Remembering Franco Zeffirelli

 

I was saddened yesterday to hear about the death of one of my favorite film directors, Franco Zeffirelli. He was ninety six.

I owe a lot to this man. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you probably know about my Shakespeare obsession. However, I probably would never have had that obsession if it had not been for Zeffirelli, who really made Shakespeare accessible to American audiences through his awesome films.

Zeffirelli was the director The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Hamlet. He also directed Brother Sun, Sister Moon (about the life of Saint Francis of Assisi), Jesus of Nazareth, Tea With Mussolini, Jane Eyre, Callas Forever, and several operas, including La Boheme and La Traviata with Placido Domingo.

Of course, in my opinion, his biggest masterpiece was his 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet. Zeffirelli’s genius in this film was that he decided to use teenage actors Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey to play the roles of actual teenage characters Romeo and Juliet. Zeffirelli’s production was the first ever to use teenagers in the roles, as Shakespeare had intended.

The movie was a massive hit. The iconic film critic Roger Ebert called the movie “the most exciting film of Shakespeare ever made.” (That was a pretty great compliment, because if you remember Roger Ebert, he was sort of a discriminating snob! But he knew his movies.)

I have always loved Romeo and Juliet,  it is my all time favorite film. Luckily, Zeffirelli lived long enough to be part of its 50 year anniversary last year, in 2018.  I wrote a tribute to the movie, which can be read HERE.

Gian Franco Corsi Zeffirelli was born on February 12, 1923 in Florence, Tuscany. He was an illegitimate child, the product of an affair between fashion designer Florentine Garosi, and Ottorino Corsi, a wool dealer. Interestingly, the name “Zeffirelli” was totally made up by his mother. It was taken from Mozart’s opera Idomenco, which Florentine was fond of. The actual word was “Zeffiretto” which apparently means “zephyr” or “gentle breeze” in English. However, the name was misspelled on Franco’s birth certificate, and was ever after recorded as “Zeffirelli”.

It was a strange beginning for a man who would become such an important figure in the art world. However, there is a bit of poetic justice, as Zeffirelli’s name was taken from an opera, and he became a director of operas.

As far as being a “gentle breeze” I would say Zeffirelli was not only a breath of fresh air in the film world, but a force to be reckoned with.

FUN FACTS

  • Zeffirelli’s father was a wool dealer. Shakespeare’s father was also a wool dealer (an illegal one! John Shakespeare got in a lot of trouble and went bankrupt in later years for his criminal activity.) However, it is ironic that the man who would help immortalize Shakespeare had this unique connection.
  • Shakespeare was an Englishman who spent his entire life being obsessed with Italy. Zeffirelli was an Italian who spent his entire life being obsessed with England. That is why they fit together so well 🙂

  • When young Franco was six years old, his mother died. As an orphan, he went to live with is Aunt Line. Through his aunt, he met and was largely cared for by a group of upper-class, rather eccentric English women, expatriates living in Italy. These women were known as the “Scorpioni” — so named for their stinging, scorpion-like outspokenness.
  • Young Franco was given English lessons and came to love English culture.
  • The Scorpioni were arrested during WWII under the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini.
  • Zeffirelli wrote and directed the 1999 movie Tea With Mussolini (starring Cher, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith) which was based on his own experiences with the Scorpioni.

  • Zeffirelli’s Taming of the Shrew (1967) starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Burton and Taylor wanted to be in the film so badly, they paid for part of the production and gave up their own salaries. (Both were mega-stars at the time. They could well afford it!)

  • Although Zeffirelli considered himself a conservative Roman Catholic, he received criticism from religious groups for his so-called “blasphemous” portrayals of biblical figures in Brother Sun, Sister Moon and Jesus of Nazareth.

  • Zeffirelli served in the British Army during WWII.
  • In 2004, he was given an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II.

Franco Zeffirelli, thank you for making me love Shakespeare.

Rest in Peace, sweet knight!

 

 

 

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Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe

 

The very name evokes images of crumbling Gothic mansions, black cats, inescapable diseases, live burials and of course, the iconic Raven.  Where would we be without the Master of Macabre, the Denizen of Death, the Harbinger of Horror? I, for one, would be lost!

