The Winchester House: APRIL FOOL!!!!

Winchester Mystery House

Winchester Mystery HouseApril Fools’ Day is upon us! I love any day that is set aside for pranks and fooling people. In honor of April Fools’ Day, I’ve decided to explore the life of Sarah Winchester, the heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune, and her folly of a house. Now, In case you’re not familiar with the Winchester Mystery House, let’s just say that it’s creepy and it’s kooky, mysterious and spooky. It’s all together ooky—the Winchester Mystery House! (Snap, snap.)

Unorthodoxology

Sara Winchester PortraitSarah Winchester herself was a little unorthodox. She was… (What’s the word I’m searching for? Let’s see… Poor people are crazy. Wealthy people are eccentric.) She was eccentric! Now, I’m really not blaming her. She did have some circumstances in her life that would have thrown anyone for a loop.

Winchester PortraitIn 1862, she married into the Winchester family and their massive wealth. (So far, so good!) In 1866, she and her husband lost their infant daughter and Sarah never fully recovered emotionally. And, in 1881, Sarah Winchester’s husband died of tuberculosis. It seems that it was all too much for her to bear. So, she went looking for answers to life’s problems. Where did she go? Legend has it that she went to a Boston medium for spiritual guidance.

Well Done, Rare Medium!

Winchester MediumIf the stories are true, then the medium sought out by Mrs. Winchester was a rare breed. If mediums are supposed to tell you comforting things about your future, this woman didn’t get the memo. Instead, Sarah Winchester was told her family and its fortune was being haunted by all of the people who had been killed with Winchester rifles. Yikes! When you consider the Indian Wars, the Civil War and the fact a lot of people seemed to “settle differences” with rifles in the 1800s, that amounted to a lot of very angry dead guys who were trying to make Sarah Winchester’s life miserable. Well, shucks, there she was with $20,000,000 in assets that she now considered to be “blood money.” Don’t worry; the medium offered up a solution!

Go West, Young Ma’am!

Winchester PostcardIn order to keep the bad jujus at bay, all Sarah Winchester needed to do was move to the West and begin construction on a house for herself and the spirits of all of the people whose lives had been snuffed out by Winchester rifles. Finally! A doable plan! As with most plans, there was some fine print; this spook appeasement would only last as long as construction of the house continued. It is speculated that Mrs. Winchester was even promised immortality for as long as construction lasted. (I’m not entirely convinced that the Boston medium didn’t have a cousin in California with a contractor’s license!)

Winchester PortraitIn 1884, Sarah Winchester moved from Connecticut to an unfinished farm near San Jose, California. (I imagine the conversation with the realtor went something like this: “Unfinished? Perfect! I’ll take it!”) Once at the farm, Sarah Winchester hired carpenters for her never-ending project. How many carpenters does it take to appease the spirits and secure a person’s immortality? Let’s just say that Mrs. Winchester wasn’t taking any chances. She hired carpenters to work in shifts, around the clock. Don’t you know those men were thrilled to have job security?

Built for Life

Winchester HouseWhen Mrs. Winchester bought the farm, it included an eight-room house. By 1900, those eight-rooms were somewhere in the middle of what had grown to be a seven-story mansion! There were also 161 acres of farmland that included orchards and outbuildings out the wazoo! Do you remember those carpenters she hired? Well, they hammered, sawed and expanded 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year for 38 years!

Don’t Go off Half-Cocked!

Winchester InsideHow did Mrs. Winchester decide how to expand? Simple. The spirits told her. Of course they did! It’s so important for housemates to consult with each other. She kept a Ouija board in what is known as the “Blue Room” in the center of the house. That’s where she and her spirit-world building advisors met up for their cohabitation conferences. It is said that she communed with the spirits on a nightly basis. Who needs blueprints when you’ve got help from the spirit world and a virtually endless budget?

My People Call It a Maze

If you’ve ever tried to agree on building plans with just your spouse, you can imagine how challenging it must have been for one eccentric widow and a bunch of dead guys to agree on architectural details. There are stairways leading to nowhere, hidden passageways, doors that open into walls and windows with lovely views of adjacent rooms. Some staff members needed maps in order to find their way around the upscale maze!

