Friday, October 28, 2011

The Monster Mash: A Halloween Tradition


I was working in the lab, late one night
When my eyes beheld an eerie sight
For my monster from his slab, began to rise
And suddenly to my surprise

He did the mash, he did the monster mash
It was a graveyard smash
He did the mash, it caught on in a flash
He did the mash, he did the monster mash

From my laboratory in the castle east
To the master bedroom, where the vampires feast
The ghouls all came from their humble abodes
To get a jolt from my electrodes

He did the mash, he did the monster mash
It was a graveyard smash
He did the mash, it caught on in a flash
He did the mash, he did the monster mash

The zombies were having fun, the party had just begun
The guests included Wolf Man, Dracula and his son

The scene was rockin', all were digging the sounds
Igor on chains, backed by his baying hounds
The coffin-bangers were about to arrive
With their vocal group, "The Crypt-Kicker Five"

He did the mash, he did the monster mash
The monster mash, it was a graveyard smash
They played the mash, it caught on in a flash
He played the mash, he did the monster mash

Out from his coffin, Drac's voice did ring
Seems he was troubled by just one thing
He opened the lid and shook his fist
And said, "Whatever happened to my Transylvania twist?"

It's now the mash, it's now the monster mash
The monster mash, and it's a graveyard smash
It's the mash, it's caught on in a flash
It's the mash, it is the monster mash

Now everything's cool, Drac's a part of the band
And my monster mash is the hit of the land
For you, the living, this mash was meant too
When you get to my door, tell them Boris sent you

Then you can mash, then you can monster mash
The monster mash, and do a graveyard smash
Then you can mash, you'll catch on in a flash
Then you can mash, then you can monster mash
          - Song writers: Bob Pickett; Leonard Capizzi

"The Monster Mash" was Bobby "Boris" Pickett and The Crypt-Kickers' incredibly successful novelty song, perhaps the most successful one ever.  For the past 50 years, this 1962 chart topper has been played every year on Halloween.  It's hard to believe that we've been doing the "Monster Mash" for  half a century. 

Bob Pickett, the man behind "The Monster Mash," was a nightclub entertainer who performed with a band called The Cordials.  He composed his famous song along with his friend Lenny Capizzi.  Both men were horror fans and Pickett enjoyed doing imitations of actor Boris Karloff, the portrayer of Frankenstein.  The song is a parody of the dance crazes at the time such as the Twist and the Mashed Potato.  In fact, the "Mash" in the title comes from the Mashed Potato dance craze.  There is also a reference to the Transylvania Twist in which Bobby does a Bela Lugosi vampire impression.

"Monster Mash" was released as a single on the Garpax Records label in August of 1962.  By October 20th, with Halloween approaching, it reached Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.  It's interesting to note that the song was actually banned in Britain by the BBC because it was deemed offensive by some.  It's also noteworthy that "Monster Mash" made the Billboard Hot 100 twice more, in August of 1970 and in May of 1972.  It finally became a hit in Britain in 1973.

It is not entirely accurate to describe "The Monster Mash" as a one-hit wonder for Bobby "Boris" Pickett.  He made the charts with two other songs - "Monsters' Holiday" in 1962 and "Graduation Day" in 1963.  Yet he never again had a recording as popular as "Monster Mash"  Through the years, it has sold over four million copies and has been covered by the Beach Boys and Sha Na Na.  Boris Karloff himself even performed the song on October 30, 1965 on the then-trendy television music show Shindig.  Bobby once said, "I haven't made millions but I have been paying the rent for years with this one song."

Born Robert George Pickett in Somerville, Massachusetts on February 11, 1938, Bobby was the son of a theatre manager.  As a child, he watched Boris Karloff films in his father's cinema and began to impersonate Karloff.  He served in Korea and spent three years there as part of the Signal Corps.  After his discharge from the army in 1959, Bobby decided to move to California to study acting and appear in television and films.  In 1960, he arrived in Los Angeles where he drove cabs and auditioned for commercials.  Here's how Bobby described his early days in L.A. and how he linked up with his "Monster Mash" collaborator, Lenny Capizzi, in a 2002 Story of the Stars interview with Gary James.

I got an agent after many, many months and after 2 weeks of being with him he died of a heart attack. So I was in trouble as an actor. I wasn't getting out there. What was going on was that Larry Capizzi and his brother Billy had grown up in Somerville, Massachusetts in the same neighborhood as me, and they had shown up in Hollywood at this time with two other Italian boys Ronnie Deltorto and Lou Toscano.

They were gonna start a singing group called The Cordials and they asked me if I wanted to join. We started singing around Los Angeles, literally for our supper. There was an Italian restaurant called Alvu Turnos and we sang for spaghetti dinners on Friday Nights. This is how 'Monster Mash' came about.

