Roadside Shrines And WalMart Grave Goods

Today, I came upon an interesting blog on the subject of roadside memorials, written by none other than Christine Quigley! 

Says Christine, “roadside memorials are those impromptu shrines that take shape at the site of a sudden unexpected death, usually a car accident, but sometimes in front of a house where a murder has occurred. They are an outlet for the outpouring of grief that family, friends, and concerned citizens experience at the loss. But after they have been rained on, they become a bit of an eyesore – bedraggled stuffed animals, weathered photos, ink-splotched notes.”

I was surprised to learn that the creation of such memorials predates the invention of the car.  They’ve always seemed a very peculiar tradition to me, and, I wrongly believed, a new one.  The memorials are meant to mark the exact site of a soul’s supposed departure from the body by the tying of balloons and stuffed animals  to guard rails and placing crucifixes and artificial flowers at the site of fatal accidents. 

I’ve wanted to take a series of pictures of these curious, tattered memorials, and maybe now I will.  I’ve also noticed a similar tradition taking place at certain newer cemeteries, most notably the one beside my workplace.  The graves there are littered with photographs, children’s toys, garden ornaments, soccer balls, ceramic figurines, and so forth.  I did take a series of pictures there a few years back.  I find this tradition somewhat strange, but intriguing.  It is at once highly personal (much moreso than the stylized austerity of cemetery statues) and also tacky.  Seeing graves scattered with cheap plastic goods bought at WalMart is a very different experience from walking through an old cemetery with its grand statues and towering obelists.  And maybe it suits today’s world, for better or worse.

If you’d like to read Christine’s blog entry about roadside memorials, click here!

Many other interesting stories can be found there as well.

I should add that these photos are not my own.  They were found accompanying various news stories about roadside memorials.  Apparently this tradition is especially flourishing out west.  The shrines to their loved ones look a good deal more artful than the sloppy teddy bears and plastic flowers tied to a post that you tend to find here in Ohio.  Below is just one example of a shrine that complements the natural beauty of its setting.  If anybody makes me one upon my untimely demise, please look to western examples for inspiration, and avoid anything plastic.  My ghost will thank you.


The Holly and the Ivy: Battle of the Sexes Preserved In Song

I’m fascinated by the ancient origins of various holiday traditions, and occasionally go in search of their roots by way of a good, old fashioned Google search.  Today I had an additional motivating factor: I was searching for the perfect names for two special characters in my latest story.  I’ve decided to name them Holly and Ivy, for they are the perfect opposites, yin and yang.

What follows is an abridged version of The Holly and the Ivy, Meaning Behind a Curious Christmas Carol  by David Beaulieu.  The tale of this song’s origins is a fascinating and convoluted blend of Paganism and Christianity, with religious overtones masking its more esoteric meaning.

“Those of you familiar with “The Holly and the Ivy” have perhaps puzzled over the meaning behind this old (17th-18th century) Christmas carol.  Before we get to the lyrics of “The Holly and the Ivy,” let’s back up a bit — to gain some historical perspective. Pagans had customarily decorated in winter with evergreens culled from the landscape long before the birth of Christianity. We can still identify with their thought-process, even today: when everything else on the landscape is dead or dormant, evergreens remind us of better times to come — the return of a green landscape in spring.

Why evergreens such as holly and ivy came to play such an important role in Christmas celebrations, then, is clear enough. But what isn’t so apparent, at first glance, is the origin of the title, “The Holly and the Ivy.” Is this carol really about holly and ivy? Below I’ve furnished its lyrics, so that we may take a closer look:

The Holly and the Ivy

The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown,

Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.


Oh, the rising of the sun and the running of the deer,

The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir.

The holly bears a blossom as white as lily flower,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to be our sweet saviour


The holly bears a berry as red as any blood,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good.


The holly bears a prickle as sharp as any thorn,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ on Christmas Day in the morn.


The holly bears a bark as bitter as any gall,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ for to redeem us all.


As can be seen from the verses above, “The Holly and the Ivy” takes a plant (holly) deeply entrenched in the pagan past and imbues it with Christian symbolism.

So where does the ivy come into play in the song, “The Holly and the Ivy?” Except for its appearance alongside holly in the opening stanza, it isn’t even mentioned in the song. If this one, insignificant reference to ivy were struck from the lyrics, in what way would the song suffer? And if your answer is, “Not at all,” then the next logical question to ask is: Why is the carol not titled simply, “The Holly,” instead of, “The Holly and the Ivy?”

The people of earlier epochs were, by and large, closer to the earth than are we moderns. They paid attention to plant relationships that probably escape most 21st-century folks. They were also more inclined to the use of symbolism, including plant symbology. Noticing an ivy vine in the forest twining itself around a holly tree, for instance, afforded them ample reason to compare the two plants. Out of that comparison, a piece of plant symbology was born.

