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Meg’s Favorite Islands, Part 4: Antelope Island, Salty Boogeyman Hideout

2 Jun

So way back when we were first discussing my Meg’s Favorite Islands presentation for his variety show, Weird and Awesome, my pal Emmett Montgomery told me about this one:


Emmett grew up in Utah and was telling me about how there’s a handful of scabby islands in the Great Salt Lake and that one, Antelope Island, is this mountainous, salt-encrusted national park that doesn’t look too exciting, but! It was once home to a dude who was exiled there, and there’s a spooky legend that has built up around him. Especially among the littlest Utahns.

In 1862, a guy named Jean Baptiste was convicted of stealing clothes and other stuff from the dead, which his job as a gravedigger offered him lots of opportunities to do. It had been going on for a while when he was finally busted: A young criminal was gunned down by the cops and, when no one came forward to claim the body, was buried in an outfit donated by one of the officers. But when the boy’s brother finally showed up to move the coffin to a family cemetery, he found that the corpse was naked. Baptiste’s house was searched, and the clothing, shoes, and personal belongings from over 300 graves were found.

The Mormon community was horrified and furious. But annoyingly, I am sure, grave-robbing was not a capital offense, so they couldn’t kill him. For his crime, Baptiste was tried and initially sent to prison, but even his fellow inmates utterly shunned him (for doing, it seems, the worst possible thing you could do? taking clothes from dead people? surely there’s nothing worse than you could do to, I don’t know, an alive person?), and it was decided that he wasn’t safe in custody or out of it.

That’s when King Brigham Young himself stepped in and vowed to make the grave-robber “a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth”—Baptiste was tattooed with the words “BRANDED FOR ROBBING THE DEAD” (!!!!) and transported by a wagon in the dead of night from the prison to Antelope Island, to live there in exile forever and more. Not long after, he was moved to the deeper waters of the more-remote Fremont Island, to prevent him from wading ashore.

6. Antelope_Island_State_Park_Map

Three weeks later, cattle herders who showed up on Fremont Island to survey their livestock found that a heifer had been killed and its hide tanned, and that some lengths of wood had been broken off of a fence. No trace of a living Baptiste was found anywhere on the island, but they didn’t find his corpse either. The theory was that he built himself a raft out of cattle-fence and hustled on out, but no one ever heard from him again, so who can say for sure.

However, these facts were not well dispersed among the community, the topic having been considered taboo by the Deseret News. All the townspeople had to work with were vague whisperings of a missing fugitive and no body. As such, the local legend seems to end at Antelope Island, Baptiste’s last publicly known location, where he allegedly stayed and became a professional boogeyman, with continual claims throughout the 20th century of him showing up at the south shores of the Great Lake to steal kids and rob graves and wreak havoc.

(Apparently an immortal boogeyman, if Brigham Young was his living contemporary in the mid-1800s. Or maybe he haunts it in ghost mode. I guess he probably knows all the industry secrets of how to become a ghost after you die, if he was a grave digger.)

After 30 years, a headless skeleton in leg chains was discovered by a nearby river, and a human skull was found not far from there around the same time, and so rumors circulated anew about the missing outlaw. Supposedly, though, Baptiste wasn’t in chains when he was dropped off on the island. Maybe he committed another crime, though, and was incarcerated and escaped AGAIN? Was it him? You don’t know!

So we know he’s definitely dead by now, but the fact that Baptiste was never heard from again is inspiring, I say. Like, sure, maybe he drowned in his escape or whatever, a la the Alcatrazers. But MAYBE he got away successfully and enjoyed a fruitful life of crime in Tombstone, Arizona, or something, far away from that mean old Brigham Young and his keen judgmental eye, and he found happiness there and it was great.

So yeah, without a body to confirm anything, I can’t blame the kiddies for letting their imaginations run with this story: It’s fun to think of all the possibilities. I like the idea that he died on the island and dug his own grave and buried himself.

antelope island

Meg’s Favorite Islands, Part 3: The Unique Scandals of the Pitcairn Islands

23 Jan

The third installment in a series on my favorite islands is probably… my favorite island? Of all? I just kind of can’t believe this really went down.