The Cordials performed mostly cover versions, including a song called "Little Darlin'" that had been recorded by The Diamonds.  Bobby asked Lenny if he could do his Boris Karloff impression in the part of the tune where the baritone sings.  The Karloff impression went over really well with the audience and Lenny suggested that they should make a novelty record.  In May of 1962, they composed "Monster Mash" and tape recorded it.  They then brought the tape to Gary Paxton, who was lead singer of The Hollywood Argyles, who had had a hit with "Alley Oop"  in 1960.  Paxton, one of the hottest producers in Hollywood at the time, agreed to produce their record.  They recorded the song with many of the sound effects done in  the studio.  Paxton and three studio musicians were credited as the Crypt-Kickers.  Bobby thought "a few Boris Karloff freaks" might enjoy "Monster Mash," but within eight weeks, it was a Number 1 hit. 

Bobby "Boris" Pickett passed away on April 25, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. He was 69 years old and he died from complications from leukemia.  His home town has never forgotten him.  On Sunday, October 23, Somerville held a Monster Mashed Up DJ competition in his honour.  According to a headline in The Somerville News, there was a $100 grand prize for "the best mashup of the Halloween classic 'Monster Mash.'"  In addition to the DJ contest, the day's events included a children's parade, a costume competition, a craft fair and an Oktoberfest sponsored by local businesses.  A sizable turnout took part in the activities despite the dreary weather.

To watch a "Monster Mash" video, click on the link below.

To check out a memorial website for Bobby Pickett, click on the link below.



To read my Halloween story titled The Eerie Mrs. Healy, please click on the FICTION tab above.

- Joanne

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Don't let it happen, Toronto! Don't let Rob Ford cut library services!


Hey Toronto, the battle to save our public libraries is far from over.  Mayor Rob Ford continues with his plans to attack one of the most precious assets that this city has.  This is what our mayor has planned for the good citizens of Toronto.

* Ford has requested a 10% budget cut of all city departments. The Toronto Library Board has already accepted a cut of 5.7% (including job reductions) from its budget,  That, however is not enough to satisfy Mr. Ford.  In December, the library board is scheduled to vote on further cost-saving measures that would reduce the operating hours of neighbourhood branches. by 20%.  This will result in reductions in operating hours for Toronto's public libraries of between six to 13 hours a week.  Note: The majority of neighborhood branches are now open for approximately 50-69 hours a week.

*  If the cost-cutting plan is adopted, eight public libraries will be closed on Sundays.

These actions will have great repercussions and disastrous results.

1.  Toronto City Hall is considering privatizing some or all of our free public library system as has been done in some American cities.  What would this mean for library users?  For-profit libraries would mean fewer books and higher user fees at Toronto's public libraries.  If the public sector controlled our libraries, we would become library customers rather than library patrons.

2.  The public will have less access to our libraries at a time when libraries have never been used or needed more.

3.  Decent, hard-working, well-qualified librarians are in danger of losing their jobs.  They do not deserve this.  Torontonians do not deserve this.  Even if the job cuts are done through attrition (early retirement and layoffs), there will be fewer jobs in the future for library students.  Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the cost-cutting can be done without the elimination of current jobs.

City of Toronto Councillor Janet Davis (Ward 31 Beaches- East York) is against the proposed cuts to library operating hours.  Here is what she told the Toronto Star: "We already cut 200 jobs in the last 10 years and all we're doing is eroding the quality of service."  Bravo Councillor Davis!

When Rob Ford ran for mayor, he said he would not cut services.  He claimed that he only intended to "stop the gravy train."  Well, he is cutting services and people will suffer for it.  Libraries are not gravy!  They are meat and potatoes.  Unless action is taken, they will be dealt a devastating blow in December.  Don't let it happen!  Don't sit back and let Rob Ford get away with it!  You can do something to stop this madness. I urge you to click on the link below and send a message to your city councillor.  Let him or her know that you won't sit idly by and allow this to happen.  Tell your counsellor that libraries matter and that you won't stand for any measures that will have a negative impact on them and on the people of Toronto.  No monetary value can be placed on something as valuable as our public libraries.  This city will truly be poorer if we don't protect them for the people of today and for future generations. 


- Joanne

Friday, October 21, 2011

Annie Sullivan: Helen Keller's Teacher


Yesterday was the 75th anniversary of the death of Helen Keller's teacher.  Johanna "Anne" Mansfield Sullivan Macy, better known as Annie Sullivan.  She died on October 20, 1936 in Forest Hills, New York at the age of 70.  A woman of considerable accomplishment and one who overcame a great deal of adversity in her life, Annie Sullivan should be remembered for being much more than Helen Keller's mentor.

Anne was born in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts on April 14, 1866.  Her parents, Thomas Sullivan and Alice Cloesie, were poor Irish immigrant farmers.  Anne was the eldest of  their five children, two of whom survived into adulthood.  Thomas was an abusive alcoholic and Alice, who suffered from tuberculosis, died in 1874.

In February of 1876, the motherless Anne and her brother Jimmie were sent to an almshouse for the poor in the town of Tewksbury, Mass.  Another sibling, Mary, went to live with an aunt.  Shortly after his arrival in Tewksbury, Jimmie Sullivan died of tuberculosis in the almshouse (which today serves as a hospital). 

