Monday, August 31, 2009

The Mann Gulch Fire

Click on image to read.

FOR THE SECOND TIME IN THE LAST FEW WEEKS, I VISITED MY FRIEND BOB in his attic sanctuary for an evening of music, a few cold beers, conversation and laughs. Bob calls his space ‘Mantown’, a private space he only shares with his closest friends. I am saving a full description of this wonderful place for another post, because Mantown is where I have had some of the best moments of my life.

Music is always a key to our experience in Mantown, and the acoustics there are perfect. Seriously, I believe if experts were to test the acoustics in his attic retreat—they would find it to be fault free. Maybe it’s because we sit directly below the pointed, 4-sided top crown of his 100-year old, 2-story house. When there, we sit in two, well-used and beer stained recliners (with foot rests) which make up the center of the room. From this resting point and directly above us is insulation of the pointed roof that has been covered by bed ticking material. My guess is that (by accident) the chairs sit in a perfect sound chamber duplicated only by the finest concert halls. The sound experience… is just…amazing.

I promise to someday reveal the complete story of Mantown to my readers, but today I want to tell you about a song we listened to last night called Cold Missouri Waters, written by James Keelaghan and performed by Richard Shindell. The version we listened to was a live recording of this song, which tells the true story of the disastrous Mann Gulch fire, which occurred 60 years ago this past August 5, (in 1949). Shindell sings this ballad about the smokejumpers in the voice of one of the only survivors of the fire, Wagner “Wag” Dodge. “Wag,” as he called by his friends— was the leader of the firefighters, and died of Hodgkin’s disease just 4 short years after the fire. He lived his remaining years answering questions as to why (as team leader) he survived and so many of the others didn’t. What happened, and the unorthodox thing Dodge did to try and save the group, is forever set in firefighting lore and legend—the story of the Mann Gulch fire.

The following is an account of the fire as told by Eban Lehman. Lehman joined the Forest History Society (FHS) staff in September 2007, following graduate studies and archival experience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He works with the digitization and cataloging of the Photograph Collection, manages the FHS Environmental History Bibliography, and processes archival collections. His previous archival work includes several years with the Missouri State Archives.

“After landing on the ground a half-mile from the fire, the 15 smokejumpers were met by James O. Harrison, a fire guard from the nearby Meriwether Canyon Campground, and the group headed down the gulch towards the nearby Missouri River to stake a safer position. The dry conditions and high winds, along with a change in wind direction, caused the fire to suddenly expand. The men’s route was cut off, forcing them back uphill while trying to outrun the swiftly advancing fire. It was later estimated that during this blow-up stage, the fire covered 3,000 acres in 10 minutes.

Realizing the imminent danger, the smokejumper crew’s foreman R. Wagner “Wag” Dodge told his men to drop their heavy tools and run, with the fire at this point less than 100 yards behind them and closing fast. Moving up the hillside, Dodge stopped to set a small escape fire, attempting to create a burned-over area that the fire would bypass. He directed the men towards this safe area, but the rest of the group continued to flee uphill. Two of the smokejumpers, Walter B. Rumsey and Robert W. Sallee, found a crevice in the rock wall at the top of the canyon and climbed inside. The ferocious fire overtook the group. Dodge, Rumsey, and Sallee would be the only survivors.

The events of Mann Gulch forever changed wildland firefighting. The Forest Service would institute new training techniques and improved safety measures for its firefighters and smokejumpers. The agency would also place more emphasis on fire research and the science of fire behavior, resulting in improved firefighting techniques and equipment. These developments, though, will never overshadow the immense tragedy of this day for this group of brave firefighters.”

Here are the lyrics to the song, performed in this version by Richard Shindell, Lucy Kaplansky, and Dar Williams in the group Cry Cry Cry in 1999. I could not find a video of the live version I heard last night, so read along with this version, and learn the true story of a 60 year old heroic firefighting disaster.

Cold Missouri Waters

(Words & music James Keelaghan)

  • My name is Dodge, but then you know that
    It’s written on the chart there at the foot end of the bed
    They think I’m blind, I can’t read it
    I’ve read it every word, and every word it says is death
    So, Confession - is that the reason that you came
    Get it off my chest before I check out of the game
    Since you mention it, well there’s thirteen things I’ll name
    Thirteen crosses high above the cold Missouri waters

    August ‘Forty-Nine, north Montana
    The hottest day on record, the forest tinder dry
    Lightning strikes in the mountains
    I was crew chief at the jump base, I prepared the boys to fly
    Pick the drop zone, C-47 comes in low
    Feel the tap upon your leg that tells you go
    See the circle of the fire down below
    Fifteen of us dropped above the cold Missouri waters

    Gauged the fire, I’d seen bigger
    So I ordered them to sidehill and we’d fight it from below
    We’d have our backs to the river
    We’d have it licked by morning even if we took it slow
    But the fire crowned, jumped the valley just ahead
    There was no way down, headed for the ridge instead
    Too big to fight it, we’d have to fight that slope instead
    Flames one step behind above the cold Missouri waters

    Sky had turned red, smoke was boiling
    Two hundred yards to safety, death was fifty yards behind
    I don’t know why I just thought it
    I struck a match to waist high grass running out of time
    Tried to tell them, Step into this fire I set
    We can’t make it, this is the only chance you’ll get
    But they cursed me, ran for the rocks above instead
    I lay face down and prayed above the cold Missouri waters

    And when I rose, like the phoenix
    In that world reduced to ashes there were none but two survived

    I stayed that night and one day after

    Carried bodies to the river, wonder how I stayed alive

    Thirteen stations of the cross to mark their fall

    I’ve had my say, I’ll confess to nothing more

    I’ll join them now, because they left me long before

    Thirteen crosses high above the cold Missouri waters
    Thirteen crosses high above the cold Missouri shore

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Messing with American Currency

TWO FRENCH ARTISTS, IVAN DUVAL AND JEAN SEBASTIEN IDES, have been messing with American currency. And why not? As art, these greenbacks are worth more painted than not.

