Pumpkin-centric Weekend

It seems like I spent the majority of my time over this past weekend dealing with pumpkins. On Friday night I cooked up all three of my orange jack-o-lanterns (I had two white ones as well, but they had white flesh and a melon-like consistency, so I decided they probably wouldn’t cook up well with the more traditional kind). Even without the white pumpkins, I think I will have enough to last me for a while.

This is all going into the freezer for now, but a good quantity of it will become pumpkin butter as soon as I deal with the other fresh food in my fridge that I have to put up. I did a lot better this year with regards to processing my pumpkin in a timely manner, since I only got to it at the start of December. I mean, it hadn’t spoiled, but I was definitely running slow. I didn’t have a lot of leeway this year since the gourds were already carved, and once the innards are exposed to the air they can go bad pretty quickly.


Photo by Karen Turnbull

Then on Saturday I headed out to Metcalfe where the South Tower Armouring Guild was hosting their annual Great Pumpkin Massacre. Basically, sword handling enthusiasts get together with their weapons and take turns using them on pumpkins, which are bought by the truckload after Halloween. People also bring along their Halloween pumpkins and carved jack-o-lanterns. All kinds of weapons are used in the “massacre”: swords, axes, knives, maces, sledgehammers, machetes… No projectile weapons, though! Everybody just hangs out and has fun practicing their technique and/or venting their frustrations in a safe environment on some inanimate gourds. It may sound silly to some, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

Looking back through my photos I realized that I’ve actually been attending this event for eleven years! The above photo was taken by a good friend of mine back in 2009, on a year when the weather was much nicer. I didn’t even bring my camera this year because it was raining and I didn’t want to chance getting it wet. (And yes, the sword I’m holding in the picture is taller than I am. It belongs to a much taller person. Yes, I can wield it. No, I cannot wield it well.)

Although I took the above photo of a friend of mine in 2014, it’s a better representation of the weather we had yesterday — and everyone was even more bundled up than this! And muddy. Very, very muddy. It was very cold and wet, with wind that just drove the moist, cold air right through your warm woollies. We still had a good time, but it would have been better if the weather had been lovely and sunny like it was on Sunday.

Pumpkin Massacre 2018 Slo-Mo

As you can see, despite the weather the pumpkin horde met their demise. I think that this year’s weapon of choice was the sledgehammer, specifically because it makes the pumpkins splat so nicely.

I’d like to say a big thank you to STAG for hosting and coordinating this event every year. It has been one of the highlights of my autumn for eleven years now.

Take a Hike

I rather enjoy walking in the woods not far from home; calling it “hiking” might be a bit of an exaggeration, since the areas I frequent are wide, well-groomed trails not far from civilization, for the most part. But I thought it might be nice to take a short hike (about 6.5km) through the Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic Area (map here).

Now, I could do 6.5km in town on paved streets without really trying, but hiking in the woods is a different matter. The trails here are well-marked, but not nearly as well-groomed as I’m used to — but that’s probably the city girl in me. I had to watch my footing carefully to be sure not to turn an ankle on a root or one of the many, many fallen acorns. That was what made the most noise in the forest while I walked, other than me: acorns falling off of the trees. I’m surprised I didn’t get beaned.

The first part of the trail was pretty steep, with even a few switchbacks to keep the adventure from transitioning from “hiking” to “climbing”. I took the Blue Trail from the Visitor’s Center to the first overlook, and was treated with the above view from the top of Pyramid Mountain. I believe that the water you can see at the bottom is part of the Taylortown Reservoir. Obviously this hike was taken a few weeks ago, before the leaves started to change; I imagine that the view must be even lovelier with the fiery colours of fall.

Continuing on, I was paying such careful attention to my footing that I almost missed this tiny little wizard hiding in a tree.

The Blue Trail continued to Tripod Rock, which is a glacial erratic, which is basically a large rock dropped by the Wisconsin Glacier that doesn’t geologically match the stone in the surrounding area. It’s also called a perched boulder because, well, it’s perched on three smaller boulders. As precarious as this placement may seem, it’s a very sturdy formation and isn’t likely to shift anytime soon, barring human intervention.

Here’s a shot of me with the rock for scale. Please excuse the frizzy hair; it was very hot and humid that day! I should have brought a hair clip. I took these photos with my camera propped up on the bedrock outcrop that is mentioned on the Wikipedia entry map, if you’re trying to figure out the orientation.

From this angle you can see the supporting tripod of boulders more clearly.

