Las Vegas, NV
May 20, 2020
Garrison Keillor hits Las Vegas with a new solo show!
April 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor comes to the Rochester Civic Theatre for a night of stories, songs, poetry, and humor. Tickets $50 and up
February 19, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 2 of 2. Tickets $30+
February 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 1 of 2. Tickets $30+
by Faith Shearin
The year she is six my daughter dreams
of alligators in the closet: at home where
her uniform waits and at school
where the children hang their coats
in a room made of winter. When certain
classmates begin stealing her lunch
she imagines an alligator passing behind
her teacher’s desk, unnoticed. Sometimes
the alligator is on our street, eating cars.
Sometimes it wanders to the playground
where she is hopping from one square
to another, practicing balance. I don’t
like sending her into the dull weather
of the classroom: blackboard like
a starless sky. Alligators in the fountain
where she stoops to drink her water.
Alligators in the desks with freshly
sharpened pencils. Alligators leading
the children through the unlit hallways,
tails swishing like skirts.
“Alligators” by Faith Shearin from Moving the Piano. Stephen F. Austin University Press © 2011. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
It’s the birthday of poet, journalist, and diplomat Rubén Darío (books by this author), born in Metapa, Nicaragua (1867). He was incredibly influential to later generations of Spanish-language writers, and he’s a household name all over Latin America. His poems are complex and hard to translate into English, because he used the rhythm and structure of French poetry to write poems in Spanish. For this reason he is almost unknown in English-speaking countries.
The X-ray machine was first exhibited on this date in 1896. Heinrich Joseph Hoffmans, a Dutch headmaster and physicist, built the machine out of spare parts from his science classroom: iron rods, a glass plate, a battery, electric wire, and a glass vacuum bulb.
The X-ray images Hoffmans took in 1896 were pretty impressive, but they came at a cost. Although Hoffmans’ machine didn’t produce enough radiation to be dangerous, later machines were even more powerful. Exposure time was about 90 minutes, and the total dose of radiation was 1,500 times greater than what is used today. Subjects and experimenters suffered from radiation burns, eye problems, hair loss, and cancer. Many people ended up having to amputate the hands that had been X-rayed.
Hoffmans’ original machine was abandoned on a shelf in a warehouse in Maastricht until a documentary film crew discovered it in 2010. Dr. Gerrit Kemerink tested Hoffmans’ machine on the hand of a cadaver, and it still worked after 115 years.
It’s the birthday of Thomas Watson, born in Salem, Massachusetts (1854). He was the assistant to Alexander Graham Bell, and helped him invent the telephone, although he never demanded credit. He was on the receiving end of the first telephone call: Bell said, “Watson, come here. I want to see you.”
Bell was a professor at Boston University, and he was looking for help building a new kind of telegraph. He hired the 20-year-old Watson from a machine shop in Boston. The two men set up a secret lab in a Salem cellar to work on their new invention. Watson fine-tuned the device and invented the ringer, the ability to “hang up” the phone when it wasn’t being used, and some early switchboards.
He worked with Bell for seven years, and then resigned, taking his royalty money and looking for a new adventure. He opened his own machine shop, building engines for small ships. By 1901, he was running the biggest shipyard in the country. When the company ousted him, he went to work in mining, evaluating ore deposits, and he discovered a new passion: the stage. He joined a Shakespeare company, starting with bit parts and working his way up to bigger roles.
He came full circle in 1915, when he and Bell were invited to place the first transcontinental telephone call from New York to San Francisco.
It’s the birthday of a man who changed the face of the American West: Joseph Glidden, born in Charlestown, New Hampshire (1813). He was a farmer, and when he settled in DeKalb, Illinois, he realized that the stone and wood fences of his native Northeast weren’t practical out on the Great Plains. There weren’t too many trees to provide rails so building materials had to be shipped out West, and that was expensive. People needed a cheaper way to keep livestock out of their crops.
Wire fencing was much cheaper to produce and transport, only plain wire was no good, because cattle would just push up against the fence and flatten it. So Glidden used an old coffee mill to bend little pieces of wire into barbs. Then he stuck the barbs in between two long strands of straight wire that had been twisted together, locking them in place. Glidden wasn’t the only person with this idea, but he perfected it, and he also invented a machine to make manufacturing the wire quicker and easier. He patented his barbed wire method in 1874, and spent the next three years in court, battling over whether he had in fact invented it. He won, and formed the Barb Fence Company. To prove that his wire worked, Glidden set up the “Frying Pan Ranch” near Amarillo, Texas. He fenced the ranch and brought in 12,000 cattle, which he branded. When Texans saw that none of Glidden’s cattle strayed from the ranch, they were sold on this cheap new invention. Barbed wire made Glidden a millionaire; he was one of the richest men in America by the time he died in 1906.
The coming of barbed-wire fencing completely changed life in the West. Homesteaders began fencing in their property, and that marked the end of free-ranging herds, and the end of massive cattle drives, and the end of the cowboy. The wire sparked range wars between big ranchers who wanted to protect their land and water claims, and the smaller-scale cattlemen and “free rangers,” who would cut the fences wherever they found them. Nomadic tribes of Native Americans could no longer travel freely across the Great Plains.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®