[This is a desperate cry for help. Mark Maynard cannot break free from the pull of Facebook’s click bait. Its hooks have worked their way deep into his brain… And you won’t believe what he does next!]
To what depths will the Republican presidential hopefuls go to attract the votes of the paranoid, racist and criminally uninformed away from Donald Trump?
I’m not sure if it was done for pure entertainment value, but the fact that the Republican National Committee made the decision to cap the number of participants in their first televised debate at 10 has resulted in some of the craziest shit I have ever seen. Apparently, when 17 candidates compete for just 10 slots in a field where a reality television character is the frontrunner, others in the field feel as though they have no choice but to play the game and try to out-crazy their opponents in hopes of appealing to the most delusional members of the Republican base… folks who, instead of turning away from Donald Trump in disgust when he says that Mexicans just cross the border to sell drugs and rape our women, or that John McCain isn’t a hero because he allowed himself to be captured in battle, actually flock toward him in greater numbers. [Trump, according to a poll just released by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, now has the support of 19% of GOP primary voters, giving him a sizable lead over Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who is polling at 15%.]
Last week, it was presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee telling the Jews that Obama was “lining them up for the ovens”. And, yesterday, we got to hear New Jersey Governor Chris Christie saying that the teachers union deserves a “punch in the face”. Then, today, we were rewarded with video of Texas Senator Ted Cruz eating bacon from the red hot barrel of a machine gun… One can only imagine what tomorrow will bring.
As they haven’t decided yet who the 10 candidates are who will take the stage in Cleveland on Thursday, you can bet we haven’t seen the worst of it yet. Others on the bubble will surely attempt to differentiate themselves in increasingly desperate ways in hopes of possibly dominating a news cycle and driving their numbers up by another percentage point or two tomorrow. [Four candidates are essentially tied for the tenth spot as of right now.]
So that’s what I’m thinking about this evening… “What,” I wonder, “will the next big stunt be to attract far right GOP primary voters?” “What will it take to pull votes away from Trump?” Will anti-abortion crusader Rick Santorum go on a talk show to share those creepy family photos he had taken with his one-day-old dead son? Will Carly Fiorina suggest that Hillary Clinton “played softball” in college, with a wink? Will Rick Perry do a drive-along with the Ferguson, Missouri police force on the first anniversary of Michael Brown’s shooting? Will Bobby Jindal shoot up a solar farm with a bacon-wrapped machine gun while screaming “Drill, baby, drill”? Will Lindsay Graham, in a desperate attempt to prove himself straight, release video of a painfully awkward sexual encounter Ann Coulter? Will someone pull Trump’s wig off? I feel like it’s the night before Christmas… I can’t wait to wake up tomorrow and see what’s happened.
On a more serious note… What the fuck have we allowed to happen to this once great country of ours? How is it that we’ve come to a place in history where these are our leaders… where it’s acceptable to have presidential nominees talking about punching teachers in the face? How is it that we’ve come to a place where a reality television character known primarily for being douche has the support of almost 20% of primary voters? How does that even happen?
I don’t know that it’s an explanation, but I was just looking through the site archives, and found the following, which I wrote just after the last presidential election. I think it’s somehow appropriate to this conversation.
…I can’t help but wonder whether our nation has a reasonable chance of surviving this perfect storm which has arisen around us, having been fed for so long by the forces of paranoia, fear, environmental volatility, and economic uncertainty, which are all surging at unprecedented levels, and amplified by rapidly shifting racial demographics and dramatically constricting natural resources… Clearly, two paths are emerging. One would have us band together and fight alongside one another, challenging each other to think creatively, and relying upon facts and science to guide our way. The other would have us battle it out, Hunger Games style, with those more adept at doling out the ultra-violence progressing farther…
Clearly, it’s the latter who will dominate the stage in Cleveland, self-professed tough guys with their machine guns, bacon and threats of violence, pandering to a dumbed-down electorate drunk on reality television and scared shitless of what lies ahead.
