Archive for May, 2012

  • Blog
  • May 30th, 2012

Living in a Glass House

By Joel M. Vance

             In case you have been on vacation in another solar system, you may not know that Japan flirted with nuclear disaster after an earthquake that damaged a supposedly earthquake-proof nuclear plant. This in a nation that still is the only one on earth to have experienced first hand the full horrors of runaway radiation (with the possible exception of Russia’s Chernobyl disaster).

            Now debris from that earthquake is drifting ashore on our West Coast, and bluefin tuna are testing higher than previously for radiation.  They still are deemed “safe” to eat, but you wonder if there is anything left that really is safe to eat.

            Hark back several years to the presidential campaign.  John McCain made fun of Barack Obama’s suggestion to save gasoline by properly inflating tires.  He wanted to build nearly 50 more nuclear power plants in the United States.  He announced this plan at Monroe, Michigan, site of one of our nation’s two most frightening nuclear incidents.

            The other, of course, was Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, but less well known (and no less scary) was a 1966 near meltdown at the Fermi One reactor in Monroe.  The United Auto Workers had sued to block construction of the plant, citing the horrific prospects if there was a meltdown—but lost the case in the Supreme Court, 7-2.

            In the case of the Fermi suit, dissenting Supreme Court Justices William O. Douglas and Hugo Black wrote that nuclear power was being treated as “a lighthearted approach to the most awesome, the most deadly, the most dangerous process that man has ever conceived.”

            Had the Fermi plant exploded, a distinct possibility under the circumstances of the accident, the Great Lakes would have been contaminated, Detroit would have become a vast graveyard and people within a radius of several hundred miles would have been exposed to deadly radiation.

            On June 20, 2008, Sen. McCain said in my home state Missouri that if elected, “I will set this nation on a course to building 45 new reactors by the year 2030, with the ultimate goal of 100 new plants to power the homes and factories and cities of America,” 

            Missouri utility Ameren UE has proposed to build a second nuclear plant to go with the one it currently operates near Fulton.  The formal proposal was scheduled several years ago, but the plant probably would not be operational until at least 2019.

            The existing Callaway Nuclear Facility never has had a serious incident, but has been shut down when equipment failed or was thought to be in trouble—a pump in the cooling system failed in 2001, for example.   

            In March, 2008 a water pipeline from the Missouri River ruptured, causing erosion, but no nuclear contamination.  But the incident does point out that aging nuclear plants can wear out—Callaway dates to 1984, making it 28 years old.

            Consider that Japan’s woes were caused by an earthquake and that Missouri’s Bootheel is astride a major quake fault.  Chances are a quake to rival the Bootheel one in the early 1800s that still is the largest ever to strike the United States probably would not reach as far north as Callaway, at least with catastrophic results—but then Japan thought it also had all the bases covered.

            The Union of Concerned Scientists is worried about geriatric nukes.  In a study, UCS found this: “The Wolf Creek plant in Kansas and the Callaway plant in Missouri were built as identical twins, sharing the same standardized Westinghouse design. But some events at Callaway are reported to be 10 to 20 times more likely to lead to reactor core damage than the same events at Wolf Creek.”

            Callaway produces about 25 percent of all the power generated by Ameren UE and it has rated highly over the years in safety and operation.  Not to suggest that the plant is unsafe, but if UCS is worried and they are the knowledgeable ones, then everyone else also should be cautious.

            Nuclear energy is a frightening but irresistible entity—it’s like a light socket that attracts the interest of a small boy, just to see what it would feel like to stick his finger in it.  Like a pet lion it’s fun until you tease it too far.  Think of Chernobyl.  The Russian nuke exploded in 1986, releasing between 30 and 40 times the radiation of the two World War Two atomic bombs.

            Radiation spread as far as Canada where levels were six times higher than normal.  No one will ever know how many died directly or indirectly from the released radiation but estimates range in the tens of thousands and cases of thyroid cancer still are being attributed to the blowup.

