Photo: 50,000 Rubber Ducks in River

Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune

Workers corral and scoop the roughly 50,000 rubber ducks out of the Chicago River on Thursday after the 11th annual Windy City Rubber Ducky Derby. Proceeds for the event — in which supporters “adopt” ducks in the race — benefit Special Olympics Illinois.

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Sails in the Sunset


One of the pleasures of living high over Belmont Harbor on Chicago’s lakefront was to see the boats come home after a day’s racing out in Lake Michigan.  They sailed in line, their colorful spinnakers full and glowing in the late sun.


These boats represent a different kind of racing–millions of dollars invested in design, construction, and sailing toward the America’s Cup on an ocean course.

Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune

Sailing teams practice near Navy Pier for the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series. Chicago is the sixth stop in the competition, essentially qualifying races for next year’s main event in Bermuda. Six teams from around the globe, including defending America’s Cup champion Oracle Team USA, are competing on Saturday and Sunday in the first freshwater races in the event’s history. The others are Emirates Team New Zealand, Softbank Team Japan, Team France, Land Rover BAR (Britain) and Artemis Racing (Sweden).



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Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald


One summer we visited a friend who was working as a ranger at Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore on Lake Superior in Northern Michigan.  I remember just one thing of that trip.

The rangers were living in a former Coast Guard station where I went to the 2nd floor for the bathroom.  When I sat down there, I was facing a plaque that said, “You are sitting in the radio shack that received the first distress signals from the S.S. Edmund Fitrzgerald.”  There was the story of the  Great Lakes freighter that went down the horrible day and evening of November 10, 1975, with its crew of 29.

Image by R. LeLievreImage by R. LeLievre

The reason for the sinking has been argued, but I’m interested in the theory of the Three Sisters. ” Perhaps the most romantic theory about the wreck of the Fitzgerald is that the ship succumbed to the forces of the Three Sisters, a Lake Superior phenomenon described as a combination of two large waves inundating the decks of a boat and a third, slightly later monster wave that boards the vessel as it struggles to shrug off the effects of the first two.”

Image result for gordon lightfoot photos
Gordon Lightfoot song

SS Edmund Fitzgerald underway, photo by Winston Brown

Edmund Fitzgerald in 1971
Name: SS Edmund Fitzgerald
Owner: Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company
Operator: Columbia Transportation Division, Oglebay Norton Company of Cleveland, Ohio
Port of registry: United States
Ordered: February 1, 1957
Builder: Great Lakes Engineering Works of River Rouge, Michigan
Yard number: 301
Laid down: August 7, 1957
Launched: June 7, 1958
Christened: June 7, 1958
Maiden voyage: September 24, 1958
In service: June 8, 1958
Out of service: November 10, 1975
Identification: Registry number US 277437
Nickname(s): Fitz, Mighty Fitz, Big Fitz, Pride of the American Flag, Toledo Express, Titanic of the Great Lakes
Fate: Lost in a storm on November 10, 1975, with all 29 crewmembers
Status: Sank because of weather conditions
Notes: Location: 46°59.91′N 85°06.61′WCoordinates: 46°59.91′N 85°06.61′W[1]
General characteristics
Type: Lake freighter
  • 13,632 GRT
  • 8,713 NRT (from 1969: 8,686 NRT)[2]
  • 26,000 DWT
Beam: 75 ft (23 m)
Draft: 25 ft (7.6 m) typical
Depth: 39 ft (12 m) (moulded)
Depth of hold: 33 ft 4 in (10.16 m)
Installed power:
  • As built:
  • Coal fired Westinghouse Electric Corporation steam turbine at 7,500 shp(5,600 kW)
  • After refit:
  • Conversion to oil fuel and the fitting of automated boiler controls over the winter of 1971–72.
  • Carried 72,000 U.S. gal (270,000 L; 60,000 imp gal) fuel oil
Propulsion: Single 19.5 ft (5.9 m) propeller
Speed: 14 kn (26 km/h; 16 mph)
Capacity: 25,400 tons of cargo
Crew: 29

Home-Built Roller Coaster

When my brother Tom and I were small boys, a man we understood to be a retired firefighter bought a house in the neighborhood and fitted out his garage as a wood-working shop.