At the end of August, one of my favorite Ypsilanti artists, Rita Jane Riggs, will be packing up and heading west to see what the universe has in store for her. Please join me in wishing her well on her journey.
MARK: What first brought you to Ypsilanti, or were you born here?
RITA: I grew up in Ypsi and Ann Arbor. Mom in Ypsi – Dad in Ann Arbor. I was always in the Normal Park area.
MARK: What kind of kid were you?
RITA: Brave and fierce and full of stories. I was always dancing and singing and wearing costumes. I played alone mostly, and I was never lonely or bored.
MARK: If you were to tell the story of your time in Ypsi in a series of vignettes, what would that look like?
RITA: In my backyard, as a kid, acting out all the characters from Children of the Corn. Me as a teenager trudging through snow with a bottle of vodka I’d stolen from my grandparents. Me as a performance artist at Dreamland. Me as an honors student at EMU, a girlfriend, and a terrible roommate who never did the dishes. Then, me as a single adult – living alone for the first time in a gorgeous victorian house with my art and my cats.
RITA: My family traces its history back pretty far in the Upper Peninsula, as well as in mid-Michigan. Woodsmen and farmers mostly.
MARK: And where are you headed off to now?
RITA: Albuquerque, New Mexico.
MARK: Why Albuquerque?
RITA: My mom took me to New Mexico a few years ago. I didn’t even know what New Mexico was. When she informed me that we were going there, I said, “But mom, I don’t have a passport…” After spending a week there, the magic of the space took me over. New Mexico does something to my soul… to my body… my energy. It’s like a world of vortices, ghosts, angels and talking animals. I truly feel like I’m on another planet when I’m there. About a month ago, I used my tax return money to take the train back there. I have a weird, fantastic uncle in Santa Fe who I stayed with. Initially I thought I would live in Santa Fe, but I was really curious about ABQ because I like city energy. On the train, I met a magic boy named Jacob who is my same age… We instantly became great friends, and, surprisingly, the lives in ABQ. So, during my recent trip, Jacob showed me around ABQ, and I realized that, as an artist, it would be most beneficial for me to live in the city because of all its options for work, shows, play and easy transportation without a car.
MARK: Have you watched Breaking Bad?
RITA: Ha, ha, ha… nope. I’ve heard it was filmed there though.
MARK: Yeah, the landscapes are really breathtaking, if you can look beyond the blood and the meth.
RITA: The blood and the meth is everywhere. Death is all around us, darkness too, and beauty and laughter. Lots of contrast here on earth. Lots of things to look at no matter where you are. I saw a squirrel get hit by a car today, its blood splattered everywhere, and I sobbed. Then I turned and the sun was setting over downtown Ann Arbor, and it was gorgeous, and I sobbed.
RITA: I like to think of my work as stoic. I take people whom I admire – that spark my fascination – and I turn them into saints or icons of the modern age. My art is also super playful. I love cartoons, color and design. Everything gets a bright halo – even coffee cups get a halo.
MARK: Where do you think the religious iconography comes from? Did you grow up Catholic?
RITA: I didn’t grow up Catholic. I grew up with Jungian Pagan parents. One side of my family is Catholic… my Dad’s side. He actually trained in seminary when he was younger, but strongly rejects the Catholic church these days. My mom studied Comparative Religion in college, as did I.
MARK: So where do you think your fascination with iconography comes from?
RITA: The religious references come in for two reasons. The first being that my main source of inspiration for my work was from my best friend Robert Spier. When I was a little girl (he was a bit older than me) he would draw figures that had a fallen angel quality to them. His characters are still the central focus of his work, and they hold this incredible power, as if they are otherworldly. Being so moved by his work at such a young age, and having him as my primary sounding board these days, the icon, or the fallen saint, has somehow been cemented into my consciousness… It’s a great thing for us to connect over because it’s nuanced. It’s challenging to draw icons without making them feel hokey or too graphic.
