Sunday, December 27, 2020

Tip of the Ship

While driving around Cape May down the Jersey shore,
this blogger once stumbled upon a curious sight just off the shoreline in an area known as Sunset Beach. It appeared to be the rusted portion of some kind of structure poking up straight out of the water at high tide. As the people in the vicinity paid little attention to it, I concluded that whatever it was, it had been there for a while.

Later, I learned this haunting anachronism I accidentally encountered was, in fact, the wreck of the S.S. Atlantus, one of an elite few concrete ships built for World War I’s Emergency Fleet circa 1918.

The Atlantus was actually launched a month after the end of the war, built by the Liberty Ship Building Company in Georgia to serve as a transport for returning U.S. troops. They radically opted for concrete as an alternative to steel which was in short supply during the war. The availability of steel soon saw the decommissioning of the concrete ships after the war had ended.












In 1926, while awaiting a new role in a ferry operation in Cape May County, the Atlantus broke free during a storm and ran aground 150 feet from the coast where the eroded hull still peeks above water today. For a time, a painted billboard hung on the wreckage advertising boat insurance.

We will inevitably see less of the historic shipwreck as years go by, epitomizing the temporary nature of history itself. Perhaps it symbolizes our perspective in the overall scope of history where the salty waters of time continue to slowly wash away that which remains of the past.

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Sunday, December 20, 2020

There She Stands, So Grand Near the Sand

She’s nearly 65 feet tall, 140 years old and can put away more peanuts than they pack at the Planters factory. Sound like anyone you know?

Built in 1881 by James Lafferty, Jr., Lucy the Elephant is an instantly recognizable building and National Historic Landmark located in Margate, New Jersey.

Much like the iconic Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles, Lucy was erected to attract visitors to a nearby area of real estate, viewable from her observation ‘howdah.’

Created primarily out of tin and wood, the 90-ton monstrous mammal sports a spiral staircase within her hind leg leading to quarters that house a gift shop, museum and offices.

Originally the first of three such oddities, Lucy soon weathered and deteriorated but was spared from destruction in the 1960s through the locals’ ‘Save Lucy’ campaign and survived a hurricane and even a lightning bolt!

Her ill-fated younger cousins who kept watch over Coney Island, Brooklyn and Cape May, New Jersey, respectively, are now but ‘elephant’s memories.’

Inquiring cryptozoologists can visit Lucy for guided tours which are given continually during her daily open hours. She can even be rented on Airbnb... but I suppose, in the words of Groucho Marx, “that’s entirely irr-elephant.”

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Christopher Robinson

Sunday, December 13, 2020

A Coliseum Ya Gotta See


The construction of the Flavian Amphitheater, as it was originally known, began in 72 AD under the Emperor Vespasian. Its completion in 80 AD was overseen by Vespasian’s son, Titus.

Created from limestone and volcanic rock, the ancient ‘Coliseum’
seated 55,000 people and although partially in ruins, still stands proudly in central Rome, east of the Roman Forum. But what exactly took place within that hallowed structure?

Nothing less than spectacular mock-battles
and gladiator exhibitions were staged by Rome’s elite and voraciously cheered on by the Coliseum’s throngs. Often these spectacles were preceded by grand processions and pageantry in the form of criminal executions.


Thousands of wild lions, bears and dogs were slaughtered for a pre-game show as well as turned against condemned individuals in brutal executions. As with other historical atrocities, the act of human beings feeding fellow humans to animals for the arousal of other humans would seem inconceivable were it not for its perpetuity in our collective conscience leaving us slightly desensitized.

The gladiator matches which encompassed the ceremonies’ main event saw skilled men and women fighters enter the Coliseum on foot or horseback wielding swords, shields, tridents and nets to battle their opponents until injury, stalemate or death concluded the match.


These exhibitions were carried out by fighters of varied social standings including veteran soldiers, slaves and knights who often competed to engage in combat merely for the fame, attention and honor.

