Could It Actually Be Tulsa Time?

Robert Reid

You know the drill. Mid-sized city revives a long-dormant warehouse district with art galleries, a baseball park, hipster bars, food trucks, even a Spaghetti Warehouse. Locals love it, then brace for a tourism boom that doesn’t really come.

But Tulsa’s reviving Brady District is different. It has Woody Guthrie.

In truth, this city in the Oklahoma hills where I grew up hasn’t offered much outside appeal since the oil wells dried up or Route 66 became a toll road. And for decades, the Brady, across the tracks from downtown, was the quietest, darkest place in a town better known for its TV evangelist Oral Roberts. In fact, the Brady might have been left for good if not for a couple classic music venues, including Cain’s Ballroom, where Bob Wills put swing into country music in the ’30s.

Now the once-abandoned red-brick townhouses are home to glass-blowing schools, violin shops, falafel stands, cafes, outdoor films and yoga classes, and even the Hanson brothers’ studio 3CG. Nora Guthrie, the frizzy haired daughter of the legendary folk hero, calls this area the perfect place for the new Woody Guthrie Center. “It’s like SoHo in 1969 to 1971,” she says of her former New York neighborhood. “There’s this budding creativity, not caring about a specific idea, just a notion to do something.”

In other words, Woody would approve.And that’s nice considering his home state long didn’t approve of him. Born in 1912 in Okemah (a 70-minute drive southwest), Woody wrote roughly 3000 songs before succumbing to Huntington’s Disease at 55 in 1967. Soon afterwards, Okemah’s little library refused the family’s offers to house a donation of Woody’s items due to the singer’s perceived “commie” leanings. (Never mind that, at the time of Woody’s birth in 1912, one in five Okies voted socialist.)

Lucky for Tulsa, it turns out. Across from Guthrie Green, the center is part museum, part archives. Its exhibits tell the tale of some of the rambler’s homes, including the Texas panhandle, Los Angeles and his final home New York City.

In an hour or two, you can peek at Bob Dylan’s hand-written scrawl of his 1961 “Song to Woody” or Woody’s fiddle marked with his well-known WWII-era slogan (“this machine kills fascists”), then see videos on the Dust Bowl, which prompted the westward Okie migration that Woody sung about on his first album “The Dust Bowl Ballads” (1940).

The heart of the center, philosophically and spatially, is devoted to “This Land is Your Land,” written near Times Square in 1943 as a sort of rebuttal to a song Woody loathed, “God Bless America.” Videos show many of the renditions of the song, including a funny German version and a bouncy Glen Campbell singing along in the ’60s in the most fanciful of green kerchiefs.

Nearby are plenty of ways to expand a day. At Valkyrie, a roomy lounge that was once used as a location in the film Rumblefish, young Tulsa entrepreneurs sip cocktails and local microbrews and debate local questions like whether Hanson are good tippers. One offered me some Oklahoma-shaped dog biscuits she makes from beer. A couple doors down, the Tavern on Brady plays up its Prohibition-era incarnation in look, but goes all-out mod in cuisine. I went with a surprisingly good banh mi salad, a breadless take on the Vietnamese sandwich with a faithful dousing of fish sauce.

If you go, look to stay at The Mayo, a ’20s art deco hotel that reopened a few years ago, and pick up Benjamin Lytal’s excellent new novel, “A Map of Tulsa,” which plays out downtown and the Brady District in the ’90s. If you write, or like those who do, spend an early Friday evening at the classic Tulsa Press Club downtown, where Tulsa World beat reporters and the like assemble to drink and talk the written word.

Just like the old days.

Robert Reid (www.reidontravel.com) grew up in Tulsa. His first time to the Brady was in the summer of ’83, when Alfie Mizer needed company to see some band from Ireland called U2. Though just as moved as Alfie, Robert didn’t rip apart his matching Ozzy concert shirt during “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”

Flight To Comet Sold Out But There Are Other Options

comet

Astronomers are calling 2013 “the year of the comet” as the first of two comets set to swing by Earth comes within view of the naked eye. Some avid sky watchers may be viewing with binoculars. Others may get an even closer view, thanks to a German travel agency.

