A Christmas Tale

The ruins of a seventh century castle lie between the cities of Strassburg and Drusenheim in Germany. Though crumbling, a massive gate remains upright. Deeply sunk into the stone archway above the gate is the impression of a small, delicate hand. This is the story that is told about the hand and the origin of Christmas trees.

The lord of the castle was Count Otto von Gorgas, a very handsome and dashing young man whose passion was hunting big game. He was so devoted to hunting that love could not find a way into his heart. In vain did the fair maidens in the land long for a tender glance from the Count. Their mothers abandoned in despair all hope of securing him as a match for their daughters.

One Christmas Eve, Count Otto went on one of his hunts. In the late evening, while chasing a wild boar, he became separated from his hunting mates and wandered deep into the wild thickets in a far off corner of his land. He came upon a spring, the water clear and deep, and decided to drink and wash his hands and arms of the blood from the game he had slain that day.

Though the weather was cold and the ground covered in frost, Count Otto found to his surprise that the water was warm and very pleasant. As he plunged his arms deeper into the spring, a delightful feeling of peace and well-being began coursing through his body. Suddenly, he felt his right hand grasped by another hand softer and smaller than his own. He felt the hand gently draw from his finger a gold ring he always wore. Thinking it surely was only his imagination, he withdrew his hands from the water. Sure enough, the ring was gone!

Though highly annoyed by his loss, the count decided the ring had accidentally slipped from his finger. As the spring was very deep and darkness had fallen upon the land, he remounted his horse and rode back to the castle, resolving to send servants in the morning to drain the spring and fetch his ring.

As a rule, Count Otto was a sound sleeper, but that night he was awakened by the loud baying of the watch-dog in the court-yard. The count strained his ears and distinctly heard the creaking of the drawbridge as it was being lowered. This was followed a few minutes later by the pattering of many feet up the stone stairs and into the chamber next to his own. Then came the sound of soft, mysterious music; music so lovely and haunting that the count's stony heart was touched.

Rising from his bed, Otto hastily dressed himself. Upon turning toward his chamber door, the count heard the tinkling of a small bell. He watched in astonishment as the door slowly opened. Seeing nothing, Otto crossed the threshold into the next room. He found himself in the midst of an assemblage of small but very lovely looking strangers of both sexes who laughed, chatted, danced, and sang without seeming in the least to notice him.

In the middle of this crowd of little people stood a splendid tree from which a great number of colored lamps shed light throughout the room. The branches were hung with diamond stars and crosses, pearl necklaces, rings of rubies and sapphires, and small daggers mounted in gold and studded with the rarest gems.

Lost in wonder at a scene he could not understand, Otto gazed without the power of uttering a single word. As if on cue, the little revelers stopped talking and dancing and fell back to make way for a newcomer. In the bright rays of the Christmas lights, a dazzling vision stood in front of Count Otto.

She was a princess of astonishing beauty. Though only a girl in size, she was a woman in age and possessed an exquisitely formed body. A diamond brooch sparkled in her long, raven black hair and her dress of rose-colored silk stopped just above the floor. She walked up to the count, took his hands in hers, and in the sweetest of voices said, "Dear Otto, I am come to return your call."

Forgetting all his old coldness towards the female sex, he raised her right hand and kissed it. After guiding him to a couch, the lady whispered into his ear, "I am the fairy Ernestine. I have brought you a Christmas present. That which you lost, I fetch back to you." Drawing from her dress a little casket set with diamonds, she placed it in the hand of the count. He opened it and found inside the ring he had lost in the magical spring. Feeling spellbound and totally captivated, Otto drew the lovely Ernestine into his arms. Before they parted for the night, the two had fallen madly in love and Ernestine had consented to be his bride. Only one thing she required of him; he must never use the word "death" in her presence. Fairies are immortal and the spirits must not be reminded that she was bound to a mortal husband. Being in love, Otto readily promised this.

Seven years later, the still very much in love couple were to be honored at a jousting tournament. Being greatly occupied in finding just the right dress to wear, Ernestine kept her husband waiting until his patience was worn out. "Fair lady," he exclaimed without thinking when she at last appeared before him, "you are so long making ready, you would be a good messenger to send for Death."

Scarcely had he uttered the fatal word than with a loud wail the lovely lady began to falter in her steps! She placed her hand against the stone wall of the great hall as if to brace herself. Otto, with great alarm and regret, could do nothing but watch as his wife's hand seem to melt the stone, and then she slowly disappeared.

Count Otto eventually went the way of all flesh and joined his fathers in the great hereafter. But, before he passed on, he had the block of stone with the imprint of the small hand placed above the castle gate. And while his life lasted, every Christmas Eve, he would set up a lighted tree in the hall where he first met lady Ernestine, in the vain hope of wooing her back to his arms.

This, it is said, was the origin of the Christmas tree.