Next it was down the Blue/White Trail to check out Bear Rock. This is another glacial erratic and it absolutely dwarfs its better-known compatriot:

This photo was taken from the little bridge over Bear House Brook; my camera was propped up on one of the railings.

After this point I misread a trail marker and ended up halfway through Bear Swamp before the masses of mosquitoes clued me into the fact that I’d made a wrong turn. Then I hiked back to Bear Rock, took the White Trail to the Blue Trail back to the visitor’s center and my car.

Except for my wrong turn, which was entirely my own fault, this was a lovely hike and I highly recommend it! The rock formations are very interesting and make great destinations.

Geeking Out in Red Bank

Not only am I sick now, but so is the entire rest of my family, so there won’t be too much cooking going on for a bit. So I guess I will continue to regale you with tales of my trip to New Jersey since that was, if not an exotic location, definitely a fun one.

At a friend’s suggestion, I drove out to Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash in Red Bank. For those not in the know, it’s a comic book store owned by Kevin Smith, who is the writer/director/actor of the View View Askewniverse movies (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, etc.) — among many other things. Honestly, it’s just a comic book store, which is something I am eminently familiar with back home; after all, I worked in one for a while back in high school. My main reason for visiting this particular store was a) the owner, and b) the movie ephemera from Smith’s movies that are displayed in glass cases on site. You see, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was the movie that my husband and I watched on our first date, so I kind of had to go check out the Secret Stash.

Of course, I had to get a selfie with Buddy Christ from Dogma. I don’t usually take selfies, but I made a special exception here.

On my way out of the shop, I discovered that it is also a Pokéstop in PokémonGo, to my complete and utter lack of surprise — most comic book stores and geek-related places are.

On my walk back to my car, I stumbled upon YESTERcades of Red Bank; with all of its windows open on that warm day, the sounds of the vintage video games drew me in. I discovered that instead of paying by the game, there you pay a flat hourly fee or buy a day pass, and you can play as many times as you want. At $8.75 per hour or $25 per day, that’s a lot less than I would have paid when I went to the arcade as a kid… What can I say, I like video games, but I die a lot. Honestly, if they had one of these in town, I know where I’d be taking my kids for their next birthdays!

They had a wall of pinball games, more modern games with flat screens and couches, as well as a party room in the back.

I’m pretty sure I recognized 95% of the games there and have played 75% of them at least once. My fave find was their TRON cabinet, since it’s definitely the most meta video game I know of.

Site of the New Jersey Shark Attacks of 1916

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m a big fan of thrillers and horror movies, and 1975’s Jaws was a pioneer of the genre. With its big-name director, iconic movie monster, and unforgettable score, this movie is definitely noteworthy in the history of film. However, what a lot of people forget is that it’s based on a 1974 novel by Peter Benchley, which was itself inspired by the 1916 New Jersey shark attacks. I knew that when I got an opportunity, I absolutely had to visit the location where it all started.

Shark attacks have become somewhat expected in open ocean water, although in reality the likelihood of a shark attack is much lower than the hype would have us believe. However, in the summer of 1916 there was an intense heat wave and a polio epidemic in New Jersey and nearby New York City, which sent those who could manage it out to the seaside to swim and take in the ocean breezes. Perhaps the upsurge of people in the water attracted the sharks — or at the very least gave plenty of targets to the sharks that already lived in the area. Over twelve days in July, four people were killed and one seriously injured off the Jersey shore. Newspapers of the time, sensing a sensation, ran stories about fishermen catching all kinds of “man-eating” sharks, even though many of the photos had been taken long before the attacks. The panic level was high.

The attack of Charles Vansant off of Beach Haven on July 1st and the attack of Charles Bruder off of Spring Lake on July 6th actually occurred in the while the men were swimming in the ocean, although they were very close to shore. However, what stands out the most to me is that the July 12th attacks on Lester Stillwell and Stanley Fisher happened in Matawan Creek, which is brackish or even fresh water depending on how far upstream you go. Joseph Dunn, who was was the only person to survive the attacks, was also swimming somewhat up the creek when he was bitten by the shark half an hour after the two fatal attacks there.

I can understand why the 1916 shark attacks gripped people of the time with such terror. After the first one, people were on guard; after the second proved that it wasn’t just a one-time event, most wise people along the ocean eschewed ocean swimming altogether. But no one could have predicted that there would be a shark in the fresh water of Matawan Creek. In the middle of a heat wave and long before the invention of air conditioning, all these poor people wanted to do was cool off.

