Category Archives: What I Learned This Week
(Warning: mutilation/murder of children)
Growing up, my mother would tell me a gruesome story. When she was a teenager, it was discovered that the son of one of the neighbors killed children. He put the bodies in the woods but he kept their private parts in jars hidden in the basement.
On one hand, because my mom was telling this story, it had a little bit of weight to it. I don’t remember how old I was when she first told me, but I processed it like a fairy tale. And don’t forget – fairy tales themselves are gruesome, full evil step mothers and witches who eat children.
What was true in my elementary school mind was that the school janitor was a witch who lived in the woods. All of my classmates knew someone who knew someone who had found her house deep in the woods and been chased away.
Plus, I saw this woman with my own eyes and knew that she had long stringy hair like the witch in the Bugs Bunny cartoons. Did I ever hear her cackle? No. Did she ever try to snatch me up in the hallway? No. But I stayed arms length away from her anyway.
The witch story had to be true because everybody knew.
My mother is the only one who remembered the killer across the street. My grandparents didn’t know anything about it. My friends hadn’t heard the story from their parents. If you are quiet and pretend to be concentrating on something else, you can overhear a lot of “grown folks business.” I never heard other adults mention it at all.
Also, the story was lean on specifics – neither the killer nor the victims had names. So, I thought my mother was mistaken.
Over the years, when I saw a horror or sci-fi movie that had ominous jars with flesh/limbs in the background of a scene, I remembered the story. When the Internet came along, I tried looking up the case but with few facts I always came up empty.
Everything changed with the Serial podcast. I listened to the first season interested in the mystery like everyone else. I could envision the Baltimore City and Baltimore County locations. In one episode, a guest mentioned a website that listed all of the bodies found in Leakin Park over the years.
It was easy to find. Near the beginning where the names and ages of children. The page also mentioned the name of the murderer. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so scared. Could this be the story fragmented in my mom’s memory?
With the additional info, I found an article from the Washington African American about the capture of the killer – an 18-year-old unemployed janitor. The front page story delved into the gruesome details of case. It included his address. This was the killer across the street.
Going further, I looked him up on the Maryland Judiciary Case Search website to figure out the outcome of the trial. He was found criminally insane and locked away in a state mental facility. Every once in a while he tries to get released…
I’ve known about this for a while and tried to write about it a couple of times, but I just couldn’t. I don’t want to forget or try to bury it away, but it feels “wrong” to just throw out the names of children I don’t know. Could they have siblings—parents even—that are still alive? Whatever terror I felt about learning the truth behind the urban legend is nothing compared to the hell and horror they experienced firsthand.
Also, since this killer is alive, I don’t want him or anyone connected with him to see his name mentioned anywhere in the universe. But you can the read the article here.
This is my first birthday without Tamara, so I’ve been a little bleh. We always did something to celebrate our day. Nothing big-dinner, exchanging gifts-just happy that we made it another year.
I think about what we would have been doing now. I would have convinced her to see Get Out; we’d talk about all of the Rose types that we’ve met (and whisper about people we think are in the sunken place). And, she’d be laughing at me because-just this week-I fully got a trick that she played on me last year.
Let me explain. I tend to carry a small notepad to jot down ideas. Tamara has given me some very nice ones as gifts – metallic ones, art deco ones, etc. Last year, she got me two Dora the Explorer notebooks as a joke. At least, I thought it was just two. When I fully opened the package a few days ago, I discovered that it was actually ten notebooks with just a few sheets in each one.
I definitely needed the laugh that day.
Going into the school for the first time, Mary Jackson makes a shocking discovery…
Hampton High School was a dilapidated, musty old building.
A stunned Mary Jackson wondered: was this what she and the rest of the black children in the city had been denied all these years? This rundown, antiquated place? She had just assumed that if whites had worked so hard to deny her admission to the school, it must have been a wonderland. But this? Why not combine the resources to build a beautiful school for both black and white students? Throughout the South, municipalities maintained two parallel inefficient school systems, which gave the short end of the stick to the poorest whites as well as blacks. The cruelty of racial prejudice was so often accompanied by absurdity, a tangle of arbitrary rules and distinctions that subverted the shared interest of people who had been taught to see themselves as irreconcilably different.
–Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, p 145
(Disclaimer: Not a review of the new movie.)