5. pitcairn location

So the Pitcairns are an overseas territory of the United Kingdom that lies halfway between New Zealand and Peru, or about 3,400 miles off the coast of Chile. It takes about six hours to get from Chile to the Pitcairns on an airplane. So let’s just start off by saying that this spot is very, very remote.

These are volcanic islands and there are four of them, but only the main island, also called Pitcairn, is inhabited because two of them are atolls and one is a coral island so it’s all rubble and sinkholes. The islands are spread out over hundreds of miles, so no one ever really goes to the other ones. Everybody lives and stays in the capital city of Adamstown.

So Pitcairn is my favorite/least favorite island because the deal with Pitcairn is that it is the actual site of the real Mutiny on the Bounty. The HMS Bounty itself still lies at the bottom of Bounty Bay in Adamstown, as it has since 1790. This is a real historical event and not just a novel. The British mutineers ganged up against Captain Bligh and half of the ship, then teamed up with a bunch of Tahitians they’d probably kidnapped and settled on the main island, Pitcairn, then went BACK to Tahiti and kidnapped some women, and brought them back to their sweet new settlement. And that’s where they stayed, isolated, in the middle of the ocean.

As such, everyone who lives on Pitcairn Island today is by and large descended from the original British and Tahitian settlers. Which is apparent in the surnames of the population: just about everyone’s last name is Young, Brown, Warren, or Christian, per the mutineers. They speak English and Pitkern, which is spelled Pitkern and is a mishmash of 18th-century English and Tahitian. Notably, current Pitckern slang includes a bunch of old-timey maritime sayings—such as the word “whettles,” stemming from victuals (“vittles”), meaning food. It’s also heavily influenced by the King James Bible and Seventh-Day Adventist literature. Love it, love it to pieces.

Pitcairn has some pretty marvel-arious place names as well, although fewer than Orkney and Shetland, owing to it being super-small. A list of the ones that I like include:

  • Red Allen
  • Where Freddie Fall
  • Bitey Bitey
  • Scissors
  • Headache
  • Oh Dear
  • Break Im Hip
  • Bop Bop
  • Little George Coc’nuts
  • Ugly Name Side
  • Down the God
  • Flattie Heywood
  • Stonepeoplefightfor [sic]

Read more of their wackadoo place names here.


So here’s the other weird/horrible bomb re. the unbearable smallness of Pitcairn that’s captivated me:

It seems that for the first three centuries or so, it was culturally fine for grown men in Pitcairn to sexually assault the island’s teenaged girls. For you see, in 1999, a British police officer was on a temporary assignment in Adamstown and she started to notice that the kids were really sexually, um, open with each other… as well as toward adults. And she was like hang on just one second, so she started asking questions and immediately began uncovering signs of rampant sexual abuse. A study of island records uncovered that most girls—not women, girls—had their first child when they were between 12 and 15 years old.

It turns out that the island’s populace had teamed up and just arbitrarily decided that age of consent was 12. Without consulting the British crown, which turned out to actually disagree on this point. Also, beyond that, a bunch of the adult men were just, like, subsequently ignoring the whole “consent” part and helping themselves.

There was also this general idea among the islanders that they had rejected the British crown when they muntineered and burned the Bounty, so they’d thereby rejected their British citizenship in 1790 and they weren’t a British colony and they didn’t have to do what the UK said. But the UK was like, yeah, the thing of that is: We still own you? Consult your money and see whose face is on it? So you can’t actually rape little girls if you want to keep using that money.


The British authorities did a bunch of research and interviewed everyone who’d lived in Pitcairn over the last 20 years, many of whom had moved to New Zealand, and quite a few women were like, yep, got raped by grown men all the time, nobody cared. They came up with 55 charges against seven different men, including the mayor of Adamstown, ranging in ages from about 30 to late 70s. And so they had a trial, and they also tracked down a bunch of alleged perpetrators who weren’t living in Pitcairn anymore and held a separate trial for them in Auckland later.

As well, a handful of the sexual assault charges were against kids who were, like, a whole lot younger than 12. Like, 5.

Meanwhile, the island’s mothers and grandmothers were totally resigned to this practice, and they became outraged by the trials—they were like, what’s the big deal, it’s just part of our culture. We got raped in the watermelon patch when we were trying to do our chores, and so can they. There was also a sentiment, from the women!, that the 12- and 13-year-olds had been willing participants, so it was not actually rape.