There is a memorial to the two Matawan shark attack fatalities in the town’s Memorial Park. This park also includes tributes to lives lost in WWI, WWII, and to two poor souls who were unlucky enough to be victims of 9/11. The memorial reads as follows:

The Attack: On July 12, 1916 an eight foot shark enters Matawan Creek. Six boys are swimming at the Wyckoff dock. One of the youngest boys, Lester Stillwell, is attacked by the shark and perishes. Stanley Fisher, a young businessman, gallantly tries to recover the body of the boy and dies.

The Victims: Lester Stillwell, and eleven year old local boy, dies immediately. His body surfaces two days later. Stanley Fisher, a twenty-four year old tailor, dies from his shark wounds the same day as the attack. Both Lester and Stanley are buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Matawan.

The Legacy: Exceptional courage was shown by local residents during this tragedy. This incident was an inspiration for novels, books and movies.

On July 14th, a 300lb bull shark (which can survive in both fresh water and saltwater) was caught, and when it was dissected 15lbs of human remains were found in its stomach. While that might not have been the only shark to attack a human over this period, there were no further attacks after it was caught.

This is what Matawan Creek looks like today; in all honesty, it’s unremarkable in almost every way, except for its history. This is the section of the creek that is visible from the Main Street bridge over Gravelly Brook; the bridge in the background is Aberdeen Road. The attacks actually happened a bit further east from what you can see from the memorial site, just west of where the Garden State Parkway goes over the water.

Visually, the only thing that stands out about this area is Lake Matawan, which is the body of water you can see behind the trees in the photo of the memorial. It looks like a bright green lawn that’s visible between the branches, but no, that is actually water. It is a brilliant shade of opaque emerald that I have never seen anywhere else. A bit of research leads me to understand that the lake is quite polluted and has a high copper content, and it is also actually highly acidic, meaning that very little aquatic life survives there except for one particularly brilliantly green variety of filamentous algae. The water here really looks like it should be in a canister labelled “TGRI”.

Not far from Memorial Park is Rose Hill Cemetery where Stillwell and Fisher’s graves are located. The cemetery is easily accessed via Ravine Drive. There are “No Trespassing” signs at entrance, but there are no gates. This seemingly mixed message is because apparently there was vandalism occurring in this graveyard, especially back in the 1970’s. However, polite, respectful guests are welcome to visit (or jog, or walk their dogs) on the property. Keep in mind, though, that this is still an active cemetery — graves were actually being dug while I was there — so if you do make this visit, please steer clear of mourners and leave them in peace. (Luckily there were no mourners onsite for me to disturb during my visit.)

Popular interest in the shark attacks is evident by the mementos left at Lester Stillwell’s grave. Since the poor child died over a hundred years ago, it’s highly doubtful that family or friends who knew him are still visiting his gravestone. While I was the only person in the graveyard other than the gravediggers (do they still call them that?), there had obviously been many visitors recently, probably over the summer, since the items weren’t too faded.

Stanley Fisher was buried in a family plot just up the hill from Stillwell, so the family stone is the most prominent one.

Fisher’s personal marker is a bit behind the stone bearing the family name, and it too shows evidence of recent visits, although not as much so as Stillwell’s. There were also a number of pebbles placed atop the family stone, much like at the Evans/Ellis cemetery.

Now, as for rumours that this is “one of the most haunted cemeteries in the United States”? Don’t believe the hype. Even if I put stock in such things (which I don’t), this is a well-maintained, peaceful, not-at-all-scary cemetery. Tragic stories abound in this old graveyard, true; they don’t start and end with shark attack victims. Some of the graves date back to the 1700’s, and with a long enough history there are inevitably tales to be told. At the very least there are soldiers from the Revolutionary and Civil War buried there. But the reality is that all graveyards contain stories, because stories are how we remember the people who have passed. And sometimes those stories just so happen to be so gripping that they transcend the circle of people that we knew in life and become the basis for a tale that enthralls and terrifies audiences worldwide. I think that’s as close to a haunting as one can reasonably expect.

Evans/Ellis Cemetery

Today I’m continuing with the interesting places I visited on my recent trip to the States, because heaven knows I won’t be cooking right now with this nasty cold knocking me off my feet. One of my favourite spots was the Evans/Ellis cemetery in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

It’s a tiny little family cemetery, with only seven permanent residents and one gravestone (although there used to be two). What makes the graveyard notable isn’t its occupants, although there were (untrue) rumours at one time that the story of Mary Ellis, whose name is first on the remaining headstone, was the inspiration for the 1972 pop song “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)”. No, what is most notable about this graveyard is its unusual location.

This tiny little graveyard is right in the middle of the rear parking lot for an AMC movie theater!

