddy corner to his father’s, just 10 feet shorter.
It’s hard to appreciate just how old the Great Sphinx is (and how long sphinxes have been a part of Egyptian culture). The pyramid complex had been built and subsequently abandoned so long ago that the Sphinx was buried in sand up to its shoulders by the time the first excavation attempt took place in 1400 BCE. That means the first excavation was around a 1000 years after the Sphinx was built and that was still around 3400 years ago. Trying to rescue the Great Sphinx from the desert sands has been going on for thousands of years.
Greece, the monster sphinx
Sphinxes spread counterclockwise around the Mediterranean from Egypt to the Middle East, to Mesopotamia, and into Greece around 1600 BCE – the visual design and meaning changing along the way. In Greek mythology there was a single sphinx (not numerous sphinxes like in Egypt) who was also a human-lion hybrid but was female and she had wings.
The Greek sphinx comes to us through the story of Oedipus. This sphinx is more of a monster than her Egyptian counterparts (she is inline with other Greek female monsters, like the gorgons). As Oedipus is traveling to Thebes he encounters the sphinx. The city of Thebes is at her mercy as she offers a challenge to all who want to enter the city: she will grant safe passage if you can successfully answer a riddle. If you fail she kills you. Oedipus correctly solves the riddle and the sphinx (dramatically) kills herself … and this isn’t even the craziest part of the Oedipus story (paging Dr. Freud).
The word “sphinx” was both the specific name of the sole Greek sphinx as well as a general term the Greeks used for these kinds of creatures. The word is of Greek origin and so, technically, outside of Greece these creatures aren’t “sphinxes”. While the Greeks may have called the Egyptian creatures “sphinxes” the Egyptians did not. The word “sphinx” didn’t even exist until over 2000 years after the Great Sphinx of Giza, so again what the Egyptians called these things is something else unknown.
The Greek sphinx also influenced South and Southeast Asian cultures where sphinxes are seen as holy guardians at temples and other religious sites. In these places the sphinxes are meant to ward away evil and cleanse the sins of religions devotees.
Sphinxes (both the male Egyptian kind and the winged female Greek kind) made appearances in European art from the 15th century onward but their greatest surge in popularity was during the 19th century Egyptology and Egyptomania craze. After Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt from 1798-1801 the French brought treasures back to France which led to an interest in all things ancient Egypt. Bits of this can still be found in Egyptian Revival architecture which features pyramids, sphinxes, and other Egyptian motifs.
Also, on the topic of the French in Egypt, Napoleon’s troops did not shoot off the Great Sphinx of Giza’s nose. One story is that around 1378 CE a Sufi Muslim named Muhammad Sa’im al-Dahr destroyed the nose in an attempt to stop a cult that was making religious offerings to the Great Sphinx. Muhammad Sa’im al-Dahr was supposedly executed for defacing the Great Sphinx. Also, like many pharaoh sculptures, the Great Sphinx had a beard but it most likely fell off from erosion of sitting in the desert for thousands of years.
Added info: Egyptian culture had yet another resurgence in western popularity with the 1922 discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb. Two years later in 1924 H.P. Lovecraft was the ghostwriter of Harry Houdini’s Under the Pyramids, an adventurous tale of Houdini’s kidnapping and imprisonment under the pyramids. The Great Sphinx plays a pivotal role in this supposedly true tale.
Also, the hairless Sphynx cat breed is not from Egypt, but rather is from Toronto, Canada.
The Aurora Borealis & Aurora Australis are both beautiful light shows as well as visual signs that the Earth’s magnetosphere is still protecting us from a constant barrage of destructive particles from the Sun.
In mythology & folklore the Northern Lights have been seen as both good and ill omens. This tended to depend on your degree of latitude which dictated how frequently you saw them. Tribes more accustomed to the lights such as those of northern Sweden, Norway, and Finland saw the lights as the energies of the departed and worthy of respect. Similarly, different tribes of Alaska saw the lights as dancing spirits of humans or animals. Further south in ancient Rome, where the lights were seen less frequently, they were seen as a harbinger of war or famine.
Scientifically, the aurora are the result of charged particles from the sun (protons & electrons) interacting with oxygen & nitrogen in the Earth’s atmosphere. The different colors are the result of which gases the particles encounter at which altitudes. The most common color is yellow-green which is the sun’s particles interacting with oxygen at around 60 miles above the Earth. Nitrogen produces blue light below 60 miles in altitude but produces purple light above that. Red is also produced by oxygen but at altitudes above 150 miles. The light produced in these exchanges lasts only a second or less but the steady stream of particles from the sun can create long lasting light shows.
