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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

The chocolate chip cookie was invented in 1938 by Ruth Wakefield, owner of the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts. Wakefield used an ice pick to break up bars of Nestlé’s chocolate and sprinkled the pieces onto cookie dough. She named her creation Toll House cookies.

In 1939, Wakefield gave Nestlé the right to print her recipe on its packaging. Nestlé hired her as a “recipe consultant,” her compensation being one dollar and free chocolate for life.

● British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) was half American. His mother was Brooklyn socialite Jennie Jerome, who married Lord Randolph Churchill and thus transitioned to being a British socialite.

● Planned Parenthood has twice as many members as the National Rifle Association.

● Grass was cut with a scythe until the lawnmower came along. It was patented in 1830 by British mechanic Edwin Budding. His device was a push mower with blades in a rotating cylinder.

In 1914, auto industry pioneer Ransom Olds patented a gasoline-powered version of the rotary mower. The self-propelled, walk-behind power mower we use today appeared in the late 1920s.

Lawnmower

Speaking of Ransom Olds, his 1901 Oldsmobile was the first vehicle to be mass-produced on an assembly line. Henry Ford made the auto assembly line famous, but Olds invented the concept.

● Sweden has developed a highly efficient system that combines serious recycling with a national network of incinerators that burn garbage and trash to generate electricity. Today, less than one percent of Sweden’s refuse ends up in landfills. In fact, to keep up with its energy needs, Sweden imports refuse from neighboring countries.

● American painter James Whistler’s is famous for the iconic 1871 painting popularly known as “Whistler’s Mother.” The actual name of the painting is “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1.”

● In 1931, Alfred M. Butts invented Lexiko, a modestly successful game in which players made words out of letter tiles drawn at random. In 1948, Butts sold the game’s rights to James Brunot, who changed the name to Scrabble. Sales were miserable.

Brunot gave up in 1952 and sold out to Selchow and Righter, an established game manufacturer. Sales promptly soared.

Today, the Scrabble trademark is owned by Hasbro in the U.S. and Canada and by Mattel in the rest of the world. In all, about 150 million Scrabble sets have been sold.

Scrabble

In 1792, a small Spanish settlement was established on San Francisco Bay to serve arriving ships. In 1835, English homesteader William Richardson expanded the settlement and named it Yerba Buena after a common plant in the area. In 1847, one year after the Mexican-American War, the U.S. laid claim to California, and Yerba Buena was renamed San Francisco.

An acersecomic is someone whose hair has never been cut. The word comes from the Latin acersecomes, which means a youth with long hair. In ancient Greece and Rome, a boy’s hair often remained uncut until he reached adulthood.

In 2009, for the first time, state-run TV in North Korea aired a feature film made in the decadent West. It was the 2002 soccer film “Bend It Like Beckham.” The film was shown in honor of the 10th anniversary of diplomatic ties with Great Britain.

● Jordan almonds have been a staple at weddings for centuries. The Greeks served them in groups of five (a number that is indivisible, as everyone hoped the marriage would be). In Italy, five almonds represent five wishes for the happy couple: health, happiness, fertility, financial success, and longevity.

In some cultures, the combination of the bittersweet almond and the sugar coating is a symbol of the good times/challenging times ahead. In the Middle East, Jordans are associated with fertility and are considered an aphrodisiac.

In 1502, at the marriage of Italian noblewoman Lucrezia Borgia (daughter of Pope Alexander VI) and her third husband Duke Alfonso d’Este, the wedding guests reportedly consumed 260 pounds of Jordan almonds.

Jordan almonds

 

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Sometimes, I hear it said that English (modern English, which is the fourth variation to evolve over the last 1,400 years) is a difficult language to learn. I also hear that it’s relatively easy.

The real answer is that it depends. Depends on the similarity of your native language to English. Depends on your brain’s affinity for languages.

And here’s another angle to consider: language weirdness.

A few years ago, Idibon, a technology company that specialized in the analysis of languages for global operations such as Google and Facebook, assessed the world’s languages based on how weird they are. In other words, the degree to which they are unique and unlike other languages.

On the weirdness scale, English was ranked number 33 out of 239 world languages. That’s fairly high, but 32 languages scored even weirder.

The prize for weirdest language went to Chalcatongo Mixtec, spoken in a remote part of the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. In second place was Nenets, the language of the Samoyed people, who are reindeer herders in Siberia. Number three was the Native American language Choctaw.

