11 September 2017

Meeting the Norse Gods in New York City

You came to New York City for college. You expected it to be different from home. But who could have expected this?

Odin is your college professor who speaks in a western drawl, who always wears black cowboy shirts and cowboy boots, who seems to relish looking out-of-place even in a city as diverse as New York. While your classmates whisper possible ways He lost his eye, no one dare asks Him how it really happened. After finals, He invites some of you to a dive bar near campus and buys drinks for everyone. He challenges you, a dangerous glint in His eye, to go shot for shot with Him. You know better to accept this challenge.

You meet Thor at a BLM march. He's the massive guy screaming down a fascist dickhead who dared show his face, but when you see Him again later, He's all smiles as He passes out snacks. He goes to a lot of these marches, He says - for black lives, yes, but also for immigrants, for women's rights, for gay rights. If the cops show up, He says He makes "a good human shield!" You're unsure if He's joking. His laughter is infectious either way.

Freyr shows up next, at the farmer's market in Union Square. His squash are the longest, His peaches the plumpest, His berries the most fragrant. "Try an apple," He urges you. It's the reddest apple you've ever seen, and when you bite into it the flavour explodes in your mouth and the juices dribble down your chin. "How much?" You ask Him. He asks you to pay Him in song.

You take a train to New England one day for a change of pace, and strike up a conversation with an old gruff fisherman in yellow coveralls. You help Him pull up a net of crabs and He teaches you a sea shanty, and offers to buy you a drink. It's only on the train ride back to the city, when you open up your wallet and find a $50 bill that definitely wasn't there before, that you realise this was Nj├Ârd.

Thor invites you to Pride, but you lose Him in the massive crowd, and in the chaos, your rainbow tutu gets torn. The most beautiful woman you've ever seen comes to the rescue with a sewing kit and some glitter, which She helps you apply to your body and face. She's looking at you as if you're the only person in the crowd, and when She smiles, you know it is Freyja. She dances with you, then lets a cute butch cut in. When you turn your head, She is gone, but you get a date with that cute butch for the coming Tuesday.

You meet Loki a week later. He's busking on the subway, doing magic tricks better suited to a Vegas stage than the 6-train. The kids on the subway love Jim. Somehow He swindles you out of $5, but you later find Him using all the money He got to buy a homeless man a hot meal. After this, Loki keeps showing up in the same places you go, a different face every time, but you always know it's Him. You resist His attempts at friendship for a long time, but within a year you'll count Him among your best friends.

You go, on a whim, to a BYOB knitting class. Frigga is the teacher. At this point you're not surprised by that. You've never been able to get the hang of knitting before, but with Her guidance, you have a scarf going in no time. The act of knitting a scarf makes you think of a beloved great aunt who used to knit and who died when you were in high school. You're so embarrassed when you start to cry, but Frigga holds you close and lets you cry against Her. She invites you and your girlfriend over for a home-cooked meal the next evening. You go and She's made your favourite comfort food. You are surprised to see your old college professor there.

You still refuse to go shot for shot with Him.

05 September 2017

A Short, Public Letter to Sarah Winchester

To the woman who changed my life on this, the day of your death

Yes, I already sent a private letter to your house back in San Jose. I already did a small ancestor-venerating ceremony and lit a candle in your honour this morning, making my whole room smell like apples and cinnamon, which I think you would have liked. I have written about you, visited your grave, and discussed you with other former tour guides at your mansion who are now on the East Coast. But I still wish to honour you in cyber space, and there's no better day to do it, since we don't know your birthday and all.

You're, like, my hero.

You were strong in your convictions, braver than I think most people realise, smart and sharp and clever, and through all your tragedies kind. I aspire to be even half the woman you were. Working in your house gave me the confidence I needed to be successful on the East Coast. I don't even know if I would have had the courage to do so if not for your example. I definitely wouldn't have found my place in the National Park Service if not for the confidence I learned from you.

It hurts me that people still disrespect you so, that even people that have seen the beautiful home you worked so hard on somehow can't see - refuse to see - what an amazing beautiful soul you were. But I see it, Mrs. Winchester. And lots of other people see it, too. You are loved, even 95 years after your death.

It seems... not entirely appropriate to wish you a "happy death day" but I do hope that if there is an afterlife, that you are happy in it with William and Annie.


02 September 2017

The Battle of Brooklyn

27 August 1776: The Battle of Brooklyn. Under command of General George Washington, American forces are ensconced on high ground. They expect British General Howe to order a headlong charge. Instead Howe orders several flanking maneouvres. The results are disastrous for the patriots. American forward positions are completely overrun. An extraordinary counter attack by the Maryland 400 allows most of the American advance guard to escape to Brooklyn Heights and rejoin the main body of Washington's forces.

This was the first time many of the American patriots realised just what they were up against - they were quite literally outgunned and outmanned, by the thousands. It was only under the cover of a miraculous thick fog that Washington was able to evacuate his troops from Brooklyn, and it was very shortly after this that the patriots lost New York City altogether - from 1776 to Evacuation Day in 1783 it remained in British loyalist hands, leading to the death of Nathan Hale. General Washington and his American soldiers would go on to wage battle for seven more years after that fateful 1776 August battle...