The sun is constantly emitting these charged particles. The solar wind regularly delivers a steady stream of particles to Earth but they are also unleashed in larger more powerful bursts through solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs). When any of these charged particles approach Earth their path is directed by the Earth’s magnetosphere which is essentially a magnetic force-field generated by the Earth. The magnetosphere deflects most of these particles around & away from the Earth, however some particles are pulled down towards the magnetic northern and southern poles. It’s these particles pulled towards the poles that create the dazzling auroras.
So where is the danger?
The key to the aurora light shows, and our survival, is the magnetosphere. Without it, Earth would be subjected to the full brunt of the emissions from the sun. If left completely exposed these charged particles would gradually strip the Earth of its atmosphere. No atmosphere, no life. It has been theorized that Mars once had a magnetosphere but lost it approximately 4 billion years ago. As a result the atmosphere was carried off into space by the solar wind. With no atmosphere the water of Mars boiled off leaving Mars a barren wasteland.
So the light shows of the auroras are the direct result of the constant defensive protection of the Earth’s magnetosphere. This shield protects all life on Earth from the never-ending stream of charged particles that would otherwise end life on Earth as we know it.
The Roman emperor Trajan’s military victories led to a triumphal column in his honor. The typography of the column led to a font also named in his honor.
Born in 53 CE in the modern day province of Seville Spain, Trajan was the second Roman emperor from the Nerva–Antonine dynasty (which produced the “Five Good Emperors” – including himself). His experience as a Roman general, senator, and governor of upper Germany helped him become emperor Nerva’s choice as his successor.
During his 19 year reign Trajan expanded the Roman Empire to its greatest size to date. As part of this expansion he took the kingdom of Dacia (roughly modern day Romania). One motivation for the conquest was that the Dacian kingdom, unlike other Germanic tribes, was sufficiently organized enough to make alliances with other nations, making it a threat to the Romans. Another motivation was money. After the conquest the Romans took control of the gold and salt mines of Dacia, using the proceeds to pay for public works projects back in Rome.
To celebrate this lucrative victory over Dacia the Roman Senate had a column constructed in Trajan’s honor, which leads to …
Completed during Trajan’s lifetime in 113 CE, Trajan’s Column is a 98 foot tall marble column that commemorates / propagandizes Rome’s victory in the Dacian Wars. With an estimated total weight of over 1,000 tons it’s an impressive feat of artistry and engineering. As it spirals upwards it features 2,662 figures (Trajan being 58 of them) and 155 scenes in relief that tell the story of the conquest. National Geographic has an interactive graphic that does an incredible job guiding you up the column but plaster cast recreations of the relief exist in several museums around the world as well.
The column is also a tower – there is a circular staircase inside that takes you to the top. The top of the column used to (logically) have a statue of Trajan, but the statue went missing sometime in the Middle Ages and today St. Peter stands atop the tower.
The column / tower is also a tomb. After Trajan died in 117 CE his ashes were buried in a chamber at the base of the column. The ashes of Trajan’s wife Plotina were added a few years later. On the exterior of the base above the doorway to the burial chamber is an inscription to Trajan. More interesting that what the inscription says is how it says it. The beautiful letter forms of the typography became inspiration for letter artists and designers, which leads to …
Trajan the Typeface
Trajan the typeface was created in 1989 by Carol Twombly for Adobe. She used the very old lettering on Trajan’s column as inspiration for a very new typeface. The letter forms found on Trajan’s column are known as Roman square capitals which are the basis for our uppercase letters. Roman square capital letters were used primarily for engravings and can be found around ancient Roman sites (the Pantheon, the Arch of Titus, etc).
From its debut in 1989 Trajan quickly became a very popular typeface and particularly for movies. Its first movie poster appearance was 1991’s At Play in the Fields of the Lord. In the early ‘90s it was thee typeface for dramatic films but spread to appearing across genres. Eventually the movie poster/packaging market was so saturated with Trajan that more serious films began to use other typefaces and so Trajan shifted to only really appearing in horror movies, B-movies, and straight-to-video movies. Trajan’s elegant letter forms were being employed to add gravitas to movies that might not be so great.