Via Toxel.

Friday, August 28, 2009

American-Russian Cold War Propaganda

(Above) American pulp fiction novel. Click image for larger view.

(Above) Russian warning to musicians—it’s better to play your instrument in Russia where you will be appreciated. Click image for larger view.

(Above) American movie with fear at its core. Click image for larger view.

(Above) Not sure what this says, but it’s great to be in mother Russia. Click image for larger view.

(Above) A completely absurd American comic. Click image for larger view.

(Above) Soviet Russian poster. Click image for larger view.

(Above) What if the Commies invaded the U.S.? Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen will be ready to kick some butt! Click image for larger view.

(Above) Russian poster espousing the benefits of Soviet goods and services, as opposed to the paltry return on American labor. Click image for larger view.

(Above) American pamphlet designed to scare the hell out of us. Click image for larger view.

(Above) Russian poster saying they don’t want what we have—capitalism. Click image for larger view.

IT IS QUITE REVEALING, IN RETROSPECT, TO EXAMINE AMERICAN-RUSSIAN COLD WAR PROPAGANDA. TIME PUTS EVERYTHING IN ITS PROPER PERSPECTIVE. In this post, I have gathered posters and other media visuals from both the former USSR and the United States, to see how each side portrayed the other. Somewhere between all of this lies a little strip of land called the truth, but it’s only through education, awareness and the questioning of authority that you will be able to find it. And that strip of land still exists today—but beware those who say they know where it is, for it is well hidden. Truth, as it is exists for nations and the people who live there, is not always a pretty place. It can break our hearts and sour our relationship with our own leadership.

In the United States today, we have a kind of propaganda at work through television and radio media that is more pervasive and slick than we have ever seen before—media from both sides which disguises itself as “news” and pushes one agenda or another. As tiresome as it gets, that is the beauty of a free country. Americans, be them liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, independents, Christians, Catholics, atheists—whatever your race, creed, religion, beliefs or moniker—we should always question what we hear from so called “authority” figures. These authority figures are our own presidents, senators, congressmen, news media organizations, commentators, anchor persons, ministers, police, corporations, books, advertisements, utility companies, military generals, mayors, artists, environmentalists, preachers, rabbis, priests, teachers and professors. We are being whispered at, lectured to, reminded, and shouted at from many different sides by those who will say “this is the truth!” And you know what folks— it’s not necessarily so. We must listen to all sides and find the truth ourselves, because those who say they know for sure where the truth lies—well, they may be right and they may be wrong, and may have only a piece of it correct. For sure, the truth does not always come from our nation’s leaders. It doesn’t come from any one place. The truth is everywhere. It is right in front of us and yet it is so very hard to find.

The propaganda posters in this post contain no truth, tiny shreds of truth and complete truths. Drinking Bud Light will not make me popular with women nor will driving a new BMW. Or will it? Joseph Goebbels, the infamous Nazi propaganda minister, said: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

So, the next time you see a bumper sticker with the words “Question Authority”— think of those words as a simple voice reminding you to just think for yourself. It’s not anti-American to question authority— it is our American right to do so.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bending Wire

(Above) Initial wire frame of a Lamborghini.

(Above) After the paint, and ready to go.

(Above and below) The making of a life-sized Toyota Corolla.

(Above) I love this image. How surreal is this?

ARTIST BENEDICT RADCLIFFE BENDS WIRE. WHAT HE LIKES TO BEND WIRE INTO ARE BEAUTIFUL, LIFE-SIZED AUTOMOBILES THAT ARE WAY COOL. Radcliffe calls himself a “bender” because he bends and welds wire all day. He also says his work is “really hard... and boring.”

The images above of the Toyota Corolla are from a commissioned project for Toyota for an advertisement in the Middle East.

Learn more here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Czech Poster Art ROCKS!

Definitely! Click images for larger view.

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(yes! for sale!) are simply amazing, and I just scratched the surface in an hour of intense looking. I am in awe of the incredible art, cinema and other real, vintage posters they have on display—enough to teach a class on post-modernist design or typography. It seems that most of the posters I like are from the 1960s. As always, I pulled a good number of my favorites to wet your appetite.

The shop is called Terry Posters, and was opened by film director Terry Gilliam in November 2005. The shop is run by a group of people who also manage the two biggest art cinemas in Prague, Aero and Světozor. Terry Posters exists as a physical shop in the lobby of Světozor cinema (Vodičkova 41, Praha 1) as well as on the web.

For the last two years, Terry Posters has become one of the world’s largest dealers of film posters with a public database of over 5,000 posters on the web. The owners also set up and support film poster exhibitions, with a goal to increase public awareness of Czech graphic art.

I believe this database of film posters is a very important archive for designers, film historians and anyone else in the graphic arts. What do you think?

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