            Given the frightening potential of a nuclear plant accident, Sen. McCain’s dismissal of Barack Obama’s suggestion to save oil as an alternative to drilling for more smacks of what the two Supreme Court justices said about treating nuclear energy with “a lighthearted approach.”

            The last thing the country needs is a lighthearted approach to something that could send us to eternity.


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  • Blog
  • May 21st, 2012


    By Joel M. Vance

Well, he’s in and to say that Missourians are excited is to say that the Cardinals are playing good baseball (they’ve frittered away a division lead) or the Missouri Tiger basketball team had a good NCAA game against little Norfolk State (they lost).  The Republicans, however, are as excited as if they’d done the state’s business for a change.  Many of the rest of us think the House Republicans lost their collective mind.

                The state, which has so much good going for it, lost credibility when Rush Limbaugh, the state’s premier lynch mob organizer, was shoehorned into the state’s Hall of Fame by a fawning Republican House majority.  Nothing like having a bust of a draft-dodging, racist, sexist drug addict as your Famous Missourian, along with such lesser lights as Mark Twain and Walter Cronkite.  You’d have thought that the induction of Emmett Kelly, the famed Weary Willy circus clown would have filled the quota for clowns in the Hall, but the unfunny clowns of the House decided to honor one of their own—not someone who makes people laugh, but one who abuses his fellow citizens for money.   

                The whole induction ceremony reeked of a Three Stooges comedy, only the state of Missouri got poked in the eye and dope-slapped.  It wasn’t exactly a gala celebration.  Limbaugh was such a popular choice that his backers in the Missouri House didn’t announce the induction until 15 minutes before it happened, held it in secret, barred the public and Democrats and had armed police to keep out anyone except Limbaugh’s fawning right wing devotees.  Prime among them was Republican House Speaker Stephen Tilley, Swampeast Missouri’s contribution to divisive government and Limbaugh’s nominator.  The Associated Press described the ceremony as “stealthy.”

                Well, why not?  Everything else about this slimy excuse for a man is stealthy.  He appeals to the basest instincts and prejudices of his listeners.  He wallows in thinly disguised racism and sexism.  He must be uncomfortable sharing bust space with such noted African Americans as George Washington Carver, Buck O’Neil, Josephine Baker and Scott Joplin and women including Laura Ingalls Wilder, Betty Grable, Ginger Rogers and Sacajawea, all of whose busts rightfully decorate the third floor of the Capitol. 

                Of course the politicians also have included among the Famers John Ashcroft who ranks right up there with the most obnoxious attorneys general ever—Ashcroft has the distinction of having lost a Senate race to a dead man, an indication of his popularity with Missourians (Ashcroft ordered that the bared boob on the statue of the Spirit of Justice in his office building be covered, a measure of his up-tightedness).  He also had seven draft deferments during Viet Nam.  But for all that he is infinitely more bust-worthy than the Southeast Missouri Slug.

                Let’s face it, Rush Limbaugh is a pustule on the butt end of humanity.  He is a human zit.  Let’s just look at some of his qualifications for infamy, if not fame:

  1. Called Sandra Flucke a slut and a prostitute because the Georgetown University law student dared to speak out in favor of insurance companies paying for prescribed contraception.  “Feminism has led women astray,” he said. “I love the women’s movement — especially when walking behind it.” Nothing sexist there (that remark would get most people fired).  Has likened Hillary Clinton to “a screeching ex-wife, and likened President Obama to Hitler. 
  2. Calls the movement to legalize same-sex marriage a “war on traditional marriage.”  He has been married four times, so he should know.
  3. Nothing needs to be said about this racist cheap shot: “If Obama weren’t black he’d be a tour guide in Honolulu or he’d be teaching Saul Alinsky constitutional law or lecturing on it in Chicago.”
  4. Accused the Sierra Club of responsibility for the BP oil spill in the Gulf because, he claims, its environmental activism drove drillers into risky situations, and also implied that environmentalists blew up the rig that caused the spill.  The man clearly is delusional.
  5. In response to the Abu Graib situation where American soldiers tortured and humiliated prisoners, Mr. Compassion said, “I’m talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of the need to blow some steam off?”
  6. “Too many whites are getting away with drug use…Too many whites are getting away with drug sales…The answer is to go out and find the ones who are getting away with it, convict them, and send them up the river, too.”  This after he was arrested and convicted of doctor shopping for pain killer narcotics and admitted he was addicted.  He somehow weaseled out of the cruise upriver by paying $30,000 and supposedly undergoing drug aversion therapy.  He claims he still has a bad back which was why he was eating pain killers like popcorn.  He plays golf. 
  7. Limbaugh called military men who supported  Iraq withdrawal “phony soldiers.”  This from a fat draft dodger who was 4-F because of a pylonidal cyst —basically a boil on the butt (which describes what the whole Limbaugh is).  He apparently was not examined by a military doctor, but by his own medico and classified on the basis of his doctor’s and his word.  He also claimed a bad knee from high school football which his coach does not remember.  He plays golf.
  8. “”We’re not sexists, we’re chauvinists — we’re male chauvinist pigs, and we’re happy to be because we think that’s what men were destined to be. We think that’s what women want.”  Can you believe this asswipe?  How can any woman vote for anyone who endorses Limbaugh—and that includes the entire far right and many of the not-so-far right.  Limbaugh has a Facebook site delicately called “Rush Babes for America.”  It’s tempting to say that the women who would join it would be involved with lots of black leather, tattoos of skulls and incipient mustaches.  But no—that characterization is descending to the sump pit where Limbaugh thrives.  Let’s just say that any Rush Babe needs to do some deep thinking about the meaning of decency and the so-often forgotten Golden Rule before she metaphorically beds down with this piece of animal droppings.

 There are countless other examples of how this disgusting person desecrates the airwaves on a daily basis.  But let’s just hope that his excess catches up with him.  Rush Limbaugh has a perfect right to say whatever he wants and get paid $ 30 million a year or whatever it is (he signed a $400 million contract through 2016 in 2008).  The First Amendment gives him the right to make a fool of himself and try to do the same to us.  So long as he stops short of advocating rebellion or assassination, he’s free to call Obama a modern Hitler and Sandra Flucke a whore.  But he’d better be able to stand up to the backlash like a man (something that may be very difficult for him). 

He’s lost sponsors over the Flucke comments and should lose them all.  Then where would his $400 million be?  And where would Clear Channel radio, the outfit that’s on the hook for it be?  We are free not to buy the products of his sponsors.   And without sponsors, Limbaugh is just an obnoxious Bootheeler who should be back on small time radio playing records and advertising specials at the local used car lot. 

Glenn Beck, his goofy counterpart, found out what intemperate mouthiness costs when he lost most of his sponsors and his job.  Would that Rush would flush down the same toilet.  I do have to give Limbaugh a grudging and backhanded compliment.  When he talked about “phony soldiers” he got a letter from Senate majority leader Harry Reid and 40 other Democrat senator signees urging him to apologize.  Instead, he auctioned the letter off for $2.1 million to a free speech advocating foundation which he matched and donated to the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation Inc., a nonprofit organization that gives scholarships and other aid to families of Marines and federal law enforcement officials who die or are wounded in the line of duty.

Good for him….but I’m cynical enough to wonder this: To most a $2.1 donation would be enormous; to Limbaugh it’s a tax deductible chunk of a $30 million annual income.  Didn’t the Beatles sing “Can’t Buy Me Love”?  Perhaps Rush Limbaugh is trying to prove them wrong.

Or maybe I’m just being cynical because I hate his guts.


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  • Blog
  • May 9th, 2012

Trick or Treat?