27 August 2017: I go to Green-Wood Cemetery, home to Battle Hill which saw some of the heaviest bloodshed during this battle, to watch a re-enactment of the Battle of Brooklyn. I mean, come on - a Revolutionary War battle at a historic cemetery? That hits like at least seven points on my checklist, I am so there!

17 August 2017

The Museum Girls Visit a Dutch Museum and a German Restaurant

When I first moved to the East Coast, one of my greatest fears was that I wouldn't be able to make any friends. Thankfully, that wasn't the case - I've been able to make friends with a great group called "The Museum Girls" who, you guessed it, meet up periodically to check out a local museum.

Recently we met up to check out the Vander Ende Onderdonk House in Queens, and afterwards went out to eat at a delicious (and kitschy-cool) German restaurant called Zum Stammtisch. And personally, I had a lovely time. I'm happy and lucky to know these ladies and I'm way looking forward to our next meet-up!

Photo collage by Lindsey Loves History
So what exactly does an official Museum Girls meet-up entail?

Mysteries of Kinderhook

Hey, remember when Sarah and I went to Albany?

When we did that, we were actually staying in a small town just south of Albany called Kinderhook, best known for being the birthplace of President Martin Van Buren and not for much else. It's an adorably quaint historic town, though, and a little over a week ago, we went and stayed there again for Sarah's birthday, taking excursions from there to Albany, Hudson, Adirondack, Lake George, and Saratoga Springs. We did so many exciting things, from escape rooms to ropes courses to a historic spa!

But one of my favourite things that we did happened in Kinderhook itself. Sarah and I helped solve a mystery.

No, really. I'm dead serious.

Kinderhook happens to be full of mysteries, as every quaint small town should be if fiction hasn't lied to me.  Some are more historical in nature, some more paranormal, and some straddle the line. I'll of course be talking about all types in this blog entry but first allow me to brag about the mystery Sarah and I helped solve. Ours was more historical than paranormal, but who isn't down for a history mystery?

It was pretty much one the coolest things that has ever happened to me, but like an idiot I did not have the foresight to take photos of the object in question. However, I did at least get a photo of the outside of the historic house in Kinderhook where our mystery was solved:

Built in 1819 and now known to locals as the "House of History" (What a great title, amirite?), the Vanderpoel House was originally the home of prominent lawyer James Vanderpoel and his family. In the 19th century, it was used as a boarding house. It stands today as an outstanding example of Federal style architecture and is one of four museums in Kinderhook run by the Columbia County Historical Society.

Sarah and I had stopped in on the morning of the sixth and I happened to strike up a conversation with the woman running the place about my own experiences working in historic homes, both the Winchester House and the Federal style Hamilton Grange. And that's when this woman's eyes lit up.

"Maybe you can help me with something," she told me as she led me to the front door.

02 August 2017

Musings on Loki, Baldr, and Modern Perceptions of Norse Mythology

Hey guys, did you know that what I actually studied in school was basically Vikings?

My major was in archaeology, yes, and my minor in early medieval history, but all of the research I did, all my papers and projects (with a few exceptions that I very begrudgingly trudged through for the sake of my professors' respects), were focused on Old Norse culture and mythology. ('Viking' is technically a misnomer for the culture but I'm using it here for the sake of recognisability.) Even outside of school, I lived for this stuff. I read up on Norse mythology. I taught myself how to read three separate runic alphabets. I re-enacted as a Viking. For over five years I lived and breathed Vikings. And while I don't get the chance to show off this knowledge much when at the Grange, I do still love it all.

Hey guys, did you know that there's currently a series of very popular movies with a rather interesting take on Norse mythology?

In case you didn't realise what I was talking about.
Now, unlike certain friends of mine, I actually have no problem with how the "Thor" movies loosely interpret Norse mythology. It's a superhero franchise, it's as deep as a wading pool. No one is realistically gonna come away from these movies thinking that the Vikings believed in the Incredible Hulk.

But the trailer for "Thor: Ragnarok" has me thinking lately about how we now portray a very particular god from Norse mythology in our modern pop culture. No, not Thor. This guy:

No, wait. That's not right. This guy:


This guy:

This post is about the mythological Loki. Not Tom Hiddleston, not Alan Cumming in "Son of the Mask", but the Loki of Norse mythology, the Loki the Vikings would recognise. More specifically, this post is my own personal meditation upon the myth of Loki and Baldr.

25 July 2017

A New England Small Town Escape - Without Leaving NYC!

Sometimes you need to just escape, even if it's for only one day.

Sometimes you have under $100 in your bank account and really cannot possibly afford an escape.

Sometimes these two things are not mutually exclusive.

Enter New York City's best-kept secret. And yes, I know NYC calls a lot of things its 'best-kept-secret' and the term is overused as hell, but this? This really might be it. It really does feel like an escape from New York without ever leaving New York, and I've been unable to stop thinking about it since Sarah and I visited.

I'm talking, of course, about City Island.

Technically part of the Bronx, this small island community is connected to the mainland by only a bridge, and feels like it hasn't changed since perhaps the 50s or 60s. Rather than Starbucks and skyscrapers, City Island has seafood restaurants, bait-and-tackle shops, and a charming diner; as well as a lone five-story-high building as the tallest in town. It feels like a small town where everyone knows each other's names. It feels like a fishing village, perhaps one transplanted from the Massachusetts coast. It does not feel like anything I know about the Bronx, or like anything else in New York City.

And Sarah and I fucking loved it.