Being a wordsmith and knowing English relatively well (it is, after all, my thing), I consider my native tongue (1) pretty darn difficult and (2) seriously weird.

English grammar and sentence structure are fairly straightforward and sensible. But English is poised to trip you up because of constant contradictions and exceptions to the rules.

Why is the “h” silent in herb, hour, honest, and rhapsody, but not in house, home, human, and hospital?

If it isn’t words with multiple meanings that throw you a curve, it’s words with multiple pronunciations.

Or it’s colloquial words and phrases that don’t make sense.

Why in the world is a handbag called a pocketbook?

How can a newcomer to English know what “working the graveyard shift” means?

What about “It’s a piece of cake” or “I’ll take a rain check”?

You get the picture, right?

All in all, English is flexible, fun, quirky, and endlessly fascinating, but oh, so easy to botch.

Allow me to elaborate, beginning with an anonymous poem entitled “Why English is Hard to Learn.”

Weird-1

Methren. Shim. Very clever.

More examples of English weirdness:

— The word inappropriate means not appropriate; but the word invaluable means very valuable. Likewise, the word inconceivable means not conceivable; yet, the word inflammable means flammable.

— There is no egg in an eggplant; no ham in a hamburger; and neither pine nor apple in a pineapple.

— You can make amends, but you can’t make an amend.

— Goods are always shipped, whether sent by ship, truck, or oxcart.

— We park on the driveway and drive on the parkway.

— Your nose can run, and your feet can smell.

Slim chance and fat chance mean the same thing; wise man and wise guy do not.

— Your house can burn up or burn down.

— You can fill in a form, or you can fill out a form.

— An alarm can go off, or it can go on.

— The words tear and tier are pronounced the same. But if you shed a tear and tear your pants, they aren’t.

— Quicksand works slowly.

— Boxing rings are square.

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Imagine that you are freshly arrived from the old country, and you set out to learn English. How would you react when presented with these statements?

— The bandage was wound around the wound.

— I had to desert my dessert in the desert.

— A shot rang out, and the dove dove into the bushes.

— There’s no time like the present, so it’s time to present the present.

— Farms produce produce.

— Being full, the landfill refused my refuse.

— No, I don’t object to the object.

— The drummer put a picture of a bass on his bass drum.

— The boss needs to get the lead out and lead.

— That book I just read, it was a great read.

English is weird, man. Truly weird.

Weird-3

Weird-4

 

 

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● While exploring Asia in the late 1200s, Marco Polo encountered a rhinoceros and concluded it was a unicorn. “They are very ugly brutes to look at,” he wrote. “They are not at all such as we describe unicorns.”

● Writing with pen and ink was a messy and frustrating business until a ray of hope appeared in 1888. That year, a patent was issued for a pen with a rotating ball in the tip to control the release of ink. A clever concept, but the thing was still annoyingly unpredictable.

The real breakthrough came in the 1940s, when Laszlo Biro, a Hungarian newspaper editor, observed that printing ink dries faster than writing ink. Biro developed a formulation that worked well in a ballpoint pen, made millions, and eventually sold his patent to the Bic Corporation.

In most of Europe and Asia today, a ballpoint pen is called a ‘biro.”

● The first woman elected to Congress was Jeannette Rankin of Montana, who served two terms in the House of Representatives, 1917-1919 and 1941-1943, both during wartime. A Republican, she was a long-time leader of the women’s suffrage movement and a committed pacifist.

During the 1916 campaign, as World War I raged in Europe, she said, “If they are going to have war, they ought to take the old men and leave the young to propagate the race.” After the attack on Pearl Harbor, she was the only member of the House to vote against declaring war on Japan. “As a woman, I can’t go to war,” she said, “and I refuse to send anyone else.”

● In the Western Hemisphere, hurricanes are classified according to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Developed in 1971, the scale rates a storm based on sustained wind speed and anticipated property damage.

The scale’s creators were Herbert Saffir, a structural engineer, and Robert Simpson, a meteorologist. They patterned it after the Richter Scale, which quantifies earthquakes.

Hurricane scale

● Vodka is a tasteless spirit distilled from fermented grain or potatoes. The name comes from the Russian word “voda” (water) and/or the Polish word “woda” (water).

