Game of Allergens

On June 13, 1483, just two months after the death of his brother King Henry IV and a few weeks before his own accession to the English throne, Richard III, then Duke of Gloucester and Lord Protector of the Realm, survived an evil curse.

The curse came from Lord William Hastings, a man who had served as Lord Chamberlain to Henry IV (basically the Ned Stark to his Robert Baratheon). I’m not going to try to puzzle out the mess that was the struggle for the English throne toward the end of the Middle Ages because either 1. You, dear reader, know far more about it than I can pretend to in the space of a blog post and will just find errors that you’ll feel compelled to tell me about or 2. Like me, you just assume that whoever had dragons and a proper attitude toward an invading zombie hoard eventually came out on top.

richardthird
Described by his detractors as a hunch-backed and deformed troll-ish sort of a man, Richard III was probably just a normal-ish looking guy. Unless you gave him strawberries. By Unknown, British School – Royal Collection of the United Kingdom, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

But it seems that Hastings was just the sort of man to try to put the pieces together and he may have suspected that when Richard sought to declare his deceased brother’s marriage illegal and therefore his own nephew illegitimate, that Richard might have just wanted the throne for himself.

So, logically, when Hastings next arrived for a council meeting, he cursed the pretender to the throne. Shortly after the Lord Chamberlain’s arrival, Richard’s health began to suffer. His lips swelled. His face and limbs grew red and puffy. He became short of breath.

What today we might recognize as an allergic reaction to the fresh strawberries Sir Thomas More tells us Richard ate for breakfast, Richard identified as a curse. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that casting a potentially deadly curse on the Lord Protector of the Realm might result in a beheading.

dragon
I suspect I’m allergic to dragons. Fortunately the current dragon count is pretty low. photo credit: SnoShuu Dragon via photopin (license)

That’s exactly what became of Lord Hastings, a man who might have otherwise caused a crimp in Richard’s plans to rule. The would-be king wasn’t taking any chances. Many contemporary writers (at least the ones that didn’t seem to like Richard much) suggested he murdered his young nephews as well.

There’s some speculation that perhaps Richard knew of his own allergy to strawberries and ate them anyway so he could pretend to have been cursed by Lord Hastings and justify ordering his death. Other historians argue that given the general belief in curses and ignorance of allergens at the time, Richard, perhaps already feeling a little paranoid in the course of his plotting, probably thought he really had been cursed.

I tend to believe the second scenario is more likely because of several good reasons explained by more informed historians (of the variety that would be sure to let me know about my mistakes when discussing the fall of the House of York).

First, fruit didn’t travel much in 1483 and so it was extremely seasonal, giving strawberries a pretty narrow window of availability in the English court. Richard wouldn’t have had a lot of opportunity to observe his own symptoms. Second, food allergies can be kind of like that, showing up unannounced after years of laying low. Third, a person would have to be pretty crazy to willingly inflict an uncomfortable allergic reaction on themselves. And finally, his successor, the usurper Henry VII probably had dragons anyway.*

onthethrone
No throne is worth intentionally exposing yourself to a known allergen. But maybe it’s worth a curse or two? If you have dragons.

It’s the third point I want to discuss further because over the last week or so, some of my nearest and dearest have been cursed. Here in Missouri we are experiencing some of the highest mold and ragweed pollen counts we’ve seen in some time. That means that here in my household we have been experiencing some of the itchiest eyes, scratchiest throats, sneeziest noses, and achiest sinuses that we’ve seen in some time.

Catch them at the right moment, and my nearest and dearest might even suggest that having their heads lopped off might be more comfortable than the curse these allergens have brought upon them. This is definitely not a condition they would wish upon themselves, regardless of their aspirations to any thrones. Right about now, they’re kind of hoping that winter is coming. As long as someone steps up with a couple of dragons to take on the zombie hoard.

*No historians I came across actually suggested that Henry VII had dragons. Also, if you ever do stumble across a legitimate historian that references dragons, you should probably ask a few follow-up questions.