The second reason I use the religious iconography is due to my own strong connection to all things spiritual. I believe that we are souls that are visiting this earth to learn. I believe in God and reincarnation, angels, demons, Jesus, Mary, Buddha, Krishna, fairies, plant and animal spirits, multidimensional realities, psychic abilities, astrology, tarot, ghosts, extraterrestrials, spirit guides… I’m constantly, obsessively studying spiritual life and trying to take what I learn and apply it to my life. I watch a lot of lectures by metaphysical teachers like Doreen Virtue, Wayne Dyer, Eckhart Tolle and Ram Dass and I’m also completely in love with studying near death experiences. I pray and meditate everyday, and I would say my life is devoted to my spiritual practice… My art is a way for me to take all the people I admire, and to show them as a part of my spiritual journey – to explore their incarnation and what I take from it. I see people as archetypes – the different iconography implies different influences they have had on my incarnation. The people I draw are my spirit guides. My spiritual fellows dressed up in human suits.
RITA: I will miss the ability to connect with people who are here. My mom lives down the street, and it’s so easy to go and sit on her couch, and drink coffee, and chat about anything. Michael Reedy is an art professor at EMU who has really influenced my work. I’ll miss randomly bumping into him, and hearing hilarious stories of drawings gone awry. There are tons and tons of amazing people in this weird comic book town. I don’t find the area itself to be special aside from the people. If you took all these incredible humans out of it, it would be another midwest town, but this town has magic because there are a lot of humans trying to experiment with the ways they can live. Mmmmmmmm… also the Krishna House. The Krishna House is a super cool new element that has popped up. It’s an open community house where people can host classes and lectures on productive, beautiful and creative things that aren’t necessarily about Krishna consciousness, while also functioning as a Krishna consciousness spiritual space. The house itself is so warm and creative. It’s such an inviting place to go. I regret not spending more time there.
MARK: So you don’t ascribe to the belief that there’s some kind of magic here, in this place… a kind of innovative spirit that somehow contributed toward the brilliance of folks like Elijah McCoy, Preston Tucker, Winsor McKay, Phyllis Diller and Iggy Pop?
RITA: I think there is magic everywhere – in everything – different strokes for different folks – my blinders are probably up around here from being here for so long. The midwest isn’t my thing so much. But rock ‘n roll is very cool.
RITA: It just keeps getting better. Better and better. Pearl Yoga, The Rocket, Bona Sera, Beezy’s, The Ugly Mug, Model Cave… these were all things that didn’t exist when I was a kid. It’s super rad that people are opening such creative spaces. First Fridays, how cool. The community has grown immensely, and it’s so tight.
MARK: Is there anything, in your opinion, that we could do to make it better?
RITA: I’d suggest a “Townie Amature Night” at the Deja Vu, where all the local business owners would have to perform stripteases in the theme of their business… Just putting that out there.
MARK: “In the theme of their business…” So, like Bee would be dancing in a baby pool full of sausage gravy?
RITA: Her striptease would certainly involve her entire staff at some point, like an old Rockettes line dance… Bacon strip g-strings and a giant martini glass filled with gravy… At the end, she serves everyone coffee, and gives us all a big sloppy gravy hi-five!
MARK: Am I right that you studied art at EMU? What did you take away from that experience?
RITA: Ha, ha, ha, ha…. I learned how to not be terribad at drawing. Ive always had an ability to create images that tap into the emotions of the viewer, but my technical ability skyrocketed thanks to my amazing professors. I mean AMAZING professors. Michael Reedy, Amy Sacksteder, Chris Hyndman, Jason Ferguson, Leslie Atzmon, Brian Spolans and Ryan Molloy – these people literally blow my mind. They are above and beyond what anyone could want from an art educator, it’s like a secret treasure. In weird little Ypsilanti, Michigan, we happen to have a fine art staff worthy of any Ivy League school. I can’t say enough about them. But also, spookily, I felt as if they were placed here specifically for me. Each one had some specific skill set, whether with art, or with life in general… some lesson that I needed to learn. I care about the experience of art school, and I’m immensely grateful for the time I spent there with them. Those professors, and those classes, taught me how to be an adult, to be serious about what I’m doing, how to have backbone about my ideas, and how to feel comfortable and confident in my strangeness. It was perfect.