One Unlucky Fella

In 1883, Henry Ziegland of Honey Grove, Texas broke up with his girlfriend shortly before their announced wedding. She was so distressed she committed suicide. Her brother, who loved his little sister very much, felt the need to avenge her death. He went to Ziegland's ranch several days later where he found him in a field standing in front of a tree. The brother pulled his 6-shooter and fired, hitting Ziegland in the head. Thinking he had avenged his sister, but not wanting to swing from the gallows or spend his life on the run from the law, he turned the gun to his own head and fired, killing himself instantly.
What had actually happened though was the bullet had only skimmed Henry's head with just enough force to knock him down. The bullet continued on its way behind Ziegland, lodging itself in the tree he had been standing in front of. Ziegland was not seriously hurt and counted himself a very lucky fellow.
All was well until 20 years later in 1903 when Henry decided to clear the land where the tree still stood. He tied several sticks of dynamite to the tree and set it off.  The explosion caused the embedded bullet to fly into his head and killed him on the spot.

That's Odd

Off the coast of Wales is a particularly dangerous section of water called the Menai Straight. Since records have been kept, it has been documented as being the location of many shipwrecks. It is also the location of an oddity that can only be thought of as pretty darn weird.

On December 5, 1664, a sailing vessel with 81 passengers aboard sank in the perilous waters of the Menai Straight. 80 souls lost their mortal lives. The only survivor was a man named Hugh Williams.

On December 5, 1785, exactly 121 years later, another ship sank in the Menai Straight. Of the 18 passengers and crew, only one survived - a man by the name of Hugh Williams.

Several records list different dates, but another sinking was recorded in the Menai Straight. Either on December 5 or August 5, 1820, a ship with 25 passengers sank. There was only 1 survivor - you guessed it, Hugh Williams.

On July 10, 1940, a British trawler hit a German mine and sank in the same location as the previous sinkings. This time there were two survivors, a man and his nephew. Both were named Hugh Williams.

Now, Hugh Williams turns out to be a pretty common name in that part of the world, but still, it's pretty odd don't you think?

Unsolved Mystery of the The Sarah Joe

Scott Moorman
Scott Moorman was born in 1952 and grew up in the San Fernando Valley. He watched the TV series Adventures in Paradise as a child and started telling his parents that one day he was going to move to Hawaii. He married young and had a son, but his dream of living in Hawaii never left so when Scott and his young wife called it quits in 1975, he fulfilled his dream by moving to the small community of Nahiku on the east coast of Maui. 

Nahiku was a town of native Hawaiians and a growing population of "haoles," mostly Caucasian refugees looking for their version of paradise - hippies, earth mamas, nature freaks and Vietnam vets trying to forget. Women and men both wore their hair long, grew and smoked dope, lived with each other with no thought of being married and partied way more than they worked. 

The natives didn't take to them as a group, but a few of the new-comers, including Scott, made an effort to get to know them, learned to speak the pidgin-English they spoke, learned their customs and so, gradually, some of the haoles became at least casual friends with some of the natives. The locals called the remote area where they lived "inside" and the populated areas, like Hana, "outside." After a while, Scott and the other newcomers came to see it the same way. Scott went back to California once, for his son's birthday and to see his parents. They asked him to stay, but he told them he couldn't see living anywhere else now. He had to go back to Nahiku, he had to go back home. It was the last time they would see him.

On February 11, 1979, Scott and four friends, Peter Hanchett, Patrick Woesner, Benjamin Kalama, and Ralph Malaiakini, were working constructing a house, but the ocean was smooth and the sky almost cloudless. According to Hawaiian time, things happen when they happen - "yes" means probably later, "maybe" is a nice way of saying probably not, and if the weather is good, then work goes into the later category. The 5 men decided to work later and go fishing now. 

They drove the 7 miles to Hana and borrowed a boat, a 17-foot  Boston Whaler, from an acquaintance. The 85-horsepower outboard needed new spark plugs so the 5 men bought the plugs and installed them. They also purchased beer, soft drinks, snacks, and filled a large cooler with ice for the fish they hoped to be bringing back. 

The Alenuihaha channel between the Big Island and Maui is perhaps the roughest and most dangerous waters in Hawaii. Flowing next to Mauna Loa, the world's largest volcano, the water is 17,000 feet deep and has strong surface currents moving swiftly to the southwest. On this day, a low pressure system had formed near the islands and it intensified as it approached the Alenuihaha channel, but since Hana received no television stations and the radio stations issued weather reports mostly for the western side of Maui, boaters were accustomed to heading out to sea without consulting weather reports beforehand. They simply played the weather by eye. The day Scott and his friends decided to go fishing, the bay had barely a ripple and the sky was void of all clouds except a few little stray puffs. By 10:00 that morning, the men had the boat in the ocean and motored out of the bay. They were heading straight into an enduring mystery which will likely never be solved.

