ghost town trivia roundup

It’s Thor’s day, so let’s give thanks to the god of thunder, lightning, storms, oak trees, strength, healing, and fertility. Also hammers. The trivia roundup is merely the god of late-week faffing, but like Thor, it is foretold that in the end times, the trivia roundup will slay the great serpent, thereby saving the world before succumbing to the serpent’s venom.

palisade :: ulao :: guiteau :: palisade2 :: death worm :: tremors :: css alabama


1. Palisade is a Nevada town that…well, no, more accurately, it was a Nevada town. It now exists in a probabilistic quantum-state of town-ness. Palisade was one of many towns to spring up with the advent of transcontinental railroading and the mining craze in the post-Civil War era. Evidently, it was lamented by a traveling passenger that the placid Palisade—it didn’t have a sheriff—was not as lawless and filled with posses, gunplay, and high noon duels as he’d been led to believe all mining towns were. So, for a few years in the early 1870s, Palisade hoaxed visitors by staging fake shootouts, bank robberies, and assorted Old West mythology when the train rolled through. It’s unclear whether this was done to encourage tourism, or just because it was great fun. Whatever the case, the spectacle employed dozens of people, gallons of beef blood, and was realistic enough to fool most visitors and journalists. Neat! As the mines, railroads, and gallons of beef blood dried up, Palisade quickly drifted into abandonment and ghost town-ery. Please see this wonderful list of ghost towns here.


2. Another ghost town is Ulao, on the picturesque shores of Lake Michigan in what is now the town of Grafton, Wisconsin. Ulao was founded in 1847 by James Gifford, who sold lumber to steamships traveling up Lake Michigan. Growing his business, Gifford built a thousand-foot dock into the lake and a cut a chute down the bluff, allowing him to slide lumber down to water level. Ulao has two primary claims to fame: it’s home to one of that last remaining privately-owned lighthouses in the US (the Kevich light), and from 1850-1855, was the residence of one Charles Guiteau, famed assassin of the nation’s 18th president, James Garfield.

A privately owned lighthouse

3. Guiteau, born 1841, possessed every bit of the massively narcissistic bearing one expects in a presidential assassin. A preacher who never preached, a lawyer who rarely practiced law, and a man who spent time in the utopian “Oneida Community” commune/cult (which will definitely make another appearance in a future roundup, because holy shit), Guiteau was just a man searching for a place to recognize his genius. But even if no one did, he’d assume they recognized his incandescent intellect anyways.

guiteauIn 1880, Guiteau wrote an essay in favor of Ulysses Grant (called Grant vs. Hancock), which was hastily reconfigured as Garfield vs. Hancock when Andrew Garfield won the Republican nomination and subsequently, the presidency. Guiteau believed that he, and he alone, was responsible for Garfield’s victory, and began bugging the administration for an ambassadorship. When they finally managed to convince him he would not be appointed to such a position (this took several tries), Guiteau, very rationally, decided to off Garfield. So he bought a gun—picking out the model that would look best in a museum—practiced shooting, and followed Garfield around. When he finally ginned up the courage to do the deed at a railway station, he paid a cab to wait—to take him to jail, not to escape—then sidled up, shot Garfield twice in the back, and shouted “I am the Stalwart of Stalwarts!” before being wrestled to the ground (the Stalwarts were a Ulysses Grant-supporting faction of the Republican party, opposed by the Half-Breeds. Brief musical interlude:

Thus wounded, Garfield would serve as model for every back pain commercial ever:

ohhh, my back!

and cling to life for nearly three months before dying of an infection. Modern doctors believe that Garfield may have survived had his doctors not probed the wounds with their bare hands (once again, it was less than 150 years ago that such behavior was common). Indeed, some believe he would have survived if his doctors had literally done nothing. That’s a long, hard look in the mirror right there.

Guiteau became one of the first prominent insanity defenses. He played the part at the trial, cursing the judge, joking with the audience, arguing with his lawyers, and reading testimony in the form of epic poems he’d composed. He dictated an autobiography and ended it with a personal ad; he planned a lecture tour and a run for president after his (in his eyes, certain) acquittal. I suspect his psychiatrist/alienist had it right, if vastly understated: Guiteau “misinterpreted and overly personalized the real events of life,” never quite recognizing that the attention lavished on him was from a ravening crowd who wanted him dead, not adoring fans. One imagines he was taken rather aback by his execution.

