Traveling Companions

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ellen_Craft_escaped_slave.jpg

In 1848, Ellen and William Craft resolved to flee slavery, but they needed a way to get from Macon, Ga., to the free states in the north. William could never travel such a distance alone, but Ellen’s skin was fair enough that she could pass for white. So she disguised herself as a white male cotton planter attended by William, her slave. (She had to pose as a man because a white woman would not have traveled alone with a male slave.) The two asked leave to be away for the holidays, the illiterate Ellen bound her arm in a sling to escape being asked to write, and they departed on Dec. 21. Over the next four days:

  • Ellen found herself sitting next to a friend of her master on the train to Savannah. She feigned deafness to discourage his attempts to engage her in conversation.
  • The captain of a steamer to Charleston complimented Ellen on her “very attentive boy” and warned him to shun the “cutthroat abolitionists” in the north.
  • During the voyage a slave trader offered to buy William, and a military officer scolded Ellen for saying “thank you” to her slave.
  • In South Carolina a ticket seller insisted on seeing proof that Ellen owned William. A passing captain intervened and sent them on their way.
  • In a Virginia railway station a white woman confronted William, mistaking him for her own runaway slave.
  • An officer in Baltimore threatened again to detain them without proof of ownership, but relented, telling a clerk, “He is not well, it is a pity to stop him.”

On Dec. 25, after a journey of more than 800 miles, they arrived in Philadelphia:

On leaving the station, my master — or rather my wife, as I may now say — who had from the commencement of the journey borne up in a manner that much surprised us both, grasped me by the hand, and said, ‘Thank God, William, we are safe!’ then burst into tears, leant upon me, and wept like a child. The reaction was fearful. So when we reached the house, she was in reality so weak and faint that she could scarcely stand alone. However, I got her into the apartments that were pointed out, and there we knelt down, on this Sabbath, and Christmas-day, — a day that will ever be memorable to us, — and poured out our heartfelt gratitude to God, for his goodness in enabling us to overcome so many perilous difficulties, in escaping out of the jaws of the wicked.

The Crafts went on a speaking tour of New England to share their story with abolitionists, then moved to England to evade recapture under the Fugitive Slave Act. They returned only in 1868, when they established a school in Georgia for newly freed slaves.

Recension

Whenas in silks my Julia goes
Then, then (methinks) how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.
Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free;
Oh how that glittering taketh me!

— Robert Herrick, 1648

Whenas galoshed my Julia goes,
Unbuckled all from top to toes,
How swift the poem becometh prose!
And when I cast mine eyes and see
Those arctics flopping each way free,
Oh, how that flopping floppeth me!

— Bert Leston Taylor, 1922

Three Non-Tunnels

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tunnelvision.jpg

American muralist Blue Sky (formerly Warren Edward Johnson) painted Tunnelvision on the wall of the Federal Land Bank in Columbia, S.C., in 1975. “The idea for ‘Tunnelvision’ came in a dream. I woke up early in the morning and just sketched it out. I’d already seen the wall, I’d sat and studied it for hours, just waiting to see what would come before my eyes, and nothing came. And early one morning, I woke up and it was there. … That’s why I call it ‘Tunnelvision.’ Because it was a vision in a dream.” Wikipedia adds, “Rumors abound that several drunk drivers have attempted to drive into the tunnel.”

http://www.flickr.com/photos/isavoch/7354979072/
Image: Flickr

Passing trains clear a three-kilometer “tunnel of love” through the forest near Klevan, Ukraine, each spring. The trains serve a local fiberboard factory.

http://www.hans-peter-reuter.de/raum/ri/rit-2.htm

Visitors to the modern art exhibition documenta 6 in Kassel, Germany, in 1977 encountered a blue-tiled tunnel that led to the promise of daylight. They walked 14 meters into the tunnel and climbed four steps before discovering that the rest was an image painted skillfully on canvas by artist Hans Peter Reuter. “The secret of this perfect illusion lies in the combination of a realistic space with a painted surface,” writes Eckhard Hollmann and Jürgen Tesch in A Trick of the Eye (2004). “The picture alone on a white wall could never hope to have the same effect.”

Downfall

http://www.google.com/patents/about?id=I7AAAAAAEBAJ

William Carr’s “improved burglar-trap,” patented in 1868, is a man-size version of a no-kill mousetrap. The unwitting burglar steps on the trapdoor and falls into the chamber, where his own weight on the false bottom pulls the doors shut again.

“It will be seen that the catches II II’ and I I act, in connection with the weight of the person upon the platform, in retaining the doors in their closed condition, and, even in case the prisoner should succeed in scaling the walls of the chamber, the locking-devices H H’ and I I’ will effectually prevent him forcing open the trap-doors.”

During the day the proprietor can pull a cord to engage the catches by hand, to prevent his customers from falling in themselves.

Laissez Faire

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mark_Twain_seated.jpg

I never deliberately sat down and ‘created’ a character in my life. I begin to write incidents out of real life. One of the persons I write about begins to talk this way and one another, and pretty soon I find that these creatures of the imagination have developed into characters, and have for me a distinct personality. These are not ‘made,’ they just grow naturally out of the subject. That was the way Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and other characters came to exist. I couldn’t to save my life deliberately sit down and plan out a character according to diagram. In fact, every book I ever wrote just wrote itself. I am really too lazy to sit down and plan and fret to ‘create’ a ‘character.’ If anybody wants any character ‘creating,’ he will have to go somewhere else for it. I’m not in the market for that. It’s too much like industry.

— “Mark Twain Tells the Secrets of Novelists,” New York American, May 26, 1907

Kaspar Hauser Redux

On Sept. 18, 1989, a frightened teenage girl walked into William B. Jack Elementary School in Portland, Maine. “She just stopped at the counter,” teacher’s aide Judi Fox told the Houston Chronicle. “She walked in and signed a little bit.” Realizing that the girl was seeking help, Fox summoned a teacher who knew sign language and the two took her to a nearby school for the deaf.

Communicating in gestures and drawings, the deaf girl explained that she had been abducted about three years earlier, possibly from a foster home in California, and then moved several times. She believed she was 15 years old, and had been given the name Toby Cole by her captors, though authorities could find no missing-persons report that matched her case.

FBI agent Paul Cavanagh added, “From some of the drawings she was able to provide, it is believed that some of the people she was with since her abduction may have been tied to the occult.”

Unfortunately, no further clues to the girl’s identity were ever found, and she was able to provide no information leading to arrests. She was placed in a foster home, and the case remains unsolved.

On the same theme: In 2009 former Gallaudet University student Joseph Mesa Jr. was convicted of murdering two classmates. The jury rejected his claim that a pair of black hands had urged him on in sign language. Prosecutor Jeb Boasberg said, “An insanity defense doesn’t work if you’re not insane.”

UPDATE: There were further developments in the Toby Cole story, though they make the whole tale even stranger. Police and FBI investigators identified the woman as 27-year-old Margaret Louise Herget of Sandy, Ore. She had moved to Louisiana in August and then to Maine just a few days before turning up at the school. Police lieutenant Michael Bouchard told the Associated Press in October that Herget was hearing-impaired but not deaf and that authorities no longer believed that she had been abducted. But why she had concocted the story, so far as I can tell, is still a mystery. Thanks to everyone who wrote in about this.