            It’s Halloween and Little Mittsy Romney, six years old is trick-or-treating in his Tutankhamen, the Boy King, costume and he knocks at the door of a poor hovel in a depressed neighborhood (a $500,000 Georgian manse, owned by a mid-level corporate executive).

            “Oh, isn’t he cute!” exclaims the woman of the house, dropping a bag of Oreos in the pure silk sack carried  by the tot. 

            “What kind of cheap convenience store crap is this!” snarls Little Mittsy.  “Tell your husband that when I grow up, he’s fired.”

            Okay, I made that up, but it’s fact that Mitt Romney sneered at cookies baked especially for him by a locally famous Pittsburgh area bakery (Republican owned) at a backyard picnic in his honor as “coming from the local 7-11.”  The baker understandably was miffed (not to mention mitted). 

            By itself it was insensitive.  You don’t diss your host (or at least folks with common decency and commonsense don’t).  Romney has committed such gauche gaffes before, scoffing at NASCAR fans huddled in plastic raincoats.  “Really spent the big bucks for those,” he said.  By themselves these cheap shots are meaningless, if inexcusable.  But they represent a mindset of thoughtlessness that runs through the Romney history.

            Remember Seamus, the family golden retriever strapped atop the family station wagon with a case of diarrhea which Romney treated by hosing down the miserable dog and then continuing his trip at highway speed while Seamus shivered in his sopping kennel.  Is this clueless dolt the man we want negotiating with world leaders or, for that matter, representing the United States of America as its First Citizen?  Talk about the quintessential Ugly American!

            And yet far too many of the citizenry think this guy is the economic Messiah, even though he never bossed a company or directly created a job—he’s a venture capitalist who buys companies, squeezes the juice out of them and if they don’t produce, trashes them, meanwhile lodging the company’s former assets in offshore, tax-dodge accounts.  Well, Bernie Madoff made off with billions of trusting folks’ dollars too.  He’s in  jail; Romney well could get elected by the same myopic trust that allowed Madoff to thrive….for a  while.

Saw a bumper sticker the other day: “If you voted for Obama in 2008 to prove you weren’t a racist, vote for anyone else in 2012 to prove you aren’t an idiot.”  This was on the bumper of a battered pickup driven by a guy in a baseball cap who needed a haircut.   He is a given as a Romney voter and you have to wonder about the idiot factor when you consider for whom he is bumper stickering (or whom he is stickering against). 

            Chances are in another era he would have been wearing a bed sheet and toting a gasoline-soaked cross.  His quarrel is with a black president, not with a guy so rich he “forgets” several million dollars parked in a Swiss bank account.          

How can anyone below millionaire status consider voting for this spoiled rich kid, Mitt Romney?  Romney now is “amending” his 2011 financial disclosure form to include income from a Swiss bank account on which he did not pay taxes.  What his campaign calls “a minor discrepancy” involves three million dollars.  My discrepancies should be so minor.

            Swiss bank accounts are legendary for stashing funds you don’t want anyone to know about.  Romney also has offshore funds (an estimated eight million dollars and his company, Bain Capital, has had more than 130 offshore accounts), another tax dodge.  Romney already has admitted his tax rate is “around 15 percent.”  A 15 percent rate is what someone making $45,500 or less per year will pay.  Want to bet $250 million, Romney’s estimated worth, that Romney makes more than $45,500 every year?

            Tax experts estimate that offshore bank accounts cost the United States upwards of $100 billion annually—and if the right wing is so bent on lowering the deficit, closing Romney’s tax loopholes would be a good start (rather than hammering Social Security, Medicare and other services designed to help folks who don’t have $250 million of discretionary income.

             In sports if you trash talk an opponent you get penalized.  In politics you get Mitt Romney trash talking the President of the United States and nobody blows the whistle.  Mitt Romney is a clueless blueblood as out of touch with real people as King George III, the mad monarch who presided over the revolution by those upstart colonials some years back.