Edgar Allan Poe was born on this day, January 19th, 1809 at a boarding house in Boston, Massachusetts. His parents, Baltimore-born David Poe and London-born Eliza Arnold  Poe, were both actors then performing Shakespeare’s King Lear on a Boston stage. He was the second of three children, with an older brother Henry and a little sister, Rosalie.

Bleak Beginnings

Edgar’s parents didn’t last long. David Poe, reportedly an abusive alcoholic, abandoned the family in 1810 when Edgar was just one year old. The very next year his mother Eliza, sans husband, gave birth to a girl, Rosalie.  Eliza died of tuberculosis that same year, at the tender age of twenty-four.

David Poe also passed away in 1811, in Norfolk, Virginia.

Little Edgar was taken in by his godfather, a wealthy Virginia merchant named John Allan, and his wife Frances.  Allan made his fortune from a variety of trades including tobacco, cotton, wheat and – yes – slavery.

In 1815 the family sailed to Britain. Young Edgar attended school in Scotland and England. His foster parents placed him in the Reverend John Bransby’s Manor House School at Stoke Newington, near London where Edgar stayed for three years.

So far, it may seem like a rags-to-riches childhood that should have had a happy ending. Not so. Dark forces were at work all throughout Poe’s life.

John Allan was a bit of a ‘schizophrenic parent’, alternately spoiling and then severely disciplining his foster son. He reportedly had a bad temper. (Don’t forget the man was a slave trader.)  Edgar had had a bad enough beginning – but being shipped off to boarding school probably didn’t help his self esteem. Edgar returned to live with the Allans in 1820 when he was just eleven.

In 1825, John Allan became even richer when his uncle William Galt died, leaving him an inheritance of around  $750,000. (That is the equivalent to $17,000,000 in 21st century money!)  But John Allan was apparently a stingy millionaire.

In 1826, Edgar enrolled in the University of Virginia, with the intention of studying languages. He claimed that his step father did not send him enough money for books and a decent dormitory.  He also began gambling and raked up a lot of debts, which John Allan refused to pay. Within one year, Poe dropped out of school.

Military Life

Left to fend for himself, Edgar worked a series of odd jobs. He was unable to support himself and so, in 1827 he joined the US Army. He lied about his age, claiming he was twenty-two when he was in fact, only eighteen. He also used a fake name, “Edgar Perry.”  That same year, he released his first book of poetry, Tamerlane and Other Poems.

The army did not sit well with Poe. He  left in 1829 (skipping out on what was supposed to be a five year stint). Apparently, he came clean about his age and name. John Allan then helped him out — but also devised a plan that Edgar be enrolled in West Point Military Academy.

Edgar did not fare well at West Point. As a matter of fact, he hated it so much that he maneuvered a way to get himself thrown out! By behaving consistently badly, Edgar knew he could become eligible for court martial.

On February 8, 1831, Poe was tried for “gross neglect of duty and disobedience of orders for refusing to attend formations, classes, or church.”  Poe pleaded “not guilty” knowing all the while he would indeed be found guilty and subsequently dismissed.

Clearly, Edgar was not cut out for military life.

A Teenage Bride

Having been officially abandoned by his foster father, Poe moved to Baltimore and reunited with some of his blood kin. He lived with his widowed aunt Maria Clemm, her daughter Virginia (Poe’s first cousin who would later become his wife), his brother Henry, and his invalid grandmother Elizabeth Cairnes Poe.

Death still surrounded him. His brother passed away in 1831, due to complications of alcoholism.

Edgar then began working in various writing jobs, including assistant editor for the Southern Literary Messenger and contributing author for the Baltimore Saturday Visitor.

On May 16, 1836 he married his cousin Virginia Clemm. She was thirteen and he was twenty-seven.

This was not so shocking back then as it would be today. Marriage between first cousins was legal in all states before the Civil War, and not frowned upon. Plenty of historical figures married their cousins — including Johann Sebastian Bach, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Queen Victoria herself , who married her first cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg in 1840.

And don’t forget Jerry Lee Lewis, who somehow got away with marrying his thirteen year old cousin in 1957!