Winchester Shots (Inside)

Mrs. Winchester seemed to have a thing for the number thirteen. Thirteen is a running theme throughout the house. There are thirteen panes in windows, thirteen bathrooms and thirteen chandeliers.

Winchester Mystery Postcard

It is believed that the house was built in such a perplexing manner in order to confuse any angry spirits. Columns were installed upside down. Rooms were renovated time and time again. It’s almost as if Sarah Winchester spent much of her life playing a colossal game of Hide and Seek with an angry mob of bullet-ridden evil spirits while cozying up with the friendly spirits. The house really is like one giant April Fools’ joke.

She Gave It Her Best a Shot

Sarah Winchester died of heart failure in 1922. Ah, well, immortality probably isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway. When the workmen learned of her death, the building stopped—with nails halfway driven!

If you’re ever in the San Jose area, you can stop in and pay a visit to the Winchester Mystery House. For all of the creepy aspects, Sarah’s folly is remarkably lovely. And that, my friends, is no April Fools’ joke!

Care to take a tour of the Winchester House? Watch this video!

Happy trails, y’all!,

Anita Lequoia

Hi Yo, Silver! Awayyyyyyyy!

The Lone Ranger - Classic

The Lone Ranger - ClassicWe’ll all be hearing much ado about “The Lone Ranger,” in coming months. That’s thanks to “The Lone Ranger” film that’s set to hit theaters in July of this year. In case you’re drawing a blank, let me help you out! Johnny Depp will be starring as Tonto, the Native American wearing a stuffed crow on his head. Anything that stars Johnny Depp with a crow on his head, Armie Hammer as the Lone Ranger, and has a reported budget of $250,000,000 is bound to get some buzz. I think the crow alone is buzz-worthy (and somewhat confusing). Yes, The Lone Ranger will ride again. However, that’s not the same Lone Ranger that’s on my mind at the moment!

The Lone Ranger Film (New)As intrigued as I am by the upcoming film, when I think of “The Lone Ranger,” I’m picturing the version with Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger, Jay Silverheels as the (crow-less) Tonto, and the magic they made for a heck of a lot less that $250 million. Oh sure, I know that it was first a radio drama and has also been immortalized in comic books, books and a couple of feature television movies. I even know that John Hart played the Lone Ranger in 54 of the 217 television episodes of the show that ran from 1949-1957. But Moore and Silverheels are still the Lone Ranger and Tonto to me.

Perhaps I’ve been thinking about that Lone Ranger and Tonto more than any grown woman should, but… At the risk of sounding like everyone’s grandmother, I’ve been longing for simpler days—days when movie wardrobes did not involve taxidermy!

Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!

The Long Ranger Radio ShowsThe Lone Ranger took his first ride in 1933 on a radio broadcast that was to capture the imagination of kids of all ages. I know. I know. I said I was thinking about the television show. But without the radio drama, there would have been no television show.

Fran Striker originally sold “The Lone Ranger” radio scripts to WXYZ radio in Detroit. I don’t care what he called himself; Fran Striker was not a hack writer! He understood what people wanted. In 1933, people were more than a little disenchanted with the government. A masked man who worked for good, outside the confines of the government, was just what the people wanted!

Who Was That Masked Man?

The Lone Ranger - Classic TelevisionThe story of “The Lone Ranger” begins with a healthy dose of Western drama! A Texas Ranger is betrayed by a trusted guide and then ambushed, left for dead and then rescued Indian man, a man whose life the Lone Ranger had happened to save years earlier. Together he and the Indian man take on a new identity, and ride forward together, to battle evil in West. I call it Western Karma at its finest!

Clayton Moore as The Lone RangerClayton Moore’s portrayal of the Lone Ranger made the character a heroic role model to virtually every child in the U.S., during the show’s heyday (and for years following, thanks to reruns). That was no coincidence; the Lone Ranger’s persona was carefully crafted to make him a role model through and through. Fran Striker had some codes of conduct set up for the Lone Ranger.