By noon, just 2 short hours after the men put to sea, the wind had shifted to the north and picked up considerable speed. Two hours later, gale-force winds were whipping up large waves in the Alenuihaha channel and a torrential downpour had begun. Residents said later the storm was the worst one they had seen in 50 years. A good portion of Hana was flooded and a number of houses and businesses were damaged by the high winds. Three boats out fishing that day made it back to Hana just as the storm got really bad, but the Sarah Joe wasn't one of them.

The Coast Guard was notified at 5:00 PM that the boat and men were missing. A helicopter and a large fixed-wing plane were dispatched to search for the men, but the winds were high, the ocean boiling and the visibility was very poor. One searcher said the weather was so bad, "they could have been just 50 feet in front of us and we wouldn't have seen them." More planes and helicopters were dispatched to the hunt. Eventually, over the next 5 days, 44 planes and boats covered more than 56,000 square miles of ocean, but they found not a trace of the Sarah Joe or her occupants. After 5 days, the official search was called off.

The families, friends, and neighbors didn't give up. One of the men who continued the search stated, "These were young, strong, healthy guys. They were experienced fishermen and good swimmers. They were all capable and had each other to rely on. If someone had found debris, we would have agreed they didn't live through the storm, but nothing was found - nothing. And so we felt there was still a chance they were afloat and alive." A fund drive was begun and over $50,000 was raised. It was used to hire commercial boats and private planes to join the volunteers in an extended search. Dozens and dozens of volunteers combed the isolated south shore of Maui and the Hamakua coast of the Big Island in case the boat or it's crew had managed to land there. Absolutely nothing was found that could possibly be related to the Sarah Joe or the men who vanished with her. A full week after the Coast Guard had given up the search, the volunteers admitted they had no idea what had happened to Scott and his friends. While in the area, commercial and private fishermen and boaters kept their eyes open for any sign of what happened to the Sarah Joe for months after, but no trace was found.

Exactly one year after they disappeared, a memorial service was held for the five men who had vanished so suddenly, so thoroughly, it was like the sea had opened its mouth and swallowed them up.

The area southwest of the Hawaiian Islands is a vast expanse of empty open ocean stretching for more than 2,300 miles. At that point a small atoll, a group of uninhabited little islands named the Taongi Atoll, is encountered. Considered a part of the Marshall Isles, the islands were little more than strips of arid land slightly higher than the ocean. A few scrub plants have found a foothold on a couple of the strips of land, but none of them are palatable for humans. There is no fresh water. The only inhabitants ever recorded had been a few Japanese soldiers whom the Allies wiped out in 1944 during WWII.  The atoll is far from the shipping lanes and the nearest land is over 200 miles further west. The area is so isolated, it was under serious consideration as the site of atomic bomb testing. This is no tropical island paradise for anyone.

On September 10, 1988, marine biologist John Naughton and 4 other men went ashore one of those little islands looking for green sea turtles and nesting sea birds. They had been hired by the government of the Marshal Islands to find a suitable site for a wildlife sanctuary.  The team had been on the land for less than 30 minutes when they spotted something sticking up out of the sand. Upon closer inspection, it was the battered fiberglass hull of a Boston Whaler with the letters "HA" painted on the side. Naughton, a resident of Maui, Hawaii, knew those letters meant the boat was registered in Hawaii. After clearing away some of the sand, the letters S, a, h and j became visible. Ironically, Naughton had been one of the volunteers who had so diligently searched for the Sarah Joe almost 10 years ago. He knew what they had finally found. There were no traces of the five men; no remains, no notes, no clothing. Naughton and his crew decided to scour the whole little island, hoping against hope to find survivors even though nobody could have remained alive on this sand bar for long.
The Sarah Joe after she was found and pulled from the sand.

About 100 yards further on, the men came across a crude wooden cross marking a shallow grave. A cairn of flattened coral stones had been fashioned to mark the grave and on top of these stones was a single human jaw bone. One rock held down a sheaf of partially burned papers. There was no writing on the sheets of paper. Carefully unstacking several of the stones, the men could see more human bones underneath. They put the stones they had disturbed back in place and stopped. Naughton later stated, "We didn't dig up the grave. We could see it was a Christian burial and the Marshallese men with us were somewhat superstitious. We immediately saw there were fillings in the teeth and we could see it was not a very old burial just by the fact the bones were not very bleached. Also, you could see the area had been washed by really high storm waves sometime in the recent past so the grave had to have been made after that."

After completing a search of the whole island and finding nothing else, their discovery was reported to the Marshallese authorities. The U.S. Coast Guard was informed and they sent two forensic experts from the Army Central Identification Lab in Honolulu to see if the remains could be identified. When they arrived, additional bones were discovered in the grave, but a complete skeleton was not recovered. Bringing the bones back to Hawaii, they soon proved by dental records and DNA to be those of one man, Scott Moorman. The cause of death could not be determined. Two months after they were found, Scott's family held a memorial service and buried his remains in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Along the sandbar where the grave of Scott Moorman was found.
Family members of the other 4 men hired a private detective who tried for a number of months to determine what happened to the men still lost. He took a crew to the Taongi Atoll where they once again scoured the spit of land and dove in the lagoon looking for clues. The outboard engine of the Sarah Joe was found underwater wedged in the coral reef. Digging and sifting the sand, they found a handful of human bones a few yards further down from the grave site. Nothing more was discovered. The private detective and crew declared they were absolutely positive there was nothing more to find. Forensic work later determined the bones were more of Scott Moorman. 