In the 19th century, the age of consent for girls in most of the United States was (astonishingly!) just TEN years old! In Delaware it was actually SEVEN years old! Some of these laws were in effect until the 1960’s.

However, the stark age difference between Edgar and Virginia — although technically legal — would have raised a few eyebrows.  For this reason, Virginia lied on her marriage certificate, stating that she was twenty-one years old. (Lying about their ages seems to run in the family…)

Edgar and Virginia were married in church by a Presbyterian minister. Biographers believe their marriage was a happy one. Perhaps Edgar, having been so abandoned in his past, was finally free to enjoy the company of his wife. The couple shared a love of music, poetry, cemeteries, and — believe it or not — playing leap-frog! During their brief years together, it was not all doom and gloom.

Poe the Poet

Poe published his first novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket  in 1838. That same year he became assistant editor of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine. He published numerous articles, stories, and reviews, enhancing his reputation as a critic. Also in 1839, the collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque was published in two volumes.

He wrote some of the first literary criticisms, as well as some of the first short stories. He is considered the inventor of crime novels and detective stories. Some of his most famous works include: The Fall of the House of Usher, The Black Cat, The Telltale Heart, The Pit and the Pendulum and Murders in the Rue Morgue.

On January 29, 1845, his poem “The Raven” appeared in the Evening Mirror and became an overnight sensation. It made Poe a household name almost instantly, and is still arguably his most popular poem.

But even in the midst of  his publishing successes, death and disease were not far behind. In The Raven, Poe may have already been mourning the inevitable death of his wife.  “Lenore” of the poem, who would be seen “Nevermore” can easily be compared to Virginia, who had, by then already begun to exhibit symptoms of tuberculosis.

One winter evening in 1842, while playing the piano, Virginia began a fit of spewing blood. She would never recover.  Edgar tended and cared for her devoutly for the next few years as the disease progressed. Virginia passed away on January 30, 1847.

Sadly, and creepily, Poe’s wife died of the same disease, and at the same age, as his mother.

 

On the Streets of Baltimore

Needless to say, Poe never overcame Virginia’s death. His behavior became increasingly erratic and unstable. He tried to court other women but had difficulty sustaining romantic relationships.

Poe’s own death is shrouded in mystery. He had traveled to Richmond where he visited a woman named Elmira Royster, to whom he became engaged. He left Richmond on September 27, 1849 and was heading back to New York, where he had purchased a cottage in what is now The Bronx. Poe never made it home.

On October 3, 1849, Poe was found “delirious” on the streets of Baltimore outside  a pub called Ryan’s Tavern. He was “in great distress, and… in need of immediate assistance”, according to Joseph W. Walker, a printer, who found him.

Walker sent a letter requesting help from an acquaintance of Poe, one Dr. Joseph E. Snodgrass. His letter reads as follows:

“Dear Sir—There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan’s 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, and I assure you, he is in need of immediate assistance. Yours, in haste, Jos. W. Walker.”

Snodgrass’s first-hand account describes Poe’s appearance as “repulsive”, with unkempt hair, a haggard, unwashed face and “lusterless and vacant” eyes. His clothing, Snodgrass said, which included a dirty shirt but no vest and unpolished shoes, was worn and did not fit well.

Dr. John Joseph Moran, who was Poe’s attending physician, gives his own detailed account of Poe’s appearance that day: “a stained faded, old bombazine coat, pantaloons of a similar character, a pair of worn-out shoes run down at the heels, and an old straw hat”.

Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in this condition. It was believed the clothes he was wearing were not his own, as wearing shabby clothes was out of character for the usually well dressed Poe. (While promoting The Raven, Poe was known to show up at readings wearing a black cape, a top hat, and other elegant clothing.)

He was taken to the Washington Medical College where he died on Sunday, October 7, 1849 at 5:00 in the morning. The true cause of his death is still unknown. Some have speculated he may have had a brain tumor, diabetes, an enzyme deficiency, syphilis,  apoplexy, delirium tremens, or epilepsy. Still other speculate his death may have actually been a suicide due to depression. (One year previous, Poe nearly died from an overdose of laudanum,  which at the time was easily available as a tranquilizer and pain killer.)