Here’s what I mean:

• He didn’t swear, drink liquor or smoke. It’s probably the only TV Western in which café scenes were substituted for saloon scenes.
• The Lone Ranger’s grammar was impeccable.
• He didn’t just go around shooting silver bullets into people willy-nilly. Instead, when guns were used, the Lone Ranger only fired his weapon to disarm his opponent.
• Any hints of racism were avoided. (Please don’t mention Tonto. The Lone Ranger and Tonto were friends, partners and intellectual equals.)
• The Lone Ranger was never portrayed as having superhero powers. He got by on a healthy dose of common sense.

Kemosabe’s Friend, Tonto

Tonto - The Lone RangerDid you know that Tonto didn’t appear in the first ten episodes of The Lone Ranger radio drama? Nope. He really was the LONE Ranger! Solitude is all well and good, but it really cuts down the opportunity for dialogue. (Or so I was saying to the voices in my head, just the other day!) Fortunately, that problem was rectified long before the masked man galloped across our television screens. The Lone Ranger needs Tonto like peanut butter needs jelly and like I need quality, fair trade, chocolate with a high cacao content! (Right now. I need that right now!)

Even though Tonto’s use of the English language was broken, he was never portrayed as an ignorant savage. Viewers always knew that Tonto was a man of substance, even if he was short on words. One word Tonto wasn’t short on was, “Kemosabe,” which was his term of endearment for the Lone Ranger. Kemosabe means, “trusty scout” in the Potawatomi language.

The Lone Ranger Creed

The Lone RangerFran Striker wrote the Lone Ranger Creed in 1933, and they are still some good words to live by. It’s pretty profound stuff!

The Lone Ranger Creed

“I believe…
• That to have a friend, a man must be one.
• That all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world.
• That God put the firewood there but that every man must gather and light it himself.
• In being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for that which is right.
• That a man should make the most of what equipment he has.
• That ‘This government, of the people, by the people and for the people’ shall live always.
• That men should live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number.
• That sooner or later … somewhere … somehow … we must settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken.
• That all things change but truth, and that truth alone, lives on forever.
• In my Creator, my country, my fellow man.”

I told you it was profound! And, even though, I would prefer for someone else to gather my firewood and light it, I do understand the metaphor for life! In fact, this creed is why I’m kind of looking forward to Disney’s new The Lone Ranger. Anything that promotes values like this is worth seeing—even if Johnny Depp is wearing a crow on his head!

Just for fun, watch a little video. . .Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels as The Lone Ranger and Tonto!

Happy Trails, y’all!
Anita Lequoia

The Jean-eology of Levi Strauss

Levi Advertisement

Levi AdvertisementThere’s nothing that gets my blood pumping like a good rags to riches story. Maybe that’s why I always enjoy stories about the people who struck it rich during the California Gold Rush. But one of my favorite stories to come out of the Gold Rush has less to do with gold than it does with blue. That’s right. It’s time to talk a little bit about Levi Strauss and the history of Jean-eology! Hehe. Get it? Jean-eology. Oh, I keep myself in stitches! Get it? Stitches!!!!!

Jean-eology

Levi Strauss PortraitIn 1853, the California Gold Rush was in its heyday and Levi Strauss was a budding entrepreneur of the tender age of twenty-four. German born Loeb Strauss (who would come to be known as Levi) had immigrated to the U.S. with his mother and two sisters when he was eighteen-years- old. Loeb’s father had died two years earlier. Coming to America meant reuniting with Loeb’s older half brothers, Jonas and Louis.

Jonas and Louis Strauss had already started a wholesale dry goods business, J. Strauss Brother & Co. Loeb became another brother in the “Brother and Co.” and family and customers soon began to refer to him with the more Americanized name of Levi.

Carpet Mill WorkersNews of the California Gold Rush made its way to the East and Levi had dreams of making his way West. Like so many others, Levi was certain he could make his fortune in California. In February 1853, the newly minted U.S. citizen, Levi Strauss, made his way to San Francisco. Now, Levi knew he wasn’t going to make his fortune by panning for gold. He had other ideas!

