Thursday, December 26, 2013

Resolutions

 
It is a common occurrence to hear of people making New Year Resolutions and then either never achieving their goals or keeping their resolve for perhaps an hour.

I have solved this conundrum by waiting to compose my 2013 resolutions until now. This provides me with a pretty good shot at some sort of achievement. I realize there are a few days left in the year for me to mess up, but I'll chance it.

1. Post a Blog Entry

Well, I achieved the heck out of this one, didn't I? Here it is in all the glory I can muster.

2. Stay in the Main Building of the Grand Floridian

My family has been to Disney World a lot. I mean a LOT. We were there in October 1971 the month it opened. Both of my daughters were only a year old when they first went, so technically, they've been going all their lives. And we've stayed at the Contemporary, the Polynesian, the Disney Inn (when it existed) and even the Swan and others.

But our favorite, and the place we've stayed the last four times is the Grand Floridian. But, we had never stayed in the main building with the restaurants and the monorail attached. This year, our daughter surprised us with this resolution-achiever. For those of you who have dined at Victoria and Albert's, it is such a pleasure to get there just by taking the elevator. Of course, now we're spoiled rotten... but, oh, well!

3. Recreate Certain Photos

It is a popular craze now to recreate classic photos and see how people have aged and deteriorated. There are places in Disney World that are exactly the same as they've always been, so we used our trip this year to recreate some of the thousands of Disney photos we have. The results will be the topic of another blog entry.

4. Get a New Video Camera

The video camera I had works JUST FINE! But like me and everything else based in technology, it's old now. It takes beautiful images, but it stores them on mini-DVDs. That's right, those little round things that you have to buy, store, document, load into the camera, initialize, finalize, pry out and store again. And they only hold about a half-hour of video. So, after watching one particularly troublesome finalization process, my wife suggested (!) that it was time to look into a new camera. Naturally, she was right. Now, I just turn it on and it's ready to go, for about five hours of HD video.

5. Add a 20th Year of Financials to Quicken

For those of you unfamiliar with Quicken, it is an application that stores and analyzes your financial data. I have been keeping all of my finances on Quicken for 20 years now. And by 'all', I mean every single transaction in banking, credit cards, cash and any other way. This allows me to budget with a fair degree of accuracy and remember things from 20 years ago. If I want to recall when and who replaced my water heater, or trend my electric bill over the last 20 years, it's a snap.

6. Reach a Financial Goal

I have more time to watch my financials now and I have diversified so much, I never expected to reach a particular goal in one of my categories that I had set over 10 years ago. Well, 2013 turned out to be a bit of a surprise and I reached that out-of-reach goal. Yay!

7. Buy Bicycles

My wife and I used to have bikes years ago and when I was at Penn State, my bike was my primary means of transportation since we only had one car. So after talking about it for a couple of years (we don't like to make any rash decisions), we bought some nice comfortable Specialized bikes. It's true, you don't forget how to ride and it turns out tooling around the neighborhood is a lot of fun and good exercise. The trick will be making sure we can ride occasionally during the winter.

8. Exercise the Snow Blower

This is the fourth winter we've had a snow blower. The first season, we used it once, then for the next TWO YEARS it sat unused because the Delaware Valley never produced enough snow to even crank it up. This year I was going to HAVE to start it just to keep it in operational order. But no worries, the first predicted dusting of snow turned out to be ten and a half inches. I just put some gas in it and whammo, it started right up. Now, hopefully, it can rest for two more years.

9. Stay in the Willard

The Willard Hotel in Washington is one of those national treasures you just have to visit. It's a hotel where Lincoln lived for heaven's sake and
now it's an Intercontinental which makes it even better than it was. Every President since Pierce has been there along with every other famous person ever. The term 'lobbyist' comes from the people who used to meet in the Willard lobby and make deals. Mark Twain wrote a couple of his books while staying at the Willard.

We'd been there to visit on other trips and had their famous mint juleps at the Round Robin Bar (where Walt Whitman used to drink) but never actually stayed. Well, it's just as great as we imagined and right in the middle of everything just a block from the White House. 

10. Restart my Photo Scanning

After you scan for a while, you get a little scanned-out. I have 40,000 (estimated) more photos to scan and it gets a little daunting to think about. The Disney Trip this year got me restarted because I had to scan all the Disney photos across the years so we could do our recreations (see #3 above). But I'm going again now and all the way up to the birth of our first daughter. Yay! Here's Deb bringing Leah home from the hospital.