So what really happened to the Sarah Joe and the 5 friends who went out in her that fateful day? Had she been floating around in that vast expanse of empty ocean for almost 10 years, her crew slowly dying one by one of hunger and thirst? There was only one narrow entrance through the reef and islands where a boat can enter the lagoon of 
 the Taongi Atoll. Did the Sarah Joe, against all odds, just happen to float through that narrow channel to land on an interior sandbar or could she have been guided by someones hand? What happened to the 4 men who have never been found? All sailors know, the sea rarely gives up her dead. Who buried Scott Moorman? How did he come to be freshly buried at least 9 years after his disappearance? What were those partially burned sheets of paper on his grave? Why was his jawbone on top of the grave and his other bones buried? So many unanswered questions, but it all remains a mystery.

Sex, Murder, and Mystery on the Island of Floreana

How sweet, how passing sweet, is solitude;
But grant me still a friend in my retreat,
To whom I may whisper - solitude is sweet.
William Cowper, "Retirement"

Dore Strauch was a teacher who was convinced she was meant for greater things than a life as the wife of a cruel man and working beneath a headmaster who was twice her age. Dr. Friedrich Ritter, a dentist, desired to map the human brain and felt civilization had nothing more to offer him. As fortune would have it, Dore met Friedrich when she came to him for some dental work and in 1929, they left their spouses and ran away to Floreana, a remote, lonely island in the Galapagos, a place where the authority of the state ended and the law of necessity reigned. When the pair came ashore, the island was deserted, having successfully resisted several attempts at colonization. There simply wasn't enough fresh water to support a colony of people.

Dore and Friedrich
Before leaving, to prevent dental problems, Friedrich pulled all his teeth and made a set of metal false teeth. Some reports state Dore also had her teeth removed and the two shared the one set of false teeth, but no proof of that has been found. Once they arrived on Floreana, they immediately removed all of their clothing and lived from then on as nudist, only putting clothes on when visitors sometimes came to their island. They soon built a hut of corrugated iron in the green crater of an extinct volcano and cultivated an acre of land, successfully raising a nice garden from which they harvested almost all of their food sustaining them as vegetarians.
Friedrich and Dore at home on Floreana
The press got word of this modern-day Adam and Eve, the rugged doctor and his lover, living naked and alone on a far off island. They became international celebrities, exactly the opposite of what they had wanted. For several years, people would come to visit them, arriving every few weeks. The couple complained bitterly about how often people would come and thus, how often they would have to wear clothes. Occasionally a few of the visitors came with the intention of staying on the island, but invariably, the harsh conditions of the island and the hard work it took to survive shattered their dreams of idyllic living on a tropical isle and they all left when the next boat stopped by.

Margret, Heinz and a pet cat at their home on Floreana
In 1932, Heinz Wittmer arrived on the island with his pregnant wife Margret and their teenage son. Heinz was seeking a place far away from post-war Germany which was in the midst of a severe depression with 30% unemployment, rioting in the streets, and the rise of the Nazi Party. Unlike the others though, the Wittmer family were knowledgable, independent, and determined and willing to endure the hardships. They stayed on the other side of the island away from Friedrich and Dore, making their home for a while in a cave. The families visited each other occasionally, but the women didn't like each other so they mostly stayed to themselves and that's the way they both preferred. When their son Rolf was born in the cave house, it was the first birth ever recorded on Floreana Island.

The Baroness, Philippson and Lorrenz
The next year brought unfortunate changes. A party of four people arrived and declared their intention to stay. They were led by "Baroness" Eloise Wehrborn de Wagner-Bosquet, an attractive young Austrian. The other 3 people were her two lovers, Robert Philippson and Rudolf Lorrenz, and Manuel Valdvieso, a handyman who had been hired to do all of the work. Manuel built a hut on the beach for them to live in which the Baroness called "Hacienda Paradise." She began to call herself the "Empress of Floreana" and announced plans to build a grand hotel which would be built and operated for her rich friends and other millionaires. She managed to get her plans announced by the international media and soon there were many more yachts anchoring in the little bay. The Baroness began inviting yacht captains and select male passengers into her bed and eventually seduced the Governor of Galapagos. Yachts began to go out of their way to visit the island of Floreana. With the Baroness' scandalous living arrangements and rumors of her seemingly insatiable sexual appetite, everyone sailing the Pacific wanted to be able to boast of an encounter with her.

Cover of a magazine story about the Baroness and her life on Floreana
The Wittmer family, who by now had managed to build a house and were actually doing rather well given the difficult conditions, lived on the other end of the island and didn't associate much with the Baroness and her entourage. Friedrich though made no effort to conceal his hatred of the Baroness and her friends and "visitors" and plans for a grand hotel. He blamed her for totally upsetting the lifestyle he and Dore had worked so hard to establish.