Both countries claim to have invented vodka. Russia says it invented the stuff in the 9th century. Poland says vodka was first distilled in Poland in the 8th century. Russia dismisses the early Polish version as a crude brandy, not real vodka. Take that, Poland.

● The largest national park in the U.S. is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska. Established in 1980, the park covers 20,000 square miles, which is a bit larger than Switzerland and a bit smaller than Ireland.

● Cleopatra (69 BC – 30 BC) ruled Egypt as the last member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, a family of Greeks who took power after the death of Alexander the Great in 305 BC. Cleopatra was the only Ptolemy to speak Egyptian instead of Greek. After her death, reportedly by suicide, Egypt became a Roman province.

● Nike, Inc., the footwear and apparel behemoth, began in 1964 as Blue Ribbon Sports. In 1971, having settled on a new “swoosh” logo design, the company sought a new name.

Among the top proposals by the founders and employees were Peregrine, Bengal, and Dimension Six. Then, employee Jeff Johnson called in from a business trip to Portland, Oregon, and suggested Nike, the name of the winged Greek goddess of victory.

CEO Phil Knight made the final decision. “I guess we’ll go with the Nike thing for a while,” he reportedly said. “I don’t like any of them, but I guess that’s the best of the bunch.”

Nike

● The 17th Century Native American woman Pocahontas, daughter of Chief Powhatan, is famous for intervening to save the life of Captain John Smith as her father was about to execute him. For the most part, her story has been romanticized and exaggerated.

In real life, she was kidnapped by the English, converted to Christianity, took the name Rebecca, got married, had a son, toured England as an example of a “civilized savage,” and died there at age 21.

● You know how bags of potato chips are inflated and puffy, and they go whoosh when you open them? That’s because the bags are filled with nitrogen gas before sealing. Nitrogen is used because it’s a stable gas that doesn’t react chemically with the chips, so they remain fresh longer.

● At present, 24 countries around the world are named for men (Bolivia for Simon Bolivar, Colombia for Christopher Columbus, The Philippines for King Philip of Spain, etc.). Only one country, the Caribbean nation of Saint Lucia, is named for a woman.

Saint Lucia of Syracuse, aka Saint Lucy, was martyred in 304 AD by the conquering Romans for distributing her considerable riches among her Greek countrymen. This displeased her betrothed, a highly-connected Roman, and she was sentenced to be defiled in a brothel.

According to legend, the guards who came to arrest her were unable to move her, even with a team of oxen. They tried to burn her at the stake, but the fire went out. Finally, she was sent to her reward by sword.

The late comedian Jackie Gleason (1916-1987) is buried at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Cemetery in Miami. Etched into the marble steps leading to his grave is one of his well-known catchphrases, And away we go!

Gleason grave

 

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Before the internet made it so easy, people shared funny stuff in another way: they photocopied whatever it was — humorous image, joke, botched headline — and shared it by mail.

Don’t laugh. Not too long ago, that was cutting-edge technology.

It’s also a fact that lots of the material now online is old, dating back to the snail mail days. I was reminded of that recently when I ran across the list below of “Things My Mother Taught Me.”

I’m pretty sure I photocopied this at some point and sent it to my mom. If I didn’t, shame on me.

———

My mother taught me about religion.
“You better pray that will come out of the carpet.”

My mother taught me about time travel.
“If you don’t straighten up, I’m going to knock you into the middle of next week!”

My mother taught me logic.
“Because I said so, that’s why.”

My mother taught me foresight.
“Be sure to wear clean underwear, in case you’re in an accident.”

My mother taught me about irony.
“Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

My mother taught me about osmosis.
“Shut your mouth and eat your supper!”

My mother taught me consideration.
“Go outside if you’re going kill each other. I just finished cleaning.”

My mother taught me about contortionism.
“Just look at the dirt on the back of your neck!”

My mother taught me about hyperbole.
“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, don’t exaggerate!”

My mother taught me about anticipation.
“Just you wait until we get home.”

My mother taught me about the circle of life.
“I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it!”

My mother taught me about stamina.
“You’ll sit there until every bite of that spinach is gone.”

My mother taught me about the weather.
“It looks like a tornado swept through your room!”

My mother taught me about injustice.
“Think about the millions of children in the world who are less fortunate than you.”

My mother taught me about inevitability.
“When your father gets home, you’re really gonna get it!”

My mother taught me about physiology.
“Stop crossing your eyes. They’ll get stuck that way.”