Levi took his business knowledge and established his own dry goods store, known simply as “Levi Strauss”. He imported clothing, bolts of fabric, umbrellas, handkerchiefs and underwear and sold them to the small stores that were popping up across the West. Brilliant! Even forty-niners needed new underwear!

Levi Strauss - OlderLevi Strauss became a prominent San Francisco businessman. He was active in both business and cultural life throughout the city. And, he was a philanthropist and active supporter of the city’s Jewish community. Yes, he was a big hoo-ha deal long before anyone ever said, “Do these jeans make my butt look big?”

A Riveting Idea

Jacob Davis PortraitIn 1872, Levi received a letter that would, one day, change the way backsides of the world would be covered! The letter was from Jacob Davis, a Nevada tailor who frequently purchased bolts of cloth from Levi Strauss. Davis had started using metal rivets to reinforce areas of strain on the pants he made. By placing rivets at the pocket corners and the base of the button fly, his pants were far more durable for the laboring men who purchased them. Davis was looking to patent his invention, but he needed a business partner. Levi Strauss found the idea simply riveting!

Famous Levi Jeans PocketStrauss and Davis did indeed become partners. Together, they received their patent for their riveted trousers in May of 1873. Strauss brought Davis out to California to oversee production of their first West Coast manufacturing facility. The business began churning out “waist overalls” for the workingman. The first jeans were made of 9 oz. XX blue denim and were known simply as “XX”. With marketing genius like that, how could they fail?

Carpe Denim (Seize the Denim!)

Levi FactoryContrary to urban legend, it doesn’t appear that Levi himself ever sat down and sewed up the first pair of jeans from surplus tent fabric. (Although that does make for a really good story and livens up California history! Next, I’ll probably learn that the Donner Party was equipped with a supply of protein bars!)

Levi Jeans TimelineBy 1890, the patent on the riveting became public domain and other companies were free to make riveted clothing. By that time, the Levis XX jean was already a best seller and was about to get a name change when Strauss and Davis applied for a patent for its design. It became known as Levis 501. Why 501? No one knows. Thanks to the fires that followed the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, all records were lost. Even the Levi Strauss Co. is unsure of many of the specifics of the company’s early history.

Levi Strauss continued to be an active part of the company’s success until his death in 1902. At that point, the running of the company was handed over to his nephews. Family descendants continue to run the company, today. Yep, they kept the jean pool in the gene pool. So, what happened to Jacob Davis, the man with the riveting idea? I haven’t a clue. I hope that his descendents are sitting around counting their money, but I just don’t know.

Levi Strauss OverallsWe do know that, by the 1920s, Levis denim overalls were the best selling workpants in the country. We also know that it wasn’t long before blue jeans made their way into virtually everyone’s closet. You can dress them up. You can dress them down. You can even bedazzle the pockets. (I would like for the world to please acknowledge that jeggings are not blue jeans and should only be worn by youngsters and women with a freakishly low BMI.) At any rate, to paraphrase that great philosopher, Neil Diamond, much of the world will always be “Forever in Blue Jeans”.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAWpkBurVno

Happy Trails, y’all!

Anita Lequoia

 

Baling Twine: A Twine of the Times

Twine

Besides the basics of food, water and shelter, what do you need in order to survive? If you’re a Westerner, the odds are good that baling twine was one of the first things to pop into your head. Ah, yes, what other people might see as mundane twine, Westerners see as the greatest thing since sliced bread. And, by the way, I’m pretty sure I could slice bread with nothing more than a length of baling twine!

What’s My Twine?

Baling Twine in HayFor the uninitiated, baling twine is exactly what it sounds like. It’s twine used to bind hay into bales. It comes in sisal or synthetic varieties. Whichever kind you can get your hands on, it is darn handy stuff! It’s more versatile than duct tape, more compact than a rope and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Okay, I’m exaggerating about the tall buildings part, but it is some impressive stuff. I’m pretty convinced that every home should come equipped with a glass case containing baling twine hanging in a prominent location, with a sign that says, “In case of emergency, break glass.”