On March 16, Eclipse Travel of Bonn, Germany, will have Air Berlin’s flight 1000 full of stargazers, giving them two hours closer to the comet than anyone else on the planet.

The company will fill just 88 of the 144 seats on board the Boeing 737-700, allowing everyone to have a window view at an average ticket price of $500 per person, reports TravelMole.

Wish you had booked a seat? Is astronomy your passion? You have options.

Closer to home, Spears Travel of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has a Sky & Telescope’s Iceland Aurora Adventure set for April 7. Currently, the event is also sold out, but they are accepting names for a waiting list. The seven-night astronomy adventure to view the northern lights in Iceland sold for $2995 per person.Eclipse Tours of Houston, Texas, has more options, planning trips through 2015. Providing guided expeditions of astronomical events throughout the world, Eclipse Tours is the home of Ring of Fire Expeditions (ROFE), the longest consecutive astronomical tour organization in the United States.

This year, Eclipse will visit the island of Tarawa, Kiribati, for its 41st Annular Solar Eclipse Tour in May and space is still available. Another tour heads to Guadalcanal in the South Pacific’s Solomon Islands for a post-eclipse tour.

Even more exotic, Melitatrips, a Travel + Leisure world’s best-award winner, takes the road less traveled for stargazing excursions from Argentina to Zimbabwe. This year, Melitatrips has a Kenya Total Solar Eclipse Safari promising unrivaled views “from the place where man was born,” according to its website. An English Astronomers Tour returns to where the greatest scientific researchers once lived and worked, with stops in London and surrounding towns of Bath, Cambridge and Oxford, with a special visit to Greenwich Observatory and the Maritime Museum.

Sound interesting but not in the budget?

Northern hemisphere stargazers who look to the west as the sun sets should note that just to the left of the horizon they should be able to see the comet Pan-STARRS over the next few days.

“Comets visible to the naked eye are a rare delicacy in the celestial smorgasbord of objects in the nighttime sky,” says NASA on its Asteroid and Comet watch page that offers viewing tips and more information about asteroids and other near-Earth objects.

Another option? Google Sky.



[Photo credit – Flickr user ϟStormLoverSwin93ϟ]

The Kensington Runestone and other Viking mysteries in America

When I was in the fifth grade, my teacher asked me what I thought was an easy question.

“Who discovered America?”

“The Indians!” I replied.

My teacher frowned at me and asked, “No, what EUROPEAN discovered America?”

“Oh, Leif Erikson. He was a Viking.”

Obviously annoyed, my teacher told me, “No! COLUMBUS discovered America.”

“But the Vikings came here in the year 1000. Columbus didn’t arrive until 1492.”

“COLUMBUS DISCOVERED AMERICA!!!”

I learned two important lessons that day: (1) self-appointed experts are often wrong, and (2) showing you know more than an authority figure is a good way to get into trouble.

Growing up, I was always fascinated with the possibility that ancient civilizations in the “New” and “Old” Worlds had contact with one another. Ocean currents and trade winds make it fairly easy to cross the Atlantic. Surviving the voyage is another matter. Certainly, boats from one side of the ocean would occasionally get blown off course and end up on the other. Their crews would probably be dead by then and their arrival on a foreign shore would have had little effect on the civilizations that discovered their remains.

But what about ancient explorers? There was no shortage of civilizations with ocean-going capability: the Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians, Chinese, etc. Did they visit America? Did Native Americans visit Asia, Europe, and Africa?Sadly, other than the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, there is no hard proof for Pre-columbian contact. Though, that hasn’t stopped people from looking. A range of researchers, including professional archaeologists, dedicated amateurs and outright quacks, have searched for evidence that other contacts occurred.

