The Nativity scene is an iconic Christmas decoration, but it only has a tenuous biblical foundation. Christmas traditions are often varied and strange, and representations of the Nativity can vary from region to region. In Spain, one element of the Nativity scene is the caganer, a peasant man defecating behind the barn. Yes. That is a real thing. While all traditions are unusual to outsiders, Catalonia’s tradition of poop-related Christmas things might be the oddest.
David Goldfield is an American historian and the author of almost twenty books. His latest, The Gifted Generation, chronicles the benefits that his peers received from the US federal government, and goes into detail about how the Truman, Eisenhower, and Johnson administrations redefined the role and scope of what government does and means to Americans.
This episode is a little different. It’s about a topic that I’ve previously written and spoken about, though not on the podcast. Vanport was one of the largest federal housing projects in the United States during WWII. It went up hastily and cheaply just outside of Portland, Oregon, producing supply ships in less than two months, and was Oregon’s first major African-American population center. In 1948, though, it was destroyed by a cataclysmic flood that wiped the then second-largest town in Oregon off the map entirely.
Bonnie MacBird (the co-writer of Tron) is writing new, novel-length Sherlock Holmes adventures. We talked about her experience with Conan Doyle’s stories, how she adapted the author’s voice for a modern work, and other Sherlock media. We also discussed whiskey, which features prominently in her new book, Unquiet Spirits. The plot centers on a real-life catastrophe in the French wine industry, that led to more widespread consumption of whiskey in European upper classes.
Maybe the most famous part of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a ladder that’s been propped onto the side of the building since at least the 1750s. The church is sacred to six different Christian sects, all of whom have to agree unanimously on anything in order to change any features of the church. For the past 250 plus years, none of them have agreed on where the ladder came from, who owns it, or where it should go. Tensions have occasionally led to fistfights at the Church of the holy Sepulchre, and the ladder remains a symbol of inter-sectarian non-cooperation.
Brandon Seifert has written horror comics such as Witch Doctor, Hellraiser, and The Fly. Lately, he’s been studying werewolf folklore. We talked about the history of werewolf stories, werewolf witch trials, why people believed in werewolves, and what to do if you live in the 1500s and someone accuses you of werewolfism.
Icelandic Dracula, also known as Makt Myrkranna or Powers of Darkness, is amazing. The translator/author Valdimar Asmundsson made significant deviations to Bram Stoker’s text. There’s more sexy moonlight vampire temptation, Dracula is a straight-up supervillain who wants to overthrow the democratic governments of Europe, and there’s an underground ape cult. The book was hiding in plain sight until 2014 when a scholar finally noticed, over a hundred years ago, that the Icelandic novel was a very early variation on Stoker’s vampire tale.
Dracula, anymore, is as much of a character type and a trope as he is a single character. Different takes on Dracula abound, from Bela Lugosi to Sesame Street’s Count to numerous other media. There was also, though, a historical Dracula. Vlad the Impaler was a prince of Wallachia in the 1400s, and is often cited as the inspiration for Stoker’s Vampire. But, was he? Was the real Dracula anything like the character type we know now?
When he died, Oliver Cromwell was embalmed and given a funeral befitting a head of state. However, upon restoration of the British monarchy, Cromwell was exhumed and given a postmortem execution. His severed head was placed on a spike over Westminster Hall, and for twenty years his dead visage leered down upon London. The head was eventually dislodged by a storm, and for years it found itself in the hands of several owners, exchanged for debts, exhibited as a curiosity, and passed around at drunken parties.