Anne, meanwhile, struggled with her eyesight.  In her childhood, she had developed trachoma, a bacterial infection of the eyes.  The infection went untreated and Anne was left with almost no vision.  After two operations failed to restore her sight, Sullivan pleaded to be sent to the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston.  She was extremely frustrated by the miserable conditions and lack of formal educational facilities at the Tewksbury poorhouse.  The place was overcrowded and underfunded.

In 1880, due to the intervention of Frank B. Sanborn, who had visited Tesksbury on behalf of the State Board of Charities, Anne was admitted to the Perkins Institute.  At the age of 15, she underwent another surgery which restored some of her vision.  She remained, however, visually impaired for the rest of her life.

After graduating from Perkins in 1886, Anne became the governess of an undisciplined six-year-old named Helen Keller.  She had no idea what an impact the little girl would have on her life and that they would become lifelong companions.  In fact Anne and Helen were to spend the next 49 years together.

Helen Adams Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama on June 27, 1880.  Helen was not born blind and deaf.  When she was almost two years old, however, she contracted an illness that robbed her of her sight and hearing.  The nature of the illness remains undetermined, but it might have been scarlet fever or meningitis. 

An eye, ears, nose and throat specialist in Baltimore advised Helen's father, Captain Arthur Henry Keller, to seek the counsel of Alexander Graham Bell who was working with deaf children then.  On Bell's recommendation, Captain Keller contacted Michael Anagnos, director of the Perkins Institute.  Anagnos then asked former student and valedictorian Anne Sullivan to be Helen's teacher.

Anne Sullivan arrived at Helen's home in Alabama on March 3, 1887.  Sullivan was compelled to teach Helen lessons in obedience before familiarizing her with Braille alphabets.  She also instructed her student in manual sign language and taught Helen that everything had a name by spelling words into her hand.

Tutoring Helen Keller was most certainly a challenge.  The youngster was rebellious and angry.  Yet Anne was able to reach this hitherto unreachable blind, deaf and mute child.  She was truly a miracle worker because she found a way to communicate with an extremely difficult pupil. 

In May of 1888, Anne, Helen and Helen's mother (Kate Adams Keller) visited Alexander Graham Bell and met with President Grover Cleveland at the White House.  They also visited Anagnos at the Perkins Institute where Helen was regarded as a "guest" of the school.

After Perkins, Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller spent several years in New York trying to develop Helen's lip reading and oral speech at the Wright-Humasun School for the Deaf.  Although Helen's speech improved, she was never able to speak clearly.  Nevertheless, she strongly desired a college education.  In 1896, therefore, she entered the Cambridge School for Young Ladies to prepare for her college entrance examinations. 

Helen Keller received her certificate of admission to Radcliffe College in 1899.  In those days, colleges didn't send out admission letters.  A certificate of admission was required.  Below is a photo of Helen's certificate of admission to Radcliffe, Harvard's sister college (at the time women were not accepted into Harvard).  Note that the certificate contains a handwritten note saying that "Miss Keller passed with a credit in advanced Latin."

In the fall of 1900, Annie Sullivan accompanied Helen to Cambridge, Massachusetts where Helen began her studies at Radcliffe College.  Although Anne was not officially a student, she attended classes with Helen, laboriously spelling into her hands at all the lectures.  In 1904, Helen Keller proudly graduated from Radcliffe College and received her Bachelor of Arts degree cum laude

On May 3, 1905 Anne married a Harvard University instructor named John Albert Macy.  Macy was a literary critic whose best known book is The Spirit of American Literature.  He had befriended Anne and Helen during their Radcliffe years and had edited Helen Keller's autobiography, The Story of My Life, which was published in 1903.  When they wed, Anne was 39 years old and Macy was 28.  The couple shared a home in Wrentham, Massachusetts along with Helen.

During this time, John Macy introduced Helen Keller to socialist thought and in 1909 she became a member of the Socialist Party of Massachusetts.  Anne,, however, did not share their enthusiasm for change through political means.  In her 1955 memoir Teacher: Anne Sullivan Macy, Helen wrote that Anne was "never a standard-bearer, except in the sense that she fought against all man-wrought limitation as a crime, and held freedom of mind, conscience and inquiry as sacred."

It was Helen Keller who emerged as an outspoken social and political activist.  In addition to embracing socialism, she became an ardent suffragette and supporter of women's equality.  She was also a dedicated pacifist and vehemently denounced war.

In 1908, Helen Keller composed The World I Live In, a collection of essays in which she reveals her her impressions of her world, through her senses and her imagination.  Two years later, her poem, The Song of the Stone, was published.  John Macy played an instrumental role in the publication of both.  Of his contribution to her literary endeavours, Helen said, "I can not enumerate the helpful kindness with which he smoothed my rugged paths of endeavour."

