Saturday, October 30, 2010

More Poe than Pennington: The Lost and Damned at the Prison Block

Maybe you heard a little about the Nightmare Factory at the Oregon School for the Deaf?

But of course Halloween at State institutions isn't always fun and games.

While we wouldn't want to douse most of the fun*, we do think that in addition to the fun, we might take a moment to think about real horror.

As Salemites can hardly not know, Ty Pennington and the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition revamped the haunted house at the School for the Deaf. Since 1987 the fun and games have been an important fund-raiser. Fortunately, stories, apocryphal or verifiable, of the kinds of tragedies that lead to hauntings aren't obvious.

But while there don't appear to be any ghosts at the Deaf School, we're sure there should be ghosts at other Salem places. Unhappy lives and deaths at the Asylum, Penitentiary, and Institution for the Feeble-Minded easily make the case that each institution should be haunted. Some of the stories, in fact, get a page on "haunted Salem" in the Salem online history.

Executions are profoundly sad, horror and woe radiating in every direction. It's also unclear that the state convicts the correct person 100% of the time. The execution of the wrong person is especially horrific. Of course, no matter how you feel about the executions, the truly guilty have left a long trail of woe behind them. There's long sadness no matter where you look.

Here's a list of the hangings and gassings between 1904 and 1962. Two of them are Halloween hangings at the Penitentiary on October 31st, 1913.

The State hanged Frank Seymour at age 19 and Mike Spanos at 21 on that October 31st. The year before, after meeting George Dedasklou at a pool hall in Medford, they retired to an old factory and assaulted and robbed Dedasklou. The robbery went awry and they apparently finished him off.

The case went to the Oregon Supreme Court and it appears there were at least some questions about the validity of the confession and whether a third person was involved in the murder. After reviewing the case, Governor West declined to grant clemency.

At the Penitentiary, the State invited 15 people to witness the executions.

After the deaths, Prison Superintendent said that the men had left letters for him in which they "blamed whiskey for all their troubles."

Spanos and Seymour may not be innocent, but according to the Innocence Project, even with modern protocols and technology, since 1989, 261 people have been exonerated through DNA matching after conviction. A century ago the "error rate" must have been much, much higher. It is difficult to read the newspaper accounts of Spanos and Seymour, at least superficially resembling in some details the cases of Sacco and Vanzetti, and be confident justice was served.

Just north of the prison is the State Hospital. Recently, the Hospital Museum blog mentioned a documentary about David Maisel's Library of Dust project. It's not clear that the documentary is completed.

But what are finished are the amazing photos. You really need to click through to see the azure patina and copper.

The images are beautiful. The contents of the tins, unbearably sad. The moral and aesthetic whiplash, violent. This tin is labeled "baby," March 7, 1924. How did a baby enter or be born at the State Hospital in 1924? Was its mother pregnant before she was admitted? Did she get pregnant while in the Hospital? What's the story?

But the remains went unclaimed, the story erased.

Right after Halloween is All Soul's Day and Day of the Dead. As we celebrate the fun and games this Halloween, we'll take a moment and tip a pint to the lost and damned, known and unknown, in Salem's Institutions.

*Over at DSS, Emily's got a note about zombie hangings whose imagery - indeed, iconography - veers disturbingly close to that of lynching. That's some Halloween fun that could maybe use some dousing. So is the unseemly relish Lost Abbey brewing seems to take in depicting a burning witch.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Science Pub Starts with a Murder

A murder of crows, that is!

With apologies to Drinky Crow, we read news that Professor David Craig of Willamette is going to give a talk titled "Friends or Foes? Facing the Facts about American Crows" at the inaugural Science Pub Salem.

The first one will be Tuesday, November 9th at Brown's Towne Lounge, 6:30pm.

OMSI sponsors Science Pub and says:
Learn about cutting-edge topics in science and technology from leading researchers and scientists, all while enjoying food and drinks. Don't expect a remote speaker behind a distant podium. Instead, experience an informal atmosphere where you can interact with experts and where there are no silly questions. No scientific background is required; just bring your curiosity, sense of humor, and appetite for food, drinks, and knowledge!

Science Pub is open to anyone, no RSVP required. Science Pubs are for ages 21+, or minor with adult. Tell your friends, and we hope to see you there!
We like this!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Beer Archeology and an Ancient Ale

Helpful tipsters have identified a very curious convergence: archeologically old-school ale!