Or perhaps he simply reunited with his one true love, Virginia.

Some sources say that Poe’s final words were “Lord help my poor soul”. Suspiciously, all medical records have been lost, including his death certificate.

 But he leaves behind an amazing legacy — a body of literature that includes Gothic tales, dark romanticism and phantasmagorical poetry. The man who spent his life shrouded in death now lives on as a never-out-of-print horror icon.

Happy Birthday Edgar!

 

 

 

Hekate’s Night

 

She is our chaperone to the Underworld, the keeper of the keys, a deity of dream states and liminal spaces. Hekate is one of the most powerful dark goddesses, with ancient roots tracing to Greece, Egypt and Asia Minor. She is the patron of witches, mothers, fishermen, soldiers, sailors, virgins and the restless dead. She presides over crossroads, entrance-ways and turning points in life.

November 16 marks her feast night. It is a perfect time to honor her!

Who is Hekate? 

This goddess has a complicated history, and a job description that is equal to no other!  In brief, she is generally thought of as a goddess of the Greek/ Roman pantheon. There are, however,  conflicting stories about her origin.

Some legends say Hekate was the daughter of the Titans Asteria (Goddess of the Stars) and Perses (God of Destruction.)  She is therefore considered a direct descendant of Gaia (Mother Earth) and Nyx (Goddess of Night.)  She appears in Homer’s Hymn to Demeter, and in Hesiod’s Theogony where she is promoted strongly as a great goddess.  There is also evidence that she had popular followings in ancient Thrace, which includes what is now Bulgaria and Turkey.

When Hades kidnapped Persephone and took her to the Underworld, her mother Demeter went searching for her, and it was Hekate who led the way with her torches. Hekate has always been a helper, a guide and a teacher.

She was important enough to have her face on coins! This one dates back to 30 BC. It is part of the Vatican collection and is described as:  “Bust of Hekate, with crescent on forehead”.

Hecate was one of the main deities worshiped in Athenian households as a protective goddess and one who bestowed prosperity and daily blessings on the family.  In the “Chaldean Oracles” — a  group of spiritual writings dated from the 3rd century, Hekate is regarded as a powerful deity with a hand in ruling  over the earth, sea and sky as well as the nether worlds. She was greatly favored by Zeus, who reportedly bestowed her with some of his holdings…  One story claims that Hekate supported the Olympians in a battle against the Titans (thus “switching sides”) and gained favor with Zeus. When helping us with practical problems, Hekate is known to switch sides in order to see every aspect and help us reach a decision.

She is most often depicted in triple form, to represent the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. Her vision is all encompassing. The triplicity she embodies is also her ability to see the past, present and future all at once.

Hekate is, by nature, a Jill-of-all-trades.  She doesn’t fit neatly into one pantheon, and for this reason many eclectics have come to regard her as a “go to” goddess. According to the Oxford Classical Dictionary: “she is more at home on the fringes than in the center of Greek polytheism. Intrinsically ambivalent and polymorphous, she straddles conventional boundaries and eludes definition.”

Hekate’s Animals

Hekate is associated with all wild animals, but her favorites are dogs, snakes, crows, lions, horses, bears, wolves and frogs.

Frogs:  In ancient Egypt, the frog represented fertility.  There was a powerful midwife called Hekit (a prototype of Hekate) who aided in the birth of the gods. Frog amulets were used to ensure a safe birth. Frog amulets were also used in death.  People placed them on mummies in the belief that this would help guide them in the afterlife.  Hekit had one such amulet which bore the words “I am the Resurrection.”

Snakes: Snakes shed their skin, which is also a physical representation of rebirth. Hekate is often pictured with a snake entwined around her neck or arm.

Dogs:  It is believed that women were the first to domesticate dogs, because dogs were companions of the Goddess in many cultures. As nurturers and keepers of the hearth, women saw the potential of a new best friend, and took the animals in.  Dogs always accompanied Hecate. Some people believe that dogs are able to see the dead (ghosts) and other spirits. The ancients were also very impressed with canine keenness of other senses, particularly the sense of smell. Hekate is often pictured with the three-headed Cerberus (another Triplicity!) the dog who guarded the gates of the Underworld.