Packaged Twine

Pardon me if this sounds like an infomercial for baling twine, but I truly do believe it is the twine of intelligent life! Read on for some baling twine uses you may not have considered!

Because You’re Twine…

Baling TwineBaling twine is great for repairs to fences and gates. It’s also a natural choice for securing things in windstorms. If you drive a pickup truck, baling twine can be used to keep the items in your truck bed in your truck bed instead of on the side of the road! You can use a length of twine to secure feed buckets to the barn wall and tie down just about anything that needs tying. It’s versatile stuff, I tell ya!

Baling Twine

Twine Country

HorseDo you have horses? If so, you probably already know of the many wonders of baling twine. It can serve as a temporary blanket strap when the binging breaks. It can serve as a temporary halter or lead rope, making it possible to lead a horse to water or anywhere else!

 

 

 

 

Baling twine can be used to make a hay net, too.

Twine Hay Net

Even if you don’t have a horse, baling twine makes a great emergency leash for a dog. If you’re really bored, you can practice your dog lassoing with twine. Um, on second thought… Maybe you should stick with the leash idea.

Bee String

Baling TwineUntreated, sisal, baling twine is used in bee smokers. See, it really is a honey of a product! It is known for providing a cool and long lasting smoke for your little bees. Smoooooth!

Twine Tasting

Twine with tomato plantsDo you have some garden vegetables with bad posture? Baling twine has rescued many droopy tomato and pole bean plants. Use it to tie up your climbing garden vegetables.

Tie One On

Ellie Mae Clampett Broken shoelace? No problem! You can lace up your shoe with baling twine. It’s such a versatile fashion accessory that you can even use it to hold up your britches! Ellie Mae Clampett would be proud!

 Stitch in Twine

Twine CraftsCrafters love baling twine. It can be used in some pretty unexpected ways. Howzabout knitting or crocheting a baling twine rug or doormat?

 

 

And, do you remember macramé? You can macramé plant hangers with good ol’ baling twine. Peace and love, man! Baling twine can even be used to weave the baskets to put in the plant hangers. Baling Twine with plants

People swear by baling twine scouring pads. They don’t have to be pretty. Simply break out your old summer camp crafting skills and weave us some pot scrubbers!

Brother, Can You Spare a Twine?

Folks on farms and ranches have been reusing and recycling long before it was the politically correct thing to do. Why? It probably comes down to a mixture of necessity and common sense—horse sense, if you will! When you live in the boonies, you tend to become resourceful in order to avoid a “trip into town”. You learn to use what you have. It’s like the old saying from The Great Depression, “Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do. Or do without.”

Baling twine is practically a natural resource in the West! What are your favorite uses? It’s always good to hear from folks who are fluent in twine language!

Happy Trails, y’all!

Anita Lequoia

Grub, Glorious Grub: A Foodie’s Guide to Western Lingo

Yee Haw! Vittles

Vittle! Western LingoI try to be whimsical. Honestly, I do. But somehow the obsessive-compulsive portion of my brain takes over and says, “Turn everything into a theme! Let’s organize this whimsy and potentially suck the fun right out of it!” So, when I sat down to write up another installment of Western Lingo, I did so with every intention of just going where the winds of word origins blew me. Um, it seems that the winds always blow me in a highly organized manner!

A while back, I received a comment from a reader wanting to know about the origin of the word, “vittles”. I just love it when folks send ideas my way and I was happy to explore this Western word for her. But then that organized “whimsy” took over and I found myself pondering other food-themed words.

So, this is for you, Dear Reader! Thanks for the winning suggestion! Now, see what you started?

Victuals/Vittles

Yee Haw! VittlesWhat we pronounce as “vittles” is actually spelled “victuals”. Huh? Why would we do that? Is English not difficult enough? Must we have trick words? Well, it seems this is one “trick word” that has been around for centuries. Does this prove you can teach an old word new tricks? I’ll have to ponder that.

The pronunciation of “vittles” is derived from the old French word, “vitaille”. English speaking folks have been saying it that way since the 1400s. “Vitaille” is from the Latin word, “victus,” meaning, “livelihood, food, and sustenance”. Ah, finally! Something that makes sense! Food! Victuals (pronounced “vittles”) means food!