My mother taught me to think ahead.
“If you don’t pass your spelling test, you’ll never get a good job.”

My mother taught me about ESP.
“Put on your sweater. I can tell when you’re cold.”

My mother taught me black humor.
“When that lawnmower cuts off your foot, don’t come running to me.”

My mother taught me how to become an adult.
“Eat your vegetables, or you won’t grow up.”

My mother taught me about genetics.
“You’re just like your father.”

My mother taught me about my roots.
“Do you think you were born in a barn?”

My mother taught me about wisdom.
“When you get to be my age, you’ll understand.”

My mother taught me about justice.
“Someday, you’ll have kids, and they’ll turn out just like you!”

Momzilla

 

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The Washington Monument, built between 1848 and 1885, is 555 feet tall and consists of 36,000 marble blocks weighing a total of 82,000 tons. The walls range from 15 feet thick at the base to 18 inches thick at the top. No mortar was used in the construction; the marble blocks are held in place by friction and gravity.

● The luxury jeweler Tiffany & Co. provides the trophies for the NFL Super Bowl Championship, the U.S. Open Tennis Championship, several NASCAR races, the Indy 500, and a bunch of other events.

The capital of the Republic of Korea (aka South Korea) is the “Seoul Special Metropolitan City” (aka Seoul). In the Korean language, the word seo’ul means “capital city.”

Commercially pre-sliced bread went on sale for the first time on July 7, 1928, at a bakery in Chillicothe, Missouri. Otto Rohwedder of St. Louis invented the machine that sliced and wrapped the loaves. That device is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Sliced white bread, 2006.

● The familiar piano song “Chopsticks” was written in 1877 by Euphemia Allen, a 16-year-old English girl (who published it under a male pseudonym). The original title was “The Celebrated Chop Waltz.” Euphemia’s intent was for the hands to strike the piano keys like a cleaver chopping meat. Over time, the word chop evolved to chopsticks in popular usage, but the song has no connection to actual chopsticks.

● In April 1861, one day after Virginia seceded from the Union, President Lincoln offered command of the Union Army to a highly-regarded, 25-year military veteran, Col. Robert E. Lee. Lee instead resigned his Union commission and took command of Virginia’s military forces.

Had Lee accepted Lincoln’s offer, or simply retired and gone home, he would have deprived the Confederacy of a crackerjack commander. The union may well have defeated the South quickly and decisively, reaching the same outcome with a mere fraction of the death, destruction, misery, and animus that ensued. I’m just sayin’.

● Depicting data in a pie chart is a common practice everywhere, but “pie chart” is an English term. In France, it’s called a “Camembert,” which is a round cheese typically cut in wedges. In Germany, a pie chart is a “tortendiagram” — a diagram shaped like a torte or cake.

● Rhinopithecus strykeri, the “Burmese sneezing monkey,” is an endangered primate discovered a few years ago in Myanmar. The species is unique for its wide, upturned nostrils. Natives report that water easily gets in the monkeys’ nostrils during a rain, and they can be heard sneezing. The monkeys are said to spend rainy days sitting quietly with their heads tipped forward.

Burmese Sneezing Monkey

● Vaseline Petroleum Jelly was patented in 1872 by Robert Chesebrough of Brooklyn, New York. Chesebrough had visited an oil field in Pennsylvania in 1859 and learned about a waxy substance that built up on the pumps and had to be removed periodically. Workers often used the stuff to soothe cuts and abrasions.

Chesebrough took samples home and spent the next decade perfecting the product. His company manufactured Vaseline until 1987, when Unilever bought the rights.

● Over the years, a surprising number of animals have been rocketed into space, usually to test whether they could survive the conditions. Some did, some didn’t. Among the animals: fruit flies, dogs, monkeys, chimps, mice, rats, rabbits, turtles, frogs, mealworms, insects, spiders, amoebae, fish, jellyfish, and one cat.

The cat was Félicette, a stray found on the streets of Paris and sent into space by France in 1963. After a 15-minute sub-orbital flight, Félicette’s capsule parachuted back to Earth, and she was recovered safely.

● The continental U.S. and mainland China are roughly the same size, both being about 3,000 miles wide. Geographically, that covers four time zones in the U.S., and five in China. However, in 1949, the Communist Party switched the entire country to Beijing Standard Time. In addition to having just one time zone, China also ignores daylight savings time.