I was excited to learn a few weeks ago that a horror movie called The Woods was actually a new Blair Witch movie in disguise. The first lucky folks to see it walked into a film festival expecting to check out The Woods. They didn’t realize it was a new Blair Witch the movie until it started playing. When the movie was over, all of posters in the theater had been changed to Blair Witch. This kicked off the marketing machine and a franchise that people thought had died in 2000 was back.
In prepping for the revival, everyone is talking about the first 2 movies. What I learned this week is how the success of the first Blair Witch did not trickle down to the original trio lost in the woods: Heather, Josh and Mike. A movie with a $75K budget, made $250M. They got to go on a few talk shows to promote the movie and fruit baskets.
Because the actors used their real names in the movies and those characters belong to the studio, any/all kinds of merchandising could be done without the actors getting a cut…
Heather Donahue recently wrote about the experience in The Guardian. Beyond not getting a share of the wealth, the trio got little credit for their part in making it a success:
It’s a strange thing to get no credit where credit is deeply due. By strange I mean shitty. We were supposed to be really scared, so we weren’t actors (all of us are formally trained). We improvised all dialogue from an outline, but we weren’t writers. We shot it and independently provided the impetus for many of the scenes you see in the film, but we were not directors. While this work became record-breakingly profitable, what we were was dead.
In other BW news, I didn’t realize that Blair Witch 2 – Book of Shadows started out as a decent (or at least better) film. The 1st Blair Witch was done independently and then picked up for distribution. The studio was involved with Book of Shadows from the beginning–and made a mess of it:
The whole Exploring Series done by GoodBadFlicks is pretty good.
Well, I’m off to the movies.
What I Learned This Week: Many of the guest stars in the Fire Burn, Cauldron Bubble episode of Murder, She Wrote (1989) were also featured in 80s horror films.
I used to watch this show with my grandmother on, I think, Sunday nights. She recognized many of the stars and I was proud of myself when I started figuring out who did it before Jessica did.
Watching the series now as an adult (via Netflix), I’m picking up on lots of themes that were over my head. For example, there are quite a few episodes that feature a younger man/older woman romance. Also, what’s interesting to me is how Cabot Cove changes through the series. It goes from being a quiet coastal town to a place where rich/affluent outsiders will call you out of the blue willing to pay a small fortune to buy your home.
Anywho, the series itself was just good, murderous fun. In Fire Burn, Cauldron Bubble, the ghost of a witch who had been burned at the stake has returned to Cabot Cove. Also, the author of a book about that witch is in town to drum up publicity. Hmmm, I wonder if these two events are connected…
Guest stars include:
Brad Dourif (Child’s Play)
Roddy McDowell (Fright Night / Fright Night 2)
Christopher Stone & Dee Wallace Stone (The Howling)
Russell Nype (The Stuff)
John York (Night of The Creeps)
There are probably more that I didn’t catch.
Here’s a clip showcasing Brad Dourif:
If you are trying to eat better, one giant obstacle is sorting through all of the “information” that’s about. Low fat? Low salt? High fat, low carb? High carb, low protein? Protein, no carbs? Red wine and dark chocolate are a winning combo? Meat protein over plant protein? Vegan? And it goes on and on and on…
How can this be? Thousands and thousands of scientific studies floating about–conflicting left, right and sideways. How can you separate the good studies from the bad one? How can you tell which ones are really significant?
If you have any faith in news media to help straighten it all out…nope.
What I learned this (last) week: there’s a good chance that the journalists working on the science section/segment of whatever news media you consume are regurgitating press releases and study summaries rather than actually investigating and reporting.
John Bohannon purposely did a flawed study, submitted the paper to a scientific journal and newspapers across the world just repeated his “findings” despite the red flags.
It was, in fact, a fairly typical study for the field of diet research. Which is to say: It was terrible science. The results are meaningless, and the health claims that the media blasted out to millions of people around the world are utterly unfounded.
You can read his whole confession: I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How.
Once the major news media reports on a health study, smaller outlets, bloggers, etc pick it up–everyone remixing or rewriting the same thing–with few people casting a critical eye on the actual study itself.
Fortunately, there is an organization/website dedicated to actually reviewing science news stories and science news press releases. HealthNewsReviews reviews the big news stories of the week and scores them based on 10 reasonable criteria, including whether or not the article is exaggerating a study’s conclusions. Even when a story passes on a criteria level, HNR still points out if readers should be weary.
For example, here’s the HNR review of an NPR story on headaches and migraines.
HNR doesn’t cover every news story. What it means is that readers of science news, especially in regards to diet/nutrition/medicine/health, have to take even articles from reputable news outlets with a grain of salt. Or, if you prefer, a pinch of chocolate.
