Thursday, April 14, 2016

HGB Ep. 118 - Legends of Mexico

Moment in Oddity - The Highwayman Dick Turpin
by:  Bob Sherfield

The Highwaymen were thieves who preyed on travellers across Great Britain from the Elizabethan era right through until the 19th century. The term highwayman was first recorded in 1617, though they were also know, slightly euphemistically by names such as Knights of the Road or Gentlemen of the Road. In the 19th century American West, they were known as "road agents" and in Australia as "bushrangers." The method of robbery they employed usually involved them working in pairs or small gangs and targeting poorly protected stagecoaches and postboys. They would halt the coaches with a cry of “Stand and deliver!” or “Your money or your life!” They would lay in wait on the main roads that radiated out of London, favouring heathland or woodland to spring their attacks. So bad did the problem become in Hyde Park, that the King, William III had the route between St James’s Palace and Kensington Palace lit with oil lamps. Making it the first artificially lit highway in Britain. One of the most famous of these highwaymen was Dick Turpin. Born in Essex in 1705, he trained as a butcher, but by 1730 he had joined a gang of deer thieves whose activities progressed to armed robbery of houses. After a long period of activity in which they terrorized London and the surrounding villages, the gang had been caught by the authorities and many were hung at Tyburn. Turpin turned to highway robbery after this. Turpin, and his partner, Tom King operated from a cave in Epping Forest, robbing anyone who passed their hiding place. So notorious did he become, that a bounty of £100 was placed on his head. A botched horse robbery would start the decline for Turpin. The horse he stole was traced to a pub in East London, and when King came to collect the horse, Turpin accidentally shot him rather then the constables who were trying to arrest him. A dying King provided the information on where to find the hideout to the Police. Turpin fled London and headed to Yorkshire. When he returned home, he was arrested. The local police investigated as to how he made his living, and discovered that there were charges of sheep and horse stealing against his name. Whilst being held in the dungeons of York Castle, Turpin wrote the letter that would prove his undoing. He wrote to his brother in London asking for a character reference. His brother was too mean to pay for the postage, so returned it to the post office. By complete coincidence, Turpin’s former teacher saw the letter and recognised the handwriting. He was sent to York to identify him, and Turpin was sentenced to death by hanging. His hangman, ironically, was a pardoned criminal. Possibly a member of the gang he had been part of in 1730. That would have been the end of his story, and he would have most likely faded into obscurity had not, in 1834 a novel called Rookwood not been published. In this, a fictional Turpin is credited with riding from London to York, in one night, on his horse Black Bess in order to create an alibi. This novel made Turpin into a noble highwayman, rather than a thief. The fact that such a notorious criminal was convicted because his handwriting was recognised by a school teacher certainly is odd.

This Day in History - Titanic Hits Iceburg
by: Jessica Bell

On this day, April 14th, in 1912, the British passenger liner RMS Titanic hits an iceberg in the North Atlantic at 23:40. The Royal Mail Steamer Titanic was the product of intense competition among rival shipping companies Cunard and White Star Line in the first half of the 20th century. The Titanic was one of three ships that were part of a new “Olympic” class of liners, from White Star Line. Each Olympic class liner would each measure 882 feet in length and 92.5 feet at their broadest point, making them the largest of their time. Titanic’s creators believed they had built an “unsinkable” ship due to the Titanic’s double bottom and 15 watertight bulkheads equipped with electric watertight doors which could be operated individually or simultaneously by a switch on the bridge. It is thought that this design had a fatal flaw, that while the individual bulkheads were watertight, water could spill from one compartment into another. Titanic departed for its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, on April 10, 1912. After stops in Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown (now known as Cobh), Ireland, the ship set sail for New York with 2,240 passengers and crew. Due all of the press surrounding the Titanic many of the passengers were high-ranking officials, wealthy industrialists, dignitaries and celebrities. After four days at sea on a moonless night, a lookout saw the iceberg dead ahead, rang the warning bell and telephoned the bridge. The engines were quickly reversed and the ship was turned sharply, and instead of making direct impact the berg seemed to graze along the side of the ship, sprinkling ice fragments on the forward deck. The lookouts had no idea that the iceberg’s jagged underwater spur had slashed a 300-foot gash well below the ship’s waterline, and that Titanic was doomed. In compliance with the law of the sea, women and children boarded the boats first; only when there were no women or children nearby were men permitted to board. Sadly, due to confusion and chaos, nearly every life boat would be launched under-filled, some with only a handful of passengers. The Titanic managed to stay afloat for three hours, and only 705 people survived. Lessons have been learned from the 1,500 lives lost on the Titanic. From increased training and appropriate personal protection to standardizing requirements for emergency procedures, maritime safety has improved and many lives have been saved.