 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Daughters


I am pleased to know something of my genealogy, my... 'family tree'. This knowledge is in sharp contrast
to what I knew when I started a limited quest back in 1975. Following the death of my mother, I asked my father questions about his family hoping to get a grip on his side of my ancestry.

Unfortunately, if you look up the phrase 'close-mouthed about family matters', one of the first images is a photo of my father, Leon David Kleylein b. June 29, 1903, d. Dec. 29, 1992.

I didn't discover until years later the really good reasons he had for being so reticent, but that was no help getting me started at all. For example, I didn't even know my own grandmother's maiden name until the discovery of a marriage record in the Maryland State Archives twenty years later.

My daughter, Leah, was poking at me for information about my family and I literally had nothing to offer but about twenty names of relatives. I guess we could have turned to the Internet, but there were only about 10,000 primitive websites and newsgroups (remember newsgroups?) in 1994. It is estimated that in 2012, the number of websites will reach 582 million. Several of them will be about genealogy. (!)

So, instead, in those dark ages, we
launched a succession of trips to the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis and the National Archives in Washington DC. Microfilm became a close friend. And so it came to be that on December 29, 1994, it was determined by means of a marriage record that my paternal grandmother's maiden name was Harrison.

Now, it is seventeen years later and I have 11,148 names in my family file with 7,467 of them connected to my grandmother Hallie Violet Harrison.

Hallie was born Oct. 9, 1886 in Mt. Airy, Carroll Co., Maryland and died Sept. 9, 1971 in Miami, Dade Co., Florida. As research went on, it became clear that she is related to nearly everyone in Maryland. It's a very close-knit state. Apparently once you move there, you often stay.

In the case of my Harrison connection, it's been nearly 400 years in the new world. Hallie's mother (my great grandmother) was Sarah C. Watkins. Sarah was a direct descendant of James Watkins who sailed with John Smith.

Yes, that John Smith of Pocahontas fame, the John Smith who founded Jamestown in 1607, a full thirteen years before those latecomers finally got to Massachusetts on the Mayflower. I picture my ancestors waving to them from the shore.

Well, Smith and my tenth great grandfather James also sailed up the Chesapeake into the Maryland area. Watkins Point on the Chesapeake is named for my ancestor.

Just a few years ago, we could have celebrated our... whaddayacallit... quadricentennial? Don't forget, the King James Bible hadn't even been published at that point, it was a long fricking time ago!

There's no documentation that James Watkins, my ancestor, had any interaction with Pocahontas. This isn't an actual photograph of her, by the way. I can tell you with a fair degree of certainty that if she DID look like this, history would have gone in a markedly different direction.

Which leads us to what I will never have in the genealogy world. It is demonstrable that I will never be a Daughter of the American Revolution.

Not that I don't have lots of connections to the American Revolution. The Harrison ancestors arrived soon after the Watkins ancestors along with Lewis, Moxley, Carter, Fitzgerald, Randolph, Saffell, Waugh, Becraft, Norwood, Holland, Shipley, Stevens, Lucas, Chamberlaine, Landon, Burwell, Smith, Ludlow, Isham, Beverley, Peyton, Gassaway, Lamb, Tydings, Green, Beall, Hungerford, Howard and more.

Two of my direct ancestors, Kinsey Harrison and Jeremiah J. Lewis were soldiers during the war. Two other directs, Jeremiah Watkins and William Shipley took the Oath of Fidelity. And one direct ancestor, Nehemiah Moxley Sr. has a very special place.

Everyone is taught
about the Boston Tea Party, patriots dressing up like Indians and throwing tea into Boston Harbor because of unfair taxes. Well, on October 19, 1774, Maryland patriots addressed this issue differently. In Annapolis Harbor, the 'Committee of Observation' (sounds like a terrorist group, doesn't it?) which included Nehemiah had the brig Peggy Stewart, along with a ton of tea on board, burned right down to the waterline.

This seems to me a bit more direct and confrontational than some wimpy costume party with folks dressed up like Pocahontas, but what do I know? I wasn't there.

So, sure, I can be a Son of the American Revolution many times over but that doesn't really have the cach
é of the DAR. But my daughters... they can be daughters and Daughters!

Yay!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Conscious Conscience


I'm afraid this post might annoy some people but that's what I do so I can't help myself.
My theme today will have to contradict one of my favorite people, Thomas Jefferson who is only one of the greatest thinkers EVER!

Sorry, Tommy.

And I really do think a lot of him. I carry my camera in a black leather bag that I bought at the Library of Congress in Washington. The inscription on the bag is one of my favorite Jefferson quotations: "I cannot live without books."