The evidence looks a bit thin. There are plenty of supposedly “Old World” artifacts in North and South America. Some are laughably bad fakes. Others are misinterpreted Native American artifacts or even natural objects. One artifact, though, has kept scholars arguing for more than a century.

Kensington Runestone, courtesy George T. FlomThe Kensington Runestone was supposedly discovered in 1898 in Minnesota by Swedish-American farmer Olof Ohman. This rectangular stone slab is covered on two sides by Runic writing, the script of the Vikings. The translation goes:

“Eight Götalanders and 22 Northmen on (this?) acquisition journey from Vinland far to the west. We had a camp by two (shelters?) one day’s journey north from this stone. We were fishing one day. After we came home, found 10 men red from blood and dead. Ave Maria save from evil. There are 10 men by the inland sea to look after our ships fourteen days journey from this peninsula (or island). Year 1362″

Vinland is the Viking name for the area they explored in North America. Götaland is a region of Sweden. It wouldn’t be strange for Vikings to write “Ave Maria” in 1362 because they had converted to Christianity by then. Most supporters of the stone believe the inscription is proof that Vikings ventured inland from their coastal settlements.

Runic experts say it’s a modern fake, pointing out that the language is simply 19th century Swedish written in an ancient script. For example, the text lacks the case endings and plural forms that were common in the Middle Ages but had died out in modern Swedish. Runic alphabets were widely published in the 19th century and it was later reported that Ohman had one in his possession. Archaeologists also point out that the inscription looks too fresh to be more than 600 years old.

There has been much nit-picking back and forth about specific Runic letters, weathering on stone, styles of 14th century Swedish, etc. The vast majority of linguists and archaeologists believe it’s fake, while the locals in the area where it was found support it enough to have opened the Runestone Museum and Kensington Runestone Park. This being an area with a large Scandinavian-American population, the idea that Vikings settled here has obvious appeal.

Another intriguing find is the Maine penny. Minted in Norway between A.D. 1065 and 1080, this small silver coin was discovered at a prehistoric Native American village in Penobscot Bay, Maine. It’s now housed in the Maine State Museum. Whether the Vikings visited this site is debatable. The penny may have made its way down the coast as a trade item.

There are other purported runestones in the United States. Two of them, the AVM Runestone and the Elbow Lake Runestone, were later admitted to be fakes by their creators. The Heavener Runestone, found in Oklahoma, is often purported to be genuine in alternative publications, but is written in an old style of Runic that was no longer used by the time the Vikings were voyaging west to Greenland and North America. Two smaller stones with fragmentary inscriptions were found in the same area. The Poteau Runestone, also from Oklahoma, is written in a mix of two Runic alphabets and is even less convincing. Yet another Oklahoma find, the Shawnee Runestone, has an inscription that looks too fresh to be medieval.

The Heavener Runestone State Park in Oklahoma has a small museum dedicated to these curious objects.

Shawnee Runestone

Did the Vikings explore the interior of North America? Take a road trip to Minnesota and Oklahoma and decide for yourself, basing your conclusion on facts and evidence rather than personal bias. And don’t let your fifth-grade teacher browbeat you into her way of thinking. Columbus did NOT discover America!

Photo of Kensington Runestone courtesy George T. Flom. Photo of Shawnee Runestone courtesy Heironymous Rowe.

Horse slaughter: the meat of the matter now that Congress has lifted controversial ban

horse meatIf you’re of a certain age, you might recall that until the 1940’s, horse was eaten in the United States–most notably during World War II, when beef prices rose and supply dwindled. By the eighties, dining on Mr. Ed definitely wasn’t culturally acceptable, even if purchased for “pet food,” and in 1998, California Proposition 6 outlawed horse meat and slaughter for human consumption.

Why, when so much of the world–including much of the EU, Central Asia, Polynesia, Latin America, and Japan–routinely dines upon this delicious, lean, low cholesterol, abundant meat, do we shun it? Blame anthropomorphism and our fervent equestrian culture. Like dogs, cats, guinea pig, alpaca, and other cute, furry creatures consumed with gusto by other ethnicities, Americans just aren’t down with eating what we consider pets.