In less than a decade (less time than Trajan the man ruled the Roman Empire) Trajan the typeface rose and fell in popularity. You still see it from time to time – some new movies use Trajan, some politicians use it much like politicians did a few thousand years ago – but Trajan no longer rules like it once did in the 90s or the 1990s.
Labyrinths are made for contemplation while mazes are made for confusion.
The terms “labyrinth” and “maze” are used fairly interchangeably but they’re quite different. A labyrinth is a single unicursal path without choices – you keep walking forward and it will lead you out. A maze is the opposite. Mazes are multicursal puzzles filled with choices of where you could go. Mazes are designed to get you lost, labyrinths make it impossible to get lost.
One way out
Perhaps the most famous labyrinth is that of the Minotaur in Greek legend. The part-man part-bull Minotaur was said to live in a labyrinth designed by Daedalus. While the myth says “labyrinth” and contemporary illustrations showed the Minotaur at the center of a labyrinth, it was actually a maze. Reading the story it was cleverly designed to confuse (and trap) those who entered which is inline with a maze rather than a labyrinth.
Typical labyrinths wind back and forth from the outside to the center and then back out again, following a single path. There are twists & turns but no choices, you simply keep walking forward. Labyrinths have two popular frameworks: the Cretan/Classical style and the four-axis/Medieval design. The four-axis design was created during the Middle Ages and was popularized in the cathedral floors of northern France. Chartres Cathedral is the most famous example of a four-axis labyrinth design, a design which has been copied around the world (Chatham Massachusetts has an outdoor copy, Grace Cathedral in San Francisco has one, etc).
Adding to the confusion of the difference between labyrinths and mazes are turf mazes … which are actually labyrinths. In Northern Europe and the British Isles turf mazes are outdoor labyrinths made of short-cropped grass and sometimes stones. Their designs are similar to the ones found in Medieval cathedrals and were also made to be walked.
Walk the path
As to the purpose of labyrinths, there isn’t a single definitive answer. Some say they were easier alternatives than making religious pilgrimages to holy sites. Instead of traveling to a distant land you could pray as you walked the path of a labyrinth close to home. Labyrinths in this context were spiritual paths to God. Some labyrinths were built as entertainment for children. That said while the labyrinth of the Reims Cathedral was designed for spiritual reasons it was removed in 1779 because the priests felt children were having too much fun on the labyrinth during church services. Fishermen of Sweden believed that turf mazes could trap evil spirits, freeing the men to only have good luck on their trips out to sea. The late 20th century had a resurgence in labyrinth popularity which took on an additional New Age spiritual purpose.
Beyond the spiritual, labyrinths can have physical & psychological benefits. Typically found in quiet semi-secluded settings, labyrinths can help calm the mind through mindful meditation. During the pandemic they were a free outdoor resource for people looking to recenter themselves. Walking a labyrinth can trigger the relaxation response which has the benefits of reducing blood pressure and lowering stress levels.
Land of confusion
From the calm mindfulness of labyrinths to the chaos of mazes. Mazes are puzzles. Unlike labyrinths where the correct path is always in front of you, mazes offer many options of alternate directions. Labyrinths are freedom from choices where mazes are nothing but choices (most of which are wrong).
As evidenced in the story of the Minotaur, mazes have existed for a very long time. As labyrinths grew in popularity in the Middle Ages so too did mazes. Even the word “maze” is from the Middle Ages meaning “delusion, bewilderment, confusion of thought”.
Hedge mazes were constructed/grown on European palace grounds as a fun novelty of the rich. The oldest surviving hedge maze in England is the six foot high Hampton Court Palace maze, planted between 1689-1695.
Corn mazes (or “maize mazes” as they are known in Britain, and variations of “maize labyrinths” in most other European languages) started in the early 1990s. The first corn maze was designed by famed maze creator Adrian Fisher and was commissioned by former Disney producer Don Frantz in Annville, Pennsylvania in 1993 (it was “Cornelius, the Cobasaurus”, a 3 acre dinosaur maze). Today farmers use GPS and drones to aid in the creation of corn mazes which generate considerable income. Treinen Farm in Lodi, Wisconsin estimate that they bring in 90% of their income from autumnal agrotourism (the corn maze, pumpkin patch, hayrides, etc).