In February of 1913, with the household facing financial pressures, Anne and Helen embarked on a 15-month lecture tour of the Northeast in an effort to supplement their income from Helen's writing.  It was about this time that the marriage of Anne and John really began to disintegrate. In May of 1913, Macy travelled to Europe alone and by 1914, the two were separated.  They never legally divorced, however, and Macy requested money from Anne after their separation.  John Albert Macy died in Strondsburg, Pennsylvania on August 26, 1932.  He was 55 years old at the time of his death.

John Albert Macy

After the departure of Anne's husband, A young Scotswoman named Polly Thomson (often spelled "Thompson") joined the household as Helen's secretary.  Polly, who died on March 21, 1960, remained with Helen after Anne's death.  In October of 1917, Helen and Anne sold their farm in Wrentham and moved to Forest Hills, New York.

During World War I, Anne and Helen travelled extensively, speaking out in opposition to the war and lending their support to blind and injured soldiers.  After the war, they found themselves in financial trouble.  Their hopes of a hit Hollywood film were scuttled when the silent film on Keller's life, Deliverance, failed to attract audiences. 

In order to meet their expenses, the two women began a career in vaudeville.  With some reluctance, they booked a tour on the Orpheum circuit and prepared for appearances throughout the United States and into Canada.  Their first performance took place in February 1920 at Keith's Palace Theater in New York.  The light-hearted act was highly successful, and with some breaks, continued until 1924. 

Annie Sullivan's eyesight steadily deteriorated and she and Helen began working for the American Foundation for the Blind in 1924.  Anne's right eye was removed in June of 1929.  The next year, Anne, Helen and Polly travelled abroad for the first time.  The trio visited Scotland, Ireland and England for over six months.  By 1935, Anne was blind again.and her health had severely declined.  She passed away in 1936 after suffering from a heart ailment.

Upon Annie Sullivan's death, Helen paid this tribute to her:

Teacher free at last from the pain and blindness.  I pray for strength to endure the silent dark until she smiles upon me again.

Beginning in January of 1943, Helen Keller visited blind, deaf and disabled World War II soldiers.  These visits had a profound effect on her and she described them as "the crowning experience of my life."

Helen and Polly Thomson made their first world tour on behalf on behalf of the American Foundation for the Overseas Blind (AFOB) in 1946, visiting London, Paris, Greece, Italy and Scotland.  Over the next 11 years, they visited 35 countries on five continents in support of this cause.  Helen Keller suffered a a series of strokes in 1961 and spent the last years of her life confined to Arcan Ridge, her home in Easton, Connecticut. She died there peacefully in her sleep on June 1, 1968 at the age of 87.

To watch some rare 1930 newsreel footage of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller, click on the link below.  It is really quite remarkable.

- Joanne

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sports Nicknames


Number 16 has compiled a list of some of the most colourful and interesting sports nicknames. Just click on the "Sports" tab above to view the list. By the way, if you think I have overlooked any really good sports nicknames, please let me know and I will be happy to add them to my list.  Note: The list will be continually updated and additions will be made.  Having a library background, I will endeavour to be as accurate as possible.

Many sports nicknames are derived from the athlete's hometown (Rocky Marciano was known as the Brockton Blockbuster because he was from Brockton, Massachusetts) or ethnicity.  There are also some great stories behind some of those nicknames.  For example, pitcher Jim Palmer acquired the nickname "Cakes" or "Pancake Palmer" due to his fondness for pancakes and his habit of eating a stack of pancakes for breakfast before taking the mound.  During his break-out season of 1966, Palmer's  teammates on the Baltimore Orioles began calling him "Pancake Palmer."  In a span of eight games that season, Palmer recorded only one loss.  It happened, so the story goes, the only time he hadn't eaten pancakes.

Palmer and his pancakes

Clint Benedict, nicknamed "Praying Bennie," has the distinction of being the first goaltender to wear facial protection in the National Hockey League.  About 30 years before Jacques Plante popularized the goalie mask, Benedict wore a leather nose-piece for five games during the 1929-30 season.  At the time, he was a member of the Montreal Maroons.

Benedict earned his "Praying Bennie" moniker due to his predilection for dropping to his knees in order to make a save.  Dropping to the ice was illegal in the NHL back in those days, but Benedict flouted the rules by pretending to pray on his knees.

Clint Benedict wearing face protector



So, baseball fans, it's the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers in the World Series. I hope that the  Cardinals win it all. To think that my hometown Toronto Blue Jays had Chris Carpenter and then gave up on him. It's too bad they let him slip away.  Texas looks really good, however, and the Cards will have their work cut out for them.  My heart says St. Louis, but my head says Texas.

The Toronto Blue Jays should go after Joey Votto. They should pull out all the stops, do everything they can to entice him to come home to Toronto. Joey attended Richview Collegiate which just happens to be located in the area of the city where I grew up. That's not, however, the only reason I think the Jays should go for him. He's an outstanding player. Just imagine Joey playing first base for the Blue Jays. It would show the fans that the Jays are serious about contending.