MARK: Where do you see yourself in another ten years?
RITA: If you want some anxiety, get a future. If you want some depression, get a past. I trust that by staying in the now, connected to my higher power, I will be led to exactly where the universe needs me to be. I am now, and always have been, in exactly the right place at the right time. I’ve never been let down by this.
MARK: Any regrets? Anything that you would have liked to have done in Ypsi that you just never got around to?
RITA: No. I really feel like I beat the level. Like, if this was a videogame, I got all the coins and my energy is high, and now I’m just kind of wandering around looking at the cool graphics.
MARK: If there were going to be a Rita Jane Riggs statue erected in Ypsi, where would it be, and what would the accompanying plaque say?
RITA: You know how, by The Ugly Mug, there’s that Mary statue? I’d like to be on the ground in front of her, in the same position, but covered from head to toe in hamsters. Climbing all over me. My mouth would be open like I’m laughing, and it would be like those halloween decorations where, when you walk by it, it makes a sound at you. When you walk by my sculpture, it would laugh super loud. I have this insane laugh that I can’t control. People claim they can find me in a crowded room because of it. My plaque would say:
“IN WATERMELON SUGAR the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar. I’ll, tell you about it because I am here and you are distant.
Wherever you are, we must do the best we can. It is so far to travel, and we have nothing here to travel, except watermelon sugar. I hope this works out.”
It’s a quote from my favorite book, In Watermelon Sugar, by Richard Brautigan. The Plaque wouldn’t even have my name on it. Just the quote.
RITA: I have this hang up about innocents. The purity of small creatures gets to me. They can’t do much damage in the bigger picture, but people are disgusted by them. The creatures in my paintings are rats. I relate to rats, hamsters, mice, all those little beings that are treated like vermin, but are also quite intelligent, innocent and cute…There’s no denying that they have a sneakiness to them. I am absolutely obsessed with the combination of something intelligent and seemingly innocent, but also a little bit sneaky and unpredictable. I relate to those qualities.
MARK: Let’s say that, when you leave Ypsi, you stay away until you’re 100 years old, at which point you decide to come back one last time, just to look around… What would you like to see?
RITA: I assume that everyone will be made of this sort of clear gooey material. Floating in blobs, but we all still wear hats, and decorations like bow ties and necklaces. People are still attracted to each other even though we have these clear bodies. People still go on dates. Beezy’s in popping with clear body dates. When you eat food, you can just see the food floating inside of your clear bodies. it doesn’t digest… it just disappears eventually, which is when you need to eat again. The reason that everyone looks like this is because the Huron River got super toxic in like 2055, but everyone decided to keep going tubing down it, and their bodies all transformed. But it wasn’t that big of a deal, as they also go the powers of invisibility, and can now eat pizza whenever they want without getting fat, because everyone’s just clear, and gooey, and cute.
MARK: Do you have a job lined up in Albuquerque, or is the plan just to show up and see what the universe hands you?
RITA: I don’t have a job yet. I’ve got some savings, though, so I plan to make artwork for a while without distractions. There is a gallery down there called Stranger Factory and I plan to harass them a lot. I’d love to show work there, as well as work there. An artist named Brandt Peters owns it. He’s doing the type of work I’d like to do. It would be fantastic to work under him and learn from him.
MARK: What sound or noise do you love?
RITA: The sounds of a male voice cracking out of passion or anger. Kurt Cobain’s voice does that a lot. And Damon Albarn’s too. And T- Hardy Morris. In this one song called Shit In The Wind by T- Hardy Morris, his voice cracks in this mad excellent way. I’m actually really obsessed with that sound, that moment, that vocal effect. I hunt it out. If I could paint that sound I would. It’s pretty common for me to listen to one little 50 second part of a song over and over while drawing… I just want to stay there in that combined moment of strength and weakness.
RITA: The sound of styrofoam rubbing against cardboard. That shit is terrible.
MARK: If you could relive one day, what day would it be?
