After a tour of the interstellar planetary systems Tuscaloosa's own Mary Tylosaur splashed down at the Green Bar this past Saturday night for a face melting show of their science-fictional musical stylings. The ambient radiation they picked up from the cosmic trip did a number on my camera and this is how the photos turned out. Enjoy.
The British invaded America and there was no way to stop them. It all started 50 years ago today on December 26, 1963 when Capitol Records released The Beatles song “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Beatlemania was about to spread across America like an airborne virus infecting thousands of American teenagers. Within a month of the songs release it had climbed to the number one spot on the Cash Box and Bill Board magazines’ song rating charts. On Sunday February 9, 1964 The Beatles performed “I Want to Hold Your Hand” live on the Ed Sullivan television show. That night seventy three million Americans got to see first hand the affects Beatlemania had on innocent teenagers. Here is that performance:
On this night in 1818 the song Stille Nacht (Silent Night) was performed for the first time in the small town of Oberndorf, in the state of Salzburg, Austria.
The lyrics were written by Joseph Mohr two years prior. The melody was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, schoolmaster and organist in the nearby village of Arnsdorf. Before Christmas Eve in 1818 Mohr brought the words to Gruber and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the church service. Both performed the carol during the mass on the night of December 24.
The carol has been translated into about 140 languages. It was sung simultaneously in French, English and German by troops during the Christmas truce of 1914 during World War I. It was one carol that soldiers on both sides of the front line knew.
Below are some youtube links to a few different versions of the song, including a version by Nana Mouskouri in the original language, a version by Lisa Bryce in both English and German, and a version by Enya performed in the Gaelic language. Enjoy.
Happy Solstice Day everyone, or should I say Happy Tammuz Day. Today is the winter solstice (for those of us in the northern hemisphere), a day when the sun reaches it’s lowest point in the southern sky and begins climbing higher in the sky after today until the summer solstice.
To our ancient ancestors this was a day of mourning and celebration; mourning for the death of the sun who was falling closer to the horizon making each day shorter and giving less light. But also a time of celebration when the sun resurrected himself and began climbing into the winter sky and giving more light through the following days.
Our ancient ancestors had a number of rituals and traditions to celebrate this day. And here at the Palmer’s Almanac we love celebrating history and tradition. With that in mind we’ll show you how to celebrate solstice like the true pagan that you are. We owe it to our ancient ancestors who lived without the light and love of the one true God to celebrate just as they did on this, the most sacred of days.
“But I’m a Christian,” you might say, “I can’t celebrate like a pagan.” Oh don’t worrry about that, the Bible is just chock full of references to pagan worship. It’s pleasing in the sight of the Lord.
So, with that in mind let’s start celebrating solstice the pagan way. First you’ll need a few things that you most likely already have laying around the house.
To the ancient pagans tree worship was the way to go. So, if you don’t already have a tree inside your house go get one. A fragrant evergreen tree works best. To the ancient pagans evergreen trees symbolized everlasting life and the return of the sun into the sky. Pagans had many rituals regarding evergreen trees and one of these rituals involves sniffing the evergreen as spoken of in the biblical Book of Ezekiel.
In the book of Ezekiel, chapter 8, the Old Testament prophet describes a Scrooge-like supernatural journey into the Jewish temple where he is shown the temple elders burning incense and worshiping carved idols. Infuriated the spirit of God says “Turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations that they do."
They went further into the temple and, “behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz,” Ezekiel says. In ancient Babylonian mythology Tammuz was a shepherd born to a virgin mother. He died violently and was reborn a sun god on December 25, just days after the winter solstice. And to worship Tammuz the ancients bowed down to the sun and sniffed fragrant palm leaves that symbolized the reborn Tammuz. Ezekiel saw men bowing to Tammuz and sniffing trees inside the Jewish temple and the spirit of God spoke to Ezekial. “Then he said unto me, Hast thou seen this, O son of man? Is it a light thing to the house of Judah that they commit the abominations which they commit here? for they have filled the land with violence, and have returned to provoke me to anger: and, lo, they put the branch to their nose.”
After you bring that fragrant tree into your house you must next decorate it with silver and gold ornaments. Affix it firmly so it doesn’t fall down. In the Book of Jeremiah he gives direction on how to do this. “For the customs of the peoples are vanity. A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move.”
Next in our day of pagan worship have the children gather some wood and the fathers should build a big fire with that wood. And have the lady folk of the house cook some ginger bread men. in Jeremiah 7:9 God is especially pleased with this pagan holiday practice.
“"Do you not see what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger.”
At this point you may be thinking that all these Christmas traditions that you and your family are practicing must be ancient pagan rituals. Don’t be confused. These rituals and Christmas Trees have nothing to do with pagan worship. In fact many Christian churches today have Christmas trees inside the church near the alter. In the eyes of God it’s perfectly alright.
