Short News, Inebrious Fourth Edition

Ritmeier's C.W. Bitters, c. 1906.
Ritmeier’s C.W. Bitters, c. 1906, on display at the Wisconsin Historical Museum, Madison, Wisconsin.

Bracing Tonics. A CRM excavation at the site of a former Manhattan beer garden unveiled a trove of 19th-century bitters bottles. Bitters — tonics that combined herbs and spices along with a hefty dose of alcohol — were used as digestives and medicines at the time, even by otherwise abstinent teetotalers. From the relief writing on the bottles (which today are highly collectible), the archaeologists were able to track down the original recipes, which they then recreated and shared. Also worth noting: in the comments, an author plugged this apothecary recipe book.

Flipping my Lid. Speaking of cocktail books, I recently downloaded food writer Corin Hirsch’s Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England, which includes recipes I intend to inflict upon our guests this July Fourth. I’ve always wanted to try flip. I’ve had switchel before, but didn’t care for it.

Columbia Uber Ailes. And in not-so-alternate-history news, Fox News reached through a tear and stole the logo for BioShock Infinite.

Linky Links

Apologies for the staleness hereabouts; my nose has been to the grindstone. I hope to have more exciting news and updates this summer. Meantime:

Megafauna Extinctions. Another nail in the coffin of the overkill hypothesis: “a scientific review has found fewer than 15 of the 90-odd giant species in Australia and New Guinea still existed by the time people arrived.” As in the Americas, climate change is suspected. Fingers still point to human responsibility in the extinction of New Zealand’s moa, however, just as Paleo-Indians probably played a role in pushing stressed mammoths over the edge.

Albert Camus. The first full English translation of his Algerian Chronicles recasts Camus solidly as an Algerian writer, not a French one, a man who wrote explicitly about his birthplace and shared little in common with Parisian intellectuals.

Herman Melville’s House. Arrowhead, the Massachusetts home where Melville wrote Moby-Dick and “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” is undergoing renovations to return it to a closer approximation of its appearance circa 1870. The addition of the porch is odd since it was built after Melville moved out.


HL Hunley. Archaeologists have discovered the Confederate submarine was still attached to its Housatonic-sinking torpedo when the device exploded, which in turn probably caused Hunley to founder. Previously, most believed Hunley stuck the torpedo into the Union ship and released it before reversing and detonating it from a distance.

Coyotes. A Connecticut wildlife biologist says “a map of where coyotes were sighted in 2012 compared to 2011” reveals “the number had mushroomed.” This doesn’t necessarily mean the population is up — we don’t know because the state hasn’t conducted a census — but I think that’s a reasonable inference. In any event, while the biologist did inform his audience that we’re probably not dealing with coyotes but rather coywolf hybrids, the implications of this didn’t seem to be fully understood. Prescriptions for hazing and other prevention techniques used west of the Mississippi may not be germane to our situation here in the northeast.

Grand Central Terminal. My favorite building turns 100.

BioShock Infinite. I never played the original BioShock game but the verisimilitude of this trailer for the alt-hist sequel — set in 1912 — produced in the style of an early ’80s In Search of… documentary show is outright amazing.

Nutmeg News

Coyotes. According to biologists who are doing a better job than the Connecticut DEP, western coyotes have successfully penetrated New England — and picked up wolf genes along the way, making them larger and more capable of dropping bigger prey. Meanwhile, the telephone poles in my town resemble those of Santa Carla in The Lost Boys, papered with “lost dog” fliers. Not all of them ran away or were hit by cars…

Easton raid. Daniel Tepfer at the Connecticut Post has a solid update on the fatal police raid four years ago this month. It’s such a thorough piece — compensating for the Post’s previously shallow reporting on the event — that I’m tempted to go through it line-by-line, but I’ll confine my remarks to “Chandra Parker,” the informant. If, like me, you’re obsessed with discovering the counter-narrative of what really happened that day, then she is the crux of the whole matter. Why did an obvious liar and drug addict willingly walk into a police station to rat and/or lie about Terebesi? One attorney involved in the case suggested to me that Terebesi had a habit of disobeying the first law of engaging prostitutes and this was her revenge (the shotgun shooting of the house less than two weeks earlier may have been related or evidence of similar bad judgment). From Tepfer’s rendition, it sounds like the officers who took her statement were confused by Parker/Pankov’s presence but Solomon seized upon it as the wedge he wanted. So was it serendipitous (for him) — or prearranged?