RITA: So my best friend Robert Spier, who I mentioned before, we actually met online when I was 11. He lived in Georgia and I was in Michigan. Before Facebook there was a website called Melodramtic.com that was all journaling and art images. He’s a bit older than me and I admired the hell out of him. I copied all his drawings and journal entries. He was super patient, authentic, safe and kind to me. We exchanged letters in the mail, sketchbooks, emails, drawings and photos for 9 or 10 years. He knew me better than anyone else. When I was 21, I decided to buy a plane ticket to Georgia and find him. It was a pivotal moment for me, coming face-to-face with the person I was most close with, but had never even seen walk across a room. I had never heard his voice, but it was like I had always known his being. He knew everything I had felt, thought and lived since I was 11 years old.
So the day I would relive would be the day I walked into his tattoo shop. He was just finishing a tattoo, and was wrapping someone’s arm up. His back was to me and I was so nervous I couldn’t feel my body. I stepped outside to smoke a cigarette and hide from the intensity. It was around 100-degrees, and the sun was shining super bright. I was wearing a vintage black dress like I was attending a funeral. The tattoo shop was in an old house that was sort of falling apart. The porch I was standing on was wooden and rickety. It was like time was speeding up and slowing down. I was hyper aware of everything. The door creaked and he stepped out into the sunny day. He had short red hair and glasses. He’s really thin and small, looks a lot like a teenager, but forever. He was wearing a black t-shirt and dirty jeans. We just looked at each other and smiled in this weird moment of time and space collapsing into a single instant. And he said, “Hey.”
That day he tattooed an image on me that he had drawn when he was probably about 18. I was obsessed with the image. To this day it’s the single the most influential piece of work to me. The image is of him, with small wings… he’s ripped off his own face, and he’s holding it in one hand while using his other hand to paint it with a paintbrush. It was his representation of the sin Vanity. I always saw the image as my guardian angel when I was young. When my life would become scary or messy, I wrote epic stories about this character and I having adventures. I’d fall into this character for safety.
When I sat down to get tattooed, Spier turned to the stereo and when he pressed play, the song that came out was Otherworldly Dreamer by Dax Riggs (no relation). This song was, to say the least, the exact soundtrack tune for my relationship to Spier. I have always held that song as the one song the represented the powerful and loving space he held for me for all those years, but I had never told him that this song meant that to me. It was one of those creepy synchronistic moments. I remember crying really silently because I was so ecstatic and overwhelmed with the surreal nature of the experience. You could have cut the energy in that room with a knife. It was heavy and magical.
MARK: What’s your first memory?
RITA: Feeling so safe and warm wrapped in my childhood blanket, whose name is Binkie, who is actually next to me as I’m writing this. Don’t judge.
[Curious as to why people are leaving this place we call home? Check out the Ypsi/Arbor Exit Interview archive.]
Mayor Amanda Edmonds, Sheriff Jerry Clayton, Superintendent Ben Edmondson, community activist Jeannette Hadden, and local teen Justin Thomas discuss plans to empower kids and curb youth violence in Ypsilanti, and the lovely, fuzzy, power pop of Minihorse …on this weekend’s Saturday Six Pack
This weekend on the Saturday Six Pack we’ll be discussing Ypsilanti’s recent wave of teen violence with Mayor Amanda Edmonds, Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton, Superintendent of Ypsilanti Community Schools Dr. Benjamin Edmondson, community activist Jeannette Hadden, and local high school student Justin Thomas, who will be representing the teen organization Dedicated to Make a Change. While we will be talking about law enforcement activities within the city, and what’s being done to ensure that our neighborhoods don’t see any more gunfire, a majority of our time, I suspect, will be spent discussing what positive steps can be taken within our community to support and empower the young people of Ypsilanti… young people who are growing up in a world of limited opportunity, where, at least statistically speaking, young men probably have a better chance of being arrested than of reaching the ranks of the middle class.