According to The Chicago Tribune, however, it’s likely that at least one national horse abattoir (slaughterhouse) will be opening soon, most likely in the Midwest. As stated in the story, “Congress lifted the ban in a spending bill President Barack Obama signed into law Nov. 18 to keep the government afloat until mid-December.”

Before you get on your high horse (sorry) over this seemingly inhumane turn of events, let’s examine why the ban was passed in the first place, and why reversing it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I should also state that I grew up on a horse ranch, and to me, meat is meat. My issues regarding its consumption have and always will lie with humane treatment of said animals during their life up until what should be a quick, merciful death. Is there such a thing as a humane death? Let’s just say that some methods of livestock slaughter are less traumatic than others. But that’s a separate issue, and not the point of this piece.

Despite our cultural aversion to eating horse, the U.S. still slaughtered old, sick,and injured animals, as well as retired racehorses. Even young healthy animals were sent to slaughter for a variety of reasons including overbreeding, profit, or abandonment. Even wild horses and burros were rounded up for slaughter as part of culling programs; it’s still necessary to thin herds to keep them sustainable, as well as protect their habitat from overgrazing and erosion; starvation and predation are cruel deaths. Fortunately, these animals are now protected species and legally can’t be sent to slaughter, so they’re put up for adoption. The downside? What happens to aging and unsound animals, now that rescues and sanctuaries are at capacity and struggling for funding?

The U.S. exported horse meat to countries that do consume it, although it was also sold domestically to feed zoo animals. In 2007, the last horse slaughterhouse in the U.S., in DeKalb, Illinois, was shut down by court order, and that was that until the ban was lifted last month.

Photo credit: Flicker user Atli Harðarson]

horse meatIs this a good thing? The result of abattoir closures means that there’s no outlet–-humane or otherwise–-for horses that can no longer be used for work or pleasure. Few people can afford to keep horses as pets due to age, illness, or injury, and as previously stated, most horse rescues are at capacity or struggling to find funding. The recession has only increased this problem.

The Tribune cites a federal report from June, 2011, that noted local animal welfare organizations reported a spike in investigations for horse neglect and abandonment since 2007. In Colorado, for example, data showed that investigations for horse neglect and abuse increased more than 60 percent — from 975 in 2005 to almost 1,600 in 2009. Explains Cheri White Owl, founder of the Oklahoma nonprofit Horse Feathers Equine Rescue, “People [are] deciding to pay their mortgage or keep their horse.”

Adds Sue Wallis, a Wyoming state lawmaker and vice president of the non-profit, pro-slaughter organization United Horsemen, “Ranchers used to be able to sell horses that were too old or unfit for work to slaughterhouses but now they have to ship them to butchers in Canada and Mexico [the latter of which has even more inhumane handling and shipping practices], where they fetch less than half the price.”

The Tribune reports that the U.S. Government Accountability Office also determined that about 138,000 horses were shipped to Canada and Mexico for slaughter in 2010: nearly the same number that were killed in the U.S. before the ban took effect in 2007.

I’m not disputing the lack of humanity previously displayed by U.S. livestock auctions and transport companies taking horses to slaughter (current treatment of other livestock: also fodder for another story). Fortunately, the 1996 federal Farm Bill mandated more humane conditions. Unfortunately, it didn’t go into effect until 2001. And the down side of reinstating horse abattoirs here, according to the Tribune, is that the Obama’s ban-reversal won’t “allocate any new money to pay for horse meat inspections, which opponents claim could cost taxpayers $3 million to $5 million a year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture would have to find the money in its existing budget, which is expected to see more cuts this year as Congress and the White House aim to trim federal spending.”
horse meat
Animal welfare aside, the loss of horse abattoirs is a divisive issue. I’m of the opinion that it’s impractical and wasteful to not have an outlet for surplus animals. This, of course, assuming the transport and facilities abide by regulations. I’m not a supporter of industrial livestock production and thus large abattoirs, which have been documented to cause undue stress to animals. Despite that issue, isn’t it ultimately more kind to put an end to their suffering, and make good use of the meat?