CFL Football

What a disappointing season so far for Toronto Argonaut fans.  Yes, the Double Blue did squeak out a 31-29 win against the Calgary Stampeders on Friday, but they have failed to impress this season.  A win is a win and the Argos will happily take it.  Their record, however, is still an abysmal 4-11.

The Argos have to market this team better.  The lack of promotion has been woeful.   It's about time they created some buzz in this city, especially since the 100th edition of the Grey Cup is going to be played here in 2012.


Well, the Maple Leafs are off to a good start but it's far too early in the season to get excited.  They have a lot to prove.  In James Reimer, however, they may have a good goalie at last.  That could make all the difference.

- Joanne

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Shame on you, Republicans, for blocking Jobs Act!!!


Republican Senators should be ashamed of themselves for blocking President Barack Obama's American Jobs Act. The President has taken relentless criticism for not creating enough jobs. He has been unfairly blamed for the economic downturn while the real culprits on Wall Street get away with causing a Great Recession that caused untold suffering.

Yesterday, forty-six Republicans joined with two Democrats - Senators Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Jon Tester of Montana - to filibuster the $447 billion plan, denying efforts to begin formal debate on the legislation even though a majority of the 100-member Senate had already voted to advance the bill in a 50-49 vote  Support for the American Jobs Act, however, was well short of the 60 votes required to keep it alive.

At about 7 p.m., the vote tally was 50 to 48, giving Republicans more than the 40 votes needed to filibuster the bill. Voting remained open for another few hours to permit one more senator -- Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire -- to return to Washington to cast a vote in favour of the legislation. With Shaheen's vote, President Obama can at least claim a symbolic victory with a simple majority voting in favour of his legislation.  The tally had been 51-48, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, switched his vote to “nay” for technical reasons so that he could force a future revote.

How could Republicans (and two Democrats) do this?  How could they turn down a plan that would put people back to work and put more money in the pockets of working Americans - without adding a dollar to the deficit.  It's unconscionable.  In the state of California alone, The American Jobs Act (according to its website) would save or create 125,400 jobs, including 51,500 jobs building roads, highways, bridges and mass-transit.  It would prevent the  layoffs of California teachers, police and firefighters and it would created thousands of jobs repairing the state's dilapidated schools.

I'm a Canadian, but I'm outraged! Republicans can't have it both ways. They can't criticize Obama for his record on unemployment and then prevent him from acting on the problem by blocking his Jobs Act. It seems as if Republicans would rather have a failing economy and allow millions of jobless people to suffer provided they can blame it on Barack Obama and make him a one-term president. Their goal it to put a Republican in the White House, not to alleviate the pain and poverty of their fellow Americans. Sadly, they value partisanship above all else. 

The American people support Barack Obama's job proposals.  To see what the people think, click this link and check out a September Gallup Poll.

- Joanne

The Dance Marathon Craze


Dance marathons opened with as great a fanfare as the promoter’s press agents could muster. Each major promoter had a stable of dancers (known as horses, since they could last the distance) he could count on to carry his event. These professionals (often out-of-work vaudevillians who could sing and banter and thus provide the evening entertainment that was a feature of most marathons) traveled at the promoter’s expense and were "in" on the performative nature of the contests (including the fact that the outcomes were usually manipulated or at least loosely fixed).

- HistoryLink

Dance marathons began as a popular fad in the 1920s. They were organized endurance tests in which people competed for recognition and monetary prizes. As the Roaring Twenties turned into the bleak Depression years of the 1930s, many Americans were so desperate for money that they would participate in these marathons, often at the risk of their health and well-being. Sometimes these events would drag on for weeks and contestants would drive themselves past the brink of physical and emotional exhaustion.  Couples would dance almost non-stop for hundreds of hours, eventually stumbling around the floor in a stupor.  They often collapsed from the sheer strenuousness of the ordeal.

Medical services were provided to the contestants and physicians were available to treat injuries such as sprains and blisters.  Some dancers would be disqualified due to their physical condition.  Through it all, audiences cheered on their favourite couples.  They paid about 10 to 25 cents to watch the contestants shuffle around and sleep on their feet. 

Contestants were permitted to rest about 12 minutes of every hour and they had to endure elimination events that became increasingly sadistic as the marathon dragged on.  Church and women's groups objected to these dance marathons on the basis of morality, health and safety.  Some citizens were disturbed by the hugging dancing positions of the couples as they dragged each other around the floor for many hours.  Police officers expressed concern about these events attracting criminals and unsavoury characters.

A dance marathon in Depression-era America was the subject of a 1969 film, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. Skillfully directed by Sydney Pollack, the film starred Jane Fonda, Michael Sarazin, Suzannah York and Gig Young. Based on a 1935 novel of the same name by Horace McCoy, They Shoot Horses, Don't They? focuses on the lives of a disparate group of contestants who are determined to win the $1,500 prize.  The film garnered nine Academy Award nominations. Gig Young won the only Oscar of his career for his supporting role as Rocky, the marathon's unctuous promoter and emcee.

