Saturday, February 1, 2020

Examining the Tunguska Event via newspaper headlines

In late June 1908, the so-called Tunguska Event was a tremendous explosion in central Russia that flattened tens of millions of trees and devastated the landscape for more than 800 square miles. The best explanation offered by modern science is that an incoming meteor, about 130 feet wide, exploded a few miles above the region (instead of making impact with Earth). The extreme remoteness of the region meant that the estimated number of human casualties was low. But that remoteness also meant that scientists were unable to examine the affected area until the late 1920s, after the country had become the Soviet Union.

Because the Soviets had the most opportunities to study the area, one of the best English-language non-fiction books about the explosion is by a former Soviet scientist, Vladimir Rubtsov. It's a 2008 book titled The Tunguska Mystery, and it's the one I'd recommend, as a layperson, if you want to learn a little more about Tunguska.

Beyond that, I thought it would be interesting to dive into and clip some headlines and passages related to how Western media wrote about Tunguska after it become more common knowledge in the 1920s and beyond.

This first one, from the December 14, 1928, edition of the Battle Creek (Michigan) Enquirer, concerns Leonid Kulik's attempts to reach the Tunguska site.

Up next is a clipping from the January 11, 1929, Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

And then skipping ahead to our local paper, The Gazette and Daily of York, Pennsylvania, on April 6, 1939.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the topic of Tunguska was revived to infuse even more terror into the Cold War. Some headlines:

  • Astronomers Fear Falling Meteor Could Be Trigger for Missile War (Los Angeles Times, March 30, 1958)
  • Universe Believed Bombarded By Masses MIghtier Than H-Bombs (Alamogordo Daily News, November 22, 1959)
  • Suggests Meteor Explosion Might Trigger Nuclear War (Des Moines Tribune, October 12, 1960)
  • Meteor Might Spark Atom War — As Reds Well Know (Sunday Mail Gazette, Charleston, West Virginia, October 23, 1960)

And then things got weirder, as per this wire story in the September 4, 1963, edition of The Times in Shreveport, Louisiana.

And there was this headline in the August 28, 1968, edition of the New Castle (Pennsylvania) News: "Comet, cosmic dust cloud, anti-matter, or spaceship? Russian scientists speculate on the causes of the Tungussky phenomenon." Methinks they had been watching a little too much Star Trek.

A 1976 book by John Baxter, The Fire Came By: The Riddle Of The Great Siberian Explosion, upped the ante on spaceships, black holes and other trippy theories that surely made Erich von Däniken proud. A June 1976 headline about Baxter's book in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette states: "Spaceship Linked to 1908 Mystery."

So many shenanigans. And then Ghostbusters hit theaters in 1984 with its obscure throwaway line to Tunguska being an "interdimensional cross rip," whatever that is. In his note at the front of The Tunguska Mystery, Rubtsov thankfully takes a much more level-headed approach to the topic:
"Theories that attempt to explain what happened at Tunguska in 1908 must use all the facts established by hundreds of investigators (scientists and their assistants) on numerous expeditions since the 1920s. Some theories have come close to doing so, although none has fully satisfied the available data, much of which have only been recorded in Russian. Readers will soon see that this subject is much more complex than was once thought, and that the interdisciplinary approach seems to offer the only way of knowing what actually hit Earth with such force in 1908."

From the readers: Galactitags, Vincent Price and Paul Crockett

It's time for another roundup of the comments and quips that y'all send along about Papergreat and its bizarrely wide-ranging posts. I'm so grateful to continue receiving all of these!

A special shout out to Annette, who emailed this note in early January: "It was supposed to be a productive morning but, while researching, I stumbled upon Papergreat. I don't regret the thoroughly enjoyable time spent exploring your blog site. I must get some work done now, but I’ll be back."

"Papergreat: Contributing to The Decline of Workplace Productivity Since 2010." That seems like a good slogan, right?