If Hekate is calling you, it is said that a black dog may cross your path, so be on the lookout!

Other Symbols:

Plants associated with Hekate are roses, poppies, garlic, mandrake, saffron, yew, and willow.

Gemstones are onyx, hematite, lapiz lazuli, moonstone and topaz.

Her colors are black, orange, red, silver and gold.

Her foods are apples, raisins, currants, dates, figs, cheese, wine, bread and cake.

She is associated with knives, swords and daggers (possibly because as a Goddess of change, she is known to “cut” unwanted things from our lives.)

She is pictured often with torches, presumably to help guide in dark spaces and navigate the Underworld.

She carries keys, a symbolic representation of entering new phases.

She is often found at the crossroads – a symbolic place of choice, decision and change, as well as the gateway to the other world, other dimensional realities, dream states and liminal spaces.

How can you honor Hekate?

At sundown on November 16, devotions to Hekate can begin.  (Other days to worship Hekate are at the new and full moons, August 13, November 1, and the 29th day of each month.)

The ancient Greeks made offerings of food and wine to Hekate. They would take their gifts to the crossroads, say a prayer or invocation, and leave them there for her.  In modern times we can do something similar. Create an altar to Hekate. Decorate it with her favorite colors and stones. Leave gifts of apples, raisin bread, wine, cheese, cake or anything you think would appeal to her. Like dark chocolates! 🙂

If you are ambitious, and happen to have a good crossroads in your neighborhood, you may even want to leave the offerings outside.  It is believed that if a homeless person, or an animal eats the offerings, they are also under Hekate’s protection. She will be pleased and bestow many blessings upon you!

Have a beautiful and blessed Hekate’s Night!

 

 

 

 

Shipwreck

 

“The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
To the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy.”    —  Gordon Lightfoot

Some say the Great Lakes are haunted. They have caused the demise of many a sailor, and within their waters lurks the despair of lives cut short.  This is one such story.

They came from Duluth. From Toledo. From Sturgeon Bay, Iron River, St. Joseph, Ashtabula and Milbury. They worked as oilers, engineers, first mates, captains, cooks, watchmen and deck-hands. Their names were John, James, William, George, Russell, Bruce, Oliver and a few Thomases. They were husbands, fathers, sons and brothers, beloved of many. Some were as young as twenty, on their first trip out.

Karl Peckol, b. 1955, Watchman

Some were in their fifties, making a last voyage before retirement.

Frederick Beecher, b. 1919, Porter

Twenty nine men lost their lives in the wreck of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald on November 10, 1975.  They are gone but not forgotten.

It started with a mighty ship.

“Pride of the American Side”

The S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald was built in 1958. At 729 feet long, 39 feet high, and weighing in at 13,362 tons she was, at the time, the biggest ship of the Great Lakes. She was worth 7 million dollars (the equivalent of $46 million today!)

By industry standards, the Fitzgerald’s accommodations were top notch. Her furnishings included deep carpeting, tiled bathrooms, drapes over the portholes, and leather swivel chairs in the guest lounge. There were two guest state rooms for corporate clients, a large galley and two dining rooms. The crew’s quarters were air conditioned. The pilot house was outfitted with “state-of-the-art” nautical equipment and a beautiful map room. In a way she was more like a luxury liner than a freight ship.  Up until a few weeks before her loss, passengers had traveled on board as company guests. Frederick Stonehouse wrote:

“Stewards treated the guests to the entire VIP routine. The cuisine was reportedly excellent and snacks were always available in the lounge. A small but well stocked kitchenette provided the drinks. Once each trip, the captain held a candlelight dinner for the guests, complete with mess-jacketed stewards and special clamdigger punch.”

Yet the Fitzgerald had an ominous beginning. When she was christened on June 8, 1958, she slid into the water at a strange angle, then jolted and crashed back into the dock. Spectators said it seemed like the gargantuan ship was “trying to climb back onto the dock”, as if the vessel had a mind of its own.  One observer was so startled by the sight he actually had a heart attack and died!