Apparently, he could for a little while at least. After the original Library of Congress was burned during the War of 1812 (thanks, Britain), Jefferson sold his entire library of 6,487 books to the United States to start a NEW Library of Congress.

It is no accident that the main building of the Library of Congress is called the Thomas Jefferson Building.

So it pains me to contradict one of Jefferson's most famous writings, that "... all men are created equal..." Sorry, but they're not. Not even if you throw women in there, too.

One cannot simply select someone at random and have them play linebacker for the Green Bay Packers. Most people would be killed during the first play. Not just because of the missing years of experience and training, but they just wouldn't be physically capable of that kind of punishment. If it were me, it wouldn't be my helmet that comes off, it would be my head.

The same is true of advanced mathematical thinking. Some people can perform such specialized cognitive leaps and stretches and others... can't. One branch of humanity is not necessarily better than the other, just different. But certainly not equal.

You can't just pluck someone out of a crowd and make them the leader. I've actually seen that tried and the results are usually a dismal failure. To be a good leader, you need empathy, strength and well... for lack of a better word, leadership. Arrogance, bluster and bullcrap can get you by for a while (I proved that), but you can't fool everyone forever.

But before some of you gentle readers respond by saying, "But Jefferson was saying men are equal under the law." Yeah, right. That's why some people can steal ten million dollars and get six months of house arrest and another person can steal groceries for their starving family and get thirty years of hard time. Give me a break.

We know enough
about genetics now that we know our DNA has an awfully lot to say about what we're going to be like. Eye color, propensity toward certain diseases, muscle density, etc.

But I believe the most important differentiating factor among humans is their level of conscious development. Are we conscious of what is going on around us? Are we conscious of the future results of our actions? Are we conscious of the impact that our words and deeds have on the lives of others?

I'm convinced that there have been times in my life when I have been completely unconscious. Living, working, sure, but living life like a goldfish. Three minutes at a time, with nothing in the past and looking barely beyond my footsteps.

I like to think that I've improved, but who knows. I like to think that my consciousness breakthrough came when I finally realized I was unconscious, but perhaps I'm still not conscious.

For the sake of honesty, Jefferson must have known he was exceptional. He must have seen instances in his life where others thought to present themselves as his equal and known that they weren't. I have seen these pretenders, those wishing they were something they are not, annoyed by the success of others in doing things they could not.

Jefferson could have shot such men down with an offhand turn of phrase, but instead, he chose to embrace them. He included them and all of the rest of us. We are all equal because we can all exploit the gifts we have as long as we are conscious of those gifts we have and those we do not. By such writing, Jefferson proved that he was more than equal.

See? I told you this post would annoy you. Yay!


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Of Anniversaries and Teeth


This is an anniversary of sorts. It has been three years since I've been using this blog tool thingy as a mental dumping ground.
Sometimes the dumping comes rapidly and sometimes there are breaks, but as people do with any good dump, I always come back.

The pressure to write builds up and finally explodes out onto the keyboard and into cyberspace. I have found it interesting (appalling, actually) to note that people all over the world have read entries in this abomination. Often it's the historical or genealogical topics that draw people, other times it's just the blatherings. Clearly, people need more work to keep them busy.

I try to imagine someone who grew up in a vastly different culture than my own (from, say, California) trying to make sense of these scrawlings. I can't make any sense of them, why should they?

I write when something strikes me as it did recently when I went to the dentist.

The lady (I presume she was a lady) cleaning my teeth announced to me that my mouth (teeth included) was 'clean and healthy'. Without knowing my history, she had no idea how hysterically funny that was.

My
mouth was clean and healthy??
Pbffffffft! I smiled and thanked her while my tiny but hyperactive brain tried to reason how I had gotten myself into such a situation.

Clean and healthy??? Neither of
those circumstances prevailed the first time I ever went to a dentist. I was seventeen at the time and the only thing that forced me into the dentist's tender mercies was that one of my molars had rotted so badly that practically the whole top had disappeared.

You'd think I could
remember his name, but I can't. I recall his office was in Miami (obviously) on NW 7th Avenue somewhere in the vicinity of 135th Street on the east side of the street. I remember that and the fact that he had the hairiest hands of any person (man, woman or child) that I had ever seen even to this day.

This was not the era of gloves, I don't remember any gloves. I remember hair brushing against my mouth and cheek, but no gloves. I'm pretty scarred by the whole experience, I'll tell you! Nowadays, people sue for less.