I also received a comment from Richard, who was very concerned a broken link and wrote: "I’m writing because you cite Yahoo's Babelfish in this post on Papergreat — but the website has been offline for 5+ years! At, we've published a 'long read' on the rise and fall of Yahoo's Babel Fish, which I thought make an 'easy fix' to send your readers somewhere more useful than the random redirect to the Yahoo homepage. It covers everything from the birth of the first online translator (and the geek-friendly name!) through to its demise at the hands of Google Translate. You'll find the article here: ... Would you consider citing our link instead of the existing broken link, please? I think this article would keep your content current and Papergreat readers happy."

Request granted! I have updated 2011's "The dragon went always more quickly."

And now, the rest of the comments...

Galactitags: The must-have accessory in the event of alien abduction: Ruth M. writes: "I worked with Jack [Brisben] at his mundane daily job and well remember when he launched the tags. I was just digging through a box of odds and ends and found my original set that I purchased from that first batch and thought I'd do a web search. Imagine my surprise to find that they're still selling! Not such a silly idea after all."

Matchbook: Hartwig's The Gobbler Supper Club & Gobbler Motel: Wendyvee of the awesome-sauce writes: "The Scanner Can't Handle Salmon should be the the TITLE of the book." (You'll have to read the post to get the joke. But of course you'll want to read the post anyway, right?)

Mystery RPPC: Man in bowler hat and tired girl: Anonymous writes: "Maybe the girl was a tomboy like me at her age and was resentfully enduring the stuffy dress, uncomfortable boots and frilly hair bow — and the sun in her eyes — when she'd rather have been unfettered and free, off playing in the creek or climbing a tree. (Rhyme unintentional, but I like it.) Note her clenched right hand."

Vincent Price is the Nexus of All Things: Margaret Leona Garnto writes: "I have been a fan of Vincent Price for many years since the early 1970s, and I have admired his work on television and in the movies that I have seen on TV. He was, and always will be, my favorite actor."

Menus and recipes shared by Mrs. Anna B. Scott in 1936: Unknown writes: "Any suggestion as to where I can get a copy of Mrs. Scott's Inquirer supplement?"

Other than eBay and your Great Aunt Ethel's hall closet? No.

Christmas postcard #6: Good time for a yule log: Wendyvee writes: "My favorite vintage color combination. Unsure about Annie [being the cursive name on the front of the card] — there seem to be too many crests for that but I can't see any alternatives either."

Delving into Henry K. Wampole & Company: This 2011 post gets its first comment in years. Unknown writes: "Many so-called suicides or mental breakdowns were, and still are, caused by business 'partners' who intend, right from the start, to kill (rob) the original have inventor. Muppets inventor Jim Henson (whose media empire was growing) died at age 53 from a fast-acting strep infection. Cui bono? Michael Eisner absorbed Henson's Muppet empire."

Note: Papergreat absolutely does not endorse any reader comments making unfounded allegations of crime or murder. There don't even seem to be any simmering conspiracies surrounding Henson's death.

Lamenting what we'll never know about Phyllis J. Stalnaker Harris: "Lettuce Prey" writes: "Imma use this quote: 'Freedom isn't free. Rarely is it gained by blowing up foreigners around the world.'"

Note: I like that quote, too. But it's not mine. It's from a Reddit thread.

Great links: Which movies gave you the biggest fright? "Justin Wade" writes: "if the buffalo in my head could speak german i would not know a god damm thing. What i do know is that the language of art is out of this world."

Note: Justin Wade is 100% a SpamBot, but I kind of love that comment anyway.

Frank's Pig-Pen in West Berlin: Old advertisement and some memories: Eric writes: "Frank's got to be pretty daring while I was there (71-73). The bartender was topless, and very well endowed. I was tossed out on my ear on my 19th birthday when I got a little too drunk and honked her hooters. They had a very large bouncer hiding in the shadows. There was also the live sex show, which left nothing to your imagination. I don't even remember eating there. Just drinking, and getting googoo eyes."