One of the most memorable sequences of They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is "the derby" scene which portrays a heal-and-toe race around the dance floor.  Lighthearted upbeat music is juxtaposed with the wretchedness of the event.  To watch a video of this outstanding movie sequence, click on the link below.  Note: Observe Gig Young in his Academy Award-winning role as the master of ceremonies.

My favourite episode of the television series The Waltons is titled "The Marathon." In this episode, which originally aired on November 7, 1974, John-Boy (Richard Thomas) takes part in a dance marathon. Despite the objections of his mother, Olivia (Michael Learned), he enters the week-long competition along with a girl named Daisy Garner whom he met in a book store. After a few days, John-Boy decides that he has done enough dancing and heads home to Walton's Mountain.

- Joanne

Monday, October 10, 2011

Reflections on a Canadian Thanksgiving Day and The Glory of Autumn at Forks of the Credit



A joyful and pleasant thing it is to be thankful.

- Psalm 147

Today, the second Monday in October, is Canadian Thanksgiving.  Unlike American Thanksgiving, ours is a celebration of the harvest festival.  It is not associated with the Pilgrims.  Unlike American Thanksgiving, it does not usher in the Christmas season.

Even in the most difficult times, there's always something for which to be thankful.  Athough I sometimes vent and I rant, I also count my blessings.  Every Thanksgiving weekend for the past few years, I have spent some time at Forks of the Credit Provincial Park, near Orangeville, Ontario.  The autumn colours are beatiful there.  If you have an opportunity to visit it, espeically in the fall, I suggest you do so.

Here is a selection of photographs I took at the Forks of the Credit.  I feel so fortunate to be able to enjoy all four seasons.


NOTE:  Last Thanksgiving, I wrote a short story entitled "A Thanksgiving Tale."  If you would like to read it, just click the FICTION tab on this website.

- Joanne

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Joanne's Journal: October 8, 2011


Edition No. 1

Welcome to a new feature on Number 16.  Every so often, I will comment on various subjects in the news and on matters that are on my mind. 

I happen to have small feet and I take a size 5 shoe.  Unfortunately, most shoe stores and shoe departments don't carry anything smaller than a size 6.  In some places, shoe sizes even begin at 6/2.  If I scrounge around, I manage to find the occasional size 5 here and there, but I am very restricted in the selection and style of footwear that I purchase.  So, in the end, I make do with whatever I can find.

Here's what I don't understand.  I know that many other women take a size 5 shoe.  Why don't shoe stores accommodate women with small feet?  Are they not missing out on a sizable amount of business (pun intended)?

Yes, I realize that I can purchase size 5 shoes online.  That's certainly an option, but it's an option I don't want to take.  I prefer to go into a store and take a look at the actual shoes myself. It is much better to have them fitted properly by a sales clerk than to buy them online based on how they appear in a photograph.


There are many things I enjoy and there are many things that really annoy me.  Here is something that really really annoys me.  Much of the litter on our roads and sidewalks consists of cigarette butts.  Every day I see smokers casually throwing their cigarette butts on the ground.  This is disgusting and it is a fire hazard too.  Worst of all, it is a terrible health hazard as harmful chemicals are released into the environment.

Many of these smokers are oblivious to what they are doing.  They wouldn't throw a  candy wrapper on the ground, but for some reason, they don't consider cigarette butts to be litter.  Well, it's time they realize that throwing cigarette butts on the road or on the sidewalk is littering.

With more and more people smoking outside, this is becoming an increasingly serious problem for cities.  Let me be clear.  I'm not tarring all smokers with the same brush.  Some are polite and considerate.  The evidence, however, shows that many smokers are littering our environment.  Just look around!

Bus stops seem to pose the biggest problem.  Smokers have to put out their cigarettes quickly before the bus arrives.  Still, that is no excuse for discarding the cigarette butt on the sidewalk.  There has to be a better solution.   I'm fed up!  Isn't it about time that cigarette butt litterers faced hefty fines?


As former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson famously stated, a week is a long time in politics.  The 2012 U.S. presidential race still has over a year to go.  Anything could happen.  Sarah Palin has wisely decided not to seek the Republican nomination (but would she accept the vice-presidential nomination again?).  It looks as if it will be a battle between Mitt Romney and Texas Governor Rick Perry.  I give the edge to Romney because I think Perry is too far to the right for most Americans, at least  I hope so.  Still, there is a long race ahead and other candidates could enter the Republican race. 

On the Democratic side, President Obama is vulnerable and could be a one-term President.  It's far too early, though, to write him off.  If he shows some spunk and distances himself from the far right, then he could bounce back.  I believe he has it in him to do so.  He must sell his American Jobs Act to the American people and he must connect with voters.  They need to be reminded that Obama did not cause the economic downturn and that the economy could not have been fixed overnight.


