Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Frankfort, KY for a performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older
Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Maryville, TN for a performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older
Fort Lauderdale, FL
Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Fort Lauderdale, FL for a performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older
Palm Desert, CA
Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Palm Desert, CA for a performance of holiday songs, humor and The News from Lake Wobegon.
Town Hall, New York City
A Prairie Home Companion American Revival comes to Town Hall in New York City with Christine DiGiallonardo, Heather Masse, Rob Fisher and the Demitasse Orchestra, Rich Dworsky, Walter Bobbie, Sue Scott, Fred Newman and Tim Russell.
Marriage is a Bungee Jump
by Walter McDonald
Marriage is a bungee jump off some box canyon
in Colorado, concession manned by a minion
from the fifties high on weed, beard he hadn’t brushed
since high school. The ropes felt new enough
and he swore he measured them, the fall to the rocks
a lovers’ leap eighty stories long.
He made us sign a waiver and pay in cash.
Folding the bills away, he slouched back to the shack
and high-fived a friend who passed the bottle back—
Done it again, like cupid. We heard a match strike,
the sizzle of hemp. We checked the ropes, the stiff knots
tied by someone who flunked that lesson in scouts.
We’d checked the charts, the geology of cliffs
and canyons, but no one knows which fibers split,
which granite ledges crack. On the edge of hope
for nothing we’d ever done, we tugged at the ropes,
both ropes, blessing the stretch and strain
with our bodies, a long time falling to the pain
and certainly of stop. Hand in hand we stepped up
wavering to the ledge, hearing the rush
of a river we leaped to, a far-off
cawing crow, the primitive breeze of the fall,
and squeezed, clinging to each other’s vows
that only death could separate us now.
Walt McDonald, “Marriage is a Bungee Jump” from Blessings the Body Gave. © 1998 Walt McDonald published by Ohio State University Press. (buy now)
Today marks the anniversary of the first recorded observance by Western Colonists of a meteor shower in North America. Andrew Ellicott Douglass was an American astronomer who was on a ship off the Florida Keys on this date in 1799. He wrote that the “whole heaven appeared as if illuminated with skyrockets, flying in an infinity of directions, and I was in constant expectation of some of them falling on the vessel. They continued until put out by the light of the sun after day break.”
What Douglass described was the Leonids meteor shower which occurs every November. The shower gets its name from the fact that it seems to originate in the constellation Leo and it’s the result of debris from a comet known as Tempel-Tuttle. When the comet’s orbit takes it back to that part of the solar system — roughly every 33 years — the Leonids are especially spectacular.
(We apologize to the Native American people for our original post making claim that this was the first recorded observance when indeed it was the first recorded observance by Western Colonist).
It’s the birthday of the founder of Reader’s Digest, DeWitt Wallace, born in St. Paul, Minnesota (1889). His father was a professor of Greek and Old English at Macalester College but Wallace rebelled against his father’s example and fell in love with business. As a young man he was always trying to make a buck, raising chickens, selling vegetables from his garden, and operating an electrical repair service.
After college he worked for a publishing house that specialized in agricultural textbooks. While working there he learned that the federal government had all kinds of free informational pamphlets that were available to farmers but most farmers didn’t even know these pamphlets existed. So he decided to publish and sell a condensed collection of the free pamphlets to farmers called Getting the Most Out of Farming. It was a huge success and Wallace decided that making information easily available was the secret to the publishing industry.
He was still trying to figure out what to do next when World War I broke out and he enlisted in the Army. He was seriously wounded in 1918. During his recovery he read hundreds of magazines and he suddenly realized that a pocket-sized magazine full of condensed general-interest articles from other magazines could be a big hit. He compiled a sample issue of the first Reader’s Digest. The first issue came out in February 1922. People didn’t think it would last, because it was just a reprint journal, but Wallace had a talent for finding those stories that appealed to the widest number of people. By the end of the decade Reader’s Digest went on to become the most successful magazine of all time with 39 editions in 15 languages and a total circulation of almost 30 million magazines a month.
It was on this day 60 years ago that Ellis Island formally closed its doors after processing more than 12 million immigrants to the United States in its more than a half century of service.
Before 1890, when President Harrison designated it the first federal immigration center, the states had previously managed immigration themselves. New York’s Castle Garden station had single-handedly processed more than 8 million newcomers in the previous 40 years. As conditions in southern and eastern Europe worsened, and demand for religious asylum increased, officials prepared for what would be soon be the greatest human migration in the history of the world, deciding to greet the “huddled masses” before they ever hit shore.
