A roundup of things lost…
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1. The Lost Battalion was a group of 554 American soldiers who, through miscommunication, ended up entirely surrounded by German soldiers in the Argonne Forest in October 1918. They were entrenched, but cut off from food, water, ammunition, and other supplies (some supply drops were thought to be successful, but never reached the lost battalion because the ever-crafty Huns had made up their trenches to resemble the Americans, and the supplies had landed there).
Their only way to communicate was with carrier pigeons. Unfortunately, the first two pigeons they sent out were shot down when leaving the trench, leaving just one behind: Cher Ami. Cher Ami was donated by British pigeon fanciers for training by American military pigeoneers. When the battalion came under accidental air assault from their own side, the unit’s commander Charles Whittlesey (played by Rick Schroder in the 2001 TV movie) attached the following message to Cher Ami and turned her loose: “We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it.”
The pigeon was assailed almost immediately, shot multiple times, yet somehow made it 25 miles to headquarters in just 25 minutes. Medics saved her life and even fashioned a wooden prosthetic leg; Cher Ami died from the wounds in June of 1919, after being awarded the Croix de Guerre medal. Later, she was inducted into the racing pigeon hall of fame, received a gold medal from the Organized Bodies of American Racing Pigeon Fanciers (really), and was featured on Time’s list of top ten heroic animals. She was counted among the most well-known heroes of WWI, and is now on display in the Smithsonian (alongside fellow first world war animal hero, Sergeant Stubby, to be discussed at a later date).
Meanwhile, the Lost Battalion, under siege for nearly a week, suffered ⅔ casualties; fewer than 200 men escaped. Whittlesey, though promoted for his leadership and awarded multiple medals, probably suffered from severe post-traumatic stress and killed himself in 1921.
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2. Land of the Lost premiered in 1974 and lasted for 43 episodes across three seasons. In it, the Marshall family slips through a dimensional portal into a land of dinosaurs and lizard-men (the Sleestak), and must find a way home before they are turned into a bad 2009 Will Ferrell remake. The program was the brainchild of Sid and Marty Krofft, the sibling duo behind a series of popular (and not-so-popular) family series and specials, mostly in the 60s and 70s, and probably chief among them HR Pufnstuf. Some of their other work includes:
-A meditation on the existential consequences of bad design and/or mild dyslexia, Far Out Space Nuts (starring Bob Denver), gave us fifteen entire episodes based on the premise: “While loading food into various compartments to prepare a rocket for an upcoming mission, Barney instructs Junior to hit the “lunch” button, but Junior mistakenly hits the “launch” button. The rocket blasts off and takes them on various misadventures on alien planets.” I had a dream the other night where I was in a rocket and pressed “lunch” instead of “launch” and I was taken on a transcendent journey of alien sandwiches, but it wasn’t given a full-season green light by CBS execs.
–The Lost Saucer (starring the titanic comedy duo of Jim Nabors and Ruth Buzzi) was sixteen episodes about a pair of time-travelling androids who pick up some random Earth children, then the time controls break, sending the group off on adventures in time, with no way back to their home. The conceit was later stolen whole-cloth to become the early 90s sci-fi mega-hit Quantum Leap. Episodes included “My Fair Robot”, “Beautiful Downtown Atlantis”, and “Get a Dorse”, where the group’s companion, a half-dog half-horse, is kidnapped by a mad scientist for use as a power source (???). There was also an episode called “Fat is Beautiful” about a fictional world where thinness was illegal, which is more philosophical depth than one expects for a show featuring Jim Nabors and a dorse.
-Presented without comment, the plot description for Bigfoot and Wildboy: “Bigfoot finds a young boy lost in the vast wilderness of the American northwest. Bigfoot raises the boy and calls him Wildboy. Now, 8 years later, they fight crime and aliens who show up around their forest home.” Finally, a children’s show committed to demonsterizing Bigfoot, but that also has aliens.
-Lidsville featured a teenager (the former Eddie Munster) transported by accident to a land of anthropomorphic hats, being crushed under the autocratic rule of the terrifying Horatio J. HooDoo (Charles Nelson Reilly), an evil magician who demands fealty in the payment of Hat Checks, lest they be tossed in the Shampoo River and be sudsed to death. The show also featured an androgynous genie named Weenie and a virtually unlimited supply of hat puns in its 17 episodes (which are available on youtube).
The quasi-musical Sigmund and the Sea Monsters features Hollywood legend Billy Barty as a sea monster named Sigmund kicked out of his underwater home for refusing to scare people. He’s adopted and hidden by a pair of adolescent brothers.
The Krofft’s fame culminated in their own amusement park, The World of Sid and Marty Krofft, which opened in downtown Atlanta in 1976. Besides live-action versions of rides and skits based on their shows, the primary draw was the world’s longest freestanding escalator. The park closed in just six months, and lay dormant for years before being purchased by Ted Turner; it now houses CNN.