He made a lot of toys and let us watch.  I don’t remember his talking to us at all. One special toy he made for us kids: a roller-coaster in a vacant lot.  Not as elaborate as the one linked here, it was really just a slide about 8 feet high made of rails with a little car and a 20 foot runway.  Lots of fun.


RADIO  Builder tells his story  (“free ride” with other segments including “flying pumpkins”)

“Monster” Lived in Illinois–New Info


Monstrous news on state fossil front
By Steve Johnson Chicago Tribune   3.17.16

   Since 1955, when amateur fossil hunter Francis Tully discovered the unlikely prehistoric creature in a coal mining area near Morris, the thing that would be named the Tully monster has presented one of the great puzzles in paleontology.   Much as the people of Metropolis wondered whether Superman flying overhead was a bird or a plane, scientists have struggled to classify these fossils that showed traits associated with several disparate animal types and such abnormalities as eyes mounted on an external bar and a long, toothy proboscis.   “If you put in a box a worm, a mollusk, an arthropod and a fish, and you shake, then what you have at the end is a Tully monster,” said Carmen Soriano, a paleontologist at Argonne National Laboratory. 

  The Tully’s renown stretched even to the Illinois state legislature, which named it the official state fossil in 1989, some 308 million years after it inhabited the shallow salty waters that turned into the state’s Mazon Creek geological deposits, in Grundy County, one of the richest fossil troves on Earth.  

Now, though, Tullimonstrum gregarium has a home on the Tree of Life rather than in the biological category known as the “problematica.” Utilizing the synchrotron X-ray machine at Argonne and the Field Museum’s collection of 2,000 Tully specimens, a team from those two institutions, Yale University and the American Museum of Natural History announced in a paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature that “The Tully monster is a vertebrate.”  

Below that headline, the paper describes Tully as belonging “on the stem lineage to lampreys,” a find that “resolves the nature of a soft-bodied fossil which has been debated for more than 50 years.”    “This is one of the mysteries that I heard about since I was a kid,” said Soriano. “To be able to study, to basically ‘unmonsterize’ the monster, is really exciting.” 

  “Resolving this is a big deal,” said Scott Lidgard, the Field’s associate curator of fossil invertebrates and another of the paper’s authors. “It’s one of the examples used in textbooks around the world as what are called ‘problematica,’ ” creatures that defied ready classification and were sometimes thought to be examples of extinct phyla, or animal categories.   “This is kind of a poster child for that sort of evolutionary puzzle,” Lidgard said.

The finding “changes it from a mystery to a fishlike organism that is probably on the lineage leading to what we would recognize as lampreys.”  

It’s also a big moment for those who study lesser prehistoric animals and realize, said Lidgard, that “we’re never going to be as popular as dinosaurs and fossil birds.”  

The Tully monster is named for its assemblage of features, not for any sort of fearsome size. The biggest of the many, many specimens that have been found suggested a maximum length of about 18 inches and typical length of 12.  

But because Mazon Creek fossils are so well preserved, there is a lot of Tully to study. Skeletons have not survived, but detailed impressions in stone have.   “If you see the specimens, they are typically well preserved,” Soriano said. “It’s not that they are a blob in the rock.”  

BOB FILA CHICAGO TRIBUNE 1987   Francis Tully’s big fossil find was made near Morris.

Tully, a pipefitter for Texaco and lifelong fossil hound, described his find to the Tribune in a story in 1987, also the year of his death: “I found two rocks that had cracked open from natural weathering. They held something completely different. I knew right away. I’d never seen anything like it. one of the books had it. I’d never seen it in museums or at rock clubs. So I brought it to Chicago to the Field Museum to see if they could figure out what the devil it was.” 

  The first scientific paper describing the Tully monster, and giving it its vivid Latin name, came in the mid-1960s from one of Lidgard’s predecessors at the museum, who “thought it was a worm,” Lidgard said.   Later papers proposed that it was a “free-swimming shell-less snail,” he said, and then a conodont, extinct eel-like creatures very rare in the fossil record.   “I’ve been looking at this thing for 30 years,” said Lidgard. “Years ago I had a stab at it, thinking it might be related to squids. We gave up. We didn’t publish anything.”  