In “The Contest of the Holly and the Ivy,” ivy plays a role equally important to that of holly. The mention of ivy in the first stanza (and the last stanza, which merely repeats the first) in “The Holly and the Ivy” is therefore a hold-over, a remnant from an earlier era, a fragment pointing to music with a very different meaning. The influence of the earlier songs about the holly and the ivy was apparently so strong that the ivy was given a cameo appearance in this one, too — despite the fact that only the holly has any major role to play in it.

What we see played out in “The Contest of the Holly and the Ivy” and similar songs (perhaps dating back to medieval times) is the rivalry between men and women, thinly disguised as a contest between the holly and ivy. Holly was conceived of as being masculine in the plant symbology of the time, probably because it is more rigid and prickly; while the softer ivy is associated with the feminine in this tradition.

The reference to the holly’s “crown” in the first stanza should now make more sense, as should the inclusion of the ivy. While pagan memories of a Holly King may play an unconscious role in the “crown” reference, the primary meaning is, quite simply, that the holly and the ivy are vying for supremacy, and holly wins — this time.

Such was not always the result, however, in these old songs about the rivalry between the holly and the ivy. In “Ivy, Chief Of Trees, It Is,” for instance, it is the ivy that carries the day.”

Below are the lyrics for the two related songs, gleaned from various internet sources.

The Contest of the Holly and the Ivy

1. Holly standeth in the hall fair to behold,
Ivy stands without the door; she is full sore a cold.
    Nay, Ivy, nay

2. Holly and his merry men, they dancen and they sing;
Ivy and her maidens, they weepen and they wring.
    Nay, Ivy, nay

3. Ivy hath a lybe, she caught it with the cold,
So may they all have, that with Ivy hold.
    Nay, Ivy, nay

4. Holly hath berries, as red as any rose,
The foresters, the hunters, keep them from the does.
    Nay, Ivy, nay

5. Ivy hath berries as black as any sloe,
There come the owl and eat them as she go.
    Nay, Ivy, nay

6. Holly hath birds a full fair flock,
The nightingale, the poppinjay, the gentle laverock.
    Nay, Ivy, nay

7. Good Ivy, [good Ivy,] what birds hast thou,
None but the owlet that cries How! How!
    Nay, Ivy, nay

Ivy, Chief of Trees, It is

Ivy, chief of trees, it is;
Veni coronaberis.

1. The most worthy is she in town;
    He who says other, says amiss;
Worthy is she to bear the crown;
    Veni coronaberis.

2. Ivy is soft, and meek of speech,
    Against all woe she bringeth bliss;
Happy is he that may her reach:
    Veni coronaberis.

3. Ivy is green, of colour bright,
    Of all trees the chief she is;
And that I prove will now be right;
    Veni coronaberis.

4. Ivy, she beareth berries black;
    God grant to all of us his bliss!
For then we shall nothing lack;
    Veni coronaberis.

At What Cost: Superstition Leads To Slaying Of Albinos In Tanzania

Imagine being hunted for your body parts, by those who would carry them as lucky charms.  If you lived in Tanzania, and had albinism, this could be your reality.

I was stunned by the news of horrific albino slayings sometime last week.   The chilling nature of these events inspired me to start writing a short story based, in part, on the terrors of being a Tanzanian albino.  To this day, these people are being hunted for their body parts.  Their organs, especially the genitals, limbs, breasts, fingers and tongue, are sold to witchdoctors for a substantial sum.  These parts are then used in the making of potions and good luck charms, which are believed to bring about prosperity of the buyers.  In recent years, these items are experiencing a surge in popularity, particularly among miners and fishermen, leading to a massive outbreak of attacks and albino murders in Tanzania and neighboring countries.

It seems that albinos, with their conspicuous and unusual appearance, are considered mystical, ‘ghostlike’ beings in Tanzania, and are often suspected of witchcraft by the rural populace.  Nonetheless I find it hard to believe that so many people are willing to purchase the body parts of slain human beings in some kind of superstitious ‘get rich quick’ scheme.  This speaks volumes on the terrible greed of humanity.  Fortunately, this sort of thing is rare enough to shock and horrify most of the world.

If you’d like more information on this crisis, here are some links to news stories:

BBC News: Tanzania Fear Over Albino Killings

Ground Report: Superstitious Albino Killings In Tanzania Must Stop

Now Public: Albino Killings In Tanzania

ABC News: Journey To Tanzania: Reporter Exposes Epidemic of Albino Killings

Got Exorcism Insurance?

I just learned of this & wonder if there’s anything left to see at the site. 

From the Canton Repository on September 15, 2009…

Woman tells police she burned down her house because it was haunted


A woman who watched her house burn from a few hundred feet away told police she set it afire “because she was sick of living there, and it was haunted,” Stark County Jail records said.

Kristine M. Hambuechen, 41, of 19 Penberthy Pl. NE, was arrested at Eighth Street and Lincoln Way St. E at 5:37 p.m. Monday and charged with aggravated arson. She also goes by the last name of Pritchett, according to Massillon police reports.