Here’s the rub on that. If you try to incarcerate seven of the islands’ adult men from a population of 47 people, that takes away a serious chunk of the labor force. And they’re living on fish and breadfruit over there. So you can see maybe some of the motives for protesting the men’s innocence—they need every able-bodied adult they can get on Pitcairn, or they’ll all starve.

So in addition to these men being husbands and fathers whose families needed them, Pitcairn wasn’t going to be able to get anything done without them, and if they were incarcerated, the failure of the settlement was looking very possible, 300 years after it was founded. The islanders began to think they had been unfairly bullied by the UK. It was amaaaazing. Some people—again, largely the women—decided it was a conspiracy theory on the part of the British to close the island down. They honestly, utterly believed this. It’s not that children were raped; it’s just a random conspiracy by those big British meanies to put us out of business.

(For the record, one woman, the Pitcairn government’s secretary, did break ranks with the other women and claimed that it was, in fact, frowned upon in Pitcairn to rape little girls. And that the men absolutely knew they were British subjects and that British law applied to them. Just one person, though.)

In the end, six of the seven dudes were actually convicted, and the UK had to build a prison on the island, but they also had to let the guys out constantly in order to help man the longboat whenever anyone needed to come in or leave Pitcairn, or things like that, and a few of them got community service instead because the community super needed them. So, I dunno what the standard of excellence is on Pitcairn these days. You’d think they’d have learned their lesson, but maybe they’re back at it, raping in protest or something. Ugh.

Anyway. Thaaaaat’s Pitcairn, ladies and germs! My mind is blown apart anew from writing this. I emphatically recommend Google Earth-walking through charming, half-colonial English/half-shantytown-ass Adamstown, if you feel like being weird for a while.

Meg’s Favorite Islands, Part 2: Orkney and Shetland, Twin Scottish Weirdos

14 Jan

[Here's Part 2 in a continuing series of posts on my favorite islands. I, uh, guess that part is probably obvious. -Ed]

No. 2: Orkney/Shetland and its nutty, nutty placenames

So Orkney and Shetland are separate groups of archipelagos that lie northeast of Scotland, and I like them not only because I have that thing that lots of white Americans have where they don’t like being plain old American so they try to emphasize their Scottish or Irish or whatever-white-people heritage, like it has meaning or something, and like just about everyone in Seattle, I’m secretly kind of Scottish. (Byers? A sept of Clan Lindsey? Enh? Enh? Do I have ethnic cred yet? O gad please) That is not the only reason.

Another is that as a person who likes remote islands, these ones are about as mystical as you can get, being basically untouched other than little quaint-ass villages dotting the coastlines. These things are also lousy with Bronze Age mounds and concentric rock circles and weird circular stone houses. Only Iceland gives them a run for their mystical money, really.

But! The best thing about these islands is the placenames. Good god, the names on these things. English cartographer Steve Goldman, who made the marvelous maps below, said it well:

“I’ve loved placenames on Orkney and Shetland since I was a kid. They are by turns surreal, beautiful, nonsensical, rude, and bizarre… There seems to be no consistency to them at all. I’ve done some online research to try to find their derivation, but there seems to be little out there.”

4. Shetlands Names 3. Orkneys Names

So, I didn’t even try to research their etymology—I don’t need to understand them to love them—although I did look up a bunch of them to try to find out what they are. Rock formations? Lakes? Geographical oddities? had them all but didn’t tell me what they were. But they were totally on the maps.

So, yeah, here are some of my favorite nonsensical placenames among Shetland and Orkney:

• Gentleman’s Ha (not just a commoner’s, pedestrian ha)
• Tongue of Gangsta
• Stinkanie Geo (I really like Stinkanie—it’s like what an uncreative 5-year-old bully would call someone named Stephanie)
• I usually don’t work blue, but: Ladies’ Hole, oh my god, what were you thinkin’
• The Slithers
• The Sands of Doomy (I think of the car from the Beetlejuice cartoon that could turn into a werewolf-car—I believe its name was Doomie? With the little skull hood ornament?)
• Dandy’s Water (I keep thinking of Simpson and Son Revitalizing Tonic)
• Taing of the Busy
• Quear of Estafea (sorry, it’s the spelling, not the pronunciation, that I’m lolling at)
• Da Niggards (several people approached me after the presentation to tell me what the word niggard means. I know. I knew.)
• Tingly Loup
• Twisting Nevi . . . like a nevus? Like a birthmark?
• Scare Gun (wouldn’t you say every gun is a scare gun? I would.)
• Rushy Cups
• Whaa Field
• Flossy Groups, which is my burlesque name starting tomorrow