Der Vittle HutIt seems linguists decided to change the English spelling of the word in the early 16th century. If they weren’t already dead, I might suggest that we tar and feather them! Early linguists tended to like their Latin and I suppose they thought it would make us all look smart to stick an unspoken “c” in a word. Plus, it gives those brainiac kids in spelling bees a real challenge. (“May I have the origin of that word? Could you use it in a sentence?”) At any rate, the silent “c” was stuck into the proper English spelling of the Old French word that was derived from a Latin word. Clear as mud?

Roadkill CafeSo, why has the word victuals (pronounced “vittles”) become a sort of Western word? No, seriously. I’m asking! The word “victuals” has been around for a long time and even makes a couple of appearances in the King James translation of the Bible! I can’t find any reason in the world why this word of confusing origins and cruel spelling became a staple in Western lingo.

Granny ClampettMy guess is that “victuals” was a word that was sprinkled throughout some old Western movies and television shows and simply grew to be thought of as a Western word. I also have an unproven theory is that Granny Clampett from “The Beverly Hillbillies” did a lot to perpetuate the image of frying up a mess of squirrel and hog jowls and calling it, “vittles”. Good luck trying to get that image out of your head!

Grub

Cowboy Grub!As long as we’re on the subject of food, let’s talk about the origin of “grub”. Can’t you just hear some grizzled ol’ cowboy saying, “I’m powerful hongry. Imma git me some grub!”? (Note to self: Auto Correct does not accept ‘hongry” and “Imma git” as real words, but I’m pretty sure that’s what a grizzled ol’ cowboy would say. So, I’m leaving them as is! Take that, Auto Correct!)

Pigs EatingThe idea of using “grub” as a substitute for “food” has been around since the 17th century. The word was originally used to mean, “to dig”. Then it became associated with animals that dig to search for food. Pigs are known to grub for edible roots and the like. The wormlike larvae of certain insects are known as grubs. Yes, grubs do grub around in leaves and roots to get their grub! (Exactly what part of this is supposed to entice hunger? I’m getting confused again!)

Toddler in MuddIt does make sense that the people of the West—the farmers and those who toil in the dirt—would keep the word “grub” as a part of their vocabulary. Think about it. Farmers grub up their fields to prepare them for planting. Pigs grub up the ground to search for edible morsels. People get “grubby” from digging in the dirt. And, at the end of a long, hard day, the Westerners want some grub to eat!

Real Cowboy GrubI’m finding that grub is one of the more versatile words in the Westerner’s vocabulary! Interestingly, “grub” is one of the few words that has remained a form of slang for centuries. It is certainly not what you would call a proper word, but people know what it means when they hear any one of its multiple connotations.

Sop

SopThis one may be a stretch, but while I was trying to come up with another food oriented Western word, “sop” sprang to mind. Is everyone familiar with “sop”? Allow me to use it in a sentence: I’m gonna take this biscuit to sop up the gravy on my plate.

Oh, sure, “sop” technically means to saturate something with liquid. You can get sopping wet in the rain or sop up a spill with a rag. But, in the West, “sop” generally involves a hunk of bread and some form of fat-based liquid left floating around on the bottom of a dinner plate.  Mmm. Mmmm.  Sopping, when done correctly, is a mealtime art form. An old-timer can generally leave a dinner plate shiny enough to see his reflection in with nothing more than a biscuit or a slice of bread.

Hungry old cowboy eating beans from a saucepan

Sop has been in use since the 1500s. Interestingly, “sopfa” is Old High German for milk with bread. Perhaps the word hasn’t evolved as much as you might have imagined!

A Note from the Whimsy Impaired

If anyone has any other ideas for a future Western Lingo installment, please let me know. Hearing from you makes my day and I love to get your suggestions. I aim to please, even if I inadvertently turn your suggestion into a theme! Maybe I’ll pencil in some “whimsy” for the next post!

Happy Trails, y’all!

Anita Lequoia