This isn’t, of course, to say that those guilty of gang-related felonies are not responsible for their actions. They are. The reality of the situation, however, is that many of these kids who we’re now trying to round-up and incarcerate never stood much of a chance. With the wealth disparity in the country climbing to historically unprecedented levels, and austerity measures being forced upon communities such as ours in order to finance tax breaks for the super wealthy, it was only a matter of time before we started seeing things like this happen. When American jobs get sent oversees, driving adults into minimum wage jobs that had traditionally been held by teens, while, at the same time, budgets for programs serving our at-risk youth are being slashed, is it any wonder that an increasing percentage of our kids will gravitate toward crime? Speaking of which, two 14 year olds and a 15 year old were arrested this afternoon in connection with an armed robbery on Ferris Street… Our young people, I think it’s safe to say, have too much free time on their hands, too few role models, and too little in the way of opportunity. It’s a deadly combination, and we’re beginning to see the ramifications in Ypsilanti. And that’s what we’ll be discussing come Saturday evening.
By way of context, this has been an unusually violent summer in Ypsilanti, with over a half a dozen incidents of gun violence in July alone, leaving one young man dead and another wounded. According to the police, the murdered young man, Keandre Duff, was likely shot in the head and killed just after midnight on the morning of July 12 at an Ypsilanti block party due to his alleged involvement in the murder last summer of 17-year-old Keon Washington. [Duff was a suspect in the murder of Washington, but was ultimately released from police custody due to lack of evidence after having served 297 days for drug charges unrelated to the murder. He was murdered shortly after his release from jail.] Since the murder of Duff earlier this month, there have been over half a dozen shootings across town, as friends of the dead young men have gone after one another. Whether or not you think the term “gang” is appropriate in this instance, it seems clear that this is essentially a war between two groups of young men; one called Rakk Life, and the other called Finesse Gang. [Duff, it would seem, had an affiliation with Rakk Life, while Washington was involved with Finesse Gang.]
As for this Saturday’s show, I should add that I know there are people who should be in the room with us who will not be. The panel I’ve assembled does not include, for instance, anyone from the local religious community, or anyone working in the social services. Given space constraints in the room, however, I had to made some difficult choices. If this works, though, you can be sure that other such discussions will follow, and, if so, we’ll be sure to invite representatives from other agencies, other elected officials, etc. The important thing from my perspective, as I’ve said before on this site, is that we don’t just forget about this issue once the bullets stop flying, and things return to normal for us adults. We cannot, as Sheriff Clayton said at last week’s press conference, just rely on law enforcement to lock up the people we perceive as being bad. That’s not how one goes about creating a decent, livable city. No, we need to look at the underlying causes and address them in a substantive way. And, to the credit of many on this panel, some of that is already happening.
So, if you care about the future of this community, please tune in at 6:00 PM on Saturday. Or, better yet, give us a call at 734.217.8624 and share your thoughts as to what we as community can do better when it comes to our children. [You can also leave your ideas for questions here.]
And, at 7:30, once we’ve collectively solved all of Ypsi’s problems, we’ll be joined by the band Minihorse, who will be playing live in the studio… hopefully making us all feel better with their special brand of fuzzy power pop.
AND, HERE, FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE NEVER TUNED IN TO THE SIX PACK BEFORE, ARE THE DETAILS ON HOW TO LISTEN:
And for those of you who aren’t yet familiar with the show, and need to get caught up, you can listen to the entire archive on iTunes.
One last thing… If you’d like to tell your friends and neighbors about the program, feel free to share the Facebook event listing. Or, if you’re not on Facebook, you could always rent a plane to pull a banner across the sky.
And do call us if you have a chance. We love phone calls. So please scratch this number into the cinder block wall of the recreation room of whichever facility you’ve been assigned to… 734.217.8624… and call us between 6:00 and 8:00 this Saturday evening. The show is nothing without you. And I mean that.
update: I just got word from the owner of AM 1700 that, due to a family emergency, we won’t be broadcasting tomorrow evening. Our thoughts are with him and his family, and we’re sorry to all of you who were looking forward to the show. Our hope is that we can get back on the air shortly, and pick up where we left off.