 

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Bloggy McBlogface: Appeasing Poseidon and the Boat-Loving Internet Trolls

This week I was reminded that even in the era of Donald Trump, people are still capable of taking voting seriously. Because a few days ago my attention was drawn to an exciting ongoing voting process on the Internet.

In case you’re not familiar with this incredible developing story, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) in the UK is in the process of designing a new boat. The 287 million dollar polar research vessel is a serious piece of nautical equipment expected to launch in 2019 in order to engage in serious nautical work.

But as everyone knows, a good boat needs a good name. And when I say everyone, I mean even the Ancient Babylonians. As early as the 3rd millennium BC, people heading out onto the water were taking the task pretty seriously, launching their vessels with elaborate ceremony and a carefully chosen name.

The Egyptians did it, too, as did the Greeks and Romans. Ships were most often named in honor of the gods and goddesses sailors felt the need to appease and appeal to for safety on the water. These were important names.

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This boat obviously does not belong to a boat naming historian. photo credit: NS-00388 – Who Cares via photopin (license)

As the tradition continued to develop, ships most often took on feminine personas, either as a natural shift from the use of goddess names or as an outcropping of the feminine assignment in most European languages to la boat.

Some boat naming historians (yep, that’s a real thing) suggest that by giving a woman’s name to a ship, sailors and captains are more likely to take loving care of the vessels in their charge. And as a bonus, should the ship run into danger on the open sea, a feminine entity speaks more to the  comfort and care of those who are at the mercy of her strength.

I don’t know about any of that, but what I do know is that finding the right name for a boat is serious business. And I know that putting the Internet in charge of naming your boat is risky. That’s the painful lesson the NERC is now learning. A few weeks ago the Council appealed to the public to recommend names for the new research vessel and then vote in support of favorites.

The NERC got the ball rolling with a few possibilities, including the RRS Shackleton, RRS Falcon, or RRS Endeavor. Fine names to be sure, but the one that has really caught the imagination of the voting public was proposed by James Hand, who added RRS Boaty McBoatface to the list.

Cages
I think Laryssa may have her work cut out for her protecting this precarious boatload. photo credit: Cages via photopin (license)

 

Mr. Hand’s idea caught on, and soon jumped to the top of the list, with over 100, 000 votes. And it turns out his suggestion was only one among a long list of very creative (and pretty funny) choices, including the RRS WhateverFloatsYa, the RRS I Like Big Boats and I Cannot Lie, and the RRS Immacrackdatice.

The NERC has actually been pretty cool about the whole thing. In public statements it has expressed thanks to an enthusiastic public for their humorous and overwhelming level of engagement.  The Council will, of course, have final say over the name of the ship, and it will most likely not choose to go with BoatyMcBoatface in the end.

Still it seems the public has spoken, and as everyone knows, changing a ship’s name is about the dumbest thing you can do. Again, by everyone, I mean everyone who knows anything about boats, going back millennia.

Because tradition insists that Poseidon himself records and knows the name of every vessel on the sea. If he has to go scribbling them all out in the Ledger of the Deep, it leaves his records messy and confusing, and makes him all discombobulated and cranky. So if you must change the name of a ship, it’s wise to tread carefully.

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What will Votey McVoteface come up with next? photo credit: Voting via photopin (license)

 

Personally, I don’t put any stock into such warnings, but then I am not a boat owner, or sailor, or boat naming historian. I’m also thankfully not part of the Natural Environment Research Council, which after the polls close on April 16th, will be tasked with deciding whether it’s better to allow a serious vessel to carry a lighthearted name, or to risk irritating a discombobulated sea god or worse, incurring the wrath of the Internet trolls, and those who take the power of their vote super seriously.

Because one need look no further than the US presidential race to know that people love to vote for ridiculous things. And they get ridiculously upset when you try to reason with them. I’m pretty sure a cranky sea god is the least of the NERC’s concerns.

Dave Glover Spews Pea Soup?

In 1949, Jesuit Priest Walter Halloran was a student of history at St. Louis University who also served as a driver for William Bowdern, then pastor of St. Francis Xavier College Church. On the night of March 9, Bowdern asked Halloran to drive him to a charming two-story brick house in the northwestern suburb of Bel-Nor.