Eventually, Rudolf Lorrenz, one of the Baroness' original lovers, evidently grew tired of his lady's penchant to bed others and heated arguments began taking place in their camp. Lorrenz began visiting the Wittmer family, sometimes staying for days until the Baroness herself would come to fetch him back. A drought occurred making fresh water extremely scarce and the pressure apparently drove Friedrich and Dore into bitter arguments between themselves. The Wittmer family, Friedrich and Dore became even more upset with the Baroness and her friends when she started badmouthing them to the international press which published every word whether true or not. For some unknown reason, Philippson stole the Ritter's donkey one night and turned it lose in the Wittmer's garden where it proceeded to destroy a good portion of it. When Heinz found it the next morning, he thought it was a feral donkey and shot it.

The Baroness and Philippson on Floreana
On March 27, 1934, the Baroness and her lover Philippson disappeared, never to be seen again. When questioned later, Margret Wittmer said the Baroness had come to their home one morning and said some friends had arrived in their yacht and were going to take her and Philippson to Tahiti that very day. She also told Margret that whatever they were not taking with them was being left to Lorrenz. But neither the Baroness or Philippson ever appeared in Tahiti or anywhere else. Lorrenz claimed to know nothing about it and neither he, the handy-man Valdvieso, nor Friedrich or Dore saw any kind of boat in the harbor the whole week in question. Almost every possession of the Baroness and Philippson were left behind, including luggage and other items of a personal nature that the Baroness would have taken with her even for a short trip. Relations between the Wittmer's and Friedrich and Dore became even more strained when they told people of their belief that Lorrenz killed the Baroness and Philippson, burned their bodies and the Wittmer's helped him cover it up. The Wittmer's talked of Friedrich's dislike of the Baroness and claimed Lorrenz and he had suspiciously split the items left behind by the disappeared couple.

The handy-man Valdvieso convinced the very next boat that stopped to take him off the island. It is assumed he apparently escaped back to wherever the Baroness had found him.

The bodies of Lorrenz and Nuggerud
Soon thereafter, Lorrenz convinced a Norwegian fisherman named Nuggerud to take him to Santa Cruz and then to San Cristobal where he could catch the ferry to Guayaquil. They landed in Santa Cruz, bought supplies, set sail for San Cristobal and then vanished. A number of months later, the mummified, desiccated bodies of both men were found on Marchena Island, a parcel of land in the northern part of the Archipelago which is not on the route to or anywhere near Santa Cruz or San Cristobal.  There is still no clue as to how they got there.

In November of that same year, Friedrich Ritter died. The official reason was listed as food poisoning from eating a badly preserved chicken. What makes this interesting is the fact that Friedrich was an avowed vegetarian who had not been seen to eat meat of any kind for years. Plus, he was by then an experienced veteran of island living and perfectly capable of knowing when meat had gone bad. Margret Wittmer claimed that Dore had poisoned him as his treatment of her had become worse during the last year. Both women claimed to have been by his side when Friedrich died, but their accounts could not be any different.
Dore Strauch: “Suddenly he opened his great blue eyes and stretched his arms towards me. His glance was joyously tranquil. He seemed actually to say to me: “I go; but promise you will not forget what we have lived for.” It seemed to be as if he would draw me with him. Then he sank back, and I began to caress his forehead tenderly. He became quite still, and that was death.
Margret Wittmer: “Whenever she came near him, he would make feeble movements as if to hit or kick her. He looked up at Dore, his eyes gleaming with hate. [He] wrote his last sentence: “I curse you with my dying breath.” His eyes filled with a wild feverish flame. Dore shrieked, and drew back in horror. Then he collapsed soundlessly, falling back on the pillows. He had gone.
Three dead and two missing in the space of a few months on a barely populated island captured even more world-wide attention than the Baroness' antics. The "Galapagos Affair" as it became called, has confounded historians, police, and armchair detectives since 1934. The Baroness and Philippson have never been found. The mummified bodies of Lorrenz and Nuggerud ending up on Marchena Island is still a complete mystery. Friedrich's death is still officially listed as an accidental food poisoning despite all the raised eyebrows and questions. The Wittmers remained on Floreana and became wealthy years later when the Galapagos became a tourist destination. Until she died in 2000, still living on Floreana Island at the age of 96, Margret never changed her story that the Baroness and Philippson left for Tahiti on a yacht. She often hinted she knew more than she was telling, but no one knows whether she really did or was just having fun with the tourists and interviewers. Dore eventually put on clothes and returned to Germany where she wrote a book about the whole affair. It wasn't a big success and it didn't settle any of the mysteries, but it proved interesting due to the stories of the hardships she and Friedrich endured and for details of the sordid goings-on that took place after the Baroness took up residence on the island. In the book she was adamant that Lorrenz killed the Baroness and Philippson, but she offered no proof other than her "gut feelings." 