And remember if we didn’t follow these ancient Pagan rituals there would be no Christmas, because in the Bible not one word is spoken about the date of Jesus’s birthday nor are we commanded to celebrate it. So Happy Tammuz Day everyone. Enjoy the solstice. We here at Palmer’s Almanac are going off to sniff some evergreen trees and remember that shepherd who died on the solstice and was reborn on December 25th thousands of years before Christ in ancient Babylon.
Today marks the birthday of the American scientist and inventor Robert Jemison Van de Graaff of Tuscaloosa, Ala. Van de Graff was born on December 20, 1901 in the family home near downtown Tuscaloosa. Van de Graaff attended Tuscaloosa public schools and later received two mechanical engineering degrees from the University of Alabama in 1922 and 1923. After working for the Alabama Power Company as a research assistant he studied at the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1925 Van de Graaff attended Oxford University in England as a Rhodes Scholar. In 1929 Van de Graaff returned to the United States to join the Palmer Physics Laboratory at Princeton University as a National Research Fellow where he constructed the first working model of his electrostatic accelerator. The machine basically generates and stores static electricity much like rubbing your feet on a carpet and zapping a friend. The machine became known as the Van de Graaff generator and was used in x-ray and nuclear physics experiments as the world’s first particle accelerator. The generators have since been used not just in atomic physics, but also for applications in medicine and industry.
Robert J. Van de Graaff died on the morning of January 16, 1967 in Boston at the age of 65. At the time of his death there were over 500 Van de Graaff particle accelerators in use in more than 30 countries. The International Astronomical Union named a lunar crater in his honor. It would be nice if the city of Tuscaloosa or the University of Alabama recognized his achievements and named a street or a university building in his honor. To see a great little video of the world’s largest Van de Graaff generator in action click the link below. The generator, built by Van de Graaff himself, is located at the Museum of Science in Boston and can generate 2 million volts of static electricity.
On December 19, 1732 Benjamin Franklin began publishing Poor Richard’s Almanack. For 25 years Franklin published the almanac under the pseudonym Richard Saunders, a poor man who needed money to take care of his carping wife. Franklin got the name Richard Saunders from an English almanac that first appeared in 1654; the nickname “Poor Richard” echoed another popular British almanac, Poor Robin, which first appeared in 1664.
In Franklin’s day there was no shortage of almanacs and their authors who purported to predict future events. So Franklin began Poor Richard’s Almanack as a light-hearted parody of those astrologers and their predictions.
As a running joke Poor Richard began predicting and falsely reporting the deaths of actual astrologers who wrote traditional almanacs.
But soon Poor Richard’s Almanack became a source of useful knowledge and information. Franklin included a calendar, weather forecasts, poems, aphorisms, and also astronomical and astrological information that a typical almanac of the period would contain.
In his autobiography Ben Franklin spoke glowingly of his almanac; “In 1732 I first published my Almanack, under the name of Richard Saunders; it was continu’d by me about 25 Years, commonly call’d Poor Richard’s Almanack. I endeavor’d to make it both entertaining and useful, and it accordingly came to be in such Demand that I reap’d considerable Profit from it, vending annually near ten Thousand.”
On this date in 1958 the first audio transmission from space was broadcast from the world’s first communications satellite. The Signal Communications by Orbiting Relay Equipment or SCORE broadcast a Christmas message from President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Here is that message.
Imagine yourself alive on December 17th 2,100 years ago living somewhere in the Roman Empire. On this day you would have been preparing for a week-long celebration that involved decorating trees, giving gifts and baking cookies in the forms of humans and animals. You and your loved ones would have donned a special felt hat for the occasion. You would have been preparing your home for visitors to celebrate the grandest holiday on the Roman calendar, Saturnalia.
Saturnalia was held on December 17th to mark the dedication anniversary of the Temple to Saturn in the Roman Forum in 497 BCE.
Saturn was the most important of the Roman gods. He was the god of agriculture and his celebration marked the end of the winter planting and the preparation for the winter solstice celebration, Sol Invictus, eight days later.
A grand feast would have been held on this night and there would have been plenty of wine to go around. There would have been a special phrase that you would have used to greet your friends and neighbors or to dedicate a toast. Yo Saturnalia! would have been the phrase heard most often in the shops and markets as Romans did some last minute holiday shopping.
Saturnalia was a time for merry-making and singing, a vacation from the normal run-of-the-mill existence. It was a time of drunkenness and singing naked in front of yours neighbor’s house. Today we call this caroling but these days most carolers wear clothes.
At the end of the first century C.E, the Roman poet Statius wrote: "For how many years shall this festival abide! Never shall age destroy so holy a day! While the hills of Latium remain and father Tiber, while thy Rome stands and the Capitol thou hast restored to the world, it shall continue."