Amid all the economic doom and gloom, there was some good news yesterday on the unemployment front in Canada.  Statistics Canada reported that after two months of little change, the number of employed rose by 61,000 in September, all in full time.  The unemployment rate was down 0.2 percentage points to 7.1%, the lowest rate since December of 2008. 

South of the border, the U.S. Bureau of Statistics reported that nonfarm employment increased by 103,000 in September and that unemployment held steady at 9.1%.  The number of unemployed remains essentially unchanged at 14 million.  Sadly, that is much too high!


Yes, I'm glad that the people will not have to endure a very conservative Tim Hudak government.  There will be no chain gangs and hundreds of green jobs will not be lost in Ontario.  That's the good news.  The bad news is that there was a record low voter turnout.  Less than 50 percent of eligible voters in the province bothered to cast a ballot in Thursday's Ontario election.  Only 49.2 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. The previous low was 52.8 percent which was set in 2007.

To those who were too lazy and disengaged to exercise their franchise, I will pull no punches.  You should be ashamed of yourselves.

- Joanne

Monday, October 3, 2011

It's the 60th anniversary of Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World"


There’s a long drive ... it’s gonna be ... I believe — the Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!  “Bobby Thomson hits into the lower deck of the left-field stands! The Giants win the pennant, and they’re going crazy, they’re going crazy! ... “I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it, I do not believe it!”

- New York Giants radio announcer Russ Hodges
October 3, 1951

Two days ago, on October 1, 2011, baseball fans marked the 50th anniversary of Roger Maris' 61st home run in 1961,  Today marks another important anniversary in the history of the game.  It was on this day that Bobby Thomson hit a home run known as "The Shot Heard 'Round the World."  Exactly sixty years ago, on October 3, 1951, Thomson's dramatic homer allowed the New York Giants to win the National League Pennant.

Robert Brown "Bobby" Thomson was born in Glasgow, Scotland on October 25, 1923, the son of a cabinet maker.  He immigrated to the United States as a 2-year-old and grew up on Staten Island in New York City.  He was nicknamed the "Staten Island Scot." and "The Flying Scotsman."

Bobby signed with the New York Giants right out of high school in 1942.  In December of that year, however, he enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces and trained as a bombardier.  His war service was limited to the continental United States and he played semi-professional baseball in the summer of 1945 while awaiting his discharge.  Of his time in the service, Bobby said, "There are no war stories. I ended up a bombardier, but I never got overseas. And it wasn't because I was playing baseball either. It was just a series of things that went on."

Thomson made his major league debut with the Giants on September 9, 1946 at the age of 22.  In 1947, his rookie season, he batted .283 with 29 home runs and 82 RBI.  Although Thomson's recorded an impressive 109 RBI and a batting average of .309 in 1949, he did not reach the pinnacle of his career until 1951.

The 1951 season, his fifth full season with the Giants, started off slowly for Bobby Thomson.  He was benched in May and replaced in centre field by an up-and-coming rookie named Willie Mays.  By late July, however the speedy right-handed batter was playing regularly again, but in a new position.  He found himself playing third base.  Being an infielder seemed to agree with Thomson because he hit better than .350 over the final two months of the season.  Bobby slugged a  career-high 32 home runs that year - but the best was yet to come!
There was fierce rivalry between the New York Giants and their crosstown rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers.  In mid-August of 1951, Thomson's Giants were 13 1/2 games behind the first place Brooklyn Dodgers in the National League.  The Giants, however, began a late-season surge and won 37 of their remaining 44 games.  On the last day of the regular season, they tied Brooklyn and forced a three-game playoff series.  The Giants' late-summer comeback, known as the Miracle of Coogan's Bluff, captured the imaginations of their fans and created a thrilling conclusion to the race between Brooklyn and the New York Giants (Coogan's Bluff is a promontory in upper Manhattan and it overlooks the site of the Polo Grounds).

The teams split the first two games of their playoff series, with the Giants winning the opener 3-1 at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and the Dodgers romping to a 10-0 win at the Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan.  The deciding game was to be played at the Polo Grounds on October 3rd and the stage was set for Bobby Thomson's memorable baseball moment. 

It was a dreary Wednesday afternoon when the teams returned to the Polo Grounds to play for the pennant.  There were 34,320 fans in attendance, about 22,000 below capacity.  They settled in their seats to watch a pitching duel between pitching aces Sal Maglie of the Giants and Don Newcombe of the Dodgers.  Little did they realize that they were about to witness one of the most unforgettable home runs in baseball history.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, Bobby Thomson came to the plate with the Giants down by two runs.  There were runners on second and third base and one out.  A 20-year-old Willie Mays stood in the on deck circle, waiting to bat next.  Right-hander Ralph Branca, who had just come into the game, was on the mound for the Dodgers.  The count reached no balls and one strike and Branca delivered a high fastball.  Thomson then ripped a 3-run homer off the left-field stands at the Polo Grounds, lifting the the New York Giants to a 5-4 come-from-behind victory.  Play-by-play radio broadcaster Russ Hodges gleefully shouted, "The Giants win the pennant!" four times.  Bobby was surrounded by his teammates and hailed as a hero. “I can remember feeling as if time was just frozen,” Thomson once said of his memorable moment. “It was a delirious, delicious moment.”