For seventeen years, the Fitzgerald sailed the Great Lakes. She carried iron ore from the mines of Duluth, Minnesota to iron works in Detroit Michigan, Toledo Ohio, and other ports. She set seasonal haul records. Her nicknames included “The Mighty Fitz”, “Pride of the American Side”, “Toledo Express”, and the “Titanic of the Great Lakes”.  By November 1975, Edmund Fitzgerald had logged an estimated 748 round trips and covered more than a million miles, “a distance roughly equivalent to 44 trips around the world.”

The Voyage

The weather was balmy on the morning of November 9, 1975, when the Mighty Fitz left out of Superior, Wisconsin. She was under the command of  Ernest McSorley, a seasoned captain with many years experience. They were en route to a steel mill on Zug Island, near Detroit, where they would deliver 26,000 tons of iron ore.

November is storm season on the Great Lakes, and so it was not unusual when the National Weather Service predicted that some turbulence would pass just south of Lake Superior that night. The crew probably thought nothing of it.

At around 5 pm, the Fitzgerald joined a second freighter, the S.S. Arthur Anderson,  which was under the command of Captain Jesse Cooper.  Through the two captains’ communications the final reports of the Fitzgerald’s demise would be recorded.

At 7 pm on the night of November 9, the National Weather Service issued a gale warning for all of Lake Superior.  The captains decided it would be best to alter their course northward, seeking shelter along the Ontario coast. At around 1 am the gales turned into a severe winter storm. The Fitz reported winds of 52 knots (60 mph) and waves 10 feet high. That is a pretty bad storm! But by daybreak it had gotten worse. Waves up to 35 feet high were crashing over the deck of the Fitzgerald. McSorely and Cooper, both veteran captains,  thought they had seen everything. They were about to meet their match.

The storm increased to a near hurricane.  Captain Cooper later stated, “I don’t think I even believed it at the time, but they had reports of 92 mile per hour gusts at the Soo.” (He refers to the Soo Locks of Sault Ste. Marie, where ships pass between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.)

The worst of the weather was blowing right toward the ships, so the captains decided to change course again.  They would head south, attempting to reach the safety of Whitefish Bay.  This, however, involved crossing the dangerous ‘Six Fathom Shoals’ – a bed of jagged rocks, hidden in a mere 36 feet of churning water. The shoals could tear a ship to shreds. To make matters worse, it began to snow! In the blizzard white-out, nothing was visible and the captains then had to rely on their radar systems.

At around 3 pm, McSorely reported that his guard rails had collapsed and two vents were damaged. Water was coming in. The bilge pumps were on but unable to empty the ship fast enough. To make matters even worse, within an hour, the Fitzgerald’s radar system failed! The crew now sailed blind, with only radio communication to guide them. Meanwhile, 30 foot waves washed the deck. McSorely, who had been sailing the Great Lakes for 44 years, said this was the worst storm he had ever seen.

At 7 pm the Mighty Fitz had her last communication. Cooper radioed to ask how they were doing. McSorely replied: “We are holding our own.”

They obviously weren’t.

Deadman’s Cove

By 7:30 the snow had cleared. Cooper tried to locate the Fitz, but she had completely vanished. The Arthur Anderson sailed to safety in Whitefish Bay. Cooper then contacted the US Coast Guard and they began a search.

Because the Coast Guard lacked sufficient crew for a full rescue, they asked Cooper to take the Anderson back out and help. Cooper was reluctant to re-enter the terrible storm. But he agreed, further risking his own life to help save the men of the Fitz. Another ship, the S.S. William Clay Ford, bravely joined in as well.  They searched for three days. Reportedly, they found a torn lifeboat and some debris, but nothing else.

On November 14, a US Navy Lockheed aircraft, piloted by Lt. George Conner and equipped to detect “magnetic anomalies” that were usually associated with submarines, found the wreck.

The Edmund Fitzgerald lay about 15 miles west of an inlet in Ontario which was called (ironically, or appropriately) “Deadman’s Cove.” The ship was split in two pieces at the bottom of 530 feet of water.

The bodies of the crew members were never found.