Following subsequent periods where the Coliseum became a church(ironically) and fortress, it fell to lightning and earthquakes before laying derelict as a quarry, its marble and trimmings pillaged for centuries.


Restoration of the Coliseum probably began in the 1800s and continued into the 1990s. Today it boasts almost 7,000,000 annual visitors as one of Europe’s great tourist attractions.

Not surprisingly, movie crews have ventured out to this historic arena on many occasions, beckoned by its ancient aura. Some films that prominently featured the Coliseum include Roman Holiday starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, Return of the Dragon/Way of the Dragon starring Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris and (of course) Gladiator starring Russell Crowe.

It all stands to reason... that all roads, in fact, lead to Rome.

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Christopher Robinson

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Peruse Peru as You Choose

I would build such beautiful
buildings to house the chosen
few, like an Inca from Peru.

--Neil Young


In 1911, American explorer Hiram Bingham discovered what he claimed was the ‘Lost City of the Inca.’ He had in fact conflated Machu Picchu with Vilcabamba, the secret city where the Incas fled the Conquistadors from Spain.

Amidst mountainous forests on the steep slopes of the Andes stands this incomparable relic of 15th Century Peruvian agriculture, science and religion where natural landscapes merge effortlessly with man-made stonework ingenuity.

Among Machu Picchu’s breathtaking highlights are the mysterious and cavernous Temple of the Moon and La Ciudadela, the historic site’s high pinnacle.

Despite such a largely intact ecosystem there is much that remains unknown regarding Machu Picchu’s significances, functions and overall purposes. With so many questions and beautifully puzzling pieces to arrange, it would seem, once again, that the ancients have had the last laugh.

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Sunday, November 29, 2020

Itzá Heckúva Sight

In the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico lies the ruins of Chichén Itzá, the
elaborate city of colorful pyramids, steps, graves, plazas and temples housing murals, altars, masks, carvings and other renderings.

Chichén Itzá is believed to have been a populous community as well as military fortress and a center for worship and commerce.

Settled in circa 500 AD and developed primarily between 900 and 1200 AD, it is estimated to have been abandoned by the 1500s.

Ominously, some structures within the city served as the site of countless sacrificial ceremonies. Humans were certainly believed to have been sacrificed, along with gold and jade to Chaac, the rain god during the Cult of the Cenote.

Another marvel evident in Chichén Itzá’s dazzling remnants is the Mayans’ brilliant pursuit of astronomy. Biannually, shadows can be observed on the steps of the Temple of Kukulkan during the autumn and spring equinoxes which form the shape of a serpent that slithers downward to the bottom steps as the sun sets. The city’s observatory also allowed for the forecasting of solar eclipses.

After its excavation in the 19th Century, much of what we now know of the ruins was learned and studied by scientists and scholars who are still trying to keep up with its complex history.

But what ever became of the Mayans of the city and why did they flee? These are questions that have never been unequivocally satisfied. Perhaps it’s simply too early to know. Those answers may lie in the riddles that adorn the city’s stone walls and haunt all souls who walk their ancient paths, searching in vain for an ancient clue. Maybe Itzá just a mystery.

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Monday, November 2, 2020

The Case of the Drunken Heiress - Part 5

This week’s post will feature the conclusion of The Case of the Drunken Heiress by author Karen Carson. This crime serial has been presented here in five parts, the fifth and last of which can be viewed using the link below. Karen has also provided the following comprehensive summary for reference. I think mystery fans will appreciate Karen’s textured characters and engrossing story. Enjoy! --Christopher Robinson

To go directly to part 5: click here.

To go directly to part 4: click here.

To go directly to part 3: click here.

To go directly to part 2, click here.

To read the initial synopsis of the story: click here.


 

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Christopher Robinson

Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Case of the Drunken Heiress - Part 1

This week’s blog post will spotlight a mystery series called The Case of the Drunken Heiress by author Karen Carson. It’s presented here in five parts, the first of which can be viewed using the link below.