Proponents of horse slaughter frequently make the comparison to the millions of dogs and cats that are euthanized yearly in the U.S., because their owners were too irresponsible to spay or neuter. The cremation of these poor creatures is more than just a senseless loss of life: it’s wasteful.

While I’m sympathetic to recession-impacted horse owners, keeping a horse isn’t cheap no matter what your financial situation. When you buy, adopt, or take in any “pet,” you’re responsible for its welfare. If you can’t commit to providing for that animal for the duration of its life (barring certain illness/injury situations), have the decency to do the necessary research and surrender it to a reputable animal rescue or loving home.

If you’re not capable of that, a.) please don’t ever have children, and b.) never own a pet. It’s a living creature, not a toy, and I have absolutely no tolerance for irresponsible pet owners. There are valid arguments on both sides of the horse slaughter debate, but at the end of the day, the most important thing is the humane treatment of the animals in question.

[Photo credits: cheval, Flicker user noodlepie; sashimi, Flickr user rc!]

Oklahoma’s largest Civil War battlefield may become National Park

Civil War, Honey Springs
The Honey Springs Battlefield Park in Oklahoma may become a new addition to the National Park Service, the Tulsa World reports.

The U.S. Department of the Interior said in a report that there’s “potential action” for “support designation of Honey Springs as a National Battlefield Park.” Now Oklahoma history buffs are scratching their heads over just what that means. The Tulsa World couldn’t get an answer. Hopefully that government-speak translates into real action. The Battle of Honey Springs was the largest Civil War battle in Oklahoma, which was the Indian Territory back then. The battle was notable in that white soldiers were a minority on both sides.

On July 17, 1863, a Confederate army was gathering at Honey Springs in order to attack the Union position at Fort Gibson. About four or five thousand rebels had assembled, mostly Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw. More reinforcements were coming, so the Union troops at Fort Gibson, which only numbered 2,800, decided to attack before it was too late. The Union side was mostly black and Indian troops, some from the same tribes as the rebels.

After a night march, the Union army attacked the Confederate position in a pouring rain. The rain ruined much of the rebel gunpowder, and this helped decide the battle. Nonetheless there was enough powder left for the rebels to put up a hard resistance. After a few hours they were forced to retreat, having to burn part of their wagon train to keep it out of Union hands.

The Confederates lost 150 men killed, 400 wounded, and 77 taken prisoner. The Union lost only 17 killed and 60 wounded. The rebels lost control of the Indian Territory north of the Arkansas River. This helped open up Arkansas for invasion and led to a Union army capturing Little Rock that September.

Prominent in the fight on the Union side was the First Kansas Colored Volunteers, a black unit of mostly escaped slaves that was the first American black regiment to see combat when they defeated a larger force of rebel guerrillas at the Battle of Island Mound in Missouri on October 29, 1862. The victory made headlines across the country and helped dispel a widespread belief that black soldiers wouldn’t fight.

The First Kansas Colored Volunteers fought in several engagements in Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas yet they aren’t very well known. The justly famous 54th Massachusetts has inspired books, a monument, a movie, even a rap video, but the First Kansas remains largely forgotten. I’ve been sending a book proposal on the regiment around to publishers for a few years now, and despite being an established Civil War author I keep getting told there’s an “insufficient market” for the subject. Apparently the American public can only deal with one group of black heroes at a time.

Here’s hoping the Honey Springs battlefield will become a National Park and the First Kansas will get some of the recognition they deserve. Thanks to Jane Johansson over at the The Trans-Mississippian blog for bringing this to my attention. Jane blogs about all aspects of the Civil War west of the Mississippi and is worth reading.

Photo courtesy farmalldanzil via flickr.