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Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Strangest Things You Can Find in New Orleans' Cemetaries

New Orleans has got to be one of my favorite cities in the entire world.  No one place on earth weaves having a good time with the macabre so splendidly.  There is simply no place like it on earth.  One of the many slices in the wonderful pie that is New Orleans is it's Cemeteries.

As the water level in New Orleans is so dangerously high, bodies simply cannot be put in the ground.  If they were it would make everyday in New Orleans look like the final scene in Poltergeist. 

In New Orleans they use the style of crypt you see above.  You may think that they look very expensive for a one person crypt.  Well, you would be right, because these are not for just one person.  These are family crypts. 

The crypt functions like a ghastly pizza oven.  A dead body is placed on a ledge inside the crypt.  There bodies are left inside for at least one year and one day (it is illegal to open a crypt sooner then that).  The body cooks in the hot sun of New Orleans and decomposes.  When it is time to bury the next family member the last one has broken down into a skeleton.  The skeleton is pushed to the back and drops down into a pile of family bones.  There is no telling how many different people compose the bone pile in the back.  If a family needs to bury more then one body in a year's time they must rent a temporary crypt to cook their skeleton for a year.

These cemeteries are as beautiful as they are creepy.  I'd like to share some of the wonderfully weird and creepy things I have had the chance to see when I was in New Orleans.

5. Painted Crypt-St. Louise Cemetery No. 1

I don't have a whole bunch of information on this one.  All I know is that this hand painted crypt sits on a plain white wall.  Apparently, there is a woman buried here and her son walks to the cemetery and decorates her grave regularly.  Its a touching tribute.

4. Bellocq's Grave-St. Louis Cemetery No. 3

Inside this family crypt lies the body of E.J. Bellocq. 

Bellocq was a photographer from a French family born in New Orleans in 1873.  Bellocq made a living photographing various buildings and landmarks around New Orleans, but the photos in his personal collection were much more dark and fascinating.

After his death in 1949 it was found that he had a personal collection of photographs of woman that he did not share with anyone.  These photographs were of prostitutes from the red light district in New Orleans pleasantly named "Storyville". 

These photos are hauntingly beautiful.

But they also contain a dark mystery.  Many of the woman in the photos are nude, and many of the nudes have their faces scratched out of the photograph.  Other woman wear creepy masks. There is no official explanation of why this was done.

Here is a sampling of Bellocq's works, but be warned, they do contain full nudity.  1. 2. 3. 4,

3. The Many Graves of Marie Laveau-St. Louis Cemetery No. 1

Anyone who has visited New Orleans knows that there is one folk figure that towers above all others: The Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau.

It is difficult to sort fact from fiction when talking about Laveau.  What is know was that she was a prominent Voodoo practitioner in the early 1800s and she still has a large following to this day.  Marie was said to mix roman catholic believes with African voodoo.  However, Marie also worked as a hairdresser and there is strong speculation that her powers of precognition may have simply linked to her ability to gather gossip.

Even harder then separating truth from fiction with Laveau is finding out where she is buried. 

Popular belief is that Laveau is buried in St. Louis Cemetary No. 1, however there is a dispute over which crypt she is buried in.  There are three separate crypts which people argue that Marie is buried in.

Of course to make things even more muddy the tour guide explicitly stated that Laveau was NOT buried in St. Louis No. 1.  Apparently, this is was the sort of tour where they don't tolerate any nonsense. 

You may notice that the three graves are covered with a marking of three "X"s.  Supposedly, this mark along with a monetary offering is supposed to be able to summon Leveau and ask her for favors.  I guess its best to hit up all three graves just to be safe.

Our tour guide also did not approve of this behavior.

2. Nicholas Cage's Grave-St. Louis Cemetery No. 1

No you didn't miss the death of Nicholas Cage.  He is still alive and well, but he has his grave waiting for him in New Orleans.

One thing that you may notice while visiting New Orleans is that for some reason everyone really, really hates Nicholas Cage.  While this level of dislike may seem confusing at first, but it is apparently linked to Nicholas Cage's obsession with the city.  Cage had a habit of buying up historical places for his own amusement.  This would contribute to Cage going completely broke.

Oh yeah, and Cage also built himself a giant hideous grave in the middle of New Orleans' oldest and most historical cemetary.

Amongst the beautiful historic graves in the cemetery is this giant towering pyramid that will one day hold the corpse of Mr. Nicholas Cage.

1. St. Roch's Chapel-St. Roch's Cemetary

This is St. Roch.  I'm not Catholic and I don't exactly understand how the saintification process works, but for whatever reason Roch is the patron Saint of Dogs and Knees. 

Being the Patron St. of Knees carries great responsibility, which can be seen first hand in the Cathedral of St. Roch.

The customary offering for St. Roch is to leave prosthetic limbs, crutches and leg brace.  The cathedral if full of all of the above.

The Carpetbagger

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Goatman, Ches McCartney

Of all the folk heroes in the history of the American Roadside my absolute favorite has to be the Goatman, Ches McCartney.