But Dr. _________ had a saving grace. After he dug out what remained of the root of that once-upon-a-time-tooth, he demanded that I keep coming back until he got my teeth brought into at least the nineteenth century. Fortunately for him (and me) I was working full time at Royal Castle and bringing home the princely sum of $32 a week. Wow!!!

So every week for however many months it took, I journeyed to 7th Avenue to have hairy hands jammed into my mouth. He also taught me about proper brushing and flossing technique. And I'm sorry to admit I was lax about flossing for another five years or so. But now that it's part of my routine, I have to floss every day or nothing feels right.

You may be
asking yourself why I was seventeen before seeing a dentist for the first time. The answer involves frequent use of the word 'no'.

No money, no insurance, no family history of seeing doctors or dentists and in the case of my mother and father - no teeth.

One of the earliest memories of my father is having him disconnect his top 'plate' and then sticking it halfway out of his mouth. Charming. Have I mentioned the scarring? But that's what people did in the days when there were only three channels on television.

So my 7th Avenue doc saved the rest of my teeth. The only other extractions I ever had were the two wisdom teeth I had pulled. Yes, I only had two! Not everyone is blessed with four useless, extra, unnecessary, often painful teeth that come in after all the rest of your teeth have properly set. Actually, a large percentage of people don't develop any wisdom teeth. Consequently... no wisdom.

And all my original silver fillings are long gone, replaced by composite materials that are probably killing me in different, bizarre ways than jamming molten metal into my head.

It has occurred to me more than once that with no flossing, poor brushing technique and a mouth full of less than healthy (OK, rotten) teeth that my breath must have been staggering!

I didn't realize it at the time, but I could have been a super hero! I could have easily dispatched crooks and villains with a single, quick puff of breath. As Captain Plaque, I could have quickly ended the war in Vietnam and gotten Richard Nixon out the White House (relatively) painlessly.

The generation after mine, my kids, have barely had a cavity. They probably wouldn't even get misty-eyed over being told their mouth is clean and healthy. What else? That's just normal.

And with my usual impeccable timing, less than two years after all that dental work I joined the Navy. While in boot camp they went over my teeth again with a fine tooth comb (get it?) and I could have had all that work done for free. But like I said... What else? That's just normal.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

My Theory, Which is Mine


Every human has their own set of
imperfections, some benign and some monumental. And our animal friends are not allowed to stand over to the side and cast stones either. Some of them are nuts too.

A case in point is a female cardinal I know. We're discussing the animal kingdom here, so please don't conjure up an image of Cardinal Richelieu wearing a dress. Actually, this outfit looks quite a bit like a dress, doesn't it? Hmmm?

No, I'm talking about the cardinal bird. Lovely plumage... oh, wait, that's the male. Unfortunately, the female is a bit drab and perhaps that may be the root cause of this whole tragic affair.

For weeks now, this dumbbell descendent of dinosaurs has been trying to get into the house.

She pecks at the windows. She storms the windows. She flutters and hovers at the windows pretending to be a hummingbird. All day, every day.

My wife's theory is simple and straightforward. The bird has a wire loose. I have a different theory. It is my theory, which is mine. If you didn't get that Monty Python reference, you really need to get out more.

My theory is (!) that since we've been providing food and water for these creatures right at this location for more than twenty years, the birds now want the house and this little twit is testing our defenses.

It's been hot
this summer and the birds know air conditioning when they hear it. It's been hot all over the US and people are saying there's never been anything like it.

Historians, naturally, are dubious of such sweeping statements. Even my own poor knowledge of history makes me aware of the New York heatwave of 1896 which killed 1,500 people. That's right, 1,500 documented deaths which means there were likely a boatload more.

People couldn't even escape to air conditioning in such rugged days. Mr. Carrier would not be completing his invention for another six years or so. But invented or not, a lot of us po' folk still wouldn't have air conditioning seventy years later. It was just too expensive.

None of the schools I went to for all twelve grades had air conditioning as I was growing up. Keep in mind that I attended school in Miami, Florida where the humidity was sky high and temperatures were sometimes... unfortunate. The combination of the heat and humidity often made me sad. We had windows we could open, but that's not always the same thing.

We had no air conditioning at home until I was in my mid-twenties. We bought this house for a staggering $12,500 and I installed a used air conditioner. Whoo-hoo!

It wasn't so much for the cooling, but I had to keep the windows closed because I was working the midnight shift at Eastern Airlines and I had to sleep during the day. You can get used to anything, if you have to.

Notice in this photo that the sidewalk and street are wet but the sky is already clear. Is that Miami weather or what!