No one is alive today who actually have knowledge of all that happened. Some mysteries, it seems, are destined to never be solved. And isn't that what makes the world just a bit more interesting?

Postcard From The World's Smallest Police Station

Carrabelle is a rather small, quiet town along the Florida panhandle about 20 miles east of Apalachicola. The town is surrounded by the Crooked, Ochlockonee, and Carrabelle rivers and the Gulf of Mexico. With a population of about 1,300 happy souls, the major business is fishing and it is noted as a nice deep-water fishing village. It's a nice, peaceful, family-friendly type of place. What it is most famous for however is a phone booth. You see, Carrabelle is home to the world's smallest police station.

The town used to have a problem with tourists making unauthorized long-distance calls on its unattended police phone. The phone harked back to a time when folks could mostly be trusted to not do what they weren't supposed to do - the call box was simply bolted to the side of a public building with a little sign beside it saying, "For police business only." In the early 1960's though, the town's phone bill began to be hundred's of dollars per month after fishermen and tourist figured out there was nothing to prevent them from calling home or anywhere else.

At first, the town's lone employee simply moved the phone to the side of another building that wasn't located right on the main road through town, but it didn't take visitors long to find it and continue making their calls. About that time, the phone company decided to replace the town's aging phone booth in front of the pharmacy. Johnny Mirabella, the town's employee, talked the phone company into letting him have the old booth and with the help of Curly Messer, a deputy sheriff, moved the booth to its present location on Highway 98 and on March 10, 1963, installed the police phone in it and placed police station decals over the booth's glass. Unfortunately, people would still make their illegal calls from it until Johnny finally got a bright idea and simply wired the phone directly into police dispatch and removed the dial. No more illegal long-distance phone usage!

The phone booth police station has been featured on numerous television shows such as The Today Show, The Tonight Show, Ripley's Believe It or Not, and Real People among others and was used in the movie "Tate's Hell." The town has copyrighted the design and makes additional income by selling t-shirts, hats, postcards, and calendars featuring the "World's Smallest Police Station."

Of course, there are negatives that come with fame - vandals have occasionally ripped the phone out, shot bullet holes in it, and knocked it over several times with trucks. One time a tourist tried to get a local help him load the booth into his pickup so he could take it back home to Tennessee with him. But the iconic little police station always gets repaired eventually and it still stands at the corner of U.S. 98 and CR 67.

Rock, Paper, Scissor

In Gillette, Wyoming, in front of the Gillette News-Record newspaper offices at 1201 W. 2nd Street, there is a bronze statue of the decision-making game Rock, Paper, Scissors. The sculpture is by Warren Cullar and Kevin Box. While it certainly is not worth a long trip to see, if you happen to be in the area for some other reason then you should check it out because, well, just because it's kind of cool.

After getting your picture taken next to the Rock, Paper, Scissor statue for posterity, less than a mile away at 902 W. 2nd Street is a pretty cool county museum named the Rockpile Museum. It is not a museum of rocks; it got its name because it is located next to a big pile of rocks. Evidently, during those long, cold, winter days in Gillette, the residents do not spend their time coming up with exquisitely intellectual names for their city features.

Postcard From A Texas Bottle Tree Farm

Many folks know about Elmer Long's Bottle Tree Ranch on Route 66 in California, but there's an artist in Llano, Texas that makes unique bottle trees and other art which certainly rivals and perhaps surpasses Mr. Long's place. 

On a recent road trip through central Texas, I was cruising through Llano when I passed by a most interesting and colorful yard - one of those totally unexpected serendipitous road trip happenings. You have to take advantage of these; be open to seeing something cool, meeting someone new, doing something exciting. I made a quick u-turn.

After pulling into the little drive-way, Kathleen, one of the friendliest, most interesting people I've had the pleasure to encounter strolled over to meet me and we began to talk. I felt comfortable right away. She told me the story of how she came to own the nice, well maintained little house in the middle of all the art. Walkways of crushed glass meandered around and through the art pieces. She showed me the lizards at the front of the yard and how she made them using colored glass from the plates her children had broken when they were little. There were numerous bottle trees, each with a story to tell and every one of them an interesting piece in and of itself. Some of the art, like the life-size warrior princess (that's my interpretation anyway) made of tin foil, can be taken as not quite in the mainstream of art, but it is definitely art and definitely interesting.

Lizard animal things Kathleen made with pieces of glass
her children broke when they were little.
If you've ever wanted to build a bottle tree of your own, she'll be happy to sell you the metal tree, which she will make with her own hands. Or for a right fair price, you can take home a unique piece of art sure to be a conversation piece. Call 325.248.1704 before dropping by her place at 401 E. Young in Llano and I'm sure she'll be happy to visit with you, show you her art pieces, and answer any questions you might have. You can also check out her web site http://texastinlizard.com/.

I had a great time looking at all the really interesting art work and talking with Kathleen. I'm sure you would too. I give this place 2 thumbs up!