I was lost but now I am found
The confusion of mazes can be frustrating, but it can also be rewarding. Since the late 19th century mazes have been used in science experiments to study animal psychology and the process of learning, and thereby how they may apply to humans. In 1882 John Lubbock wrote about how various insects could navigate simple mazes. The iconic idea of rats in mazes began with Willard Small who, in 1901, documented his experiments of placing rats in mazes and observing their behavior. Small used the Hampton Court Palace maze as the inspiration for his rat maze.
Modern cities are typically laid out on rectangular grid systems making navigation fairly easy. Older cities are a different story. Older cities have grown more organically and don’t typically follow a structured grid. The Greek town of Mykonos however is a purposeful example of not being designed on a grid as it’s said to have been intentionally laid out to be confusing for invading pirates. They used the confusion of mazes as a defensive tactic.
Artificial Intelligence also owes a debt to mazes. Bringing the the legend of the Minotaur and rats in mazes together, mathematician Claude Shannon created “Theseus”, an electronic mouse designed to solve mazes. In 1950 Shannon constructed a rearrangeable maze wired with circuits. Placing Theseus in the maze the mouse would advance, encounter obstacles, and then relay the information to the computer. The computer in turn would learn about the maze and then tell Theseus which way to go. Theseus was the first artificial learning device in the world and one of the first experiments in artificial intelligence.
On and on
The enduring appeal of labyrinths and mazes is their mystery. The mystery of the self and the mystery of possibility. A maze is a puzzle to solve, in a labyrinth the puzzle to solve is yourself.
Added info: the etymology of the word “clue” is tied (as it were) to the story of the Minotaur. A “clew” was a ball of thread, like the one Ariadne gave to Theseus to help him find his way in the labyrinth of the Minotaur. Over time the spelling and meaning changed to the “clue” we use today, like the clue Ariadne gave to Thesus.
Darkened mirrors have been used for the arts as well as the dark arts.
In the late 18th century the growing popular aesthetic movement was Picturesque. Begun in the late Renaissance, the idea of picturesque art gained traction through the writings of English artist & cleric William Gilpin. Picturesque was a balance between the beautiful and the sublime, between the attractive and the dangerous, between the gentle and the powerful. It made artists & audiences reevaluate how they saw nature.
In western art, landscapes had generally been just the background to something else – you could have a landscape but it was being covered by the subject of the painting in the foreground. It wasn’t until the picturesque movement that landscape paintings became celebrated in their own right.
One artist that Gilpin praised for his picturesque work was 17th century French painter Claude Lorrain. The paintings of Lorrain frequently featured landscapes dotted with small people, unfinished/crumbling classical buildings and natural settings. His quality of soft light became of particular interest to the picturesque movement, a movement that took shape nearly a century after Claude’s death in 1682.
To help an artist create landscapes similar to Lorrain, and thereby create a picturesque work of art, one could look to (and at) a Claude glass. A Claude glass (named for Lorrain although there is no indication he ever used anything like it) is a dark convex mirror that can simplify the tonal range of colors of whatever is being reflected in it. Gilpin advocated the use of the Claude glass by saying it would “… give the object of nature a soft, mellow tinge like the colouring of that Master”.
The Claude glass was a popular tool among late 18th century landscape painters who would turn their back to the landscape they wanted to paint, open the mirror facing it backwards towards the landscape, and then paint from what they saw in the mirror. The Claude glass was also being used by wealthy tourists of England as a sort of augmented reality tool to filter the world around them.
This led to ridicule as these tourists showed up to take in nature by turning their backs to it and opening a mirror. By the early 19th century the Claude glass largely fell out of fashion but you can still find them here and there. The Desert View Watchtower at the Grand Canyon has a few installed in the tower to view the canyon, and you sometimes find them as art installations in arboretums and nature preserves.
Scrying (sung like Roy Orbison’s Crying)
While the darkened surface of the Claude glass allowed a person to look back (literally), in divination a dark mirror allows you to look forward. Scrying is the magical act of gazing into a reflective / luminescent surface (a crystal ball, water, fire, a mirror, etc) with the intention of clairvoyantly gaining knowledge.
Scrying, in various forms, has existed in cultures around the world over thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians had young boys look into vases filled with oil to seek divine knowledge. The Oracle of Delphi would stare into a dish of Kassotis spring water. In Persian mythology the cup of Jamshid was used to see all seven heavens of the universe. John Dee used a crystal ball as well as polished obsidian to try and acquire esoteric knowledge (both objects are now in the British Museum, but of questionable provenance). Even Joseph Smith claimed to look at magical “seer stones” to receive special information from God before founding Mormonism.