Karen has also provided the following comprehensive summary for reference. I think mystery fans will appreciate Karen’s textured characters and engrossing story. Enjoy!


SUMMARY EPISODES 1-5 OF THE CASE OF THE DRUNKEN HEIRESS

By Karen Carson

On the morning of the Boston Marathon, 25-year veteran and recent evening law school graduate, Detective Bahiti Patel, and weekend motorcyclist and doctors’ daughter, Detective Kenyatta Grossman arrive at the scene of the murder of Beacon Hill venture capitalist and Vice President of Malarkey Management, Ian Chenoweth. The Crime Scene Unit has found no entrance or exit wounds on the body but Viveca Chatworth--the nearly penniless heiress of a renowned publishing empire, and would-be stage and film star--sits beside him in shock, covered in blood, denying all memory of the previous evening.

Chenoweth’s friend and Treasurer of the Beacon Muse Condominium’s board association loudly and repeatedly shouts accusations at Viveca, insisting on her immediate arrest.

Legendary former attorney and police officer and speaker, and now private eye, Dr. Blaise Washington--100 years old but a dead ringer for the much younger Denzel Washington--enters, holding a gun, previously wiped clean of fingerprints.

How did Ian Chenoweth die, and why?

Dr. Washington and Detective Grossman play pool at Beantown Pub while they discuss the Chenoweth case. Over a Reuben sandwich, a side order of sweet potato fries, and a craft beer, they exchange notes on Colin O’Shea who is also an ecological consultant. Leo Manfredi, a part time law student and assistant to Barbara Salerno, President of the condominium’s board association, brings a copy of the minutes of the last board meeting minutes, and the financial report that shows a large deficit. Those documents and a copy of a $100,000 check from Massachusetts Solar Panels made out to Colin O’Shea, add to mounting incriminating evidence against him.

Armed with a subpoena, Detectives Bahiti Patel and Kenyatta Grossman search Viveca Chatworth’s condo while she is out. Sifting through a decades’ worth of hoarding books, tapes, Broadway cast albums, designer clothes, tapes, CDs, and other theatre paraphernalia, they discover a 40-year-old letter Viveca wrote to her estranged husband, Dean Donohue, that would change the course of their young lives. Fluent in several languages, Detective Grossman is able to translate court documents written in French, detailing charges against Viveca for an alleged theft from the Tati department store in Paris when she was twenty years old.

Viveca goes to Roxbury to the YWCA where Dean is director, and convinces him that she is not the murderer and needs his protection.

Meanwhile, in the Boston Public Gardens, Dr. Washington meets Smita Joshi, an MIT student and nanny to Colin and Lydia O’Shea, who reveals her boss’s gambling problem.

Back at the Beacon Hill Police Precinct, neighbor Lucia Pennbridge, tells Lieutenant Sokanon Smith that she witnessed Colin and Viveca arguing after the last board meeting.

Lieutenant Sokanon sends Detectives Patel and Grossman to Colin O’Shea’s consulting firm to arrest him. Knowing Viveca has been in contact with Dean, Detectives Patel and Grossman question him further at his students’ basketball game. When Leo Manfredi, who came along to see the game, talks admiringly of Dr. Washington, Detective Patel storms off, later revealing to his partner a surprising side of Dr. Washington that no one else is aware of.

Detective Kenyatta Grossman and her husband Joe Della Paola take their foster dog, Arya, to a Medford donut shop for the dog’s favorite breakfast: lightly-buttered toast. For her birthday, the couple see a sci-fi movie, get massages, go to the Tufts Gallery to see Detective Patel’s paintings, then drop their dog off home and pick up their motorcycles. They ride along the river and to a favorite restaurant for lunch, then catch Frankie Valli at a local theatre later that evening.

The next day, back at the police station, Lieutenant Smith interrogates Colin O’Shea in one room while Detective Grossman interrogates Viveca in another room.