Notice also the 1965 Oldsmobile Delta 88 in the driveway. That was my first air conditioned car. Until then, it was 'rollin' down the windows'. They called it 4-60 A/C.
Four windows down at sixty miles an hour. Hah!!

The used window A/C unit I got was a big one, big enough to cool the whole house. But I hated the way window units looked and they were noisy and drippy. So I installed it on an inside wall exhausting into the utility room. I cut a hole to drain the water and voilà, the system worked for me for years.

Here's a photo of Deb striking a pose and you can see the air conditioner stuck right in the concrete block wall in what we laughingly referred to as the 'dining room'.

Alright now, take a moment... stop and think what it would be like with no air conditioning and remember that it's only been a few years that we have had this luxury. Gave you a little chill, didn't it?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

White Knight


A Parable for Our Time



He was a peculiar little boy, an odd little boy. What made him peculiar... odd... was that he was so ordinary. Perhaps a bit taller than average, perhaps a bit thinner than 'normal'. He did not intuitively know how to play the piano, he had no linguistic skills and there was no way he was going to be hitting any balls out of any parks.

In a crowd, he would simply fade into the background.

His friends would prefer to watch paint dry rather than spend a lot of time with him. He was well on his way to downtown Dull.
But by happenstance, he noticed one good feature, one limited positive attribute. He was pretty good at remembering stuff. No, not a photographic memory (actually it's called eidetic memory) but wouldn't that be cool? Imagine a genealogist with an eidetic memory! Whoooaaaa! The connections would be fast and furious! No, the boy's memory was only slightly better than average. But since he had no creativity or raw intelligence, he determined to parlay this tiny advantage to the best of his 'ability'. So he memorized things in school and by dumb luck stumbled into the one occupation where he could really exploit his memory.He was too dull (see above) to take up card counting in gambling games so the only thing left was computer science. His memory and the use of that memory to recognize patterns made the boy a prime candidate for geekdom. His accidental entry into this field is probably the only thing that kept him from the poorhouse (do they still have poorhouses??) and a steady diet of cat food.

It's possible he couldn't have even afforded Fancy Feast. It's more likely the generic store versions would have been on his menu.

So his memory carried the boy into sort-of-manhood on its shoulders, dragging him part of the way when it needed to. It saw him through computer programming and analysis and even a primitive kind of management where he could remember who did what well and then told them to do that.
But time passes. Arteries harden. Synapses poop out. It's a thing.

His neurotransmitters began to stay at lunch longer and longer. Sometimes his post-synaptic density became... how-you-say... a bit too dense.

The boy's memory wasn't what it was. His one positive attribute was going the way of all flesh.

The boy thought, "Crap!"

But then
an event occurred which altered his perception. He was doing some genealogy work digging into his days as a student at William Jennings Bryan Elementary School. One of his favorite memories was about his first grade teacher, Mrs. White. She was his first teacher and it was such a positive experience that his whole view of school may have been properly set by this woman. The boy had remembered her through all these years and years and she had actually come to his mind occasionally and he would wonder how she was and what she was doing.But he didn't know who Mrs. White really was. What did she look like? He recalls that she was impossibly old, but since he was six years old, what did that mean?

The only thing he recalled for certain was that she had white hair, but that hardly narrowed down the pantheon of possibilities.

So the boy went
back to do what research he could. Here's his photo from the first grade. He also found his first grade report card to look for clues. Would you like to know what he discovered?

The idiot had her name wrong. The smartypants who presumptuously believed that his memory was good and was only now beginning to fail due to physiological issues beyond his control had mis-remembered a crucial fact for decades!

Her name was not Mrs. White, it was Mrs. Marjorie S. Knight. So, the boy realized in a flash of clarity that he had never had a memory worth a damn, it had always been bad. In a bizarre way, this was comforting. He wasn't losing his memory, he never had any!

With his soul refreshed, the boy turned to his crack genealogy toolkit to research Mrs. KNIGHT. He discovered she was born August 28, 1910 possibly in Texas where her social security number was issued. She had married James Weldon Knight in the early forties and had a son Jimmy in 1945. James Weldon was born in 1907 and had lived in Amarillo solidifying the Texas connection. They divorced in 1954 so it is possible that she was going through this rough period while the boy was her student in the 1953-54 school year. He then used all the math skills at his disposal to cypher that when she was teaching him, Mrs. Knight was 43 years old. He had been right! She was impossibly old!