Tin foil warrior princess?

Bunny-dude & peacock bottle tree
There's a lot of interesting glass art work here!

Crushed glass walkway with lizard design

Found Elvis!
For the pink flamingo crowd

For the golfing crowd
I haven't a clue, but it's pretty and I liked it!

General Scurry

Entrance to the Texas State Cemetery
The Texas State Cemetery in Austin was established in 1851 and is the final resting place of Governors, Senators, Legislators, Congressmen, Judges, Medal of Honor war heroes, legendary frontiersmen, famous authors and other noted Texans who have made the state what it is today. One of these resting in eternal peace is General William Read Scurry.

Scurry was born in Gallatin, Tennessee, on February 10, 1821, and arrived in Texas on June 20, 1839. He was licensed to practice law before he was twenty-one and appointed district attorney of the fifth judicial district in 1841. Scurry became aide-de-camp to Thomas Jefferson Rusk in 1842 and represented Red River County in the Ninth Congress of the Republic of Texas in 1844 and 1845. During the Mexican War he enlisted as a private in Col. George T. Wood' Second Regiment, Texas Mounted Volunteers, and was promoted to major on July 4, 1846. After the war he practiced law in Clinton and for a time was the owner and editor of the Austin State Gazette.
General Skurry (historical photo)

After representing the counties of Victoria, DeWitt, Jackson, and Calhoun in the Secession Convention, he volunteered for service in the Confederate army in July, 1861 even though he was 40 years old. He was assigned the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Fourth Texas Cavalry and distinguished himself as a man of leadership and great bravery during the Confederate invasion of New Mexico while commanding the Southern forces at the battle of Glorieta.

After his participation in several more battles, he was promoted to brigadier general and played a vital role in the Confederate recapture of Galveston in January, 1863. In late 1863, General Scurry was assigned to command the Third Brigade of Walker's Texas Division. He valiantly  led his men in the bloody battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill and then was transferred with his command to Arkansas to repel the Union army which was marching toward Northeast Texas. 

On April 30, 1864, Scurry again went into battle at Jenkins Ferry. At age 42, after almost three years of war, leading men in ferocious, deadly battles, his luck ran out. As the battle raged, he was on his horse,rallying his men in their attack when a cannon shell exploded close by. His horse was killed, but miraculously, Scurry received only minor wounds. He continued to lead on foot when, as he crested a hill in front of his troops, he was shot in the upper leg, the mini ball shattering the bone. His men wanted to take him to the rear where he could be given medical attention and possibly saved, but fearing to do so would cause his troops to lose the morale needed to turn the enemy, he refused. 

For almost 2 hours the battle raged around him as he laid in the open field shouting encouragement to his men and giving orders. In spite of his bravery and encouragement though, he enemy held off the Rebels long enough to receive reinforcements and pushed the southerners back. Scurry laid in the field with the other dead and wounded as the Yankees rushed by. In the heat of battle, there was no time to care for the  wounded of either side so Scurry went without aid for over 2 hours.

W. R. Scurry grave
Soon, the Confederate's halted their retreat and made a stand. After several Union attacks were turned back, the Southerners rallied and made their own attack. The Yankee lines broke and the pitched battle turned into a route as the Union soldiers were forced into a running retreat. Scurry's men regained the field where he lay and rushed to see if by some miracle their leader was still alive. He was.

When a handful of his men found him, he asked, "Have we whipped them?" On being told the battle had been won, he whispered, "Now take me to a house where I can be made comfortable and die easy." After over 2 hours of laying in the hot sun in severe pain, bleeding with a shattered leg and receiving no treatment, General Scurry finally, mercifully, passed out. His men carried him to a nearby house which had been turned into a field hospital, but it was too late. He died without regaining consciousness.

William Read Scurry's body was brought back home and buried in the Texas State Cemetery in May, 1864. Scurry county Texas is named in his honor.

Postcard from Rohwer Relocation Center

 In 1942 following the attack on Pearl Harbor, war hysteria led to the forced removal of 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes, businesses and communities. The U.S. government imprisoned them in camps such as the Rohwer Relocation Center in southeast Arkansas. Consisting of 500 acres, the Rohwer camp was chosen as one of the sites as the land was owned by the federal government and it was situated away from populated areas and near a railway. The 8,475 inhabitants were watched by armed guards from towers linked together by a barbed wire fence.

The site of the camp is now mostly farmed land

The land on which the Rohwer camp was located was in a severe poverty area and originally intended to be subsistence homesteading under the Farm Security Administration. When war broke out however and it was determined people of Japanese ancestry should be isolated, in an attempt to kill two birds with one stone, a number of the camps were placed in poverty-stricken areas in hope they would boost the local economy. Not only did this not happen, even more resentment was felt by the local population who became resentful of the camp's residents for their access to 3 meals every day and free medical care.  There were no jobs available in the area for the locals, yet many of the Japanese men were employed to cut down trees to make room for more housing and buildings and were paid $12 per month by the government.