Earlier this month, the family and I loaded up the car and drove south to Savannah, Georgia, making stops along the way at a number of significant historical sites. Among other places of interest, we visited Colonial Williamsburg, the site of the Wright Brothers’ first flight, and the “lost colony” of Roanoke. My favorite stop on the We’ll Make Our Kids Appreciate History If It Kills Us tour, however, was Jamestown… the site of the first permanent the English settlement in the Americas. [Jamestown, which was first settled in 1607, remained the capital of the Virginia colony for 83 years.] As we just had one day to spend exploring the area, we chose to forgo the “living history” of the Jamestown Settlement, which is a recreation of the town as it’s thought to have looked in the early 1600s, and spend our time instead with the archeologists of Jamestown Rediscovery, the non-profit that has been digging on the site of the original settlement since 1996.
Prior to the work of these archeologists, led by Dr. William Kelso, it was thought that the original settlement had been washed away, beneath a rising James River. Kelso and his team, however, proved conventional wisdom wrong. They found evidence of Fort James, and they’ve been working at the site ever since, slowly uncovering details about what happened on the site after May 1607, when 104 English men and boys arrived there from England with he intention of starting a settlement and extracting resources from the “new world” to send back home… Two-thirds of these men and boys, by the way, would be dead by the time supplies arrived in 1608, along with German, Polish and Slovak craftsmen to add to their numbers. [They apparently figured out pretty quickly that they needed settlers who actually knew how to do useful things.]
While walking around the site, the archeologists told us a little about their most recent discovery – the graves of four people who had been buried at the east end of what would have been the earliest known Protestant church in North America. The graves had been discovered in 2010, shortly after the discovery of the Anglican church’s foundation, but not excavated until 2013. As the graves would have been in a part of the church known as the chancel, where a community’s most important people were traditionally buried, the archeological team knew that these were the remains important early settlers, but that’s all they would say. They wouldn’t tell us who they thought it was that they’d exhumed. To learn that, they told us, as they led us around the crosses that marked their graves, we’d have to wait a few weeks, until they issued the report they’d coauthored with Dr. Douglas Owsley, the head of Physical Anthropology at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Apparently all of the remains had been shipped off to DC for analysis, and the results would be announced on July 28… which is today.
Here are 3-D renderings of the four skeletons found buried near the altar of the Jamestown church, where, by the way, is were Pocahontas and John Rolfe were married. [Pocahontas died shortly thereafter, after being taken to England to advertise for the colony.]
By looking at the physical evidence (what the men were buried with, and how they were buried), along with historical documents in both the United States and England, and the findings of forensic scientists (who looked at things like lead content in the bones in order to determine social standing (the wealthier you were, the more lead in your system, as you tended to eat from plates and utensils with high lead content)), they’ve arrived at the following… The men buried near the alter of the church which stood inside the walls of Fort James, they believe, are…
The Rev. Robert Hunt: The first pastor to the colony, an Anglican priest, he arrived in 1607. Hunt soon lost all his possessions in a fire. The next year he died at about age 39.
Capt. William West: He was a gentleman, and a relative of the colony’s first governor. West died in 1610 at about age 24, fighting Indians. A silver sash was in his coffin.
Sir Ferdinando Wainman: A soldier, horseman (thus the strong thighs) and an English knight, Wainman was in charge of ordnance and horses. He died in 1610, and was about 34.
Capt. Gabriel Archer: His family, in fact, was Roman Catholic and, according to records found in England, had been persecuted for failing to attend Anglican church services. It was his grave where the reliquary and the staff were found. Archer was about 34 years old when he died in 1609.
Others who died in the colony, it should be noted, didn’t fare as well. Earlier research by Kelso and his team showed, for instance, that a 14-year-old servant girl, who the people of Jamestown Rediscovery call Jane, was butchered and consumed after dying during what’s known as “the starving time,” shortly after arriving at the settlement in August of 1609 on one of six ships from England bringing new settlers, but little food.