During that period, she had lived only a few blocks from the school. Here's an aerial photo of North Miami from 1952. If you click on it, you can make it larger.
In 1984, she moved to Ft. Lauderdale and died there March 20, 1991, twenty years ago. This was also oddly non-stressful to the boy, since he had not just missed her by a week which would have been really annoying.
This is the apartment where she lived and this is the door she went through nearly every day of her life in North Miami. The boy still doesn't have a photo of Mrs. Knight, but that's only a matter of time.

Somewhere little Jimmy Knight who is now 66 years old carries a part of Mrs. Knight with him. Let's hope he is carrying on her tradition.
 
 
By now, some of the more clever readers out there have divined that this boy we've been discussing is actually ME! How about that! Quite a little twist at the end, huh?

So, what's the parable I referred to at the opening? You can't lose what you never had, so shut up and enjoy yourself. You can take that to the bank.


Update 06/19/2013: I told you the boy would get a photo of Mrs. Knight eventually and so he has. 

Thanks to the collaboration of the wonderful people on the William Jennings Bryan Facebook page, we now have this image of Mrs. Knight from June 1952.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Oh, the Embarrassment


Sometimes I embarrass my family. Oh, I know,
you're SO shocked and surprised. It's not like I have Tourette's or anything, although that's probably coming right up on my ongoing list of mental deteriorations. I'm not certain that what I have is a genetic anomaly or a hobby that's a trifle out of control.

When we go out to a museum or an antique store or a public building... OK, ANYWHERE, I am driven to try the knob on any closed door. I've never even heard of anyone else having this peculiar aberration, so I am going on record now by claiming it and naming it Kleylein Syndrome. I consider this failing to be a full-blown disability worthy of consideration (and perhaps compensation) under both ADA and ADAAA.
The ADA has done fabulously positive things, and is a tribute to fairness and rational thought. You may know that the ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the ADAAA is (I'm not kidding) the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act of 2008. One more Act and we'll have a three act Act. Boiled down, when my syndrome is proven to fall under such auspices, these acts would protect me from discrimination because I'm a dork.

Other dorks are already protected by this same law and some have even achieved some modest notoriety.

Of course, I've gotten into trouble more than once opening doors to people's offices and there is one especially tragic event when I was touring the US Capitol Building. I should probably try to forget that one. I think my record has been expunged. I think.

As far as I
can tell, I've always had this problem, it didn't just START one day. All children have curiosity, mine just got... let's say... 'a little out of hand'. (It's tough finding an appropriate doorknob joke!)

My earliest recollection of actually getting into trouble because of Kleylein Syndrome was fourth grade. That makes me what? Nine or ten years old? Geez.

I was attending beautiful and historic William Jennings Bryan Elementary School in North Miami, Florida and we were playing on the school grounds. We had to play on the school grounds because there weren't any parks or anything less dangerous than the open streets or perhaps the railroad tracks. Don't laugh, my brother and I played on the tracks all the time, getting our pennies flattened by huge Florida East Coast locomotives. And we both made it to sort-of adulthood. Go figure.

Bryan is historic because the building opened in 1928, which for Miami is an amazingly old building! In Miami, anything with a few years on it is quickly torn down if a hurricane doesn't do it first. Well, I guess that keeps everything fresh. Actually, the current building is the second school on that very site since the first one (the third Arch Creek School), built in 1918, burned down to the ground in 1927. Look how stately and colorful Bryan looks today.
Notice the gates on the front entrance here? Hmm? Well, in 1957 there were gates on every entrance just as there are now. Every entrance... except one. For some reason, lost in the mist of history, the architect (if there was one) decided to stick an extra room out the side of the otherwise geometrically perfect square. A single room with a portico and... a door. A regular old, run-of-the-mill gate-less door.
The poorly-taken photo below shows the northeast corner of the main building with the doorway (now sealed) plainly visible under the portico. Click on the image for an even closer look. Back in the day, there was a door there. A door with a doorknob.
And the doorknob called to me, as doorknobs do to people with my devastating and debilitating illness. The doorknob had been broken for years, it just spun round and round on it's little doorknob axis. Everyone knew that the doorknob was broken so they left it alone. But they didn't know that, while busted, it was also (wait for it) unlocked!

So, with the sparkling magical glow that surrounded me whenever I got near to a closed door, I tried it and it opened right up for me. One step and I was in the school! Nine or ten years old and totally unsupervised! Not an adult in the whole place!! WOW!

Or so I thought.

As I stepped out of the classroom into the hallway, I came face to belly with the head custodian who happened to live directly across the street on NE 13th Avenue. Remember when we used the term 'custodian'? That's a pretty classy word, they had 'custody' of the building. Later in life I was the custodian of the data center I ran. Same thing.