The Fitz had been only 17 miles away from the entrance to the safe harbor of Whitefish Bay.

Legacy

“All that remains are the faces and the names of the wives, and the sons, and the daughters.” — Gordon Lightfoot

One can only imagine the sadness and shock the families faced when they got word the men had been lost on the lake. Doreen Cundy, the widow of watchman Ransom Cundy, received a phone call from a friend, but refused to believe the ship had sunk. She turned on the news and to her horror, saw that her friend had been right.

Ruth Hudson, the mother of deck-hand Bruce Hudson, remembered her son as “adventurous, friendly, and very fond of the Fitz.”

The most bizarre thing about the shipwreck is the quickness in which the ship went down. She had been in steady communication for so many hours, then she just disappeared without so much as a mayday call.  Captain Cooper believes that the Fitz may have hit a shoal that produced a leak, unbeknownst to the crew.

The day after the wreck, Mariner’s Church in Detroit conducted a service for the deceased. The names and occupations of each man was read, and the bell was rang 29 times, once for each man of the Edmund Fitzgerald. A full list of them can be found here.

Gordon Lightfoot, a Canadian composer, saw a news story of the shipwreck in which ‘Edmund’ had been spelled ‘Edmond’. He thought this showed incredible disrespect for the captain and crew. In response, he wrote his ballad “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”.

The haunting melody does justice to the men of the Fitz.

Sailors, R.I.P.

 

 

 

 

Respect!

 

Her musical accomplishments were unprecedented. The Queen of Soul could belt a ballad to beat any band. But Aretha Franklin taught us what is perhaps the most important lesson one can learn in a lifetime: We deserve Respect.

Today we bid good-bye to this talented icon.

Ironically, she shares this death date with another all time great, Elvis “The King” Presley, whom we lost way back in 1977. There seems to be a great symmetry in this. The King of Rock and the Queen of Soul had a lot in common. Both started from humble beginnings, singing Gospel. Both went on to conquer every corner of the music industry including Soul, Blues, Jazz, Ballads, Rock and R &B.

Aretha’s accomplishments are no less that royal.  Born in Detroit, Michigan on March 25, 1942, she began her career singing Gospel in  the New Bethel Baptist Church where her father was a minister. This daughter of a preacher-man would go on to gain unprecedented fame and fortune.

Franklin won a total of 18 Grammy Awards and sold over 75 million records worldwide. In 1987 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame. She was the first female artist to be inducted! Yes, Aretha called for “Respect” and got it!

In 2002 she was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. Ironically, although her roots were in Gospel, it was not until 2012 that Aretha was inducted into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame. She was listed in Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time.”

That is a lot of awards and inductions! 

As a native Chicagoan and a Blues fan, one of my favorite comedies is “The Blues Brothers” starring the late great John Belushi, with a cameo from Aretha.  (If you have not yet seen it and you like to laugh, stream it immediately.)

Elwood Blues and his brother Jake (who just got released from the Joliet Maximum Security Prison)  embark on a “mission from God”. Their aim is to collect money for the orphanage where they were raised to prevent its closing. They will stop at nothing to achieve their goal. (Besides, if they lose they will face the wrath of The Penguin, their childhood nun. She is pretty scary.)

However, the only way Jake and Elwood can possibly earn any money is through music, in which case they must Get the Band Back Together.

At the local soul food diner, they attempt to recruit Matt “Guitar” Murphy. His wife Mrs Murphy, played by Franklin, has other ideas! (Obviously Jake and Elwood missed their mark. They would have done better to just recruit Aretha and the Murphettes!)

Aretha demanded Respect,  taught us  the importance of A Natural Woman and engaged in a good deal of Day Dreaming. But my favorite Aretha song is “Spanish Harlem” written by Ben E, King.

“It is the special one, it’s never seen the sun
It only comes out when the moon is on the run
And all the stars are gleaming
It’s growing in the street
Right up through the concrete
But soft and sweet and dreaming”

Performed here by the Queen of Soul herself.  Hope you like it!

Aretha Franklin Rock In Peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday and 13: To Fear Or Not To Fear?

 

Have you ever noticed that notorious killers have 13 letters in their names?