Halloran assumed he would wait in the car while the priest conducted his business at the home, but when they reached their destination, Bowdern surprised him, saying, “I’ll be doing an exorcism. I want you to hold the boy down in case it’s needed.”

As the story goes, in January of that year, a thirteen-year-old boy from near Washington DC (perhaps the most frightening place on earth), began exhibiting some very strange behavior after attempting to contact his recently deceased aunt with the aid of a Ouija board.

St. Louis's own Exorcism House, the last remaining location of the 1949 exorcism that inspired the novel and movie. Picture via Destination America, which will air
St. Louis’s own Exorcist House, the last remaining location of the 1949 exorcism that inspired the novel and movie. Picture via Destination America, which will air “Exorcism: Live!” at 9 pm EDT, on October 30. 2015.

Fearing he might be possessed, the family contacted their Lutheran minister, who directed them to Father Albert Hughes, a local Catholic priest. It seems Hughes knew only slightly more about exorcism than did his Lutheran counterpart and managed to get himself injured by the boy, who still appeared very much possessed.

After that, the family decided a change of scenery may be best (because nobody wants to exorcize a demon in their own house) and they headed to St. Louis where the boy’s mother had grown up and where there are evidently priests who know more about exorcisms than do their DC counterparts.

The demon seems to have agreed because the word “LOUIS” allegedly formed on the boy’s chest. The family (in a demonstration of the same kind of good judgment that led them to allow their son to attempt to contact the dead in the first place) took that as a sign.

And that’s when Bowdern and Halloran entered the scene, along with assistant and priest Raymond Bishop who kept a detailed diary of the proceedings. After more than a month of prayer and ritual, and moves both to the rectory of St Francis Xavier Church on the campus of St. Louis University and to the psychiatric ward of the Alexian Brothers Hospital (neither of which still stand), the exorcism was finally successful on April 18, 1949.

The boy and his family returned to their Maryland home where, his true identity safely obscured, he is said to have gone on to enjoy a normal, productive, and likely Ouija board-free life. But his ordeal became the basis of William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel, The Exorcist, and the 1973 film adaptation, most well known for the spectacular spewing of pea soup.

Terrifying. photo credit: Fresh Pea and Ham Soup via photopin (license)
Terrifying. photo credit: Fresh Pea and Ham Soup via photopin (license)

But the neat little brick house in Bel-Nor, Missouri is still here. The house is occupied, though the homeowners don’t seem to want to comment about the story. Neighbors and some previous owners have associated strange, unsettling feelings with the northwest upstairs bedroom where the exorcism is said to have partly taken place. Still, others are more skeptical.

All the priests who participated in the exorcism, with the exception of Halloran remained quiet on the subject in the interest of protecting the privacy of the possessed boy. Halloran never gave details either, but he did admit that he wasn’t quite sure what he had witnessed and that the entire episode may have been attributable to mental illness rather than true demon possession.

Others remain convinced that the house itself possesses an unusually large amount of spooky presence. Tomorrow night (October 30, 2015), on Destination America, television ghost hunters the Tennessee Wraith Chasers will join psychic and medium Chip Coffey, and Archbishop James Long (of the United States Old Catholic Church) in an attempt on live television to rid the house of lingering evil. With them will be local St. Louis radio talk show host Dave Glover.

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This is what I’m hoping my Halloween will look like. photo credit: Walking via photopin (license)

And probably not tuning in will be me.

Because there are some things, whether real or not, I think probably ought not be messed with. Instead, I plan to enjoy my weekend of handing out candy to Disney Princesses and tiny Darth Vaders. Then on Monday, I’ll flip on my radio to find out if Dave Glover is spectacularly spewing pea soup.

Half Ghost, Half Scarecrow, But All Witch: A Case of the Heebie Jeebies

In 1968, Washington Evening Star editor Philip Love and his wife attempted to uncover a large piece of evidence in a very old mystery. What they were looking for was an 875-pound rock located somewhere in the woods to the south of Leonardtown, Maryland, that was said to hold the form of the hand of a murdered witch who had cursed the town more than 270 years before.