Meg’s Favorite Islands, Part 1: Heligo, We Won’t . . . Go

12 Jan

So the other weekend, I did a little live presentation on geography at the January edition of my friend Emmett Montgomery‘s monthly variety show, Weird and Awesome, and a few folks who missed it have been asking for a text version. It was about my ten favorite islands, and I only got through four of them before I ran out of time; I’m debating on whether to post them all here or sit on the last six in hope of presenting them at a later show. Wouldn’t wanna give the milk away for free or nothing.

Anyway! This seemed like the spot for it. No. 1 was:

Adorable Heligoland and its millions of uses

1. Helgoland,_Germany,_ca_1890-1900

Map of Heligoland circa 1890-1900. It more or less still looks like this.

So Heligoland is a teeny tiny pair of islands not even a mile square put together, and it’s located in the North Sea about three hours’ sailing distance from the northern German coast, and I like it for a bunch of reasons.

First, I like it because although it’s a German territory, it used to be Danish AND British, and they don’t speak German but a dialect of Frisian, which is charming the living bejesus out of me.

(I mean, Frisian is still spoken in and around Germany, but it’s the actual, official language in Heligoland, like German is in Germany.)

(They actually speak “Heligolandic” in Heligoland, which, oh my god.)

So there are two islands, and one is called Düne, and it’s a dune with a little airstrip on it that the Nazis built, about a quarter of a mile in area. And then the main island is a geological oddity—it’s made of a very red sedimentary rock, unlike anything else along the continental coastline in the area. It’s like something you see in, say, Arches National Park or Devil’s Tower or something. So there’s this big rocky Utah-style tower called “Large Anna,” and I decree that to be pretty cute.

2. Lange-Anna-HelgolandThere she is. You can’t miss her.

I also really like Heligoland’s motto, which does NOT rhyme in Heligolandic, but which does happen to rhyme in English, LUCKILY, and it goes like this:

Green is the land,
Red is the cliff,
White is the sand,
These are the colors of Heligoland.

Is that not the Germanest thing that ever Germaned. I like to add a dramatic pause before the last line.

Uh, Heligoland has lived various lives as a center for crime and espionage against Napoleon in the early 1800s, as well as a seaside spa town for Hanoverian richies only about 20 or 30 years later. It was also a refuge for revolutionaries in the 1848 German revolution, because it was owned by the British but suuuper conveniently located if you were a German who, for some weird reason, suddenly needed to get out of Germany.

Then it was returned to Germany in 1890, and theeeeen it was evacuated during World War II and used as a bombing range. There are just so many uses for this handy little contraption. Today, it’s back to serving the upper class on their holidays. And it enjoys tax-exempt status, FYI. Duty-free booze and perfume, et cetera.

Another thing I like is that cars are generally frowned upon on Heligoland—there’s, like, an ambulance and a couple firetrucks, and then there are a couple electric cars used for moving stuff around, and that’s it. The police got their first car in 2006—they were on foot or bike before that. The GERMAN POLIZEI had no cars when on Heligoland. Your powers are useless here.

I dunno, I love this precious little thing. Heligoland! I wanna wear it on a necklace.

The Only Empty Jug in Chicago

20 Sep

Aside from being heartbreakingly gorgeous, this map outlining the territories of Chicago’s gangs in the 1930s is also hilarious and darling and is making me die of love. I mean, I also feel bad because it’s about murderous gangsters, but oh, god, their sweet little faces and word balloons.

This is inspiring me to enroll in some kind of ancient wood-cut/Victorian children’s book illustration class. I’m dizzy, guys.

See the whole thing at the University of Illinois of Urbana-Champaign Library’s historical map collection right here.

The Hansen Family

18 Jun


Oh, hello, I’ve just been sitting here marveling over Kalaupapa, Hawaii, once a leper colony and home still to about a dozen senior citizens who were exiled there between 1866 and 1969. No big thing.