At Venti's right now is a modern recreation of an ancient beer. Theobroma from Dogfish Head is on tap. It's a gruit, a beer without hops. It's part of Dogfish's "Ancient Ales" series:
This beer is based on chemical analysis of pottery fragments found in Honduras which revealed the earliest known alcoholic chocolate drink used by early civilizations to toast special occasions. The discovery of this beverage pushed back the earliest use of cocoa for human consumption more than 500 years to 1200 BC. As per the analysis, Dogfish Head’s Theobroma (translated into 'food of the gods') is brewed with Aztec cocoa powder and cocoa nibs (from our friends at Askinosie Chocolate), honey, chilies, and annatto (fragrant tree seeds).

By itself this is already an interesting curiousity, but it gets even better. It turns out, on April 7th, 2011 (yeah, that's next year), Dr. Patrick E. McGovern, Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, will give a lecture titled, "Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer and Extreme Fermented Beverages."
The speaker will illustrate the biomolecular archaeological approach by describing the discovery of the most ancient, chemically-attested alcoholic beverage in the world, dating back to about 7000 B.C. Based on the analyses of some of the world’s earliest pottery from Jiahu in the Yellow River valley of China, a mixed fermented beverage of rice, hawthorn fruit/grape, and honey was reconstructed. The laboratory’s most recent finding is a fermented beverage made from the fruit pod of the cacao tree, as based on analyses of ca. 1200 B.C. pottery sherds from the site of Puerto Escondido in Honduras.
Ding, Ding, Ding! We have a winner.

So if you want to double up on culinary archeology, be sure you taste at Venti's and hit the lecture in April. You know, plan a little!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Beer! This Weekend and Next

Starting tomorrow there's a nice cluster of beery pleasures for you!

Friday is "Growler Day" out at Gilgamesh. Fill your jars and buy your kegs out in the wooded hills above Turner.

On Sunday, Wild Pear offers an Oktoberfest-themed Supper Club. The menu promises "two German beers (first time ever in Oregon)." We know it's not the first time for German beer in Oregon, so we suppose they mean two kinds never seen here. How curious!

On Friday the 15th Gilgamesh will also be pouring at Bush Barn's Art Fusion event. Symmmetry/Symmetry play, so you know the music will be good! The cupcakes and beer pairing will be treacherous, so we recommend caution - but the pizza and beer promises safety.

Then on Saturday the 16th Brown's Town Lounge hosts the second Annual Brewers Bash. From out of town will come Oakshire, Calapooia, and Cornelius Pass Roadhouse; the home team will be represented by Thompson's and The Ram.

Maybe there will be a fresh hop ale or two. So get out and enjoy the fall!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Cultured in Oregon

So the Oregon Cultural Trust has proclaimed the first week in October the "Oregon Days of Culture." When we think of Oregon Culture, the Kesey family and Nancy's Yogurt are the first things that come to mind!

Obviously that's not what the Trust had in mind...

Unfortunately, Salem's not playing the game very well, and the Salem offerings (you'll have to sort the entire table on the city column - the web interface is pretty clunky) leave us mostly uninspired. The good stuff's in Portland.

So we recommend a different microbial culture - yeast culture!

There's a good post-event discussion of the beer and cider festival over at DSS. It was a great start, and next year will be even better! In the meantime, do your part to support great Oregon Culture with a pint at your favorite establishment!

Support the class programming and make your own culture (shock) at Clockworks Cafe. The September schedule has a few October dates, but look for a new one soon.

The Library's Uniquely Oregon lecture series looks interesting. Next up, on Tuesday, October 12th, is OSU essayist and philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore on environmental ethics. Microbial diversity is an important part of the ecosystem!

Moving up to the macro level, fall brings rain, and brings to mind water and the river. Over at the Conference Center is the 4th Annual Oregon Artists Series show. Two of the paintings show the river, one a rural aerial view, with cotton-candy blue water, and fields in flood; the other, an urban scene, with slashes of electric color against the purple and grey of a rainy day. The Johanson, especially, captures our ambivalence about fall and the wet - depressing sometimes, but also mysterious with possibility. Both of them are too beautiful, really, but together they say something about the wet and water here in the Willamette Valley.

(Water Reaching for Itself, Willamette Flood #3, April Waters)

(Rain and River*, George Johanson)

And there's always Carl Hall's paintings of the Willamette River and Salem hills at Hallie Ford. These seem like authentic expressions of Oregon Culture, too.

*It might be Rain and River #5, but we can't recall...will update later.