Well, to answer Statius’s question, the holiday would last only about 300 more years in name but it continues in practice to this day. Traditions from both the feast of Saturnalia and the winter solstice celebration were incorporated into the Christ’s Mass holiday of the Roman Catholic church. (Christ’s Mass of course being the traditional day of the birth of Jesus, which in the early days of the Church, curiously fell on the December 25th pagan solstice holiday of Sol Invictus.)
So tonight, with Statius in mind you may want to lift a glass and proclaim Yo Saturnalia! and be thankful that the winter planting season is over.
I wrote this for the Tuscaloosa News on the 10- year anniversary of the December 16, 2000 tornado that struck Tuscaloosa. It's a recounting of what I witnessed that day as a staff photographer for the Tuscaloosa News.
On Saturday December 16, 2000 I ran a few errands before my shift was set to begin at 1 P.M. I remember the day was warm and muggy. There was a stillness in the trees and a whisper of air underneath a blanket of low, gray clouds. When I pulled into the Tuscaloosa News parking lot giant blobs of rain began thumping down on my windshield.
I went up the back stairs entrance and into the Sports Department where a few co-workers stood watching a television. On the screen renowned weatherman James Spann was superimposed over a live shot of the sky south of Tuscaloosa. Spann, in his familiar white shirt and suspenders, seemed to be dancing with a giant gray, V-shaped figure. With his finger Spann traced the figure from top to bottom. He warned people south of Skyland Boulevard to take cover immediately.
Seeing a tornado live on the TV screen is one thing but knowing that a tornado was on the ground and perhaps killing people just a few miles from where I was standing is something else entirely.
I took my eyes off the TV screen to comment to my coworkers but they weren’t there anymore. They had disappeared down the stairs and into the basement.
My mind told me to join them. But as a photographer for a newspaper your job is to record the news, and at the very moment my job was in the densely populated subdivisions south of Tuscaloosa. It takes a lot to go against the logical, rational choice.
I headed back down to the parking lot, jumped in my car and hit 359 South toward the tornado's path. I flipped on the hand held police scanner supplied by the newspaper for staff photographers.
I eased cautiously down 359 through a torrential downpour. I passed cars parked on the shoulder. Some straight. Some sideways. Each with orange flashers blinking silent warnings in the chaos outside my windshield. As I headed south through the darkness I opened my eyes wide to possibly spot any other tornados. A vain attempt. The rain was so dense and the sky so dark only lightning flashes allowed me to see the lines marking the highway.
By the time I reached Skyland Boulevard a few minutes later the rain slacked and the clouds broke. The police scanner crackled with the strident male and female voices of police, fire, Sheriff, and ambulance service dispatchers directing their respective members on where help was needed- a vehicle overturned on Maxwell Loop Road, occupants ejected. People with injuries trapped in rubble in the Englewood Subdivision. A vehicle overturned and occupants ejected on Highway 69 in front of Hinton Place subdivision.
Up ahead three ambulances with lights flashing and sirens screaming raced single file down highway 69.
I realized one of the dispatchers on the scanner was directing the ambulances in front of me. He directed one ambulance to a certain location to assist with injuries. The ambulance directly in front of me made a quick left and disappeared down a road. Then the male voice on the scanner took a different tone and he called for another ambulance to head toward the Bear Creek Trailer Park where “things are pretty bad,” the dispatcher said. The gravity and the understatement in the dispatcher’s voice told me that’s where I needed to go.
The second ambulance turned left down Bear Creek Road and disappeared around the curve. I turned down the same road, driving at a moderate pace.
I drove until I came upon the debris field that blocked the road at the intersection of Old Marion Road and Bear Creek Road. I parked, retrieved my camera equipment from the trunk and walked toward D&G Grocery, a small store at the intersection. As I approached the store an unbelievable scene unfolded before me. The pavement disappeared under a sea of ripped metal, pieces of insulation, power lines, tree trunks, power poles, doors, tree limbs, clothing, furniture, smashed vehicles, plywood, household appliances, shattered glass and long upturned nails sticking out of splintered two-by-fours. A giant steel mobile home frame twisted and strewn with insulation was the only indication that this was once someone’s home.
Outside the store some people calmly swept and picked up debris with blank looks on their faces. Others huddled in tears hugging one another. Injured people limped away from the store toward rescue vehicles pulling up to the debris field.
I walked closer to the store and saw EMT’s applying bandages to injuries and civilians carrying people on makeshift stretchers. I saw one man walking barefooted. Blood ran out of his head and down across his eyes and mouth. I took his picture and he screamed at me, cursing. “Get that ---damn camera out of my face!” Another injured man lay on a stretcher and I continued walking toward the store. I saw a man crawl from a car that had slammed against the side of the store. He walked past me toward the paramedics. His shirt was ripped open exposing his skin gashed at his lower back.