(Dear smarties: Despite my headline, for the duration of this piece, I’m calling it leprosy and not Hansen’s disease, because these people didn’t have Hansen’s disease in the year 1900 or whatever. They had leprosy. It was called leprosy. They were exiled as lepers, not as, uh, Hanses. I mean . . . Hans. Sons of sons of Hans.)

Located on a chunk of peninsula on the north side of the island of Molokai, Kalaupapa is a natural prison; sheer, 2,000-foot sea cliffs—some of the highest in the world—block the settlement off on three sides. The only access to the rest of the island is by a foot trail along the ocean. The original native population was killed by a series of epidemics in the 1800s, so you can see how the story writes itself: the Hawaiian government was like, “Oh, hey, there’s an outbreak of a highly communicable disease—let’s shuttle everybody off to the spot where everyone already died off from disease without infecting us. Thanks for testing that out for us, native dudes.” More than 8,000 people were exiled there over a century and change, beginning, reportedly, with three women and nine men who were dumped overboard and told to swim. The overwhelming majority were native Hawaiians. You know this story.

In 1873, the Catholics took over and the community was managed and nursed by a young Belgian priest, Father Damien (fka Joseph de Veuster), and a young German nun, Mother Marianne Cope (fka Barbara Koob), both of whom advocated for the patients and established homes and medical facilities for them. I guess it probably helped; Jack London visited Kalaupapa in 1908 (why? why would you take a trip to a leper colony?), expecting to find a hellhole, but after chilling with the population, watching horse races and joining in on dinnertime sing-alongs, he wrote that he was “having a disgracefully good time along with eight hundred of the lepers, who were likewise having a good time.” Father Damien and Mother Marianne are now hailed in Hawaii and beyond, with a statue of the former standing in the capitol building in Honolulu and latter having been canonized in 2009.

This shocked me to read it: It was estimated that at some point, every patient on Kalaupapa either gave birth to or fathered at least one child while s/he lived there. But state law mandated that any child born to a leper be whisked away and put up for adoption, right, and then most of those kids were lied to about their origins, so they never knew where to look for their birth parents, should they want to.

Can you imagine an entire community of people who’ve had their babies forcibly taken from them immediately after birth? In addition to living with a disfiguring, disabling, painful disease? That often blinds you? Like, if that data checks out, then 100 percent of the people in this village suffered in these ways. People synthesize that kind of trauma in myriad ways, I realize, but think about the magnitude of personal suffering afoot in this place, man. Or the likelihood of the magnitude. And it was still kind of a party, sounds like.

Kalaupapa is a national park today, although you have to get clearance from the Hawaii State Department of Health before you can go there and take the donkey-led tour around the settlement and see the church and Father Damien’s memorial and such, and kids under 16 aren’t allowed. Once the last inhabitant dies, the DOH will transfer authority to the Department of Hawaiian Homelands and it’ll (probably—what am I, a wizard) be open to the public.

As if geology and the DOH hadn’t done enough to segregate it from the rest of Hawaii, Kalaupapa is in Kalawao County—a separate county from the rest of Molokai, which is part of Maui County—and it clocks in as the second-smallest county in the U.S., after Loving County, Texas (pop. 71). In 2011, the USPS considered shuttering the community’s tiny post office, but everyone raised holy hell about it because it would require 80-year-old leprosy patients, who have no Internet access or cell phone service, to either take a mule across the island or fly to another island to get their mail. So, the USPS backed off. I’m sure they’re probably, like the DOH and everyone else who’s ever been involved with this place, just waiting around for everybody on Kalaupapa to die off.

Above all, I’m blown away to hear that there’s a small community of patients still living there. Who are, of course, free to go, and who decline, because their home is in exile.



27 Mar

Talking of maps, here’s an early one of America purporting to be shaped like an eagle:


“The Eagle Map of the U.S.A., 1833,” via Retronaut

(I dunno. I think this eagle’s daddy might have been a pigeon.)

Eeeee, I still like it a lot when maps are shaped like things though! Don’t tread on me!