Seems like a nice town, but what the sign doesn't say is that 300 years ago it was cursed by a witch. photo credit: Leonardtown, Maryland via photopin (license)
Seems like a nice town, but what the sign doesn’t say is that more than 300 years ago it was cursed by a witch. photo credit: Leonardtown, Maryland via photopin (license)

According to legend, the impression belonged to a woman named Moll Dyer who traded healing herbs and lived on the outskirts of Leonardtown, largely depending on the generosity of its citizens for her survival. In part because she was unattractive and in part because she gave everyone the heebie jeebies, it was generally believed she was a witch.

The accusation wasn’t uncommon in the era, particularly in Maryland which had tried a number of women for witchcraft and had even executed one. But what was uncommon about 1696, the year Moll Dyer allegedly squished her handprint into a solid rock, was the extremely harsh winter the people of Maryland experienced.

As the dim cold days and long snowy nights dragged on, suspicion began to grow in the town that their devastating weather pattern had been summoned by the witch in their midst, the woman who was said to fly above the town at night, “half ghost, half scarecrow, but all witch,” casting her nefarious spells on the local children.

By February of that year, when the snow came down hard and fast yet again, producing rare and heebie-jeebie-inducing snowstorm thunder, the non-witch citizenry of Leonardtown had had enough. They grabbed their torches and their pitchforks and they burned Moll Dyer’s house to the ground, driving her into the bitter cold with nothing but the clothing on her back.

According to legend Moll Dyer was and is still associated with strange and violent weather, especially lightning. photo credit: Åskväder via photopin (license)
According to legend Moll Dyer was and is still associated with strange and violent weather, especially lightning. photo credit: Åskväder via photopin (license)

Her body was found a few days later, frozen solid, one hand outstretched, the other pressed into the boulder where she fell, cursing her tormentors.

Now, I can’t say whether there’s any truth to the tale of poor Moll Dyer and I hope there’s not. There isn’t great evidence that anyone by that name existed in the area, though there were some Dyers and records from that period are often a little sketchy. The tale was handed down orally for 160 years before a written record of the name turns up in a deed identifying a portion of land as “Moll Dyer’s Run.”

But to some extent, most of the residents of the area seem to believe it. Or at least they’re a little nervous about tromping through the woods south of town where bizarre weather events, unexplained accidents, and heebie-jeebies abound. Some insist that on particularly cold nights, you can even see Moll Dyer walking through her woods in a particularly unfriendly mood.

Personally I’m kind of a skeptic about these kinds of stories, but my husband, who has spent most of his life in the Midwest, did spend several formative early elementary years in Southern Maryland. While putting this story together I casually asked him if he’d ever heard of the Leonardtown witch. His eyes got big and he asked, “Do you know where I grew up?”

I’m a little directionally challenged anyway and though I’ve heard him mention the road he lived on and the name of his school, I had to admit I didn’t know what town or precisely where in the state it was located. So he explained to me that he lived on the outskirts of Leonardtown, Maryland, just to the south, across the street from a wood he was warned never to enter and where he’d always believed strange things happened.

And that’s when I got the heebie jeebies.

photo credit: Leonardtown, Maryland via photopin (license)
A very small sign identifies this as “Moll Dyer’s Rock, circa 1696,” but you may not want to get close enough to read it. photo credit: Leonardtown, Maryland via photopin (license)

But thanks to the efforts of Philip Love, you don’t even have to venture into the forbidden wood to experience the tale of the unfortunate witch yourself, because he did finally locate the stone on which Moll Dyer was said to utter her final curse. Since 1972 it has been sitting, without much pomp, in front of the courthouse in downtown Leonardtown.

Rumor has it that if you squint really hard and look at it from just the right angle, you can convince yourself there’s a handprint visible in the stone. And if you’re the sort of person who might do this kind of thing, you can even place your own hand in the outline. Just know the experience will probably leave you with a good case of the heebie-jeebies.

Praying for KitKats

I don’t know how it is in your neighborhood, but mine is starting to get pretty spooky. Mummies, skeletons, and witches peek out from behind trees jumping, unwelcome, into my periphery. I love my neighbors, and they love Halloween, so I won’t really complain, but I admit, I’m not a big fan of this holiday coming up tomorrow.