Legends of Mexico (Suggested and research assistance by Kristin Swintek)

From the Aztec Sun Stone with the sunken eyes of Tonatiuh, the Aztec sun god, peering out from the center of the stone to the Alley of the Kiss to the Devil's Alley, the country of Mexico is rich with legends and superstition. On this episode, we are joined by our Research Assistant Kristin Swintek who is going to share some of the legends of Mexico with us. There is La Llorona, the Ironed Lady and the Monster El Cucuy. Bring along a little salt, violet petals, sage, or ginseng to help keep unwanted ghosts away. Join us as we explore these Legends of Mexico.

One of Mexico's more famous legends is that of Quetzalcoatl (Keh-tzal-coh-WAH-tul.) The name comes from the Nahuatl with "Quetzal" meaning a bird with beautiful plumage and “Coatl” meaning snake. So technically he is "The Plumed Serpent." Quetzalcoatl was a god who had been around when the world was created. He was an outsider who would watch the other gods subjugate humans. This made him very angry and he decided to become a human, so that he could live among them and teach them the secrets of the gods. He ended up coming to Tollan, which is located in the modern state of Hidalgo in Mexico.

At the moment of Quetzalcoatl's arrival, a human sacrifice was about to begin in honor of his brother Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl put a stop to it and halted a storm that was coming. The people were amazed and they wanted to make him their god, but he refused and told them he wanted to teach them, particularly about purity of soul, The town of Tollan thrived and Quetzalcoatl taught them many things from gardening to astronomy to writing. All of this goodness made his brother angry and he devised a plan to bring shame to Quetzalcoatl. He disguised himself as an old man and presented Quetzalcoatl with a gift. It was a drink that was very delicious and also very intoxicating. Quetzalcoatl drank it down. Now he had been a god that took pride in his celibacy. But under the influence of this drink, he slept with one of the priestesses of his order and he was made unclean.

He decided he could no longer lead Tollan and so he built a boat from snakes and sailed toward the setting sun. He told the people of Tollan that he would return one day. Many of us knioe from history that eventually Hernan Cortes would be mistaken as the returning Quetzalcoatl. That fact gives this story a place in history. But there is something else that does that as well and that is the belief among some historians that Quetzalcoatl was a real man because he is depicted as a white man who is tall with a beard. And that man was a Viking. What makes this story unique is that so many mesoamerican cultures had Quetzalcoatl stories. Some called him by a different name, but it was in essence the same individual. These cultures include the Incas and the Mayans and the Aymara from Peru. How did Quetzalcoatl get to all these places? It was as if he could fly - like a god or perhaps in some kind of ship?

Tonacacihuatl (pronounced toe-na-ka-SEE-wah-tl) is a goddess in Aztec mythos that was considered the Goddess of Creation and thus the mother of Quetzalcoatl. She and her husband were believed to transfer the souls of infants from Heaven to female wombs. Her themes revolve around death, hope and ghosts. Her name means "Our Lady of Flesh." She gives life and the spirits of children return to her in death. Angelitos Day is a week long festival for the dead, mainly children. Cakes are made in honor of the deceased children and put in a special spot and this encourages Tonacacihuatl to release that child’s spirit for the day. The child's picture is also placed next to a candle to help light the way and welcomes the souls of the departed to the festival.

Mictecacihuatl (pronounced ‘Meek-teka-see-wahdl’ or ‘Meek-teka-kee-wadl’) is another goddess in Aztec mythology who is Queen of Mictlan, the underworld. She rukles over the afterlife and she keeps watch over the bones of the dead. She also presided pover the ancient celebrations of the dead, which today has become Mexico's "Day of the Dead." Her back story is that she was born and then sacrificed when she was still a baby, Her representation was pretty horrific as she was usually depicted as being defleshed and a gaping jaw that swallows the stars.