When the camp was newly opened, the first batch of male internees were dispatched outside the fence to start cutting trees to enable the camp to grow. A group of armed locals, thinking they were Japanese paratroopers invading Arkansas, "captured" them and marched them at gunpoint to the local jail where they were held until the camp's American director came for them.

Historical photo of Japanese children playing marbles in
the dirt of Camp Rohwer
By late 1942, the camp consisted of 620 buildings and included a hospital, post office, various shops, schools, churches, recreation halls, a movie theater, sawmill and a cannery. There were also baseball and other athletic fields and communal pick-nick areas. Most of the individual families planted their own gardens in addition to the 610 acres that were farmed for the whole camp. Many had flocks of chickens and pigs and a lively food barter system was established. It's easy to see why the impoverished locals felt the "prisoners" had it a lot better than they themselves did.

Some of the young men, those who had been born in America, were allowed to join the army and were sent to fight German forces in Europe. Of the approximately 200 who volunteered from the Rohwer camp, 31 paid the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefields. During the 3 years the camp was operational, 24 internees died and were buried in the camp cemetery.
George Takei as Lt. Sulu

One little boy of 4 was brought in with his family from California, but spent only 8 months in Camp Rohwer. His parents refused to take the required oath of loyalty to America so they were sent back to California to the maximum security camp at Tule Lake.  The little boy who had his 5th birthday in the camp, remembers Camp Rohwer because it was the first time he had ever seen a hog. George Takei grew up to become an actor of note with his most famous roll being Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu in the original Star Trek TV series and 6 Star Trek movies.

All that is on the site today is a replica guard house with informational posters, a brick smokestack, several monuments to those who died in Italy and France while serving in the military, the cemetery with its 24 headstones and a monument next to the cemetery in memory of those 24. That monument states in English, "Erected by the inhabitants of Rohwer Relocation Center October 1944." And in Japanese, it reads: "May the people of Arkansas keep in beauty and reverence forever this ground where our bodies sleep."

Rohwer Center Cemetery marker
A few of the 24 concrete headstones in the Rohwer Cemetery

Dangerous Beautiful Sight

My home for 3 years
In 1974, I was in the U.S. Navy serving on  an aircraft carrier, the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63). We were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean a thousand miles from the nearest scrap of land when late one evening a Battle Stations drill was conducted. My battle station was at the top of the crow's nest, a position far, far, way-the-hell far up in the air at the top of the ship. Nobody and nothing was above me except the sky and the top part of a communications antenna. From this lofty perch I was supposed to record the action of the battle we were always preparing for or enemy planes flying over and at us or enemy ships firing missiles at us miles away. Since it was just a drill and none of that was actually happening, I was left alone to ponder life and watch all the action of planes taking off below me.

An F-14 "Tom Cat" taking off  from an aircraft carrier with
full afterburners

When in Battle Station condition, all external lights are eliminated so after the sun set, it became black ink dark. The sea is black, the sky is black, your whole world is black and you can't tell where the ocean waters stop and the horizon begins. It's like being inside a huge ball lined in black velvet. Within a few minutes though, the stars began shining; more stars than can be counted, more stars than can be imagined by anyone who has not been in the middle of an ocean on a cloudless night. The last plane of the exercise to launch was an F-14, a beautifully designed and very deadly twin engine fighter jet. The "Tom Cat" as it was called, took off and with afterburners on full, went straight up into the sky. Nothing in my world was visible except those two bright yellow-orange fireballs going straight up into the blackness and a billion twinkling points of light. Other than my wife on our wedding day and my children when they laugh, it is still the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

Postcard from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

Reagan statue at the entrance to
 the library
While in California visiting a friend recently, we took the opportunity to take in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. Having never been to a presidential library before, I was very pleasantly surprised to find it to be an interesting exhibit of artifacts, historical documents and interactive displays. There was a full-sized replica of the Oval Office and Ronald Reagan's actual Air Force One plane along with a replica of the White House's Rose Garden.

I always thought Reagan was a pretty good president, but I came away more impressed with him and some of the things he said way back in the early 1980's ring truer than ever today. To be honest, initially I wasn't expecting much and was not very enthused about going to a presidential library. I only went to accompany my friend who wanted to see it, but I definitely came away wanting to visit more of them. Before we left the gift shop, I purchased a Presidential Library Passport. Looking like a passport and about the same size as one, it contains information and the location of each presidential library in America and has a place to get the page stamped as you visit. There happens to be 3 of them within easy driving distance of my home and I fully intend for there to be some stamping going on soon!

The library is on the top of a high hill which offers
a great view of the surrounding area

Signs of Reagan's favorite sayings were posted
throughout the library

Full-sized recreation of the Oval Office

Reagan's presidential limo

Ronald Reagan quote, March 6, 1981

Reagan's Air Force One. We took a tour
of it - pretty impressive!

Ronald Reagan quote

Piece of the Berlin Wall