Kelso, according to National Geographic, didn’t believe historical accounts regarding cannibalism at Jamestown until finding Jane’s mutilated bones among those of butchered animals. Prior to this discovery, he thought that claims of cannibalism documented in England were politically motivated, and intended to discredit the Virginia Company of London, which financed the settlement. “Now,” Keslo told National Geographic, “I know the accounts are true.” Among other evidence conveyed by her remains, “numerous cuts, saw marks, and gouges along her lower jaw made by the tip of a knife to get to the meat, and to remove throat tissue and the tongue,” were found.
It’s gruesome stuff, but it was infinitely interesting to Clementine, who turned 11 on the trip… the idea that this young servant girl, who was about her age, had died and been eaten over 400 years ago, just feet from where we were standing. [If you’ve got a young person who you’d like to get interested in either archeology or this period of early American history, there’s a video called Jane: Starvation, Cannibalism, and Endurance at Jamestown that you can rent through Amazon.]
If you’d like to know more about this most recent Jamestown discovery, I’d suggest reading the article just posted to the website of the Smithsonian Magazine, which has a great deal of detail about not only these new findings, but about the history of the Jamestown settlement. Here, by way of that article, is a bit of that background.
…Jamestown was England’s attempt to play catch-up with the Spaniards, who had enriched themselves spectacularly with their colonies in South America and were spreading Catholicism through the world. After years of war with the Spanish, financed in part by pirating their ships, England turned to the Virginia Company to launch new colonial adventures. The first 104 settlers—all men and boys, women didn’t arrive until the next year—sailed with a charter from their king and a mission to find silver and gold and a passage to the Far East. They landed in Jamestown, prepared to scout and mine the land and trade with the native people for food. And they did trade, exchanging copper for corn between eruptions of hostility. But as Jamestown’s third winter approached, the Powhatan had limited supplies of corn; a drought was smothering their crops and diverting the once plentiful giant sturgeons that fed them. When English resupply ships were delayed, and the settlers’ attempts to seize corn turned violent, the Powhatan surrounded the fort and killed anyone who ventured out. Brackish drinking water, brutal cold and the lack of food did their damage from within. Jamestown’s early history is so dire it’s easy to forget that it endured to become a success and the home of the first democratic assembly in the Americas—all before any pilgrims made camp in Plymouth. Abandoned in 1699 when Virginia’s capital moved to Williamsburg, the colony was thought to have sunk into the river and been lost…
Speaking of the Spanish, it’s my understanding that the early colonists lived in fear of being murdered by them. While in Jamestown, we were shown caltrops deployed by settlers in order to cripple the horses of the Spanish, should they approach with the intention of doing them harm. It would seem, however, that the Spanish never attacked, perhaps thinking that, between the Native Americans and the cannibalism, they didn’t have to. [Many, by the way, think that the Spanish killed the men and women of Roanoke, who “disappeared” sometime after the establishment of their settlement in 1587.]
Here’s what Fort James looked like at the outset. For what it’s worth, historians knew the general layout of the fort prior to the archeological work done by Kelso and his team thanks to Pedro de Zúñiga, a Spaniard who was given the task of keeping tabs on the English by King Philip III of Spain.
Pedro de Zúñiga’s crude drawing of the fort, which was sent to King Philip III in a coded letter, is the only known visual representation of Jamestown from that time. [See above.] Here, for those of you interested in such things, is a quote from Zúñiga’s December 6, 1607 letter to Philip III: “As to Virginia, I hear that three or four other ships will return there. Will your Majesty give orders that measures be taken in time; because now it will be very easy, and quite difficult afterwards, when they have taken root, and if they are punished in the beginning, the result will be, that no more will go there.”
And here’s video about the research leading up today’s announcement. I know it’s doubtful that many in the audience will find this as interesting as I do, but, as someone who gave up a career in historic archeology to settle down and get a “real” job, I find this amazingly wonderful. And it makes me wonder about our first settlers to leave the planet and what fate awaits them. [I’ve wanted my kids to be astronauts since they were born, but now I’m having second thoughts. If history is any guide, I don’t expect that many in the first wave to Mars will make it long enough to see the first supply ship land.]