Stephen King has written a sequel to The Shining called Doctor Sleep.
A middle aged Dan Torrance has to use what’s left of his Shining abilities to save a young girl from a tribe of old, vampire-like being who travel the US in RVs and wear lots of polyester.
Yes, I will be pre-ordering this 544 page hardcover novel – even though it won’t be published until September. (I may have to pre-order King’s new Hardcase Crime mystery – Joyland – too.)
I. Am. Here. For. This.
Meanwhile, Warner Bros may travel into the past and do a prequel: The Overlook Hotel
You have seen The Shining–right?
Another book I’m looking forward to is Sidney Poitier’s Montaro Caine, which comes out in May.
Random House is categorizing this novel as Fiction – Visionary & Metaphysical:
A baby is born with a coin in her hand. An orphan crafts a mysterious wooden object. The CEO of a large corporation finds himself under extraordinary pressure at work and at home. And on a remote hilltop on a Caribbean island, a medicine man seems to understand the meaning of all these events and to hold the key to the future.
I visited the Museum of Sex today and saw a pair of boots that reminded me of a certain cartoon character:
Him wears Ballet Boots. Those things look painful! No wonder he’s so angry.
MoSex was fun and educational. The exhibits covered everything from what people are really searching for on the internet (in terms of sex) and the sex lives of animals.
There was also a “street art” exhibit that included a wall of all of your favorite cartoon characters–each with a penis growing out of the forehead. Scooby, Winnie The Pooh, The Kool Aid Man (oh yeah!), etc. My favorite?
Sign up with Graze.com and for $5 a week a box featuring four healthy snacks shows up in your mailbox. You don’t pick out which snacks you will get directly; however, you get to rate the things you’ve tried and that affects how often it will show up in the future. Also, if you have dietary restrictions, etc you can check off the appropriate boxes and will get snacks within your range.
A potential draw back is that the boxes are coming from the UK and being delivered via USPS-so you aren’t given a tracking number to chart the journey of the box to your place. Also, these are snacks, so it’s basically 1 serving. This is not a draw back, but I don’t want to give the impression that it’s super-sized portions. Slip one of these suckers in your lunch bag for a midday treat.
To sign up with Graze, you need an invitation code. If you are interested, drop me a line and I’ll send a code your way.
This week, we went to see:
Zinnias – The Life of Clementine Hunter at Montclair State
Concept, Direction, Set and Light Design by Robert Wilson
Libretto and Music Composition by Bernice Johnson Reagon and Toshi Reagon
Book by Jacqueline Woodson
It was a wonderful, 90 minute opera about the life of the folk artist Clementine Hunter–and prompted me to learn more about her. Unfortunately, because she was illiterate, she didn’t write down her own story. What’s known about her life comes from recollections/interpretations of the people who knew her. (FYI – her name is pronounced Clemen-teen.]
So, you will have some articles that say Clementine Hunter didn’t start painting until after she met Francois Mignon; he saw the spark of an artist in her and suggested she paint.
Another popular story is that she had already been painting before she met Francois. She used old brushes and paints left behind by Alberta Kinsey, an artist who had been staying at the plantation, to create her own works.
Here was the shocker for me–Clementine Hunter was the victim of a forger: Mr. William Toye.
Toye and his wife were caught in the 70s and in the 90’s trying to pass off fake Hunters to unsuspecting buyers/auction houses. Both times, charges dropped. Not even a fine paid!
Naturally, they tried again in the new millennium. Working with an art dealer in New Orleans, they again began putting phoney Hunter paintings on the market. This time, the FBI decided not to let them slide. They raided the house and everything. Unfortunately, because Toye was 79 when he was finally prosecuted, there was no jail time included n the punishment. As he left the court room, Toye tried to assault photographers with his cane.
More about Clementine Hunter:
Clementine Hunter’s First Oil Painting – History and documentation of an important work of folk art.
Black Women In America Clementine Hunter – blog post
Clementine Hunter; History of Forgery by Tommy Whitehead – video (sound isn’t the best. I also find his description of her problematic. In talking about how great her talent was as an artist, he basically describes her as someone who “didn’t know what art was”. I suppose he means she wasn’t classically trained–she was self taught–but there’s just something about that phrasing…)
FBI Investigation of Clementine Hunter Forgeries by William Toye – Video of FBI agent explaining the operation to bring down the forger.