My interest in the Goatman begin one day as I saw THIS photo on my friend Eartha Kitsch's Flickr page.

The picture was a photo of an wild looking bearded man and a herd of goats.  Eartha did a little research and found that the Goatman was an icon.  I had to know more.

Property of the Digital Library of Georgia

So who is the Goatman?  With the legend of the Goatman it is virtually impossible to sort out fact and fiction.  In the end it doesn't matter though, truth and fiction fuse perfectly to form legend.

So here it is:

Ches McCartney was originally a farmer from Iowa.  He would later leave the family farm and make money wrestling bears for money.  He would marry a Spanish knife thrower, where it was his job to both keep her knives sharp and to have knives near-miss him as part of the act. 

McCartney would later become a lumberjack where a large tree would fall on him and seemingly crush him to death.  McCartney would jump back to life as the Undertaker stuck the embalming needle in his arm.

Being injured Ches was unable to continue working.  Not wanting to become a ward of the state, Ches would set out across America with a herd of Goats.  The Goats would pull a giant rig full of junk.

The Goatman would live off of goat's milk and donations from strangers.  Once he set up camp in a field he would burn rubber tires to attract attention.  When people began to gather they would be fascinated by the strange sight of that Goatman and his herd.  He would market himself and sell postcards of himself and his rig.  He would charge 25 cents for one and three for a dollar.

The Goatman would also preach out of the Bible.  His sermons were legendary in that they were laden with profanity and curse words.  He started up his own "Free Thinking Baptist Church" in Georgia.

As the Goatman traveled the two lane roads of the South for the better part of a century he would be a popular distraction for roadside travelers.  There are numerous rumors and legends surrounding McCartney. The Goatman supposedly had a two legged Goat that would walk upright on its back legs.

Some people claimed that he was actually an eccentric millionaire and would make large withdrawls from banks.  Others claim seeing a mysterious woman in a Cadillac dropping off supplies for the Goatman. 

The Goatman was believed to be married several times and have numerous children.  His son Gene would travel with his father.  The Goatman claimed to have a son who was a Wall Street Broker and another who had died in Vietnam.

The one unanimous recollection of the Goatman was his smell.  Supposely he was the most horrible smelling human being that people had ever encountered.  But what do you expect from someone who lives with a bunch of goats?

National progress would take its toll on the Goatman as the old two lane roads were replaced with high speed freeways.  The Goatman could no longer safely travel on the main roads and was forced to ditch his goats.  The Goatman's wanderlust could not be satiated as began to travel as a more traditional "hobo".

The end of his travels would come in the early 80s when he hitchhiked to California in an attempt to marry Morgan Fairchild.  On the way the Goatman was violently mugged effectively ended his travels.

The Goatman retired in a nursing home in Macon Georgia.  He would die shortly after his son Gene (now living in a school bus) was brutally murdered in an unsolved crime.

I desperately wanted a my own piece of Goatman history, so I set out to find one of the postcards he sold.  My mother would find one for me for Christmas.

Ches would watch over me, pinned to the wall in my office at work.

I would wind up with an even bigger prize.  That very same Christmas my mother bought me a huge box of vintage 35 mm slides.  Collecting such slides is one of my hobbies.

As I went through these hundreds of slides one-by-one, I almost had a heart attack when I found this.

I was now the proud owner of a one of kind original photo slide of the Goatman, Ches McCartney.  I immediately called my mother, she had absolutely no idea that there were photos of the Goatman in the box of slides she had purchased.  It was a remarkable coincidence.

There was also another shot of the Goatman's Rig.

I also found a great VHS documentary on the Goatman at the local library.

Its a great little documentary, but the editing is really strange.  For some reason they leave in multiple takes as the documentarian misspeaks and then starts saying the same thing over again.

There is also a great song by folk singer Chuck Brodsky about the Goatman on his "Color Came One Day" CD.

The Carpetbagger

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Friday, November 16, 2012

The Assassination of Tom Gobble

Meet Mr. Tom Gobble.  One day a rogue male turkey showed up in Eastern Waynesville, NC outside of the Department of Social Services.  Tom was cantankerous from the day he arrived.  He ran around in the road causing traffic jams.  He scratched up people's cars.  He really hated green cars for some reason.  One of my favorite memories of Tom was the day I drove by and found him blocking a police car.  The police car flashed its lights and ran its siren.  Tom just stood their stubbornly not allowing the police to pass.

Tom quickly become the town pet.  Everyone was talking about what they saw him doing or how he attacked their car.  He was often featured in the local newspaper.

One day, there was a startling message being passed around Facebook.  The rumor was that Tom Gobble was dead.  He had supposedly been run over by a car in the local traffic circle.

However, the papers hit the stand and cleared up all confusion.

Yep, that's right, front page story in the newspaper was that the local Turkey was NOT dead.

If only this was not a grim glimpse into the future.

Tom Gobble, the town's Turkey was given a death sentence by local authorities.  Tom was shot dead by local police following orders sent down from animal control that had dubbed Tom a nuisance.

Here is an artist's interpretation of the assassination.  