Her home was destroyed.

Firefighters arrived at 5:12 p.m. Monday to find smoke coming from several windows, said Assistant Fire Chief Stephen Collins. Bystanders told them Hambuechen was already out of the house, he said.

Collins said the fire, which started in the bedroom and the living room, had destroyed the house by the time firefighters forced their way in. He estimated damage at $10,000 to the structure and at $5,000 to its contents.

Police reports said the home is owned by R&G Rentals, 4509 Forest Glen Ave. in Massillon.

The police reports said Hambuechen called police from a pay phone at a nearby Fill and Go gas station to report the fire.

She told arriving officers that she lit her house on fire by piling clothes in the bedroom and living room and then lighting them with an orange and black lighter.

“She stated that the house was haunted and that the walls were moving, and that she wanted to be free of the  home and the demons,” according to a report filed by Patrolman Brian Muntean.

Investigator Ron Winters of the Fire Department reported that the smoke detectors inside the house had been removed from the ceilings and placed on a chair.

Witnesses told police that Hambuechen left the house and sat on a lawn chair in the middle of the road directly outside of the house, appearing “to be watching it.”

Hambuechen remained in jail Tuesday morning, pending a hearing in Massillon Municipal Court. She was held in lieu of $50,000 bond.

Learn To Talk Like A Carny

Feel like brushing up on your circus lingo?  Ready to immerse yourself in the vibrant subculture of the carnival?  Then you, too, could find a use for the…

Ultimate Circus/ Carnival Dictionary


Yes, that’s a link.  On this site, you’ll find well over a hundred pages of relevant terms used in carnivals and circuses in Europe and the US.

Siamese Twin-gerbreads?

Just in time for the holidays!  Look at this!  These tasty cookies are never alone, even if they’re the last one on the plate.

Apparently, making conjoined cookies is a long- standing historical tradition.  One of the earliest documented cases of conjoined twins was that of Mary and Eliza Chulkhurst. They were born in Biddenden, County of Kent, England in the year 1100, and were joined at the hip.

The wealthy sisters, who were known as the Biddenden Maids, lived for 34 years. When they died, they left a small fortune to the Church of England. In honor of their generosity, it was customary for English citizens to bake little biscuits and cakes in the sisters’ images and give them to the poor.

I post the link to these cookie cutters with the understanding that no one who swaps cookies with me is permitted to buy one. 

To purchase a Siamese twin cookie cutter of your very own

The Plague Doctor’s Garb

Indigo may have thought he was just a man in an unpainted Venetian nose mask this Halloween.  But in fact, he was following in the footsteps of Medieval Europe’s finest Plague Doctors.


Considered an early form of hazmat suit, a plague doctor’s clothing consisted of:

•A wide-brimmed black hat worn close to the head. At the time, a wide-brimmed black hat would have been identified a person as a doctor, much the same as how nowadays a hat may identify chefs, soldiers, and workers. The wide-brimmed hat may have also been used as partial shielding from infection.

• A primitive gas mask in the shape of a bird’s beak. A common belief at the time was that the plague was spread by birds. There may have been a belief that by dressing in a bird-like mask, the wearer could draw the plague away from the patient and onto the garment the plague doctor wore. The mask also included red glass eyepieces, which were thought to make the wearer impervious to evil. The beak of the mask was often filled with strongly aromatic herbs and spices to overpower the miasmas or “bad air” which was also thought to carry the plague. At the very least, it may have dulled the smell of unburied corpses, sputum, and ruptured bouboules in plague victims.

• A long, black overcoat. The overcoat worn by the plague doctor was tucked in behind the beak mask at the neckline to minimize skin exposure. It extended to the feet, and was often coated head to toe in suet or wax. A coating of suet may have been used with the thought that the plague could be drawn away from the flesh of the infected victim and either trapped by the suet, or repelled by the wax. The coating of wax likely served as protection against respiratory droplet contamination, but it was not known at the time if coughing carried the plague. It was likely that the overcoat was waxed to simply prevent sputum or other bodily fluids from clinging to it.

• A wooden cane. The cane was used to both direct family members to move the patient, other individuals nearby, and possibly to examine patients without directly touching them.

• Leather breeches. Similar to waders worn by fishermen, leather breeches were worn beneath the cloak to protect the legs and groin from infection. Since the plague often tended to manifest itself first in the lymph nodes, particular attention was paid to protecting the armpits, neck, and groin. It is not known how often or widespread plague doctors were, or how effective they were in treatment of the disease. It’s likely that while offering some protection to the wearer, they may have actually contributed more to the spreading of the disease than its treatment, in that the plague doctor unknowingly served as a vector for infected fleas to move from host to host.

(Plague doctor info gleaned from Wikipedia.  Pictures collected from random sources, especially Deviantart.)