At the 15th precinct, Captain Cherry Gottlieb, Dr. Washington’s protege and former partner--discuss her retirement party and evidence she has found on the Chenoweth case that takes it in another direction. Dr. Washington reveals a secret that he has kept for some time.

At the Beacon Hill squadroom, the detectives and Lieutenant Smith review new evidence, He sends them to arrest the suspect.

To read part 1, click here!
To read part 2, click here!

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Christopher Robinson

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Days of Gods and Games

Statue (image)
Continuing my examination of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, this week’s post sees another great gargantuan of Greece— the Statue of Zeus at Olympia.

The Greek sculptor Phidias, already renown for his earlier work, the Statue of Athena Parthenon, appropriately crafted his new 40-foot statue in the Temple of Zeus utilizing cedarwood, ivory, gold and ebony.

Seated on an opulent black marble throne, the god of sky, thunder and weather held a second statue in his hand, that of Nike, goddess of victory. In his other hand, he held a staff with a perched eagle. Allegedly, the statue had to be continually covered in olive oil as a safeguard from elemental erosion(!) The Temple of Zeus itself was located in Olympia, then controlled by the city-state of Elis, where every four years, fans congregated to witness its famed athletic games.

After eight years of construction, Phidias completed the statue in 5th Century BC which attracted awestruck onlookers from across the globe and dictated Zeus’s popular image in art, poetry and culture for centuries.

In 426 AD, the temple was destroyed in an earthquake but not before being desecrated and neglected by Roman emperor Theodosius I who banned all pagan cult activity, thus sidelining the Olympic Games for a spell.

But what became of Zeus? No longer a feature of the temple by the 6th Century, the statue of Zeus (formerly) of Olympia had seen renovation and subsequent relocation to Constantinople where anything from a tsunami, earthquake or fire may have claimed it.

That which we know of the majestic Statue of Zeus comes chiefly from its depiction in ancient art and coins. The timeline of its construction might also be a mystery were it not for the discovery of Phidias’ workshop in the 1950s. Little by little, discoveries of the such help us uncover the answers to the same age-old questions— When... where... how... and why?

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Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Third Temple

The famous Greek temple in the ancient city of Ephesus built for the goddess Diana has since passed into the historical pantheon as the Temple of Artemis.

Artemis, the Greek version of Diana gave the marble structure its alternate name, the Temple of Diana.

Surrounded by thirty-six ionic columns, the massive temple which housed sculptures, paintings, reliefs and artwork was built throughout a span of 128 years. During this period the Amazons who were believed to have founded Ephesus relied on the temple as a center of worship as well as a place of refuge.

In 356 BC, it was deliberately destroyed by fire on the day that Alexander the Great was allegedly born. The temple would be rebuilt and destroyed again by the Goths before its most legendary version, completed in 550 BC, also came and went. Though defensively built on marshland to safeguard against earthquakes, it later succumbed to a final attack, this time from a mob of Christians in 401 AD.

Today all that survives of the remains is a pile of rubble in a swamp with one reconstructed column erected from the extant ruins to mark the unguarded site.

A somber remnant of such a hallowed monument that saw destruction, rebirth and ultimately glory— in one final phase. The Temple of Artemis quite possibly epitomizes the old teaching adage, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’

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Sunday, October 4, 2020

Never Promised You a Hanging Garden

There once was a magnificently spellbinding garden in the Neo-Babylonian empire— or was there?

Built during the 6th Century BC under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar II, the fabled structure was said to feature a dazzling array of plants and flowers as well as sculptures and fountains interconnected among sloping mountain-like terraces.

Conflicting contemporary accounts of the gardens’ location and features as well as the absence of any mention of them in Babylonian records have led many historians to doubt their legend’s legitimacy. The possible existence of a similar site in the Mesopotamian city of Nineveh supports some hypotheses that suggest it was mistakenly imagined to exist in another time and place.


Still others maintain that the gardens were most likely among many treasures in the Babylonian king’s domain and survived for several centuries through different empires.

