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TONIGHT! Old Weird America: Devil at the Crossroads

For the 1st anniversary of Old Weird America –I hope you will enjoy this look into the stormy lives of two American musical icons.  By all accounts, Robert Johnson was an average guitar player in the juke joints of Mississippi in 1932 when he dropped out of sight for a time, only to return as the most arresting blues guitarist anyone had ever heard. Could his mysterious midnight trip to the crossroads outside of Clarksdale have anything to do with his miraculous turnaround?  Equally legendary is the story of convicted killer Huddie Ledbetter --known as Leadbelly, who literally sang his way out of prison and went on to introduce America to such folk standards as “Goodnight Irene’ and “Midnight Special.”

Please join me for our next program, The Devil at the Crossroads, on Thursday, June 13 at 6 pm at the Northside Library.


Old Weird America-- Belle Gunness

Come see and hear the wild story of LaPorte, Indiana’s Lady BluebeardBelle Gunness, who could be the first woman serial killer in America.  Belle lured a succession of lonely Norwegian bachelors to her isolated farm with the promise of work or even love— most of whom were never seen again. Just when she suspected she was about to be found out—her house burned down – and a woman’s headless body was found in the rubble—was it Belle, or had the so-called Mistress of Murder Hill just moved on to work her deadly con-game elsewhere?



Joshua Norton, Emperor of the United States Thursday April 11, 6pm at the Northside Library

Come see and hear how businessman Norton, who came to California with the Gold Rush of 1848, lost a fortune but gained an Empire when he declared himself Emperor of the United States. He went on to become a benevolent ruler for over 20 years with the help of his tolerant subjects in the city of San Francisco. Was Norton a deluded madman, a mere eccentric, or a grifter who played crazy to attain a free ride and take advantage of the city’s known fondness for eccentrics? Please join historian Cathy Polovina for a trip back in time when an Emperor ruled the Old West.

OLD WEIRD AMERICA: ‘MAD MEN’ AND ANGRY WOMEN Thursday March 14, 6pm at the Northside Library

See for yourself how Madison Avenue tempted, bullied, and shamed women back into the home after WWII by setting up the “perfect” image of family life, which required an endless number of products to maintain. Celebrate Women’s History Month with a cringe-worthy look at the “Good Old Days.”

Old Weird America - Thursday Feb. 14th


It’s 1954—and a new late-night program premieres on Los Angeles KABC—called, Dig Me Later, Vampira.  A long- dark hallway appears, and out of a cloud of fog glides a dark, svelte woman who pauses before the camera in close-up and lets out a bloody scream. She then smiles contentedly and flings back her black mane of hair, as the program title emerges. Erstwhile model and housewife Maila Nurmi had re-invented herself as Vampira—the first Horror Show host.

And although her name is almost forgotten now, the image of the character of Vampira burst on the scene as a subversive cultural sensation amid the conformity of the 1950s and remains an underground icon of goth imagery and incendiary sexuality.

She was linked romantically to the likes of Orson Welles and Marlon Brando, —and was even accused of putting a curse on James Dean after his death in a car crash in 1955. Yet almost as soon as she became America’s “girl of the moment”- that moment was over, and Vampira was relegated to appearing in the kind of z-grade movies she skewered on her program—hitting rock bottom when she appeared in Ed Woods’ spectacularly bad masterpiece Plan 9 From Outer Space in 1959.

Please join us for a look into rise and fall of the phenomenon that was VAMPIRA.


Old Weird America

Why was Edgar Poe roaming around Baltimore dazed and confused when he should have been on a train heading north in October of 1849? In our first Old Weird America program for 2019, we will explore the strange circumstances of Poe’s last year and his premature death—and the even stranger story of his curious afterlife. Who is the mystery man who, 100 years later began to pay tribute to the author on his birthday each year by drinking a toast at Poe’s grave? We may get some answers when the “Poe Toaster” himself pays a visit to our program. Please join historian Cathy Polovina for the first story in what may prove to be a very weird year, here at the Kenosha Public Library.

Old Weird America: “Dancer in the Sand”—Marta Becket Thursday Dec.13 at 6pm, Northside Library

In 1967, NYC dancer Marta Becket and got a flat tire at a ghost town in the middle of Death Valley. Instead of getting out of there as fast as possible—Marta became enchanted—bought a ruined theater and spent the rest of her life making it into an oasis of beauty—building, painting, writing, dancing—mostly alone—until the rest of the world discovered her world and began to make the trek to the wonderland she called Amargosa. Come see and hear about the magical world of this remarkable artist who spent 50 years dancing in the desert sands.

"Old Weird America" Thursday, November 8 at 6pm, Northside Library

Please join us for the strange and sad story of Homer and Langley Collyer—a true tale that sounds like an urban legend.  In March 1947, two brothers living in seclusion, died in their crumbling Manhattan brownstone among 150 TONS of debris. The lesson of their lives lives on in a contemporary fascination with hoarders—and in NYC emergency shorthand—where a “Collyer mansion” warns responders to be on the lookout for a potentially dangerous hoarding situation.

OLD WEIRD AMERICA PRESENTS--VAMPIRES IN AMERICA Thursday, October 11 at 6 pm at the Northside Library

As Bram Stoker travelled America in his job as a theater tour manager in the late 19th century, he observed a strange and frightening episode then occurring in the eastern states. Fear of rampant tuberculosis, then known as consumption, decimated the population, and in lieu of any reliable medical cure, many panicked citizens blamed a very old menace as the cause--VAMPIRES. Was Stoker inspired by this contemporary "Vampire Scare" to write his masterpiece, Dracula in 1897? And what prominent American poet may have served as his model for the notorious count?  Join us for a look at how a New World Vampire scare transformed the traditional Eastern European myth of the vampire and helped to create a cultural icon that lives on today in popular culture. 

Old Weird America Series

  We really go weird this month with a look at the self-professed genius of art pottery, George Ohr-- who couldn’t give away his work during his lifetime--but whose pieces can now command prices in the six figures. In fact the eccentric Ohr often refused to sell his “mud babies” and after he died in 1918, his family was left with a shed full of over 5000 unique ceramic pieces which sat accumulating dust for fifty years. When amateur antiques dealer from New York, Jim Carpenter happened upon Ojo’s Junkyard and Machine Shop in out-of-the-way Biloxi, Mississippi in 1968, he was in for a happy surprise when Ohr’s son Ojo offered to let him see “my Daddy’s pots”.  Carpenter introduced Ohr’s work to the world and an outsider art star was born. What made his pots so particular and his life so peculiar? Join us and find out.



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