What got the ball rolling again was Lidgard hearing about Victoria McCoy, a Yale grad student exploring the Mazon Creek deposits who would become the paper’s lead author.   They met at a 2014 conference, and the following year, an assembled team spent three weeks at the Field studying its Tully specimens.   The Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, southwest of Chicago, came into the picture because of its advanced imaging techniques using the Advanced Photon Source, an electron accelerator and storage ring that “provides ultra-bright, high-energy storage ring-generated X-ray beams for research in almost all scientific disciplines,” according to Argonne.   “The thing with these machines is they are incredibly powerful microscopes,” Soriano said. “We can get information not only on the morphology of the sample, but also on the structure, on the composition.”   It allows people “to see what no one saw before basically,” she said. 

  What the scientists saw, as they studied the Argonne imagery, digital photographs of the fossils and the fossils themselves were characteristics that tied the Tully monster to lampreys.   A chemical analysis of the eye stalks, for instance, showed the presence of zinc, “very similar to the material in the eyes of vertebrate fossil fishes,” said Lidgard.   “Tully is usually preserved so that you’re looking down on its back,” he added. “Every so often you can see its side. In those twisted fossils we found a very few where we think we can distinguish openings we interpret as openings to a particular kind of gill structure present in very primitive fishes like lampreys.” 

  And they were able to find the animal’s gut trace, as well, the shadow of its digestive system, in the lower part of the body, which suggested that what had previously been thought to be a gut trace up on the back was in fact a notochord, a flexible rod in the back.   That made it a primitive vertebrate, he said. He does not recall a moment where somebody said, “Hey, lamprey!” but recalls that “it became more and more clear,” he said. “As those results started to come in, it was pretty convincing right away.”  

So if the Tully monster is now a known vertebrate lamprey ancestor with a place in the historical animal record, that raises two big questions:   First, do all those specimens at the Field move out of the invertebrate department?   Paul Mayer, collections manager of invertebrate fossils, laughed. “I’ve been talking with the vertebrate fossil collection manager,” he said. “We’re going to wait a couple of years and make sure there’s no rebuttal. It’s a lot of work to move these things up the stairs to where his collection is.”   Question two: Does the Tully monster need to be renamed?   “No, because it’s still a monster,” said Soriano.   “It’s something really different from anything we have seen. It’s one of a kind. If you come back to this idea of a monster as anything strange, it’s still strange.” Twitter @StevenKJohnson

Why Conspiracy Theories ?

 LISTEN  at source  18 good minutes

What prompts people to think in this way? How should Governments react to the people who doubt them? Or are they in fact critical in our attempts to hold Governments to account?

Mike Williams talks to a psychologist, a Professor of Political Science and a conspiracy theorist as he attempts to separate fact from fiction.

Spring, I Hope


Spring          Spring                  Spring                       Spring                  Spring



A few days ago Susan saw and heard a flock of sandhill cranes fly over. A sure sign.

Of all the things spring might mean to us,  I think most of memories and hope.  We have survived the winter and now have white crocus and purple hyacinth blooming, iris and tulips have broken out, rose stems have turned green, rabbits are chasing rabbits.  This has happened every one of my 80 years and of course countless centuries before. I hope my children and theirs will see many more springs; and others around the world where humans are now destroying hope, defeating spring. What happens to spring when the whole world warms up a couple of degrees?  rjn


Spacing below is in original.

[in Just-]


in Just-
spring          when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman
whistles          far          and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
when the world is puddle-wonderful
the queer
old balloonman whistles
far          and             wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
balloonMan          whistles
Nina Simone sings a remarkable spring song

Nether Wallop

I bought hearing aids on Amazon which were shipped from England with this quaint return address:

Hearing Direct Limited                                                                                Unit 4, Nine Mile Water                                                                             Nether Wallop                                                                                   Stockbridge                                                                                                    S 020 8DR                                                                                                 United Kingdom

Note thatched roofs–thatching is a well-respected trade in England.  I know a little about it because I heard interviewed on the radio a member of an English thatching team working in this country.  I’ve read a detective story in which thatchers and their work are significant.

I’ve wondered about creatures who might want to live in the thatch.  That question and many others are answered here.


Milwaukee Janitor ?