In the other direction, it overlooks a construction site.

This little cemetery originally was on Mary Ellis’ private farmland, as so many old family plots used to be. As you can see in the historical photographs from Weird N.J., it was originally on a small hill, surrounded by a wrought iron fence and had two headstones. However, the land was sold to developers in the 1960’s; since it is conveniently located next to US Highway 1, it is prime commercial real estate. The ground around the plot was leveled to make for better parking for the Great Eastern Department Store, which eventually closed and became the Route 1 Flea Market. Then, once the land was sold again, the developers again declined to move the graves, instead choosing to bring the surrounding ground down even further. They built a rather attractive eight-foot retaining wall around the site, and now the graves overlook quite a stretch of pavement.

Unfortunately, despite the obvious evidence of visitors to the grave in the form of a rough path beaten down in the undergrowth and pebbles on top of the headstone, the Evans/Ellis cemetery is sadly neglected. If I’d had more time in the area, I might have headed out to the local hardware store to grab some gardening gloves and yard waste bags so as to rescue the plot from some very aggressive vines. If I’m ever back in town, I think I will do just that.

The War of the Worlds Ground Zero

I’m sick as a dog today with a powerful head cold, sinus headache, and fever, which means for the next little while I won’t be cooking anything. Thank goodness for Thanksgiving leftovers! Given that I can’t write about what I’m cooking or crafting or thrifting, since I’m really not up to any of the three, I thought I’d tell you a bit about my recent trip to New Jersey.

My husband had a business trip in the Dover area; I left Thing 1 and Thing 2 with my parents for a week and traveled with him. We drove down and stayed in the hotel room that his work would have paid for in any case, which meant that this was a really cheap trip. While my hubby was working during the day, I had access to a car and got to explore the area. Since I have been to the US a few times before (honestly, Dover’s only about a six hour drive from home), I didn’t feel the need to visit the major tourist sites. Instead, I planned my trip with a lot of help from Atlas Obscura.

One of my stops along the way was Grover’s Mill Pond, which is accessible to the public via the Van Nest Park. The park has a free parking lot, bathrooms, a playground, a field, and a paved walking path. The path leads to Grover’s Mill Pond, which, according to a plaque, was the subject of a restoration project in 2008-2009, when the West Windsor Township and the US Army Corps of Engineers restored the aquatic habitat by dredging silt from the pond and restocking it with fish. It’s a lovely, peaceful place, with a small boardwalk and benches from which you can enjoy the view.

More importantly, at least to me, is that in the October 30, 1938 radio play broadcast of the radio adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel The War of the Worlds, Grover’s Mill is the site of the very first Martian landing. (In the original novel, the first landing is on Horsell Common, in Woking, Surrey, England.)

If you’re not familiar with The War of the Worlds’ radio broadcast, there are four informative plaques along the path to the pond. These are part of an Eagle Scout project by Danny Fitzpatrick in 2013. In part, he writes that:

The War of the Worlds was a science fiction novel by H.G. Wells that was adapted by the Mercury Group on CBS radio at 8:00pm on October 30, 1938. The production was directed and narrated by Orson Welles, who also voiced many of the characters. When Welles and Howard Koch adapted the book for a radio play, the script was written and performed so it would sound like a news broadcast about an alien invasion. While the broadcaster made several periodic announcements that the show was a fictional performance, many listeners believed that the events were actually happening.

The October 30th Broadcast

The broadcast was one hour long and consisted of multiple news bulletins which interrupted “Ramon Raquello and His Orchestra” playing smooth jazz. The skit involved on the scene reporters and scientific authorities who reported on the events occurring as the Martian capsule landed in Grover’s Mill. The Martians attacked and destroyed the New Jersey State Militia and then they attacked other cities throughout the country, including New York City.

The last portion of the broadcast was a monologue by Welles explaining that the Martians had been killed by a pathogen. To end the show, Welles went back to his normal persona and announced that the show was a Halloween joke.

There are debates as to how many people took this fake news broadcast seriously, and how widespread the ensuing panic really was. However, it cannot be denied that the broadcast caused a sensation that remains memorable to this day. It was considered important enough that it was made part of the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2003. You can listen to a recording of the original broadcast here, or, if you would prefer, a transcript is available here.