On January 1, 1894, a 15-year-old Irish girl named Annie Moore became the first person to be ushered through the gates at Ellis Island. The original Great Hall was built of southern yellow pine and served well until a fire in 1897 burned it to the ground along with all the country’s immigration records dating back to 1855. The government rebuilt quickly with fireproof concrete this time. First- and second-class passengers arriving in the U.S. were waved pass the island and given just a brief inspection on board to check for obvious disease. After docking in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty the poorer third-class and steerage passengers were ferried to the island by barge where they underwent more thorough interviews. Officials observed the immigrants as they climbed the staircase into the main hall and marked a simple chalk code on the coats of those they suspected to be sickly. If you were in good health, and your story checked out, processing might only take about five hours. Only 2 percent of all immigrants that passed through the gates were turned away, often for infectious disease.
The facilities expanded constantly to meet the growing throngs of people and engineers steadily increased the footprint of the island by dumping ship’s ballast and piling up landfill from construction of the first subway lines. The island was eventually expanded tenfold to roughly 30 acres. In the year 1907 alone more than a million people passed through the center. With the dawn of World War I immigration from Europe began to slow. The Red Scare and a growing backlash against foreigners at home soon brought it to a crawl. After 1924 laws were passed allowing immigrants to be processed at foreign embassies and Ellis Island was made into a detention center for suspected enemies.
On this day in 1954 the last detainee was released and the island was formally decommissioned. Abandoned for decades, in 1984 the island began the largest restoration undertaking in U.S. history, creating an Immigration Museum that has now drawn more than 30 million visitors. Today almost 40 percent of Americans can trace their ancestry through the gates of Ellis Island.
It’s the birthday of feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, born in Johnstown, New York (1815). When her brother died she was allowed to take his place in the Johnstown Academy; previously she hadn’t been admitted. She won honors there, but even so no college would take her. She studied law in her father’s office but wasn’t allowed to take the bar exam or practice. In 1848 the first women’s rights convention in America was held near her home in Seneca Falls, New York. With Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage she compiled the first three volumes of The History of Woman Suffrage.
Stanton said, “The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.”
It’s the birthday of journalist and short-story writer Tracy Kidder (books by this author), born in New York City (1945), who started out as a fiction writer but decided early on that he preferred writing about real people. In the late 1970s he spent eight months living in the basement of Data General Corporation, watching the engineers at work on a new microcomputer. He described the engineers as “knights errant, clad in blue jeans and open collars, seeking with awesome intensity the grail of technological achievement. … They believe that what they do is elegant and important, but they have the feeling that no one else understands or cares.” Kidder’s book The Soul of a New Machine was one of the first nontechnical books about the computer industry and it won the Pulitzer Prize when it came out in 1981.
Kidder went on to write a series of books about apparently ordinary topics. For his book House (1985) he wrote about the construction of a single house in Amherst, Massachusetts, because, he said, “[Building] is the quintessential act of civilization.” To write his book Among Schoolchildren (1989) he sat in a single fifth-grade classroom in an impoverished public school for an entire school year.
“If you have never spent whole afternoons with burning ears and rumpled hair, forgetting the world around you over a book, forgetting cold and hunger —
“If you have never read secretly under the bedclothes with a flashlight, because your father or mother or some other well-meaning person has switched off the lamp on the plausible ground that it was time to sleep because you had to get up so early —
“If you have never wept bitter tears because a wonderful story has come to an end and you must take your leave of the characters with whom you have shared so many adventures, whom you have loved and admired, for whom you have hoped and feared, and without whose company life seems empty and meaningless —
“If such things have not been part of your own experience, you probably won’t understand what Bastian did next.”
He said: “Jean was great, just a free-spirited musician. She’s got to be the root. It’s just … the way she was. Everybody liked her. She was outgoing — but there was always something about her that you didn’t quite have a grip on. She sang like a bird and played piano. She would gather people around, sing at the drop of a hat, always putting on shows for the miners and stuff. She was a working musician. I saw her and heard her play the piano, and she was great.”
His uncle was also a fine musician who played the ukulele, so that was the instrument that Young learned on and for many years he played only the ukulele, but finally he picked up a guitar. Young dropped out of high school, played in some rock bands, and then, when he turned 21 and could no longer play in the teen clubs, he started writing and singing folk music. His albums include After the Gold Rush (1970), Harvest (1972), Comes a Time (1978), Freedom (1989), Prairie Wind (2005), Earth (2016), and most recently, Carnegie Hall 1970 (October 2021).
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®