Radley Balko on the raid here. My story for the Fairfield County Weekly is no longer online, but I’ve written about it on the blog here.

Sunday sales. You won’t hear me say many good things about Governor “Tax” Malloy, yet I have to admit he accomplished something none of his predecessors could — albeit still in the name of taxes. Here’s a post from the co-owner of Mrs. Kuhl’s wine shop, who specifically entered the business so he could have a guaranteed Sunday off from work. I see his point but protectionism is protectionism; there was a time when all Connecticut shops were closed on Sundays, and nobody is nostalgic for that.


Easton raid. Readers may recall my coverage of the 2008 police raid in Easton, Connecticut, wherein cops hungry for a big drug bust stormed into a house, killed one of two occupants — and found only residual drug traces. Susana Guizan, the mother of the slain man, filed a civil suit against the six towns which contributed men and materiel to the raid. A newspaper reported the case was supposed to go to trial in October 2011 but the attorney for the Guizan family told me it is currently scheduled for May or June of this year. Discovery is complete and the court is now litigating motions for summary judgment.

Smedley’s gravestone. Permitting is underway to have Samuel Smedley’s fallen gravestone removed and reinscribed. Vanguard Bill Lee, who painted the art composing the cover of Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer, is scheduled to appear before the town selectmen this week as part of the process. While there’s no doubt Smedley will have a refreshed gravestone sometime this year, I don’t believe it will be ready by June 13.

Paddleboarding. My boys and I had another strong season of adventure, albeit one cut short by Irene and the ensuing high bacteria counts in the water. Alas, the increasing mass of my two lieutenants means we’re edging closer to our Versa Board’s maximum weight allowance of 300 lbs. The Versa is still great on rivers or in the marshes but on the Sound with all three of us it’s like paddling a rock. I think this year I’ll pick up an inexpensive inflatable board for my oldest and then either keep the Versa for a final summer or sell it and buy a lighter board for me and the youngest. So if you’re in the market for a used but well-maintained Versa Board, make me an offer. Unique visitors in 2011 were nearly double those in 2010, with just under 37,000 more hits as well. The top five countries of origin also made more sense than in 2010: USA; Germany and the Netherlands (logical considering my last name); and China and Russia. These last two results can only be a combination of hackers, spammers, and government censors. Seriously — you should see the spam queue.


The end of the year seems like a fine time to phone in some updates:

Pirelli Building. In my January article for Connecticut Magazine about historically designated but otherwise derelict buildings, I reported that passers-by of the Pirelli Building in New Haven could see “shattered windows and Venetian blinds askew.” I interviewed the sales manager of IKEA New Haven, which owns the building, for the piece so he knew it was in the works. It seems to have had an effect: Since then, the windows have been repaired and the blinds removed, making the building appear less forsaken.

Megafauna Extinctions. This story in SciAm has a good summary of the latest research to pinpoint when mammoths, mastodons, and other large American Pleistocene animals went extinct. It leans toward the overkill hypothesis at the end but I think the Clovis mystery just underscores the complication of the extinction question: not only are we not sure just when various species vanished (this much shallower article, for example, lumps them all together but it’s not clear if humans ever laid eyes on American lions or sabercats), but we really don’t know when the first immigrants arrived in the New World.

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs. I’ve been using CFLs throughout my house for over two years now and my love affair with them is devolving into spiteful asides and unflattering comparisons to previous partners. The biggest sore point is their unreliable lifespans. “CFL makers claim the bulbs have lifetimes of 10,000 hours each,” but I’ve had bulbs die in a matter of weeks. This may be an issue of poor QC rather than with the technology itself but it certainly offsets any savings accrued by buying more-expensive-yet-longer-lasting CFLs over incandescents. Not to mention that CFLs’ dim glow when first switched on in cold temperaturesand by “cold,” I mean 65° F or lower — often compels me to leave lights on in rooms I’m not occupying so I can see what the hey-hey I’m doing if I go back in there. A major criticism of incandescents is that they waste much of their energy on heat rather than light, but having experienced the alternative, I’m not sure it’s a waste after all.

Photo above taken at Pleasure Beach in Bridgeport, Connecticut.