I wish I could remember his name, but Mr. _______ was mostly interested in how the %@&$ I had gotten in. So, I told him and he said, "Show me!"

Do you think I could make that knob open again? Ohhh, noooooo! When Monday morning arrived, there was a new doorknob and the court-martial hearing was fairly brief. Thank goodness my teacher, Mrs. Mugovero, spoke on my behalf so the lashings were kept to a minimum. Nowadays, no jury in the world would convict me because I am damaged goods afflicted as I am with the horror and embarrassment of Kleylein Syndrome.

I'm amazed that my family puts up with me.


Update 06/19/2013: It took a while, but my friends on the William Jennings Bryan Facebook page have come through (as they always do) with the name of Bryan's custodian. He was Leonard Murgatroyd and at the time of the incident above, he was just 46 years old. Mr. Murgatroyd had given up his career in taxidermy to be the custodian at Bryan. And we were the better for it.
 

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tiger Tail


Our last post (did you notice the use of the royal plural?) was
entitled 'Tiger's Tale' and since this one is 'Tiger Tail', you can tell it's completely different. Actually, it's still on the theme of North Miami and now I'm going to annoy you with history and geography. Sorry. There's a point made later.

Ah, North Miami. Although formally established under this name in 1926, Europeans have been living in the Arch Creek area since 1858. That's a long time in 'Miami years'. To the rest of the country, that's like the sixteenth century.

Dade County's first major road to the outside world was the 'Military Trail' and it ran right through the eastern part of North Miami. It can be traced from what is now Biscayne Boulevard right through Arch Creek Park where the Natural Bridge was and down NE 16th. Avenue to rejoin with Biscayne Boulevard. In south Florida, the Military Trail ran through Fort Pierce and Fort Lauderdale to Fort Dallas (later renamed 'Miami'). The purpose of the road was to move troops during the Seminole Wars.

There were three so-called 'Seminole Wars' but they actually involved many different tribes in addition to the Seminoles. During the Second Seminole War which ended in 1842 one of the lead strategists was Thlocko Tustenuggee who wore a Florida panther tail on his waist and went by the respected name Tiger Tail. Tiger Tail lived around Tallahassee and is not known to have ever been to the Miami area. But his legend made it there along with some namesakes.

There was a warrior in the Third Seminole War (which ended in 1858) who was also known as Tiger Tail. He is referred to as Old Tiger Tail or Big Tiger Tail and he had a younger relative called Young Tiger Tail or Little Tiger Tail.

The younger man may have been his son or nephew. More likely a nephew, actually, since the matrilineal Indian culture had sons follow their mother's clan not their father's. Consequently, men in Old Tiger Tail's clan would be the sons of his sisters - his nephews.

Now before I tie this huge mess together, I have to bring in the geography part. South Florida exists as we know it because of a thin ridge of limestone that runs down the southeast coast. The Military Trail followed this narrow limestone ridge and was used later to be developed into Dixie Highway which was later expanded and developed into US 1 - Biscayne Boulevard.

This limestone ridge forms the eastern edge of a huge, wide river that runs from Lake Okeechobee south to the ocean. That river is the Everglades. Most of what is Dade County now used to be a part of the Everglades and in the rainy season it was underwater. Underwater as in 'swamp'. This map from 1888 shows the Everglades almost to the coast.

From downtown Miami north to the Broward County line, there were only a few breaks in that thin limestone ridge: The Miami River, Little River, Snake Creek (then Snake River), Arch Creek and the Oleta River. If not for the modern day extensive range of canals and man-made lakes, Dade County would still be mostly swamp today.

During the rainy season, Old Tiger Tail, Little Tiger Tail and the other Seminoles, Miccosukees, Tequestas and other tribes lived on the islands in this swamp and moved around the landscape in their canoes. They camped on these 'islands' and the camps were identified when the mapmakers hit south Florida. One of those island camps was located on what we would now call North Miami.

On this map from 1890, three Indian towns are clearly identified. Tigers Tail Town named for Old Tiger Tail, Aleck Town (yes, 'Aleck') named for another warrior named Old Alec, and Little Tigers Town named for Little Tiger Tail. Tigers Tail Town and Aleck Town were around where Arch Creek Park is now and Little Tigers Town appeared in the area between downtown North Miami and William Jennings Bryan Elementary School.

By 1917, four major canals had been cut to allow the land to dry out and be habitable. The Biscayne Canal drained most of what is North Miami now.

And what's the point of all this then? You can't ever know yourself and the land where you live without discovering what was there before. That's the point!