This time Tom's death not only hit the local newspaper, but also the local televised local news.  Locals expressed shock that the beloved Turkey was killed.  A little girl was interviewed and stated "He was my friend and they shot him."  Her mother claimed that the little girl watched the shooting.

Tom was gone, but not forgotten, to this day a monument still stands on the spot he was assassinated.

Young Turkey struck down in his prime.  A town's mascot gunned down on for political reasons.  We miss you, Tom.  We will never forget.

The Carpetbagger

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Monday, November 12, 2012

The Hillbilly

Previously I talked about how Native Americans on the nearby Indian reservation often use racial stereotypes as a way to market to tourists.

Native Americans are not the only cultural group who use their own stereotypes to make cash in the mountains.

Here in the Mountains, Hillbilly imagery is everywhere.  Let's take a second to see what makes a Hillbilly

There he is, the Hillbilly, the being that embodies the Mountains to most of America.

Around here, The Hillbilly can be seen as a way to attract tourists to roadside attractions.



Car Dealerships......

Even the local high school uses a Hillbilly as its mascot, although they use the politically correct term "Mountaineer".

Yes, that is a drunken man with a shotgun representing an institution of learning.

 Here is the High School Mascot taking out his natural arch rivals:  Black Bears and Satan....

Even Mountain Dew used to use the Hillbilly Stereotype as their logo.  "Mountain Dew" itself being a slang term for Moonshine.  In recent years they have revived their old Hillbilly image in a retro campaign.

I guess the real question is:  Isn't this offense?  Isn't the Hillbilly an outdated stereotype?

Take a look at this image:

Or this one.....

I feel pretty comfortable saying that those two images are incredibly offensive portrayals of African Americans.  They are images from a past time that have no real place in modern culture.

Now answer this question:  How is this any better?

or this.....

It seems that while most people can agree that the black caricatures are insensitive, no one seems to be bothered by the hillbilly imagery.  Essentially the Hillbilly is a stereotype of the poor Southern white.  Even if you go back and look at the Native American stereotypes they seem less offensive then the Hillbilly stereotypes on the surface.  While the Native Americans are portrayed in an inaccurate and stereotypical way, it doesn't seem to be overtly negative.  The Hillbilly on the other hand is portrayed as outwardly stupid, drunk, filthy and uncivilized.  It almost seems strange that no one is offended. 

It even seems that those being mocked find the imagery endearing and funny.  You will  often here the word "Hillbilly" used as a term of pride around here.  I guess its a way to "take it back".

"The correct term is Hillbilly AMERICAN!"

I have to give a big shout out to my buddy Rick Kilby and his awesome article on the history of the American Hillbilly check it out HERE,

I'm not going to pretend to have all the answers.  To me it is a fascinating enigma.  Either way its another confounding aspect of Southern Culture.

The Carpetbagger

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Friday, November 9, 2012

The World's Oldest Ham

I openly admit that I have an excessively long bucket list.  This last weekend I finally had a chance to strike off something that has been dangling at the top of the list for years.  For my birthday my best friend agreed to accompany me on a 7 hour trek to see the World's Oldest Ham. 

The Ham in question is 110 years old and resides in the Isle of White County Museum in Smithfield, VA.

Legendary Ham salesman P.D. Gwaltney found a spry 20 year old ham that had been misplaced in a shipping warehouse.  Gwaltney was surprised to find that the ham looked remarkably fresh for being two decades old.  Gwaltney was a salesman and unlike most people who find old chuncks of meat in a warehouse, he saw opportunity.

It was the 1920s and refrigeration was still a new-fangled luxury.  Gwaltney decided that this ham would be a great way to show how refrigeration was uneccasary.  Gwaltney would show that a piece of ham not only did not reqiure refrigeration, but its shelf life was seemingly infinite.  Gwaltney marketed his ham as still being edible.

The point that Gwaltney took it tad far was when he had the Ham outfitted with a collar and leash and declared that it was his "Pet Ham".  Gwaltney insured his ham for $5,000 dollars.  It is said Gwaltney and his Ham were inseperable as they traveled the country extolling the limitless virtues of Ham.

In 1936 Gwaltney died.  The Ham would make Gwaltney proud, as it still lives on to this day.  The Ham is now 110 years old and potentially still edible (depending on your definition of edible).


Still wearing its collar the Ham as it sits at the Museum, looking kind of like a Mummy's thigh.

But the Ham has good company.  Gwaltney also owned a peanut buisness, so naturally he also possessed the world's oldest peanut.

Its from 1890, if you were wondering.

There is also an old Ham from the 30s, but it pales in comparison to its ancient brother.

And last but not least:  The World's LARGEST Ham.  Which was cured in 1955, making yet another very old Ham. 

It was cut from a 900 pound hog and originally weighed 90 pounds, but lost almost 30 pound of water weight in the curing process.  It still has a whole pig's hoof on it.

I heavily recommend that everyone make the trek out to Smithfield to pay their respects to Gwaltney's pet Ham.

The Carpetbagger

Please feel free to e-mail me at
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