● In 1782, General George Washington created the Badge of Military Merit to be given to soldiers who exhibited gallantry in battle or performed an essential service. It was the first award meant to recognize ordinary soldiers instead of glorifying their superiors.

The award was given three times during the Revolutionary War, but it fell out of use thereafter. In the 1930s, the War Department revived it as the Purple Heart Medal. It was given retroactively to all living veterans of previous wars who had proof of being wounded.

Badge-Heart

 

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Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (1858-1919), the son of socialite parents, was a fascinating and influential figure in American history. At various times, he was a working cowboy, Rough Rider, scholar of naval history, writer, conservationist, and politician. He served as the 33rd Governor of New York, the 25th Vice President, and the 26th President.

Roosevelt was an exuberant personality with a spirited joie de vivre. His public image (and self-image) was that of a robust, manly man. I’ve written about him several times on this blog, to wit “Teddy and Edwin,” “Princess Alice,” and “To Mar the Wonderful Grandeur.”

When Roosevelt and his family moved into the White House in 1901, they proved to be, no surprise, a colorful and entertaining bunch. Teddy was Teddy, and the six Roosevelt children (Quentin, Archie, Ethel, Kermit, Ted Jr., and Alice, ranging in age from four to 17) were pampered and high-spirited.

The Roosevelts, all of them, were ardent animal lovers. During Teddy’s eight years in office, a wide range of pets, livestock, and exotic creatures resided in and around the White House.

TR-1

Teddy and friends.

Among the family dogs were Manchu, a Pekingese; Sailor Boy, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever; Pete, most likely a Bull Terrier; Rollo, a 200-pound Saint Bernard; Skip, a Rat Terrier mix; and Jack, a Manchester Terrier.

Stabled on the White House grounds were 10 horses (Bleistein, Grey Dawn, Jocko Root, Renown, Roswell, Rusty, Wyoming, General, Judge, and Yagenka) and two ponies for the children (Algonquin and General Grant).

Other family pets: five guinea pigs (Admiral Dewey, Dr. Johnson, Bishop Doane, Fighting Bob Evans, and Father O’Grady); Eli Yale, a blue macaw; Loretta the parrot; and two cats, Tom Quartz and Slippers.

TR-2

Quentin and Slippers.

Alice, the oldest child, had a pet snake named Emily Spinach. She explained that it was as green as spinach and as thin as her Aunt Emily.

Also part of the Roosevelt menagerie: Jonathan, a piebald rat; two kangaroo rats; a flying squirrel; a barn owl; two parrots; a raccoon; a coyote; a zebra; a wildcat; five bears; Joe the lion; and Bill the hyena.

Also, Maude, a white pig; Peter the rabbit; Bill the lizard; Baron Spreckle, a hen; and a one-legged rooster whose name I couldn’t ferret out.

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Manchu was a black Pekingese, a gift to Alice from the Empress of China. Alice relished the dramatic, and she claimed she once saw Manchu dancing on his hind legs on the White House lawn in the moonlight.

Teddy wrote that one of his favorite dogs, Sailor Boy, “had a masterful temperament and a strong sense of both dignity and duty.” He said the dog always broke up fights among the other dogs and “himself never fought unless circumstances imperatively demanded it.”

In 1907, the President wrote to his son Kermit that Pete the Bull Terrier had killed four squirrels. Teddy said it was proof that “the squirrels were getting so careless that something was sure to kill them anyhow.”

In time, Pete acquired the unfortunate habit of biting people. His victims included a naval officer, a policeman, and a cabinet minister. At first, Teddy said it was “the nature of the breed,” and he resisted getting rid of Pete.

But Pete sealed his own fate when he attacked the French Ambassador. Reportedly, Pete chased the Ambassador down a White House corridor, caught him, and tore the bottom out of his pants.

The French government filed a formal complaint; Pete was exiled to the family’s Long Island estate.

Teddy bragged that Jack the Manchester Terrier “was human in his intelligence and affection; he learned all kinds of tricks and was a high-bred gentleman.” Jack also was known to gnaw on books, and he was afraid of the female cat, Tom Quartz.

When Jack died, he was buried on the White House grounds. But the First Lady soon had second thoughts. She said she didn’t want to leave Jack behind “beneath the eyes of presidents who might care nothing for little black dogs.” Accordingly, when the Roosevelts left Washington in 1908, Jack’s remains were moved to the family estate on Long Island.