As far as I can tell, fear isn’t a particularly enjoyable sensation. I have never understood the point of haunted houses or scary movies. I don’t like being startled. And I really don’t like nightmares.

Aren't you a little old to be Trick-or-Treating?   photo credit: abbynormy via photopin cc
Aren’t you a little old to be Trick-or-Treating? photo credit: abbynormy via photopin cc

But even though all of that is true, my family still observes Halloween, because I really do enjoy handing out candy to all of the creatively costumed kids and to the crowds of tiny Disney Princesses. As long as they don’t ring the doorbell past bedtime, I can even appreciate the clearly-too-old-to-participate teenagers that cut eye holes in their moms’ best sheets and show up on my doorstep.

My kiddos are all set, too. Their costumes have been pieced together and we’ve developed a plan for warm layers underneath because, of course, the meteorologists tell us that Halloween night may be bringing our first freeze of the season and I have worked too hard on these costumes to simply have them wear their coats.

I mean, I don't want to brag that I'm the best mom in the world or anything, but an awful lot of love went into that mask.
I mean, I don’t want to brag that I’m the best mom in the world or anything, but an awful lot of love went into that mask.

All that’s left is for me to figure out what the heck we are going to do with all that candy. Because, as I mentioned, my neighbors seem to love Halloween and I love my neighbors, so I will not refuse their generosity.

But trick-or-treating is kind of a strange tradition, isn’t it? It’s generally assumed that the practice is derived from the Celtic festival of Samhain. Observed as far back as at least 2000 years, Samhain marked an important seasonal transition and a time when the spirits of the deceased were believed to walk the earth again.

Since it’s probably not smart to presume all wandering spirits are friendly, gifts of food (mostly KitKats, I assume) were often left for them by the living who also cut eye holes in their moms’ best sheets or donned Disney princess dresses so any unfriendlies might not notice them.

800 years later, when the Church decided to Christianize the Celts, Samhain became a problem. It’s really difficult to overcome superstition and the desire to give KitKats to tiny Disney princesses. What the Church decided to do was commandeer the holiday and transform it into Hallowtide, a festival encompassing All Hallow’s Eve, All Saint’s Day, and All Soul’s Day, from October 31 to November 2.

Because what wandering spirit wouldn't appreciate this?  photo credit: Andrew _ B via photopin cc
Because what wandering spirit wouldn’t appreciate this? photo credit: Andrew _ B via photopin cc

Instead of fearing evil wandering spirits, the holiday became about honoring and praying for the departed. By the 11th Century, the Church had come to be pretty cool with the idea of dressing up as angels, demons, and Disney princesses as a part of the celebration and soon the tradition of “guising” emerged. Children (and probably a few neighborhood teens who were clearly too old to participate) knocked on doors, often with a song, to beg for food or money in exchange for prayers offered up for the dead. The beggars became known as “soulers” and the treat most often given was called a “soul cake.”

Soul cakes were small and round, often with crosses marked on the top. I can’t find a recipe, but rumor has it they were sweet cakes with things like ginger, raisins, and not nearly enough KitKats in them. I’m betting that’s why the tradition has evolved from “if you give me a treat, I’ll pray for you” to “if you don’t give me a KitKat I’ll egg your house.”

Where's my KitKat?  photo credit: katerha via photopin cc
Where’s my KitKat? photo credit: katerha via photopin cc

But the soul cake does give me an idea of how I can deal with the massive amount of candy that will be entering my house tomorrow night. I’m going to take a lesson form the early Christian Church and commandeer my children’s candy bags (after letting them eat A LOT of candy on Halloween night, I promise) and re-purpose as many of the sweet treats as I can into baked goods that I will serve to friends and neighbors during the coming, more cheerful holiday season.

I have been scouring the Internet for recipes that will help me do just that. My favorite so far is this one for KitKat Cookie Bars. If you know others, please feel free to share. And keep in mind that if you don’t, I just might egg your house.

Not a Bear. Not a worm. Not a meteorologist.