4. Herbert Hoover was not assassinated, but in 1932, Palisade (by then in its decline) may have been the site of an aborted Hoover assassination attempt. A railroad inspector checking the tracks in advance of Hoover’s passage stumbled across a “vagrant” carrying 22 sticks of dynamite (did he stop to count?) near a railroad trestle. After a brief skirmish, the vagrant left. He was never found, and the story never verified. At the time, Palisade—literally, the town itself—was owned by a family named the Sextons. In 2005, businessman John Sexton auctioned off the town—again, literally, the town itself—to fund his daughter’s college education. Despite being barren and nearly bereft of human life—and certainly devoid of a tax base—it was sold for $150,000 to an “unknown” buyer who was clearly either a) a super villain planning to build a desolate but impenetrable secret lair or b) a super villain plotting a reenactment of Tremors.

File photo: Palisade purchaser

5. The idea for the giant man-eating wormlike creatures in Tremors may have come from a mythical cryptozoological beast: the Mongolian Death Worm. According to Mongolian lore, the creature is anywhere from two to five feet long, has no eyes or discernible mouth, and is bright red. It exudes a yellow acid that corrodes metals and kills humans instantly; it can even kill at a distance by either electrical discharge or a spray of poison. The death worms live in the most remote regions of the Gobi Desert, travel largely underground (except for a brief period of above-ground activity in June and July), and are very, very ill-tempered. (There’s a Mongolian Death Worm movie, but it only gets a 3.6 on iMDb, so you should probably stick with Tremors). Now, “they” say the MDW is just a myth, but…let’s just say I’m considering a Kickstarter-style system of tiered rewards for physical evidence of the MDW, the highest level is bringing me two live worms so that I can put them in a washtub and let them fight to the death.


6. Tremors was set in the fictional 14-person town of Perfection, Nevada, itself a ghost town.

Perfection, Nevada

Perfection’s not a real place, so most of the movie was filmed in California’s Alabama Hills. The Alabama Hills have served as backdrop for any number of old Westerns, including Gunga Din, The Gay Caballero, the Hopalong Cassidy movies, and newer films like Iron Man and Gladiator. Of the two most common types of rocks one can find there, one is biotite monzogranite, which “weathers to potato-shaped large boulders” and is probably also the name of the super-villain who bought Palisade. Incidentally, before the release of Tremors, Kevin Bacon broke down in his tears, confessing to his wife that ‘I can’t believe I’m doing a movie about underground worms!’” I can’t imagine the level of emotional trauma inflicted on him when he starred in The Air Up There.

aut1 aut2

aut3  aut4

Anyways, the hills were named after the warship CSS Alabama by Confederate-sympathizing miners (after the war, pro-union miners named a nearby town and mountain after the USS Kearsage).


7. Why Kearsage? Because the USS Kearsage sunk the Alabama in the Battle of Cherbourg, in June 1864. Cherbourg. FRANCE. FRANCE! Am I the only one who had no idea that Union and CSA ships were battling in French harbors? How has this knowledge escaped me? The Alabama, under the stewardship of the awesomely-named Raphael Semmes, was a “commerce raider” that sunk some 60 Union ships (mostly supply ships) in two years, sailing from Galveston to South Africa to South America to Europe. The Kearsage, meanwhile, had been close on its tail the entire time. When the Alabama docked in the harbor at Cherbourg, the Kearsage closed in and a battle ensued; the Alabama was sunk. Amazingly, Semmes and several crew members were somehow spirited away on a privately owned British yacht while the ship sank, thereby escaping capture. Doesn’t that seem exactly like comic books, where the hero “wins”, only to see the villain escape unharmed? I imagine Semmes shaking his fist as his yacht slips past the horizon, smoke rising from the slowly sinking wreckage of his warship, his scream trailing off I’ll get you next time, Kearsage. Next tiiiiiiime……

*twirls mustache evilly*

But so anyway, there’s a Confederate sloop-of-war wreck just off the coast of France. The Alabama was so feared by the Union that its sinking was said to be celebrated by the public; Manet even did a painting of it. Non-European naval battles of the Civil War happened at Pig Point, Cockle Creek, Fort Pillow, Yazoo Pass, Trent’s Reach, and Rainbow Bluff.


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