Word on the Streets

22 Mar

Dude, I was Wiki-cruising the other night and found this map of North-central-ish Seattle from 1893, focusing especially on my very own University District. Check out all the wacky street names! I knew, like everyone else, that Ballard’s east/west streets all used to be named other things, just because those little street name mosaics are still embedded in some of the sidewalks along 24th NW, but I never considered that my own neighborhood’s streets had maiden names too.


(Click to enlarge! It’s huuuuuge.)

Per Wikipedia:

Part of key map, Seattle, Washington 1893 Volume 2, Sanborn-Perris Map Co. Limited, New York, (1893). Shows Lower Wallingford, Latona (now considered part of Wallingford), and Brooklyn (now the University District) before the street names were changed.So few street names remain that it can be a bit tricky to get oriented on this. It is compounded by the fact that many of these names now apply to other streets, the street plan near the water is quite changed, and bridges are in different places. That said, here are some pointers.The observatory at upper right (on the University of Washington Campus) remains in the same place. What was then “Brooklyn” is now 12th Avenue NE: see Paul Dorpat, Seattle Neighborhoods: University District — Thumbnail History, HistoryLink, June 18, 2001. Wyandotte (a name only partly visible on this map) and Franklin Streets are now 45th Street. Part of Pasadena Avenue (or something near it) remains as Pasadena Place. Latona Avenue retains its name; the name “Latona” now also applies to what was then Cooper.So Tremont Avenue is now 15th NE, Columbus Avenue is now “The Ave.” Broadway is now Brooklyn NE.

A bit further west, the onetime Hester Avenue was later 6th and has been completely obliterated by Interstate 5. The former Stone Avenue has nothing to do with the present Stone Way (which I believe would be slightly west of anything on this map).

The route of the railway here is now more or less the route of the Burke-Gilman Trail through this area.

So I guess I live at Pasadena and Clemson? At the ghost of Pasadena and Clemson, I mean? This is kind of tripping me right on out.

I also love that there’s more or less nothing at all north of 45th, fka “Frankin/Wyandotte,” even in 1893. “Yeah, so what if we built a university right next to the wild, untouched forest? It’ll get taken care of, don’t worry. Fine, look, here. We built you the Knarr. Happy?”

Game of Bones

19 Mar

Ever since the 8th grade, when Mr. Becker totally shanghaied our Washington State history class to force us to learn about the Canadian parliament instead, I’ve had a begrudging, secretly intense interest in the murky story of Canada. Don’t tell anyone I like Canada, OK? I dunno, Canadian history is sort of a mix of adorable, pathetic, hilarious, and kind of, like . . . hardbitten-badass. It’s like a really polite Wild West. They COULD fuck you up if they FELT like it, but they’re too busy being industrious and conscientious. Like, they probably won’t. Like, you can probably get away with whatever you were gonna do.

Anyway, if you weren’t previously clear on the fact that Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan, was originally called Pile-of-Bones [sic, hyphens and all], well, uh . . . now see here. Seems that when the whiteys showed up to take over the native settlement and declare it part of Canada—now we know where Mr. Becker learned it—they arrived to find a gigantic fucking HILL of buffalo and bison bones there, so the natives called it [whatever "pile of bones" is in Assiniboine or whatever they spoke]. So the English-French were like, okay, we can dig it. We got shit to do. Pile-of-Bones it is.


Makes sense. Looks like this is just the skull pile. Of bones.


Oh, here are the rest of the buffalo bones, whew, thank god

Looks like it’s more of a pile of skulls and then a separate, disparate wall of bones. Get it right, native Assiniboines, Jesus.

From the wiki on Regina: “There was an ‘obvious conflict of interest’ in Dewdney’s choosing the site of Pile-of-Bones as the territorial seat of government and it was a national scandal at the time.”

And then someone was like, uh, this is Canada, you have to name everything after the queen. So there went Pile-o-Bones, Saskatchewan. The name, however, lives on in Regina’s local roller derby league.

Ugh, god, so perfect. I super love this entire thing. (Please don’t tell anyone.)

No Dark Sarcasm In the Classroom

11 Dec

Click on the smiling, benighted visage of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to view a pretty fascinating interactive infographic (aka infoactive intergraphic) on the education level of world leaders:


The leaders of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates have a secondary school-level education. That’s middle school. Just suck on that numbing little lozenge for a minute.


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