Note: Again, publication of comments does not imply endorsement. Do not assault women.

The Lost Corners of Paul Crockett: This post continues to get a lot of traffic, possibly because of that Quentin Tarantino film. Two new comments:

Anonymous #1 writes: "I've regretted that no one so far has been in a position to write a biography of Paul Crockett. He seems, in addition to the unexpected interactions with the Manson Family, to have been deeply knowledgeable about things we'd all like to understand."

Anonymous #2 writes: "Crockett's teacher was a follower of Gurdjieff. I think Fritz Peters' Boyhood With Gurdjieff is as good a place to start as any. J.G. Bennett's Masters of Wisdom details Gurdjieff's sources. Enjoy."

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Hans Holzer was stalking ghosts and wild asparagus*

Hans Holzer (1920-2009) was a prolific author of more than 100 books. Most of them were about spooks and hauntings, but he had a wide range of interests (or at least a wide range of book deals), dabbling in such subjects as thought projection, paganism, psychic healing and alchemy.1

So it's not surprising that some books slip through the cracks when compiling his bibliography. One such book is the 1973 Pyramid paperback The Vegetarian Way of Life, which was so obscure that I had to go in today and add it to his Wikipedia page.

Folks wanted ghosts, witches and out-of-body experiences in their Holzer books, so it shouldn't be a surprise that he didn't really hit it big with one about celery and legumes.

I can't find any reviews of the book, so I thought that, for posterity, I'd share some of its passages here. Holzer might have been known for the supernatural, but it's super-cool that he was somewhat ahead of his time as someone who avoided eating meat. Some of this is extremely trippy, while other passages are a snapshot of being a vegetarian in the early 1970s.

  • "So the first reason for writing this book was to fill a void with a basic book on vegetarian philosophy, and on the implications being vegetarian has in other departments of life."
  • "For those who wish to complete their liberation from orthodox life by adding a nutritional aspect to their acquired wisdom, and to those who are not even ESP fans or students of the occult but nevertheless have questions about their own diet, a book such as this may be welcome indeed."
  • "Every piece of food, every liquid represents an idea as well as a chemical compound."
  • "I myself am a Lactarian: I eat cheeses and milk products but I do not eat eggs or egg products. Those who are Lactarians like myself find that their diet is well-balanced and generally there is enough of a variety of foods available to them so that no problem of nutrition exists."
  • "There are people who consider themselves vegetarians when in fact they are not. I am referring here to those who eat fish but not meat or poultry or those who eat meat only once a week perhaps or only when they are in company to avoid standing out. That kind of vegetarian is laughable; a diet which permits one to go off it whenever one so decides is not a diet at all but an indulgence."2
  • "Although I lecture before young audiences most of the time, I have found no connection between the drug culture and an interest in vegetarianism. I have, however, found that those who are interested in ESP, the occult, astrology or witchcraft frequently evince an equal interest in vegetarianism. If anything, the peace-loving, establishment-doubting element among the young finds that a vegetarian way of life fits them best."
  • "So for the following years I lived on a diet of vegetables, fruits, nuts and some eggs and sausage. By the time I was 14, I realized that sausage was a form of meat and abruptly stopped it. Only eggs remained part of my diet from moment on. It wasn't until I lived in New York City in the middle fifties, that I stopped eating eggs altogether."
  • "No one needs to defend his vegetarianism. On the few occasions where people questioned my judgment in this matter, wondering why on earth I would want to be a vegetarian, I have rather sharply, even if politely, reminded them that being a meat eater was merely a different point of view."
  • "The idea that animals were suffering always haunted me. During the cold winter months I established a regular route in a nearby park, nailing old cigar boxes to trees, and filled them with various sorts of bird food."
  • "No true vegetarian will agree to the transplant of organs in surgery. Vegetarians are fully aware of the implications such alien substitutions will have in their systems. ... Of course, fanaticism is not called for here either: certainly the graft of skin from a non-vegetarian to vegetarian cannot be objected to, nor a blood transfusion between vegetarians and meat eaters."3
  • "Those who find themselves suddenly deprived of all energies, perhaps even dizzy and light headed, due to overstrain or emotional stress, may find a glass of freshly pressed orange juice to be helpful."
  • "In the large cities of America tap water is rarely used by vegetarians. Anyone who can afford it, uses bottled water from one of the mountain springs."4
  • "Even when a vegetarian plays, he has more zest, more of a sense of humor than his frequently dyspeptic colleague. ... There is a certain degree of adventuresomeness in vegetarians, a degree of nonconformity, which may include a freer attitude toward sex."
  • "A vegetarian way of life is therefore an answer to most of the problems besetting us today."