TR-4

Jack the Manchester Terrier.

Algonquin was a Shetland pony belonging to Archie. In 1903, while Archie was in bed recovering from measles, he told his mother he missed Algonquin and wanted to go to the stables to see him. His mother told Archie he was too ill and needed to stay in bed.

While Archie sulked, one of the stable hands suggested to the First Lady that they bring the pony to Archie. With the First Lady’s approval, Algonquin was walked into the White House, onto an elevator, up to the second floor, and down the hall to Archie’s bedroom, where a joyful reunion ensued.

TR-5

Archie astride Algonquin.

Eli Yale, a Hyacinth Macaw, was the beloved pet of 14-year-old Ted Jr. The bird was named after Elihu Yale, the British philanthropist and namesake of Yale University. The President wrote, “Eli is the most gorgeous macaw, with a bill that I think could bite through boilerplate, who crawls all over Ted, and whom I view with dark suspicion.”

TR-6

Ted Jr. and Eli Yale.

Archie had a pet badger named Josiah that was said to be friendly, but occasionally short-tempered. Once, when Teddy saw Archie carrying Josiah in his arms, he warned his son that the badger might bite his face.

Archie replied, “He bites legs sometimes, but he never bites faces.”

TR-7

Archie and Josiah.

Most of the exotic and wild animals were gifts from world leaders. Bill the hyena, for example, was presented to Roosevelt in 1904 by the Emperor of Ethiopia.

According to White House archives, Teddy was reluctant to accept the animal, being of the opinion that hyenas are cowardly creatures.

But he relented, and soon, Bill was allowed inside the White House, where he was known to beg for scraps at the dinner table.

Joe the lion, also a gift from the Emperor of Ethiopia, never set a paw on the White House grounds. Like the zebra, the wildcat, and others, Joe was taken on arrival to the National Zoo.

For reasons I couldn’t determine, Bill the hyena eventually joined him there.

TR-8

The Roosevelt family. Left to right: Quentin, Teddy, Ted Jr., Archie, Alice, Kermit, Edith, and Ethel.

 

 

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Homo sapiens! Greedy, pathetic fools with a genetic mania to destroy all the sanctuaries that feed their souls. Well, hell, I don’t give a damn if we’re blotted out. I don’t want to be a part of the human race when I see the pimps in government and the whores who do their bidding. I’d rather be a coyote.

— Katie Lee, ardent conservationist

———

Last November, when I heard about the death of the indomitable Katie Lee, the news hit me harder than I expected. I rarely respond so emotionally when someone famous dies.

Katie Lee (1919-2017) was an actress, folksinger, writer, photographer, river runner, and environmental activist. She was a nature lover and a glorious free spirit. To anyone with a heart and a shred of concern for the planet, she was an inspiration.

She certainly inspired me. I admired her passion, her dedication, and her willingness to live life her way. This is a woman who, at age 80, bicycled nude in downtown Jerome, Arizona, in tribute to a deceased friend. The license plate on her Toyota Prius read DAM DAM.

Consider what she did in her 98 years…

———

Kathryn Louise Lee was born in Illinois, the daughter of architect Zanna Lee and Ruth Detwiler Lee, an interior decorator. When Katie was three months old, the Lees moved to Tucson, Arizona. Katie grew up there and learned to understand the importance of the natural environment.

When cast in a play in high school, she discovered that she not only had acting skills, but relished the limelight. She had the added advantages of being likable, attractive, and uninhibited.

KL-1

After earning a degree in drama from the University of Arizona, Katie moved to Hollywood, the mecca of the young and hopeful. She never attained major stardom, but she acted regularly in small stage and screen parts, as well as in dramas and musicals on radio.

In the 1950s, Katie also began writing and singing folk and country music. Due in part to her engaging personality and irreverent sense of humor, she became friends with many of the music stars of the time. Burl Ives reportedly said, “The best cowboy singer I know is a girl: Katie Lee.”

In 1953, after a performance in Tucson, Katie watched a home movie of a high school friend running rapids on the Colorado River. Katie was smitten, and she pleaded with her friend to take her on his next trip. He did.

Over the next several years, Katie rowed, paddled, and motored the Colorado and San Juan Rivers regularly. She became just the third woman to run every rapid in Grand Canyon.

KL-2

She also became enchanted with Glen Canyon, upstream of Grand Canyon. “That’s when the 186 miles of pure Eden that is Glen Canyon captivated me and made me its slave,” she wrote.