This week saw the official beginning of autumn on September 23, and the accompanying loss of productivity that results from

I sure hope you like pumpkin! photo credit: JeepersMedia via photopin cc
I sure hope you like pumpkin! photo credit: JeepersMedia via photopin cc

an adorable Google doodle to mark it. I love this season, as the weather begins to cool, the leaves take on the rich hues of the season, and everything starts to smell (and taste) like pumpkin spice.

It’s been especially beautiful in my corner of the world this week with crisp clear mornings that shake off the chill and settle into pleasant sunny afternoons. And there’s a sense of urgency to soak up every bit of the beauty because before too long the jack-o-lanterns will rot on the front porch and we’ll all have had our fill of apples, raking, and, yes, maybe even those pumpkin-spiced lattes.

Then the long, dark, cold months of winter will settle in. According to some weather “experts” we Midwesterners should indeed be bracing for a long, dark, cold, winter. And by “experts,” of course, I mean the woolly worms.

If you’re in another part of the US you may call these critters “wooly bear” or “fuzzy bear” caterpillars even though they are maybe two inches long and not generally (ever) classified as bears. As they are also not technically worms, I won’t argue with you, but this is my blog post so I’ll be referring to them as “wooly worms.” Because that’s what they’re called.photo credit: mattnis via photopin cc
If you’re in another part of the US you may call these critters “woolly bear” or “fuzzy bear” caterpillars even though they are maybe two inches long and not generally (ever) classified as bears. As they are also not technically worms, I won’t argue with you, but this is my blog post so I’ll be referring to them as “woolly worms.” Because that’s what they’re called.photo credit: mattnis via photopin cc

That these fuzzy little critters can predict the degree of severity of the coming winter has been known since at least as early as the 1600’s, but it wasn’t until the fall of 1948 that the phenomenon was (kind of) formally studied. This was the year Dr. Howard Curran, then curator of entomology at the American Museum of Natural History took some friends, including a New York Herald Tribune reporter, their wives, and presumably a picnic with a few bottles of pumpkin spice ale and headed to Bear Mountain State Park to examine the woolly worms.

What he hoped to test was the folklore assertion that the wider the orange/brown band in the middle of the woolly worm’s stripe pattern, the milder the winter, and that collecting and examining woolly worms would be a fun way to spend a day with Mrs. Curran and their friends. Evidence suggests that the latter assertion is absolutely true because the group continued their “research” tradition for the next eight years.

As to whether or not the woolly worm can accurately predict the severity of the coming winter, well, Curran’s evidence did seem to jive with the old wives tale and his results were published in the New York Herald Tribune, sparking renewed interest in the tale that has led to woolly worm festivals and celebrations in Ohio, North Carolina, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and even recently in Lion’s Head, Ontario, which just goes to show you that searching out woolly worms really is a fun way to spend a Saturday.

Still, Dr. Curran was careful to note that his sample sizes were small, his technique imprecise, and his results, though delightful, were somewhat suspicious. More recent studies have shown that there really isn’t a correlation between the coloration of woolly worms and the weather pattern of the coming winter.

Definitely not a bear. Rod Allday [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
One of 260 species of Tiger Moth. Definitely not a bear. Rod Allday [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
The stripes instead tell us something of the woolly worm’s age, how long it’s been eating, and which of 260 species of tiger moth (the grown up version of the woolly worm) it might belong to. Entomologists do admit that given all that, the coloration may tell us something about the weather patterns of the previous winter, but then even meteorologists can tell us that information with at least some degree of accuracy, so it really isn’t that impressive.

I wonder which side the woolly worms are nestled on. photo credit: Sister72 via photopin cc
I wonder which side the woolly worms are nestled on. photo credit: Sister72 via photopin cc

Still, I admit that on a recent family bike ride, we noted the coloration of the droves of woolly worms that crossed the bike path. To our untrained eyes, they seemed to indicate a harsh winter ahead. And a lot of meteorologists agree, citing such prediction tools as statistical analysis and computer generated weather models. Seems to me like it would be easier just to grab a few friends and head out on the bike trail or take a picnic up to Bear Mountain and enjoy a nice slice of pumpkin pie, if for no other reason than to soak up the beauty of these autumn days.