Water scrying was popular before the widespread availability of mirrors. Nostradamus used water scrying to see visions and make predictions about the future. While the accuracy of Nostradamus’s predictions is questionable, nobody can deny he stared at a bowl of water.
Black mirrors are used to see visions instead of reflections. The back of the glass is coated in black instead of an ordinary mirror’s reflective silver. The darkened surface allows one to stare into the mirror while little of the surrounding environment is reflected. That said there is a difference of opinion on whether you should be able to see your face or not. In either case, like someone about to go on a psychedelic drug trip, the set & setting of a scrying experience makes a difference – a darkened room, a candle / candles, maybe some incense, and a way to record your visions. With eyes of soft focus one looks into the black mirror and hopes to gain mystical knowledge.
Like astrology or other forms of divination, scrying has absolutely no merit as a way to learn about the future. Staring at a black mirror is not magical. However, the act of sitting in quiet reflection for an extended period of time (ie. meditation), alone with your thoughts, can prove beneficial psychologically, if not psychically.
Depending on your translation (and your agenda), the number associated with the “beast” changes.
In the Book of Revelation, the final book of the Bible, John the Evangelist (or possibly someone else) describes an apocalyptic vision of the end times culminating in the second coming of Jesus. There are trumpets, fire mixed with blood being hurled to earth, the four horsemen, the Whore of Babylon drinking from a golden cup, piles of corpses, a seven-headed dragon – the stuff of nightmares and/or a metal album. However, in a book of memorable ideas one stands out: the beast.
As is typical in the Book of Revelation it isn’t exactly clear who or what the beast is. There is the beast with ten horns that rises from the sea, but there is also the beast of two horns that speaks like a dragon (known as the “false prophet”) which comes out of the earth. At some point in the future the two beasts as well as the seven-headed dragon join forces to to fight the armies of heaven, a battle that they lose, and as punishment are thrown into the lake of fire for eternity. Before this happens though John tells us that we will know the beast when it arrives because it will be identified by a number.
666 … or 616, it depends
Most early copies of the Book of Revelation say the number of the beast is 666, but because of different translations and discrepancies the number 616 has been a viable alternative since as early as the 2nd century CE. Today most Bibles have the number of the beast as 666. That said in 2005 Papyrus 115 was discovered in Egypt which is the oldest known copied portion of the Book of Revelation. This torn fragment of papyrus has the number of the beast as 616.
The number of the beast is frequently associated with the antichrist but nowhere in Revelation is “antichrist” written. The term antichrist typically means “heretic” or “false prophet”, but is also sometimes used as a more general term for an especially evil person (which the beast would certainly would qualify as). It’s through this general idea that the number of the beast enters pop culture as the spooky number of evil.
So it’s a number … or a person
The Book of Revelation is perhaps the most unusual book of the Bible, and not just because of the end of world visions. Unlike the rest of the Bible it offers no moral lesson and is the only book that values wealth and possessions. But most importantly the Book of Revelation is written in metaphors and symbolism – very little should be taken at face value. As such the number of the beast isn’t a number at all.
In ancient Greek and Hebrew every letter had a corresponding number. The letters used to write 666 as well as 616 could both (through some generous math) be used to write variations of the name Nero Caesar – the first Roman emperor to persecute the Christians and the most likely candidate at the time to be associated with evil. Like any book, the Book of Revelation was a product of its time. It would have been dangerous to write Nero’s name outright so writing it in code to an audience who would have understood how to read these numbers would have been safer for both the author and the reader.
Past, Present, Future
Typically the Book of Revelation is thought of as a vision of things to come, of future destruction, but it wasn’t always that way. For hundreds of years Revelation was interpreted as a book about the recent past with words of encouragement for the near future. John lived through the Roman sacking of Jerusalem in 70 CE which decimated the Jews (as well as early Christians, who still saw themselves as Jews). In 1st century CE the return of Jesus to save the Jews from the enemy would have been a very relevant message. The Book of Revelation was read as confirmation to an early Christian reader that they were on the side of good, that punishment was coming to those who deserved it, and that there would be a new Jerusalem. Instead of doom & gloom the Book of Revelation was a message of hope.