Katie adored Glen Canyon’s majestic cliffs and intricate side canyons. She explored them all, bathing nude under the waterfalls. The breezes, she said, were like voices speaking to her. She wrote books and songs celebrating Glen Canyon and the crucial role of rivers everywhere.

KL-3

Then, in the early 1960s, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began constructing Glen Canyon Dam, which would generate power at the expense of submerging Glen Canyon beneath Lake Powell. Katie joined Edward Abbey, David Brower, and other conservationists who opposed the dam.

I had a cause!” she said later. “A cause that didn’t center on me-me-me. One that asked nothing of me, really, yet was far from mute. I’d never had a cause before, but now there was a place, almost a person, that needed my help.”

KL-4

Attempts to block construction of the dam failed, but Katie Lee remained a constant voice in opposition to the dam’s presence for the rest of her life.

There are good dams that are built for the right reasons and in the right place, but this dam was built in the wrong place for the wrong reasons,” she later said. “When you kill a river, you kill everything around it for many, many miles.”

The only reason she didn’t blow up the dam herself, she often said, was that she didn’t know how.

After the dam was built, Katie used music, books, and film to disparage government bureaucrats for destroying Glen Canyon. Her protests were constant, fierce, and creatively profane. She became one of the national symbols of the movement to protect natural places from being destroyed in the name of progress.

When they drowned that place, they drowned my whole guts,” she said. “And I will never forgive the bastards. May they rot in hell.”

She refused to visit Lake Powell, calling it an abomination, and she never again rafted the Colorado River below the dam.

Katie was married twice. Her first husband was race car driver Brandy Brandelius. After his death, she married and later divorced businessman Eugene Busch, Jr.

For a time, Katie lived in Aspen and other Colorado mountain towns. She performed locally, singing and playing guitar, and was often seen driving her vintage Thunderbird.

When Aspen became too rich and haughty for her taste, she left. In 1978, at age 59, she set out on a trip around the world.

KL-5

In Australia, she met Joey van Leeuwen, a Dutch immigrant 12 years her junior who worked at a furniture factory in Perth. The attraction was powerful and immediate.

By 1980, Joey and Katie were living in Jerome, Arizona, population 444, a quaint old mining town favored by retirees, artists, and hippies.

The names of Katie’s record albums through the years are revealing…

– Spicy Songs for Cool Knights, 1956
– Songs of Couch and Consultation, 1957
– Life is Just a Bed of Neuroses, 1960
– The Best of Katie Lee Live, 1962
– Folk Songs & Poems of the Colorado River, 1964
– Love’s Little Sisters, 1975
– Colorado River Songs, 1976
– Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle, 1977
– Fenced!, 1978
– His Knibbs and the Badger, 1992
– Glen Canyon River Journeys, 1998
– Colorado River Songs (Again!), 1998
– Folk Songs from the Fifties, 2009

So are the titles of her books…

Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle A History of the American Cowboy in Song, Story & Verse, 1976
– All My Rivers are Gone: A Journey of Discovery through Glen Canyon, 1998
Sandstone Seduction Rivers and Lovers, Canyons and Friends, 2004
Glen Canyon Betrayed A Sensuous Elegy, 2006
– The Ballad of Gutless Ditch, 2010
– The Ghosts of Dandy Crossing, 2014

KL-6

Katie usually is remembered for her folk and protest songs, but many were humorous and satirical. Consider these lyrics from “Stay as Sick as You Are.”

I love your streak of cruelty,
Your psychopathic lies,
The homicidal tendencies
Shining in your eyes.

KL-7

Stories about her abound, but nothing showcases the real Katie Lee, or is more revealing of her character, than “Kickass Katie Lee,” a 10-minute documentary made in 2016.

Katie’s partner Joey was a skilled woodworker, and he continued his carpentry work when he moved to Jerome to be with Katie. Over the four decades they were together, he made repairs, helped care for the city parks, planted trees around town, and served on several city boards and commissions.

Quiet and polite by nature, he had a special love of birds. He made paintings and wood carvings of them and even wrote and illustrated a book, The Birds of Jerome.

Joey was widely admired and respected, and he was seen as Katie’s anchor as she continued her activism into her 90s.

On November 1, 2017, Katie Lee died peacefully in her sleep. The next day, Joey van Leeuwen committed suicide. He was 85.

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