Accusations of drug use or references long dogged the Kroffts, a perhaps unsurprising fact given shows larded with talking flutes, affable sea monsters, bigfoot parenting, and Jim Nabors, or just in general that most of their show ideas appear to be based on the transcribed journals of a lone castaway subsisting entirely on a diet of mildly neurotoxic harbor crabs. But, the brothers have consistently claimed to be total squares. I strongly recommend falling into a wikipedia and youtube rabbit hole, since I’ve here only scratched the surface of their remarkable catalog.
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3. Shipwrecks and castaways were a major problem for New Zealand in the mid-1800s. The standard trade route—sailing one’s frigate manned by 40 stout lads and filled to the gunwales with hotpants and whale meat through the “Roaring Forties” and around Cape Horn, hence to Europe and riches—was wildly treacherous, even by circa-19th century shipping standards. The waters were dangerous, maps were inaccurate, and if you were stranded on the “subantarctic” islands, you could expect “incessant gales, constant hail, snow and pelting rain,” and probably a very long, very miserable wait for rescue, assuming you lasted that long.
The Grafton wrecked in the Auckland Islands in 1864, the five survivors lived 19 desolate months—and, mind you, they weren’t rescued so much as they built a new ship to sail out for help. At the same time, some 19 crew members of the Invercauld were on the other side of the island; only three survived (possibly by resorting to cannibalism). Two years later fifteen survivors of the wreck of the General Grant made it ashore, only ten survived the 1.5 years until rescue.
So New Zealand’s government decided to erect “castaway depots” on these remote islands, meant to act as supply caches and shelters until help could arrive. They also released pigs and sheep on many islands, to serve as food sources for the poor unfortunates stranded there. The first people to test out the depots were the 8 survivors of the Derry Castle wreck in 1887. Except the depot had been looted, and they were forced to build themselves a boat to get to another island where a non-looted depot existed.
Mostly I bring this story up because the depots were built with this inscription: “The curse of the widow and fatherless light upon the man that breaks open this box, whilst he has a ship at his back.” This is just one man’s opinion, but…maybe they could have gone with something less dark? It may as well have said “here are some sardines while you wait for the sweet release of death.”
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4. I’ve heard of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine—rather appropriately thought to be located somewhere in the Superstition Mountains—but it turns out that lost mines are a common enough trope to have their own (extremely long) list on Wikipedia. It also turns out that the actual “lost Dutchman” was not Dutch but German. It also turns out that, somewhat ironically, Arizona’s Lost Dutchman’s Mine state park does not allow gold mining.
Here are some other actual lost mines: Lost Lemon Mine, Jolly Jack’s Lost Mine, Johanssen’s Lost Platinum Cache, Lost Pegleg Mine, Lost Cement Mine, Death Valley Scotty’s Secret Mine, Two Frenchmen Mine, Janni’s Chimney, and, I swear: Lost Dutch Oven Mine.
About Scotty’s secret mine: it’s named for Walter Edward Scott (1872-1954) aka Death Valley Scotty, and perhaps the most notorious gold grifting, ore swindling, lode hoaxing flim-flam man in the entire southwest. One story about Scott is almost-too-accurately titled “A Hole in the Ground with a Liar at the Top”; his motto may as well have been “I cannot not tell a lie,” assuming it wasn’t already “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”
After a brief career stunt riding in Buffalo Bill’s wild west show, Scott set to his first con: attracting seed money (in parlance, grubstake) for a gold mine that didn’t exist. He collected $5000, and when finally called on to produce some, you know, actual gold, claimed he was robbed of a sack full of gold dust while on the train. That story got him in all the newspapers and was the beginning of a life-long love affair with seeing his name in print.
Scott then: a) pulled the same scheme on Albert Johnson, an Ohio millionaire (remember that name), b) bought a customized train to break the coast-to-coast speed record (mission accomplished), c) swindled multiple other people with fraudulent mine claims, d) starred in a play about himself, playing himself, but was arrested for fraud when the curtain came down on opening night, e) in 1912, ended up in jail for fraud.
After his release, Scott settled in Death Valley. He very neary ended up back in jail when he bragged about having sold a new mine for $1 million dollars, then realizing that, shit, he still had creditors who wanted money. Around 1915 he was visited by Albert Johnson, victim of one of Scott’s vaporware mine hustles. Johnson, oft-described as eccentric, formed an odd sort of friendship with Scott and, with his wife, a fascination with the desert. So they built a vacation estate, in Death Valley. An actual castle, with an actual turret, in the middle of nowhere:
Despite not owning it or living in it, it became known as Scotty’s Castle. Of course, Scott still had creditors, and it took a fair amount of paperwork to prove to them that, despite the name, he didn’t own the vacation home. Johnson, meanwhile was supporting Scott’s estranged wife and child. The castle is now part of a national park, although it was recently damaged in a massive flood (what engineers called a “probable maximum flood event”) and will be closed until at least 2019.