If the evil John wrote about was Nero and the Roman Empire, and as the Romans eventually became Catholics, then John’s vision failed to play out as foretold. Christians had to reconcile this failure and so they looked to the future. The Book of Revelation was reinterpreted to represent things still to come. Therefore, various historical figures over the millennia have been said to be “the beast” including the pope, Muhammad, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, etc – forever moving the beast goal posts as society’s enemies change with the times.
Added info: The numbers on a roulette wheel add up to 666. Because of his association with the roulette wheel, gambling / entertainment impresario François Blanc was said to have made a deal with the devil. Also, the combination to the briefcase in Pulp Fiction is 666.
Courting controversy, Iron Maiden’s third album was 1982’s The Number of the Beast, from which the title track is one of the band’s most popular songs. The song The Number of the Beast opens with a spoken word reading from the Book of Revelation. The band wanted Vincent Price to do the reading but he wouldn’t do it for less than £25,000 so they hired English actor Barry Clayton instead.
The whimsical fairy tale architectural style of 1920s southern California.
Before the eye-catching styles of Tiki or Googie, the playful architectural style of southern California was Storybook. In the 1920s & ‘30s people looked to fairy tales and European provincial architecture for inspiration.
Storybook architecture is difficult to pin down but whimsy is certainly a unifying element. Crooked roofs, off kilter windows, rustic masonry, slightly askew fences – storybook ever so slightly warps & twists buildings to be a fantastical altered version of reality.
Perhaps the most famous example of storybook is the Spadena House (aka the Witch’s House) in Beverly Hills. Built in 1921 it was designed by Hollywood art director & humorist Harry Oliver. The house originally served as an office for director Irvin Willat in Culver City but in 1926 it was moved and became the home it is today. Oliver also designed the storybook style Tam O’Shanter Inn, a Scottish themed restaurant. Opened in 1922 it was popular with both Walt Disney and his animators and influenced the art direction of 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Other examples of storybook architecture include Charlie Chaplin Studios (today Jim Henson Company Lot), Lawrence Joseph’s “Hobbit Houses”, as well as the Snow White Cottages which were so nick named because they too were said to have influenced the art direction of Snow White. The Snow White Cottages were also briefly home to Elliott Smith and can be seen in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.
As the Great Depression hit, and other styles were born, storybook architecture faded out.
Added info: Harry Oliver’s creativity & humor took many forms. Over the decades he designed buildings in a variety of playful styles that would have been right at home in Disneyland. In his desert rat persona living in the Borrego Valley just south of Palm Springs he had a bit of fun crafting fake peglegs and scattering them around the desert. It was his practical joke to lead tourists to think they may have stumbled upon a clue to the Lost Pegleg Mine of 19th century Thomas Long “Pegleg” Smith (Pegleg Smith later was a character in Oregon Trail II).
When a fragment of a song repeats over & over in your mind.
Earworms (aka Involuntary Musical Imagery) are pieces of music that ceaselessly repeat in your mind until something finally breaks the cycle, ending the loop. Almost everyone experiences earworms. Sometimes a song gets stuck in your head after you recently heard it but other times it can be triggered by a memory (such as seeing a product and remembering an old commercial jingle).
The types of songs that get stuck in our heads tend to be faster simpler melodies that have some unique/catchy element that make them stand out from other songs. They also tend to be (but are not always) songs you like, particular to your musical tastes, and are songs you listen to more often. Another quality that makes a song a strong candidate for an earworm, which is also a quality that our brains like, is repetition. Typically when a song gets stuck in your head it’s not the whole song but instead is just a catchy fragment of a song that can seamlessly repeat over & over. Related to the Zeigarnik effect and how our brains hold on to unfinished tasks, a song fragment will remain in our brains, unfinished, looping over & over until we are able to complete the song (or until we get distracted). As such one way to stop an earworm is to listen to the entire song. Like nudging the needle on a record player that is skipping over and over, listening to the entirety of the song can help break the loop and bring a sense of closure.
Other potential cures for earworms, beyond listening to the song in its entirety, are: • Listen to “cure” songs (not the band, although …). Listening to other songs can distract/free your mind from the loop it is in. • Do something else. Since we aren’t as good at multitasking as we thing we are, putting your conscious thoughts towards some other task can end the earworm. • Chew gum. The act of chewing uses some of the same regions of the brain as speech and, since most earworms are songs with lyrics, chewing can help distract your brain from the looping lyrics of the earworm.