La Llorona - The Wailing Women. “La Llorona” which is spanish for “the wailing women”, is a popular legend in many spanish speaking countries. The story goes a woman possibly called Maria, witnessed her husband with another woman, and in a fit of rage, drowns her children in a river as revenge. She immediately regretted what she had done and drowns herself as well. For many years her spirit roams the river banks wailing “Ay mis hijos (Oh, my children)” This legend is often told to children by their parents’ as a cautionary tale so prevent their children from going out at night. They will often say “Don’t go out after dark or La Llorona will get you!”, warning that La Llorona will kidnap them, and drag them into the river. Similar legends exist in other cultures such as the Gaelic Banshee.

La Llorona is sometime identified as La Malinche the Aztec women who served as Hernan Cortes’ interpreter, go-between, and mistress who betrayed her people by warning Cortes of an oncoming attack by the Aztecs resulting in the eventual conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards. La Malinche did indeed bore Cortes two sons. The connection between La Malinche and La Llorona is another legend. As the story goes, The King of Spanish wanted Cortes to come back to Spain, and sent a beautiful woman to entice him to come back. This beautiful women secduces Cortes and convinces him to return to Spanish and to bring his two sons along with him. When La Malinche learns of his plan, she flees with her children. Cortes sends his soldiers to find her. They meet her at a river bank where the soldiers stab the babies in the heart and toss them into the river. La Malinche is overcome by grief and walks on the river banks days and night crying her children until the day of her death.
Kristin could not find anything to substantiate this story. In reality La Malinche did indeed bare Cortes on son, Martín who went on to live a full live life. The true story of La Malinche is that Cortes baptized her in the catholic faith and changed her name to Marina. After the birth of their son Cortes built a house for Marina to live in. When Martin was six years old he returned to Spain with him father where he grew up.

The Aztec believed in a spirit known as Cihuateteo (“Divine Women”), are the spirits of women who die in childbirth. They saw childbirth as a battle and considered women who died warriors who have fallen in battle. Their spirits were feared and were said to haunt crossroad at night and would steal children. This could possibly be another origin for La Llorona. When the Spaniards conquered Mexico and dismissed the beliefs of the native Aztec and Mayan the story of the Cihuateteo may have taken on another form.

La Planchada - The Ironed Lady. La Planchada is the spirit of a nurse with an impeccably neat and ironed uniform - hence The-Ironed Lady - who heals patients in hospitals around Mexico. In Mexico City’s Juarez Hosptial during the 1930’s doctors noticed that patients’ conditions were miraculously improving. These patients claimed to have been visited by a nurse during the night who sat with them and talked to them until they fell asleep. When they woke in the morning they felt much better than they had the previous day, and were often cured of the aliments.

One source claims the nurse in life was named Eulalia who had fallen in love with a young handsome doctor who joined the staff, They started seeing each other and were soon engaged. Shortly after the doctor left to attend a seminar in another city. Eulalia did not hear from him for several weeks and grew worried. She later found out that the doctor had met another women at the seminar and never returned to the hospital and Eulalia never heard from him again. She became very depressed and her work was suffering. One of the patients died from an error made on Eulalia’s as a direct result of her distraction. She soon became very ill herself and was overcome with guilt from letting this patient die in her care that she wasted away and soon died.

Today, patients are supposedly visit by this spirit. They see her in a very neat old fashioned style nurses’ uniform. Some think she is a living nurse, but then they realize that her footfalls to do not make any sound. Others have said she is surrounded by an unearthly glow, which exudes peace and calm, often thinking she is an angel.

El Cucuy (also know as El Coco or El Cuco) The myth originated in Portugal and Galicia as Coco. The coco is a monster that that eats children who disobey their parents. The oldest rhyme about El Coco dating back to the 17th century by Juan Caxés:

“Duérmete niño, duérmete ya…
Que viene el Coco y te comerá.”
(Sleep child. Sleep now…
Here comes the Coco and he will eat you)

El Coco is also featured prominently depicted in the Franciso Goya painting “Que Viene el Coco” where the his is a depicted as a hooded figure. There is not really a description of El Cucuy other than the fact that he is a monster that eats children, and honestly I think that is scary enough. He is basically the Mexican version of the Boogeyman. Parent’s often use El Cucuy to scare their children into submission. “Don’t go into that dark room, El Cucuy is in there” (this is from personal experience).

Are these legends of Mexico based on true stories? Did these people actually exist or are they just myths? That is for you to decide!

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