* Mom used to say that Euell Gibbons' Stalking the Wild Asparagus (1962) was one of her favorite food books.
1. I was going to add "and even Kurt Cobain" but, after a little further digging, I think that's false. There's a 2000 book called Who Killed Kurt Cobain? by Ian Halperin and Max Wallace. Somewhere along the way, in some database, authorship of the book was incorrectly attributed to Hans Holzer. And then that initial error was copied elsewhere, compounding the accuracy problem. I am here to say that Hans Holzer had nothing to do with the Cobain book. Holzer did, however, write some books about Elvis Presley.
2. Holzer was writing decades before the rise of such ideas as flexitarians, reducetarians, climatarians, vegavores and the like. And of course there are pescetarians, which would describe me for the past 6½ years. More specifically, I'm a lacto-ovo-pescatarian, but dairy is increasingly unkind to my stomach these days. I am certainly happy to be living in the Golden Age of vegetarian options. I've had more than my share of Impossible Whoppers since they were introduced last summer.
3. As I scanned Holzer's chapter on vegetarians and medicine, I was braced for him to state something cringeworthy about vegetarians rejecting the idea of vaccinations. However, he skipped over that topic.
4. Sigh. That has led to a much bigger societal problem. The Great Pacific garbage patch is more terrifying than any funky Dixieland phantom Holzer ever wrote about.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Vintage postcard: Yellowstone bear wants to hitch a ride

On the heels of last week's Yellowstone bear, here's another one from my pile...

This is a Natural Color Card published by Eric J. Seaich Co. of Salt Lake City. It's tagged as ES-253. Eric Seaich himself snapped the photograph, and I hope he checked first to make sure this inquisitive cub's mother wasn't right behind him.

Eric John Seaich lived from 1910 to 1990, according to Find A Grave. He was born and died in Salt Lake City. He was father to three children, all of whom have now died. According to his obituary, he was "an active member of the LDS Church; he served a mission to England as a young man. (And) in 1929 he started his own printed business forms and gift shop business." I suppose it was his connection to the gift shop business that propelled Seaich into publishing postcards. Or maybe vice versa.

The printed caption for this postcard states:

Bear cubs begging for food along the highways are
a familiar sight in Yellowstone Park, Wyo."

Today, of course, you most definitely do not feed the bear cubs, or other animals for that matter, at national parks. But times were much different in the middle of the 20th century, as this "trip down memory lane" article by the wonderfully named Brodie Farquhar notes:
"Back then ... the American public fully expected to have picnic baskets stolen by Yogi's cousins, and bears were happy to oblige. ... Bears fed on marshmallows and Fig Newtons, slipped through narrow openings in car windows, as kids squealed and Mom worried aloud."
This card was mailed in the midst of that era. It was postmarked on July 21, 1964, at Yellowstone National Park and sent to the Minnich family on Hess Boulevard in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This is the message:
"Hi!! These fellows will do anything to get a vote!! No really they are real beggers. It's great out here but tiring to drive 10-12 hrs. a day — see you with a slide party when we get back.
— Nancy & Lee"