Stunned, I walked across Old Marion Road where a lady stood in front of a pile of rubble and an upturned tree. “They were all home before it hit,” she said pointing to the rubble. “A young man and his family, they were all inside,” she said to people converging at the scene.
I walked to the rubble and looked down around my feet, afraid of what I might find. I saw children’s toys and family photographs in the shattered debris. In one photo a young man smiling in a family portrait with his two little girls and his wife holding a baby.
Perhaps ten to fifteen people were overturning debris looking for the young man and his family.
I documented the search and headed back toward the store. As I got back on the road a yell went up and one of the searchers came scrambling down the embankment with what looked like the lifeless body of a little girl. It was one of the little girls in the family photos. “Someone take her” the man screamed looking at me. I indicated he should go toward the paramedics. I began taking pictures of the man moving toward the debris-strewn intersection in front of the store. About that time a man who later became known to the world as Mike Harris took the little girl in his arms and walked toward the paramedics, picking his way carefully over the shattered two-by-fours and upturned nails. I continued taking pictures and noticed that his legs began to wobble under the weight of the seemingly lifeless girl. He approached the large steel beam blocking the road. His eyes looked at me and I could see he was about to collapse. I ran up and took the little girl in my arms and crossed over the steel beam with her. I went about 25 yards and was met by EMT Margaret Clark of the Montgomery Volunteer Fire Department from north Tuscaloosa County. Clark told me to lay the child down on a flat piece of plywood. Clark began treating the girl and Whitney Crowder moved her feet and moaned. I knew then that she was alive but unconscious.
I went back toward the mobile home to see if I could render more help. On the way I saw police and EMTs huddled around the bodies of Derek and Teresa Crowder, the girl's parents. Though the EMTs were treating him, it was quite apparent that Derek Crowder was critically injured. Derek Crowder died a few minutes later in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. The body of his 16-month old son Wesley was found in a tree the next day. Teresa, Whitney, 6, and Abby, 3, all survived.
At this point, quite in shock, I wandered down Bear Creek Road and was met by a steady stream of people walking the opposite direction away from the Bear Creek Trailer Park. I entered the park and walked toward the back. In the open field at the back of the park it looked as if an immense explosion had taken place. Some mobile homes were completely destroyed and the contents were strewn out over hundreds of yards. Others were just piles of debris on the original moorings. Some were not even there. PVC pipes sticking up out of the earth trickling out water indicated where a mobile home once stood.
I walked through the park documenting families picking through the piles of debris that was once their homes. At another home volunteers, civilians and Sheriff’s deputies formed a line atop a pile of rubble. They were trying to reach a voice crying from deep inside.
I walked back toward the entrance to the park where the police, EMTs, fire department and sheriff’s department officials had set up a temporary command station to oversee rescue operations in the park. As I walked past I noticed what looked like five or six rolled up blankets in the back of a rescue truck. I looked closer and could see pairs of feet sticking out of each blanket. Some were womens’ feet with painted toe-nails, some feet belonged to men and some were small feet sticking out of pajamas.
At that point I decided to leave. I didn’t take anymore pictures that day. I found my car and drove back to the newspaper where I edited my pictures and put them on the Associated Press wire.
On December 14, 1819 President James Monroe signed a congressional resolution admitting Alabama to the Union as the 22nd state.
Alabama Day was first celebrated statewide in 1903. In 1923 the Alabama Legislature adopted a resolution calling for the observance of the day at the urging of the Alabama Department of Education and the Alabama Department of Archives and History.
To celebrate Alabama Day I present a few Alabama artifacts from my personal collection. They include, at top left, a Native American arrowhead that I found in the Buttahatchee River in Marion County; at top right are pieces of broken glass from the same river; at bottom right is another artifact that I found on top of the ground and at bottom left is an oddly shaped rock that I found in the river.
The jagged edges of the glass have been smoothed down from years of washing down the river. I arranged them in the shape of the Alabama state flag, a St. Andrew’s Cross.
Here are some fun Alabama facts from the Alabama Department of Archives and History website:
The first Alabama constitutional convention met in Hunstville at Walker Allen’s cabinet shop.
The first electric streetcar in the world ran down Dexter Avenue in Montgomery. It was nicknamed the Lightning Route.
The first submarine, the C.S.S.Hunley was built in Mobile.
Rosa Parks started the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Montgomery and energized a national civil rights movement.
The first Mardi Gras ever in the United States happened in Mobile.
So when you are out and about today don’t be afraid to show your Alabama pride. As you wish everyone a “happy holiday”, throw in a “Happy Alabama Day” to boot. You can even throw in a "ya'll." And to make it even better crank up that southern accent a few notches! You'll be glad you did! Happy Alabama Day, ya'll!
Michael E. Palmer is a writer and photographer based in Alabama.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org