The entire time I walked through the park, I had The Eve of War (a modern version of which I have linked above) playing in my head. For me, the War of the Worlds that I grew up with wasn’t actually the 1938 radio play, but Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, which was narrated by Richard Burton. I believe my mother had it on record, or she borrowed it from one of her friends. She then made my brother and I a copy on tape — and it terrified me. The concept of the Red Weed terrified me especially, for some reason, and I would have the most vivid nightmares. My little brother, on the other hand, absolutely loved it. He would listen to it over and over as loud as his little tape deck would play, and I could hear it throughout the house. It got to the point that even hearing the opening chords was enough to bring me to tears — so, of course, in the way of all pestering younger siblings, my brother made a point of torturing me with it as often as possible.

As an adult, though, I can appreciate the album for its beautiful score and slightly trippy 70’s vibe. And I think that my grounding in this album made me really appreciate the sound design of Steven Spielberg’s 2005 adaptation, where the tripods sound like a cross between those opening chords and the ship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Looking toward Grover’s Mill Pond from the park (but not actually visible from the path to the pond due to a bush), there is a large metal plaque dedicated to the fictional Martian landing site. If the bush wasn’t in the way, you’d be able to see the pond directly behind the monument. Despite what this photo looks like, the area is not usually under water; New Jersey has had record levels of rain this summer, and the ground has simply reached its saturation point, so there is standing water in a lot of lower-lying areas.

One of the things I find interesting about this monument is that the Martian ship more closely resembles a flying saucer, while the crafts are described as tripods in the broadcast, just like in the original novel. The idea of flying saucers really caught on after the 1950’s, long after the broadcast. I guess the scaffolding-looking area underneath the saucer could be tripod legs, but it really looks much more like a modern depiction of a flying saucer.

It’s difficult to read in the photo, but the writing reads:

Martian Landing Site
October 30 1938
Grover’s Mill, NJ

On the evening of October 30, 1938, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre presented a dramatization of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds as adapted by Howard Koch. This was to become a landmark in broadcast history, provoking continuing thought about media responsibility, social psychology and civil defense. For a brief time as many as one million people throughout the country believed that Martians had invaded the earth, beginning with Grover’s Mill, New Jersey.

Although this was a small monument, I really wanted to see this particular place because The War of the Worlds played such an enormous part of my cultural upbringing. I am sure that it influenced to my interest in horror storytelling, music, and sound design. It definitely contributed to my lifelong obsession with the weird and wonderful.

Ladysmith Oktoberfest

This past weekend I headed out with Thing 2 to the cottage that my parents were renting to help them clean it out for the season. Not coincidentally, this happened to be the same weekend as the Ladysmith Oktoberfest celebration, so we had to stop on by. I’m mostly of British, Irish, and Scottish descent myself, although heaven knows that our family tree hasn’t been tracked back very far, so it’s possible that there are many other nationalities mixed in there further back. My husband, though, has strong ties to German and Poland (close to the German border) through his maternal grandparents, so my children share this heritage as well. I thought it might be nice for Thing 2 to get a glimpse of this part of her family history.

Oktoberfest in Ladysmith is a pretty big deal locally. As of the 2016 census, there are only 448 people who live in the Thorne township; I would estimate that less than half of that population lives in Ladysmith proper. Nonetheless, when Oktoberfest rolls around, the hotel and nearby cottages are booked solid, and the fields and yards nearby are filled with campers and trucks and tents. People come to visit with friends, take in the entertainment, shop, dance, drink, and celebrate their cultural heritage. After all, a large percentage of the population thereabouts is of mixed British Isles and German descent — which is why, despite being in Quebec, the area remains predominantly anglophone.

For Thing 2, the highlight of Oktoberfest was the live music. Music has always been able to soothe this savage little beast. She sat, enraptured, as the Kyle Felvhaver Band did two sets. When the Ottawa Valley Step Dancers came in, she was enthralled by the rhythm that their shoes tapped out. And when the band played slow dances and waltzes, her eyes followed the dancers on the floor as they circled around the room. She enthusiastically proclaimed to me that when she is old enough to take music at school, she wants to be a drummer! With Thing 1 starting to learn clarinet this year (just like her dad did), I have a feeling that between the two girls, any peace and quiet we ever did experience at home is now a thing of the past. And yet I can’t begrudge them an instant of it.

Thing 2 also insisted that I take a picture of the decorations on the ceiling with all of the “fairy lights”.

Of course, Thing 2’s second-favourite part of the day was the Bratwurst sausages, which might just be her favourite food ever. She managed to eat a whole one herself, which was pretty incredible considering their size.

Sadly, the weather for Oktoberfest was not the greatest; it alternated between rain and shine all day. But this meant that before we left the cottage for the last time this season, we were treated to an especially brilliant rainbow over the lake. Not a bad goodbye, if you ask me.