History, for some reason has shrouded the Hanging Gardens in near darkness. Perhaps the future will shine better light on the ancient mystery and reveal the story behind it. Until then, our imaginations can fill in the blanks and the missing piece of an unceasingly wondrous puzzle.

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Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Eternal Peace

As everyone who has ever witnessed a beauty pageant can attest to, one of the most desirable of all human wishes is that of world peace.

Despite millennia of untold bloodshed, strife and power struggles for kingdoms, dynasties, regimes and spoils, the world will continue in vain to strive for the seemingly elusive goal.

Numerous peace treaties have been signed through the ages and some have even helped to maintain their noble objectives. The mother of all these treaties can be traced back to 1259 BC and is credited to the Egyptians in a truce between the Hittites.

Engraved on silver tablets, the treaty was established between King Hattusili III and Ramesses II to promote alliance and brotherhood between their lands. The two kingdoms agreed to cease invasions and eradicate the financial burdens caused by centuries of warring. The Hittite king believed a treaty would be instrumental in stabilizing his throne.

‘The Eternal Peace’ would not live up to its name but it undoubtedly set a precedent that would be imitated and attempted in various parts of the world through different time periods, not exactly something to scoff at.

Often well-documented failures contain the best intentions and despite the Eternal Peace’s shortcomings, the mere fact that such a treaty was negotiated so long ago is inspiring in itself.

The next time Miss USA contestants expatiate on the possibilities of instantaneous harmony blossoming across the globe, they should be reminded that it’s all still very much a work in progress, one that was initially tried out a lot earlier than they might have guessed.

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Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Future Ain’t What it Used to Be

Conveyor belt sidewalks, pneumatic sky shuttles and video screen telephones— These were the assumed luxuries of the years to come in our collective imaginations of years gone by. In some cases our predictions proved to be fortuitously adept. Despite unforeseen technological progress, however, numerous expectations remain unrealized.

In turn-of-the-century France, the popularity of Jules Verne’s science fiction works such as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea inspired a postcard series projecting life in the year 2000. Through their varied illustrious renderings, the desire for a more conveniently ordered and functional world is evident in every aspect of life from travel, industry, farming, housework, grooming, leisure and education.


These paintings and illustrations are now categorized as ‘retrofuturism’, a term denoting their hopes and fantastic predictions. The term later applied to literary, film and television genres that incorporated the style into narratives for entertainment effect.

Understandably, the artists and the science that they drew on were limited to the existing knowledge and trends of the time. The result was a fascinating combination of logical extrapolation and mysteriously vague yet prescient concepts.

For some reason, it was speculated that humans of the future would conduct many of their daily activities underwater, including riding on seahorses and employing whales as public transportation. 

Indeed, the use of prehistoric animals as slave labor was a frequent feature of daily life for television’s Flintstones, something Michael Chichton apparently overlooked in his research for Jurassic Park where he popularized the myth that dinosaurs and man were separated by 65 million years of evolution.

Alarmingly, much of what typifies life in our current era can be glimpsed in obvious ‘prototype’ form in some of these images. Helicopters, cellphones, computers and robots were all imagined here, decades before their proper introduction into the world.

In retrospect, the artwork seen here is a credit to the fervent imaginations of these visionary artists. They represent what innovation, science and creativity have already accomplished as well as the many inventions and possibilities that remain on our horizon.

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Sunday, September 13, 2020

Behold the Colossus

Around 280 BC, a sculptor named Chares and a 300-man crew constructed a statue of the Greek god Helios on the island of Rhodes, completing it in only twelve years. The giant bronze figure which stood 108 feet high at the mouth of the city’s harbor was erected in celebration of Rhodes’ liberation from armies in Northern Greece.

For a period of 56 years the Colossus stood at the port attracting mariners from other lands as one of the world’s Seven Wonders.

