Please join me in OLD WEIRD AMERICA this month for a look at the life of model, photographer, and children’s book author Dare Wright--who leaves us with the impression that she lived entirely in her own visual world. Her mother Edith was a painter and photographer who obsessively primped and posed her pretty daughter in hundreds of portraits, while she isolated her from any other family connections. Dare went on to create her own peculiar world in a series of books using still photography to tell the story of The Lonely Doll—a doll she named for her mother, but whom she made over to look eerily like herself. We will explore how Dare managed to enter and live in this virtual world until cruel reality intervened. Cathy Polovina
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In August 1835, The New York Sun reported the discovery of life on the moon, as seen through the mega-telescope of respected astronomer Sir John Herschel. Why was the public so eager to believe the accounts and images of a moon populated with giant bi-pedal beavers and flying man-bats who built towering temples of sapphire and gold? And what part did author Edgar Allan Poe play in the story? Please join us for the fascinating fake news story that foretold the power of modern media.
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.
Come see and hear the wild story of LaPorte, Indiana’s Lady Bluebeard—Belle 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.
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 @ 6PM, NORTHSIDE LIBRARY/ VAMPIRA: AMERICA’S FIRST HORROR SHOW HOST AND GOTH CHICK
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.
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.
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.
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.