Years ago, I was strolling through the Milwaukee Art Museum with a friend who cracked up when I walked through  a doorway and said, “Excuse me.”

I had apologized to this guy:
  He is an artwork made of fiberglass and other materials by Duane Hanson.  Fooled me! 
For an article about how the Janitor is made and how it was restored, click here.

Chicago Snow to Florida Girl

Related image


That Time Chicago Sent a Trainload of Snow to Florida

January 15, 2016

By: Logan Jaffe                                    source

Chicago loves winter. Talking about it at least. Inevitably, you’ll lament the most recent snowfall with your neighbor. Inevitably, a Facebook friend will post a screenshot of Chicago’s zero-degree forecast.  And, inevitably, a media outlet like us will bring up the Chicago Blizzard of 1967 — if only to remind everyone that today’s bad weather could always get worse.

But this isn’t a story just about that blizzard; it’s also about how the media talks about its aftermath. It’s been nearly 50 years since the largest single snowfall in Chicago history, and not only are local news outlets still publishing retrospectives, they’re also still hung up on a single, microcosmic detail — written in a sentence or two or in a quote like this one, usually below the fold:

Some of the snow from 1967, there was so much of it, they didn’t know what to do with it,” said Peter Alter, resident historian at the Chicago History Museum. “They put it on train cars, and they shipped it to Florida for kids who had never seen snow.”DNAinfo, January 9, 2015

It was a tidbit like this that inspired a question that came all the way from a classroom of fourth and fifth graders in High Point, North Carolina. They had learned about the ‘67 blizzard and, being school kids themselves, they were particularly enamored with the Chicago-to-Florida snow train delivery. So, they asked us for help filling in the blanks:

Was there really a trainful of snow surplus shipped from Chicago to Florida school kids? How did that even happen?

I’ll tell you right now: It happened, all right, and the story’s details are worth revisiting. Because when you retrace the making of this Chicago mini-legend, you can see click-bait journalism being written across the front pages of mainstream newspapers — 40 years before its time.

Not all snow trains lead to Florida

The story of the Chicago Blizzard of 1967 starts on January 26, when it snowed for 29 hours straight. Having been 65 degrees just two days before, the storm took many people off guard. More than two feet of snow covered the region, with reports of drifts up to 10 feet high. Cars were discarded like cigarette butts over expressways. There was no public transportation, no access to grocery stores, no way to get to work. Twenty-three people died in the Chicago area, mostly from heart attacks while shoveling snow.

It took three weeks for the Department of Streets and Sanitation to plow the city streets. Desperate for places to put the stuff, they dumped it in any vacant lot they could find: Park District land, neighborhood lots, even the Chicago River.

Some Chicago rail yards came up with their own solution for snow that built up in their depots. It’s kind of bizarre in its simplicity: Shove it on freight trains already heading south. The warmer weather would do the job, melting the stuff in transit.

“They sent it because they wanted to get rid of it,” A.W. Pirtle, supervisor of the Illinois Central Railroad’s Memphis depot told the Associated Press (probably rolling his eyes). And in Chicago, the ordeal made front-page news:

Tribune story with photos

Dozens of train lines followed suit, and this solution — extolled in headlines such as this — grew into a national story. It was picked up by the Associated Press, and photographs of trains carrying heaps of sooty, Chicago snow from the blizzard appeared in papers around the country as the rail cars made their way to Tennessee, Alabama and Texas.

A 1,300-mile regift, remembered

The story was even picked up by national television, and eventually reached the ears and eyes of a 13-year-old girl in the town of Fort Myers Beach, Florida.

We found that girl through the White Pages. Her name is Terri Bell (last name Hodson at the time), and, at age 61, she still lives in Fort Myers Beach.

She says after hearing the broadcast about trainloads of Chicago snow heading south, she wrote a letter to William Quinn, the president of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, asking him to send her some snow because, as a Floridian, she had never seen any.

And he did.

It’s just that 13-year-old Terri Hodson hadn’t realized that all of the other southbound snow was shipped in uninsulated cars — the whole point being to melt. But Quinn, possibly sensing a brilliant PR stunt but possibly out of the goodness of his heart, had the snow shipped to Florida in refrigerator cars.

Hear Terri tell her own story of getting Chicago shipped 1,300 miles to Florida