At some point around 226 BC it was toppled in a devastating earthquake, supposedly snapping at the knees. Its titanic remains were left where they laid for fear of defying a religious oracle. For another 800 years, the Colossus, even in ruin, continued to marvel those who beheld its awesome sight.

The precise location of the Colossus remains unknown. Nor is there any certainty regarding its appearance or pose. Much of those inferences are rooted in the poetry and literary references of the Hellenistic period, which lend themselves to vague embellishments.

In Sergio Leone’s 1961 film, The Colossus of Rhodes, Rory Calhoun portrays a Greek soldier who assists in a siege of the Colossus in a plot to overthrow the king of Rhodes. The statue in the film is scaled much larger so as to house arsenals and accommodate armies inside. The Colossus is also depicted as being made of hollowed brass and its massive scale enables it to straddle the harbor to breathtaking effect.

Though its moment in the sun was a fleeting one, the towering figure certainly made an impression. As in Newton’s law of universal gravitation, however, what goes up... must come down.

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Sunday, September 6, 2020

Remembrances in Context

This Wednesday saw the 75th Anniversary of V-J Day, in which the world recognized the official conclusion of World War II. After Imperial Japan surrendered and accepted the agreed terms, President Harry Truman addressed the nation with the momentous news.

Inevitable celebrations erupted in numerous cities and public squares as the sight of many men (mostly returning servicemen) kissing nearby women became typical of the festivities. Though forcing unrequited smooches would be considered egregious by today’s standards, it seems more understandable in light of the joy Americans were suddenly sharing after years of sacrifice, danger and separation from loved ones and homeland. The kissing fest wasn’t so much selfish aggression as it was a natural impulse that many expected to be befitting an extraordinary and historic occasion.

If it all happened today, the moment’s symbolic significance would undoubtedly be lost on most, sadly eclipsed by the literal image(as it always is).

One wonders if such an outcome could ever now occur at all. The Greatest Generation won its war with its persistent unity, something this nation may never again achieve.

Sadly, there are parts of the story that we have been sufficiently able to repeat.

The “victory riots” in San Francisco are the disturbing yet forgotten side to the jubilant celebrations of V-J Day. Mobs made up mostly of enlisted Navy men, not returning from overseas, gathered in the Bay Area’s downtown streets, gradually getting drunk and losing control.

For three days the celebrations transmogrified into dangerous chaos as motorists were attacked, cars overturned and women dragged into the dark and assaulted. Businesses were vandalized and looted and buildings, cars and trolleys were burned and destroyed. Soon bystanders were being run down by out-of-control cars and attacked with weapons, wooden boards, garbage cans or bare hands.

In the aftermath, thirteen people were dead, at least six women had been raped and over 1,000 people were injured in what were described as the deadliest riots in San Francisco’s history. Despite the overwhelming crime that had clearly occurred, no charges were pressed and no one was ever held responsible or accountable... for anything.

The authorities were most likely embarrassed by the tragic events and turned a blind eye to the matter under the convenient cover of the real celebrations that dominated world news that week.

Why did this happen? How could history have lost track of something so devastating and shocking? It seems that a cover-up was not only easy but politically satisfying. Letting justice play out would draw attention to the failures of the city long after the hoopla of V-J Day had dissipated. 

Perhaps it was thought of as ‘unpatriotic’ to pursue punishment after such a grand occasion. The troops had returned, America was victorious and it certainly didn’t need to go on a subsequent guilt trip. As we know all too well, anything with good intentions can be hijacked for a darker purpose while its perpetrators can easily disappear into dense, massive crowds.

Why dwell on uncomfortable regrets when there are better things to recall-that symbolize hope, accomplishment, renewal and peace? Most of us don’t want to face sad and inconvenient facts. We’d rather ignore the worst among us, committing the worst acts and the inability of our leaders to stop or even recognize it.

I have two questions for you, and please feel free to use the contact form below: 

  • Why do so many actions violate their supposed causes?
  • Why do so many people with causes not know how to act?

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    Christopher Robinson