Now, go out and study something. ;->

Friday, June 24, 2011

Tiger's Tale


For those of you who have read more than one entry of this thing I laughingly refer to as my 'blog', you
know it sometimes takes such sudden and unexpected turns that some people get a little queasy. If that's the case, you'd better put on your seat belt for this one.

The reason for the sudden bounces is that sometimes I feel a bit like Billy Pilgrim. I'm sure you know who Billy Pilgrim is and if not, see if you can find a library still operating and check out Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.
The actual title is Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death. Now that's a title!

Billy becomes 'unstuck in time' and jumps around to different events in his life, much as I'm doing in this 'blog'. Vonnegut being a better writer, his work doesn't produce that queasy, upset stomach feeling. So, in this post, the logical thing for me to do is to talk about my first junior high, North Miami Junior High School.
The natural place to start such a discussion is with Herman Roman Gustav Proske who was born in Vienna on Sept. 21, 1898 and died in Miami in July 3, 1972. In 1911, exactly one hundred years ago, when Proske was thirteen years old, he ran away and joined the circus. How great is that!

He went on to become what many consider the greatest big cat trainer that ever lived. He wrote two autobiographical books about training lions and tigers and even today Proske is still considered the authority on one arcane aspect of big cat handling that had never really occurred to me.

Among serious students of big cat interaction, the question of who would win during a battle between a lion and a tiger is a matter of much discussion and debate. No debate from Proske, however, he stood entirely behind the tiger and referred to his eye-witness accounts of actual battles. The tiger always won, and such respect is shown, at least in part, by his choice of the nickname 'Tiger' Proske. The main reason people say 'lions and tigers' instead of 'tigers and lions' is because of the Wizard of Oz, not because lions are better.

Proske arrived in New York on June 23, 1933 and was detained for not bothering to get a visa. He put on shows and built zoos around the country and finally ended up in Miami, Florida where he built the North Miami Zoo. At his 'tiger farm', he showed off his
many tigers including the famous Nubian the Tiger along with his 200 pound chimps Congo the Great and Gargantua. The chimps were probably more dangerous than the tigers. Tigers just kill you, they don't rip your face off and eat it like chimps do.

Here's Proske below with his pals.
His North Miami Zoo was located on NE 131st Street between 7th and 8th Avenues just a half block from West Dixie Highway. This block is the location today of the newly built North Miami Senior High School. I wonder if today's students who attend that school know what lies beneath their feet? Remember, Diaspar was not always thus.

When North Miami's population exploded following World War II it became clear that a new high school was required. Land was donated by Edward L. Constance from the High Pines Addition to Iron Manor. That site extended from NE 135th Street to 137th Street and from NE 7th Avenue to 9th Avenue. The Edward L. Constance Junior-Senior High School opened in the fall of 1951 being renamed North Miami High School four years later.

In the image below from today (which becomes much clearer when you double click on it), the original North Miami High School site is that horizontal four blocks on the top half of the photo with all those big buildings on it. The new High School is the vertical four blocks in the lower portion of the photo. The zoo was located in the lowest two blocks where the new High School buildings are now.
Beginning as a Junior-Senior High School mostly with students from nearby William Jennings Bryan which was running grades 1-8 at the time, the new school became overcrowded immediately. So more land was required and Tiger Proske's zoo was targeted. After a spectacular uproar (get the tiger reference?) nearly causing a civil war in North Miami, the tiger farm was purchased and North Miami Junior High School was built there in 1955. Also built on the former zoo property was the North Miami Armory and Municipal Pool.

Now, here's what the area looked like in March 1952 during the High School's first year of classes. Construction is still underway at the High School and Proske's zoo is still in full operation, you can see the zoo in that square with dark growth near the bottom of the photo. You can see it better if you double click on the photo. That's West Dixie Highway cutting diagonally across the image.
After North Miami Junior High School was completed, they paid homage to their predecessors on that land by calling themselves the Tigers. Their yearbook was named Tiger's Tale. See? Everything's a circle.

But speaking of
circles, I did some of this research the other day and a lot of this work is very obscure and frankly difficult. Thank goodness for the Internet. But the very night I discovered that the name of the zoo owner was Roman Proske, I was mindlessly watching this idiotic movie called Vampires Suck which is a parody of the Twilight series. And who do you suppose is the star? Jenn Proske. What are the chances? Is the Proske name really everywhere and I just never noticed? But twice in the same day? Geez, it gave me a little chill.

Next time, I'll drop the other shoe and tell you about Tiger Tail.