After Bobby Thomson heroics, it was on to the 1951 World Series for the victorious New York Giants. The Giants carried the National League banner against the American League rivals, the New York Yankees. The Yankees won the October Classic in six games that year.

During the 1952 season, Thomson continued to play well.  He led the National League with 14 triples while batting .271 with 25 HRs and 109 RBI.  In his last season with the Giants in 1953, Thomson hit 26 home runs and 106 RBI and recorded a .288 average.  Bobby's team, however, did not perform as well.

The 1953 season was a miserable one for the New York Giants.  They finished in fifth place, a distant 35 games behind the pennant-winning Brooklyn Dodgers.  The team lacked good pitching and won only 70 of their 154 games.  On February 1, 1954, New York Giants' owner Horace Stoneham and Milwaukee Braves' general manager, John Quinn, announced a blockbuster trade.  The Giants sent the popular BobbyThomson to the Braves along with second string-catcher Sam Calderon.  In return, the Giants acquired the services of left-handed pitcher Johnny Antonelli and another left-hander, 28-year-old Don Liddle.  The Giants also received veteran catcher Ebba St. Claire and infielder Billy Klaus.

Bobby Thomson as a Milwaukee Brave.

Soon after his trade to Milwaukee, Bobby broke an ankle sliding during an exhibition game in spring training.  Bobby's ankle injury allowed a young rookie by the name of Hank Aaron to earn a place in the Milwaukee lineup.  Thomson returned to the Giants in 1957, then played for the Chicago Cubs (1958-59), the Boston Red Sox (1960) and the Baltimore Orioles (1960).

On July 17, 1960, at the age of 36, Bobby Thomson played his final major league game, finishing his career in a Baltimore Orioles uniform.  He retired after the 1960 season with a batting average of .270 and 264 home runs over the span of a 15-year career.   Bobby never made it to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  His numbers weren't considered good enough.  In assessing his career, Thomson declared that “the Shot was the best thing that ever happened to me.”  “I guess people remember me because of that moment,” he said modestly. “They wouldn’t have paid much attention to me if that hadn’t happened.”

After retiring from baseball, Bobby Thomson worked as a sales executive with the Westvaco paper-products company, now part of MeadWestvaco. “I wanted to get a responsible job, stay home more with my wife and daughter and live a normal life,” he explained.  His wife Elaine passed away in 1993 and Bobby resided in Watchung, New Jersey until 2006 when he moved to Georgia to be near his daughter Nancy Mitchell.  His other daughter, Megan Thomson Armstrong, lives in Milford, New Jersey.

Bobby Thomson died on August 16, 2010 at his home on Skidaway Island near Savannah, Georgia at the age of 86.  He had been in failing health for several years and, according to daughter Megan, had recently suffered a fall.  Bobby's two daughters and six grandchildren survived him.  A son, also named Bobby, passed away suddenly at the age of 38, just before an HBO documentary about his father's home run was released in 2001.

At the time of Thomson's passing, Major League Basseball commissioner Bud Selig issued the following statement: "Bobby Thomson will always hold a special place in our game for hitting one of the signature home runs in baseball history.  'The Shot Heard 'Round the World' will always remain a defining moment for our game, illustrating the timeless quality of the national pastime."


Unfortunately, Bobby Thomson's epic home run has been tainted with allegations of sign stealing by the New York Giants in 1951.  The allegations are based on revelations by the sports columnist Dave Anderson of The New York Times in his book Pennant Races (1994) and by Joshua Prager in The Wall Street Journal in 2001 and in his book The Echoing Green (2006).

To watch a video of "Shot Heard 'Round the World," click on the link below.


Hall of Famer Dave Winfield is 60 years old today.  Was it destiny or irony that he was born on the very day that Bobby Thomson hit his famous home run?  I'm not sure, but I do know that Winfield played for my hometown Toronto Blue Jays during their championship 1992 season.  Dave was the Jays' designated hitter that year and batted .290 with 26 home runs and 108 RBI.  In Game 6 of the World Series between Toronto and Atlanta, at the age of 41, he slugged a game-winning two-run double to win the World Series for the Blue Jays.

While in Toronto, Dave was definitely a crowd favourite.  During an interview in August of 1992, he urged the rather reserved Toronto fans to be more demonstrative.  His slogan, "Winfield wants noise," could be seen on t-shirts, dolls, buttons, and signs.  At he end of the season, Dave became a free agent and signed with his hometown Minnesota Twins.  He finished his career with Cleveland in 1995.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Winfield!  Fans here in T.O. and across Canada will always remember your contribution to our first World Series victory.

By the way, Dave Winfield is currently Executive Vice-President and Senior Advisor with the San Diego Padres.  He is also a baseball analyst for ESPN.

- Joanne