            And it usually is wrong to criticize the spouse of a goofy candidate or politician who after all is guilty only of making a wrong life choice.  Most of them are decent folks who don’t deserve to be dragged through the slop with their flawed mates.  But I’m willing to make an exception for Anne Romney who seems like a chip off the old blockhead she’s married to. 

            When an Obama advisor stupidly said that Mrs. Romney couldn’t understand working folks because she never worked a day in her life, Mrs. Romney rightfully said that raising five sons was plenty work for anyone….but then she fumbled the ball by calling the dumb remark “a gift.” 

            Okay, it was a political gift, but she then demonstrated she’s no more empathetic than her squeeze.  Her defense of hubby when the Mittster strapped Seamus to the roof of the family wagon was that it was no problem—Seamus liked being up there!   We’ve had dogs all our long married lives and I will guarantee you there has not been one of the many we’ve loved and taken care of that would enjoy the treatment the Romneys foisted on their family pet.  They don’t even like being sluiced with a garden hose on brutally hot summer days, including the Lab, a water dog. 

If Romney and his would-be first lady have no more empathy for dogs than that, think what indignities they would wreak on folks who don’t measure up to their regal standards (nearly everyone who does not lead a country club existence).  Romney is a plutocrat born and bred and cannot connect with any real person.  Listen to his tight, phony laugh—there is no mirth in it; just the reaction of one masking his irritation with lesser beings (“I like firing people,” he chortled, obviously convinced we should appreciate his decisiveness.) 

Mitt Romney is so out of touch with the ideal of the United States, the concept that we all are equal and deserve equal treatment and equal opportunity, that the idea of him being President is as frightening as if we all were dogs and he invited us on a six-hour trip in the family wagon.  Does he regret torturing his dog?   Well, he regrets that it has become a political flagrant foul, but relies on Annie to tell folks how much the dog enjoyed his rooftop ordeal.

How can thinking voters listen to Romney flip-flop on every issue, not once but time and again, not because of enlightened decision but because a given audience wanted to hear a different position?  It’s one thing to change a view because of a convincing argument to the contrary; quite a different and not admirable one, to do it because of political expediency. 

Romney is a kiss ass who will two-face his way endlessly until he either is defeated into obscurity or does the unthinkable—wins the presidency.  He apparently thinks the voters are 1. Too stupid to remember his flip-floppery; 2. Too dogmatic politically to vote against him; 3. bigoted enough to vote for a white guy against that uppity black guy, even if they don’t like the white guy all that much; 4. All of the above.

            Romney’s web site says, “Let’s fight for the America we love.”  Is that the America which sends jobs overseas, which sends its wealth to secret bank accounts to avoid paying taxes, an America which loves to fire people and which abuses the family dog?

            Doesn’t sound much like the America envisioned by the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution or the Gettysburg Address.  

            Or by me.

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  • May 2nd, 2012

Confessions of a Failed Ghost Hunter

                I’m unsure what pee wadding is, but “The Uninvited,” a 1940s movie with Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey, scared it out of me when my voice was still soprano and scary movies tended to make me want to crawl under the seat with the wads of discarded Juicy Fruit.

                Not long ago once again I saw “The Uninvited” on television with Milland and Hussey haunted  by a pair of ghosts on the foggy English moors.  As an aging skeptic, alone in my basement, I felt the hair rise on my neck and I went to bed and pulled the covers over my head.  It was classic old time scary film.  There was no bucket of blood in glorious Technicolor; it was black and white.  There were no aliens popping out of the plumbing; just cold spots where it should be warm, and a pervasive sense of menace that grabbed a little boy by his imagination and….well, there went the pee wadding.

                I’m a great fan of television’s “Ghost Hunters,” but find their glimpses of shadow figures, always when the camera is pointed the wrong way, to be more theater than substance.  If I had a buck for every time a character exclaims “What the hell was that!” I’d be subject to the Buffet rule and could hang around with Mitt Romney and sneer at the great unwashed. 