Added info: as for literal worms or bugs in your ears, it happens but it’s not common. Cockroaches (who are not adept at walking backwards), spiders, and flies seem to be the most common types of insects/arachnids that accidentally find their way into human ears. These creatures typically don’t want to be there but may end up getting stuck which is bad for everyone involved.
The American Irish secret society for labor rights that might not have actually existed.
Late 19th century Pennsylvania was a hotbed of coal mining. The northeastern part of the state was home to dozens of mines extracting anthracite coal (the region is still home to the largest concentrated anthracite deposit in the world). Anthracite coal had become the fuel of choice to heat homes as well as power the American Industrial Revolution. Extracting tens of millions of tons of coal was a dangerous, dirty, and demanding job which fell upon poor immigrants from Europe.
Among these recent immigrants were the Irish. Emigrating in large part to escape the famine of the mid-19th century many Irish settled in Pennsylvania. Trading one disaster for another, by the 1870s the Irish in the coal mines were risking their lives for poverty wages. The remote locations of many of these mines meant workers and their families were tethered to the mines and were rarely in a position to break the cycle of poverty. Children began their mining careers separating slate from coal as “breaker boys”, eventually graduating to working down in the mines.
Deaths were common. In September of 1869 a fire at the Avondale Mine killed 110 coal miners. In Schuylkill County 566 miners were killed over a seven year period. The situation has been summarized as, “Wages were low, working conditions were atrocious, and deaths and serious injuries numbered in the hundreds each year.” The English & Welsh immigrants at the mines tended to be given management positions which frequently meant that the power struggles that had played out between the poor Irish and the English & Welsh landowners in Ireland were played out again in the coal mines of Pennsylvania.
the Molly Maguires
In this depression some of the Irish miners decided to fight back. One method was through organized labor strikes, but more famously they retaliated through violence. Between 1862 and 1875 fourteen mining officials were murdered. This gave rise to the conspiracy theory that, within the regional Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), was a militant group of Irishmen responsible for these organized killings. This group was called the Molly Maguires.
The Molly Maguires had been a secret society in Ireland who used threats & violence to settle disputes. Pennsylvania journalist Benjamin Bannan was the first to use the name Molly Maguires in association with the violence of the area. As the murders began the name Molly Maguires only became more infamous. That said, while the violence in coal country was real the Molly Maguires may not have been – there is no evidence that the Molly Maguires in America ever existed. Bannon pinned the violence on the Molly Maguires but he had no proof.
the Day of the Rope
Franklin Gowen, president of the Reading Railroad (which also owned dozens of mines), hired the Pinkerton Agency to infiltrate the Irish miners. The Pinkertons sent agent James McParland to go undercover and find any evidence of murder plots or other crimes. McParland worked for two and a half years undercover and his information was the primary evidence in the subsequent 1876-1877 trials of nearly 50 alleged Mollies. In a racist miscarriage of justice, the state of Pennsylvania turned over the investigation & prosecution of the alleged Irish criminals to the Reading Railroad company. Company president Gowen even served as one of the prosecutors. No Irish Catholics were chosen to be jurors, most jurors were Pennsylvania Dutch, some of whom didn’t speak English. There was very little evidence and the prosecution’s cases largely hung on establishing that the defendants were members of the AOH and the conspiracy theory that the AOH was a front for the unproven Molly Maguires.
By 1879, 20 alleged Molly Maguires had been found guilty and executed (all of whom were Irish Catholics) while 23 more had been sent to prison. Following these executions all supposed Molly Maguire activity ended, not because all of the guilty parties had been executed, but more likely from fear of retaliation by the mining companies.
Added info: of the executed, one particularly curious case is that of Alex Campbell. As legend has it, before being taken to the gallows he protested his innocence and placed his hand to the wall of his prison cell stating “There is proof of my words. That mark of mine will never be wiped out. It will remain forever to shame the county for hanging an innocent man.” The cell has been cleaned and painted many times, but the handprint can still be seen in his cell at Carbon County Jail in present day Jim Thorpe, PA.
Reading Railroad president and Molly Maguire prosecutor Franklin Gowen later died by gunshot to the head in 1889. Conspiracy theorists question if it was suicide or retaliation by the Molly Maguires.
One final item, the 1915 Sherlock Holmes story The Valley of Fear was inspired by the Molly Maguires. The story’s second half is about a mining town with a largely Irish fraternal organization which has a secret second organization fighting against the mine bosses on the behalf of union laborers. The story even has a Pinkerton agent infiltrating “the Scowrers.”