Young Love, Teenage Angst, and One Very Angry Goat

On October 6, 1945, a Chicago tavern owner named William Sianis went to Wrigley Field to watch his beloved Cubs play in game 4 of the World Series against the Detroit Tigers. Sianis opened his tavern in 1934, naming it The Billy Goat Tavern after a goat that had presumably fallen off the back of a passing truck and wandered into the place. “Murphy” the goat became the tavern’s mascot and “Billy Goat” Sianis’s good luck charm.

This is also where fans of Saturday Night Live can order a "Cheezeborger, Cheezeborger, Cheezeborger, NO PEPSI, and a Coke." photo credit: jpellgen via photopin cc
This is also where fans of Saturday Night Live can order a “Cheezeborger, Cheezeborger, Cheezeborger, NO PEPSI, and a Coke.” photo credit: jpellgen via photopin cc

So like all good baseball fans (who are known for their quirky superstitions), Sianis wanted to share some of his good luck with the team. He bought two tickets, one for himself, and one for Murphy the Goat. Trouble was, Wrigley Field had a strict “no goats” policy. Sianis went so far as to appeal to Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley who also denied Murphy’s entrance, saying simply, “The goat stinks.”

Murphy was offended. Right then and there Sianis raised his hands and declared: “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more.” The Cubs lost Game 4 to Detroit and went on to lose the series, after which Sianis sent a telegram to P.K. Wrigley that read, “Who stinks now?”

As a St. Louisan and devoted Cardinals fan, I find this kind of hilarious, but I don’t know that I buy into the whole idea of curses. Still, there’s no denying that the Chicago Cubs started out as a solid ball club that more often than not was a force to be reckoned with. And that since that 1945 loss, have had the most rotten luck in baseball, having gone to the postseason only a few times since and with their mathematical elimination from contention this past weekend, have now experienced a 107 year stretch without a world series title.

Isn't this a great cover?
Isn’t this a great cover?

But even though this season panned out, well, kind of like most of them, I recently found some hope for the Cubbies in the form of a charming little book called Caught Between Two Curses by Margo L. Dill.

In this YA romance with a touch of magic, Chicago girl Julie is a typical teenager facing the beginning of senior year, torn between a sex-obsessed jerk of a boyfriend and a hot best guy friend who it turns out is a lot less of a jerk. But Julie’s situation is even more complicated than that. She’s been raised by her aunt and uncle since the tragic death of her parents. And now her uncle has become mysteriously ill as well, leading her aunt to reveal the secret of the curse upon the men involved in Julie’s family, a curse that is intricately intertwined with the famous curse of the billy goat inflicted on the Cubs by William Sianis and Murphy.

Much like the people (who I think can honestly lay claim to the title “most dedicated fans in baseball”) who have made several attempts to break the curse, from bringing Murphy’s descendants into Wrigley Field, to organizing an international “Reverse the Curse” aid program that provides goats to impoverished families in underdeveloped nations, and even to hanging a severed goat’s head from a statue in front of the ballpark, Julie sets out on a mission to break the curse.

Rumor has it the curse will only lift when Cubs fans come to truly appreciate goats and welcome them in their midst. photo credit: Tc Morgan via photopin cc
Rumor has it the curse will only lift when Cubs fans come to truly appreciate goats and welcome them in their midst. photo credit: Tc Morgan via photopin cc

The stakes are high, with her uncle’s life hanging in the balance and the future health of either her jerky boyfriend or the not-so-jerky love of her life endangered, but Julie is determined. She sets aside her own teenage angst (which rings embarrassingly true to life) and her indifference to baseball to cheer the Cubs to victory, the likes of which they haven’t seen in 107 years.

So, fear not, Cubs fans. 2014 wasn’t your year, but if Dill  can convince us that a teenage girl has within her the power to reverse the curse, then I believe there’s still hope. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, you should read the book. I think you’ll enjoy it. If you happen to be a Cubs fan then maybe you should read it to a goat. In Wrigley Field. Because there’s always next year.