                I have a personal involvement with the other big spook-looking television show, “Ghost Adventures.”  I was at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, the day before they were to tape a show there which (predictably) plowed up disembodied voices and other paranormal goodies that always sound to me like they’re using Thomas Edison’s prototype sound machines instead of sophisticated modern audio equipment—a wall of static with virtually inaudible mutterings that probably are stray electrons caroming around the innards of the recorder.

                I talked to one of their sound technicians who was stringing wires up and down the hall like someone decorating for Christmas, and he told me about a haunted closet, the door of which was said to open and shut without visible aid.  I went in to the closet and shut the door and, there in the dark, I challenged those on the Other Side to goose me or whatever manifestation they cared to manifest.   After five minutes of silence and mustiness I concluded that if that closet contained any kind of afterlife it was mildew.

                So….I don’t believe in ghosts.  And yet there were those fresh batteries that unaccountably went dead….  As a child brought up on Saturday matinees with various on-screen hunks like Count Dracula, the Wolf Man and the Frankenstein monster, I developed a healthy belief in the paranormal.

             Real ghosts lurked in the closet or in the basement and no one my age would dare go near a graveyard after dark.  And then I grew up and stopped believing in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and ghosts.  The local graveyard, once a place of drymouth fear, became a favored place for parking with one’s sweetheart.  It was quiet there and affection flowered with no interruptions from folks you could see through.

                By middle age the only ghost I believed in was the fading image of my 401k, but then there were those batteries that went dead.  It happened during a “psychic investigation” in a huge old antebellum mansion, abandoned and nearly gone to ruin.  Over the decades one inhabitant had committed suicide in an upstairs bedroom.  The place went through the trauma of the American Civil War.  There was reputed to be a slave burial ground near the house.  Everything reeked of the supernatural.  The dank, cavernous cellar was spooky enough to frighten Stephen King in the daytime, let alone at night.

                If ever a place deserved to be haunted it was this one.  A friend had invited a pair of self-proclaimed psychics to investigate the old mansion.  So my wife Marty and I joined them to spend as much of the night there as we could stand.

                 Because the house was being renovated there was no electricity or heat and it was November, which meant it was cold and dark both inside and outside.  Any of the famed “cold spots” that supposedly signal the presence of spirits would have been masked by the overall and quite natural chill.

                The psychics, who were about as strange as the phenomena they were pursuing, claimed to sense all sorts of ghostly presences.  “Ooooh!  There’s someone on the staircase!”  I saw nothing.  “Look!  Ectoplasmic mist!”  I saw no mist and suspected it was condensation on the camera lens or maybe my breath.  I felt cold, but nothing else, no psychic tickles.  Oh, yes, and bored.  The psychics took many digital photos which showed “orbs” over which they exclaimed excitedly.  Orbs are little balls of light that show up on film or a digital image and could be (and probably are) dust motes or flying insects or camera light leaks—all earthly phenomena, nothing supernatural or paranormal. 

                I thought it moderately odd that one or two orbs remained in one spot, at a landing on the curved staircase.  Dust floats and it was too cold for bugs to fly.  “I get the feeling there’s a little boy sitting there,” said one of the psychics.  I got the feeling my toes were about to turn blue and fall off.  If it was a little boy, why didn’t he look like a little boy, not a 40-watt light bulb?  But what do I know about spirit manifestation?

                Then there were those batteries!  I had brought two Marantz professional quality tape recorders, equipped with batteries fresh out of the package.  They should have been good for several hours of recording “electronic voice phenomena,” those whispers from the Other Side that we don’t normally hear.  Theoretically you get home and just after you are recorded saying, “Well, there’s nothing here,” a hollow voice quite clearly says, “Let’s do lunch.”