JACK THE RIPPER (count ’em)

CHARLES MANSON (count ’em)

JEFFREY DAHMER (you guessed it!)

Cue eerie music.

Humankind has long associated the number 13 with evil.  Some office buildings and hotels have been built without a 13th floor. Some airlines, including  Continental and Air France, do  not have a 13th row in their planes. Even Winston Churchill, the ultimate pragmatist, refused to sit in the 13th row in theaters.

But wait!  Thirteen may not be as bad as we think.

Consider the ancient Aztecs. They were pretty smart, and they  revered the number 13.   The Aztec week lasted 13 days.  They measured their year in 260 days.  It was divided into 20 thirteen day periods. The thirteen day period was called a Trecena.

The Aztecs even had a goddess of the number 13.

In Aztec mythology, the goddess Tlazolteotl ruled the 13th Trecena. She was, to be fair, a bit of a bad girl — the goddess of sin and patron saint of adulterers.  However, Tlazolteotl  was also beneficent and wise. It was her place to forgive sins of a sexual nature. In Aztec culture, she was associated with the steam bath and encouraged it as a purification ritual.

In Tarot, although 13 is the Death card, it is not necessarily to be feared, as the card represents true change and reinvention that can only come about through symbolic death.

One of the reasons 13 got its bad rap was because of the Last Supper. Jesus had 12 disciples, so including himself there were 13 people attending the infamous dinner.  Some say Judas Iscariot was the last to arrive (the 13th guest). Some say it was Jesus himself. Regardless, both men came to a bad end. Judas betrayed Jesus, resulting in his crucifixion. Later, in grief, Judas hung himself from a tree.

On the other hand — the events were necessary for the salvation of humankind. The Gospel of Judas speaks of these events as a Divine plan, conspired between Jesus and Judas, all necessary for the enlightenment of planet Earth. So maybe 13 turned out to be lucky in the long run.

Norse Mythology tells a similar tale of a Valhalla Banquet in which  12 gods were invited. Loki, the famous trickster, crashed the party. Using poison mistletoe, Loki then caused the death of Balder, one of the most beloved gods. Balder, unlike Jesus, did not resurrect.  Despite numerous efforts by Odin and other gods, in the end Balder was not permitted to leave Hel.

On the other hand, Hel, the Underworld, was ruled by the goddess Hel. It could also be seen as a place of transformation and contemplation.  Perhaps Balder found peace with Hel after all.

In 19th century America, a society was created to dispel the myth of unlucky 13, once and for all.

In 1881, Captain William Fowler,  an American Civil War veteran, took it upon himself to form “The Thirteen Club”.  Fowler  had taken part in 13 major battles and had been forced to resign on August 13, 1863. On September 13, 1863 he purchased the Knickerbocker Cottage in New York. The cottage would later be used for his club dinners.

The first dinner of The  Thirteen Club took place at 8:13 P.M. on Friday, January 13th, 1882, in Room 13.  There were of course, 13 people in attendance.  All subsequent meetings took place in room 13 on Friday the 13th.

On the December 13, 1886 meeting, Robert Green Ingersoll, a member and prominent lawyer, declared:

“We have had enough mediocrity, enough policy, enough superstition, enough prejudice, enough provincialism, and the time has come for the American citizen to say: “Hereafter I will be represented by men who are worthy, not only of the great Republic, but of the Nineteenth Century.”

By 1887, the Thirteen Club was 400-strong, over time gaining five U.S. Presidents as honorary members: Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. Not bad pickings!

It should also be noted that the United States came from 13 original colonies.  The 13 stripes on our flag represent these. (Count ’em!)

And what of Friday?

Friday got a bad rap because of its association with evil events in the Bible. Besides Jesus crucifixion, the Great Flood allegedly took place on a Friday, as well as Eve’s temptation of Adam. Back then of course, they didn’t have weekends!

For us, Friday marks the end of the work week and beginning of weekend fun.  Besides that, Friday is the day of Freya, the Norse goddess of love, sex, beauty, fertility and gold.  She was also fond of black cats. What’s not to like?

Have a safe, happy and healthy Friday the 13th!