                I set one recorder on an upstairs landing, near the bedroom where the suicide happened; the other halfway down the stairs where the ghostly little boy shone his orbly light.  When I checked the recorders an hour or so after I turned them on…both were dead, batteries drained.  According to the folks on the “Ghost Hunters” show, “entities” can drain energy from sources such as batteries to gain strength so they can manifest themselves, open or close doors, knock, rattle chains or cause folks to exclaim “What the hell was that!” 

                Nobody manifested or rattled—I just had dead batteries with no explanation.  As much as I wanted to believe the resident spooks had stolen my juice, I couldn’t lay it to anything other than coincidence, cold weather, defective batteries or sheer bad luck.

                The little boy orb?  I’d have been more convinced if I’d seen a diaphanous little kid sitting on the stairs giving me a ghostly grin.  The psychics were thrilled by all the activity which I didn’t share.  I was haunted only by a vicious cold that I caught in the dank mansion.  Maybe I’m ghost-immune.  Somr friends have had paranormal experiences.  For example a fellow instructor at a writing workshop said she stayed in one of the college dorms alone one night and was visited by a benign ghost.  “There was a feeling of peace,” she said.  Of course it could have been the sherry she was nipping.

                I stayed by myself in the same dorm, perhaps the same room, a couple of times by myself and was visited by nothing, not even a mouse.  A niece, in another college dorm room, felt an invisible presence holding her down for a terrifying few moments.  Dorm rooms seem to attract either spirits or stories about them.  Perhaps I’m just not tuned into the specters of academia.  The only presence I ever felt in my college dorm room was the astral projection of the housemother, looking for forbidden beer—but maybe that was paranoia.

                Only once have I felt uneasy in a building and that was in the Marland Mansion, the opulent residence of early oil baron E.W. Marland in Ponca City, Oklahoma.  The mansion, today owned by the town and open for tours, features a ballroom with a gold leaf ceiling that cost $80,000 when it was fashioned, and a pair of Watford crystal chandeliers whose original price tag was $30,000. The grounds had five lakes, an artist’s studio and a formal garden that required the services of 85 gardeners.

                But the Marland family’s personal life was the stuff of Greek tragedy.  Marland’s first wife, Mary Virginia, was childless, so the couple adopted a niece and nephew of Mrs. Marland, George, 12 years old and Lydie, two years younger.  Naturally, the blood family was delighted to have the proverbial rich uncle give the kids everything—their father was a pushcart peddler, a long way from an oil magnate.  It wasn’t long before Marland and Lydie were inseparable.  He doted on his adopted daughter and she on him.  In the careful words of a Marland Mansion tour guide, “They grew closer.”  How much closer can only be speculated on, but the rest of the story sounds like a scenario for a Faulknerian novel of Southern decadence.

                E.W. moved Lydie’s bedroom next to his.  His wife took a bedroom far removed in the Grand Home, then became ill with cancer, finally became more reclusive and morose and took to the bottle and drugs.  She died in 1926 without seeing the Mansion complete.  Two years later Marland had Lydie’s adoption rescinded “for good and personal reasons” and he married her.  He was 53 and she was 28.  Years later, a woman named Mrs. E.L. Cloyd, claimed to be the illegitimate daughter of Marland and Lydie, born in 1927, before their marriage.  Evidence indicates the claim was true, but Mrs. Cloyd didn’t press it.

                  There is a huge painting in the mansion of Lydie, a very pretty woman…which features a dark snake at her feet.  The snake is unexplained, but symbolists could have a field day.  Not surprisingly wall sconces are decorated with devil heads and ironwork in the stair railings contains jackal heads.

                There are more eerie incidents in the life of Lydie and E.W., and I felt a chill in that austere monument to vanished lucre that had nothing to do with the pioneer air conditioning system.  Maybe it was the cold echo of Marland’s presence or the chill spirit of Lydie…or maybe it was the air conditioning after all.  And maybe I’m with ghosts like poet Gillette Burgess was with purple cows: “I never saw a purple cow/I never hope to see one….”  Ditto ghosts for Joel Vance.



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