Tomorrow’s History: Marriage to the Sea Ceremony – and – DNA Links Europe and the Middle East

So, this week we take a quick look at where history collides with the present, which, strictly speaking happens every day since the present becomes the past at sunset or midnight, depending on how you view the beginning of the next day. However, sometimes these little tidbits get buried under the sand and need fishing up in order to help us examine what is happening in the present.

So, speaking of sand, did you hear the one about the professor who had her students “marry” the ocean?…

Marriage to the Sea: A New Age or an Ancient Thing?

Alas, it isn’t a joke. A group apparently held a ceremony to be married (or at least take a vow) to the sea and then consummate this “marriage” by splashing around in the water. The ceremony was organized by UC Santa Cruz professor Elizabeth Stephens and pornographic actress and educator Annie Sprinkle to encourage a passion for the ecosexual movement (yes, it exists), one presumes, as a way to worship the earth.1

In light of the recent gender-confusion movement (a destabilizing ideology that will have onerous consequences), this news item just sounds like more of the same. It is tempting to yearn for the “old days” when such things didn’t happen and when the “traditional values” were upheld. There are periods of time when more biblically aligned values have prevailed. Presently we are moving away from such an era (having lasted for almost three hundred years, plus or minus) and into a dark age – possibly the final dark age. However, as a rule, human moral and religious history has been nearly a constant mixture of darkness and the light of truth.

To get to the point, marriages to the sea are nothing new.

Let us go back in time, to about the year 1000 A.D. and to the Republic of the city of Venice. It was then that the yearly religious, political, even “magical” ceremony began in which the duke or Doge, the leader of Venice married himself (and the city) to their bride, the Adriatic Sea. The ceremony (Sposalizio del Mare) took place on Ascension Day, a Catholic religious day purporting to celebrate the ascent of Christ to heaven, and was led by the Bishop of the city, as a means of propitiating the sea for a year of fair winds and favorable sailing conditions for the vast armed merchant fleet that made the Venetians the rulers of world trade from the 1200’s to the 1500’s.2

Venice’s marriage to the sea is pretty mild compared to some of the other fertility rites of past history, of which the most recent iteration is merely a regurgitation.

What can we draw from this, besides absurdity? As a wise man once said:

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.3

Phoenician Genetic Connection with Portugal

Part of the fascination with history are the movements of peoples through time. We are seeing right now, with the hundreds of thousands fleeing Syria, for various reasons, into Europe, and soon to be the U.S., that it is entirely possible for huge groups of peoples, even entire ethnic groups, to move from point A to point B thousands of miles across the globe.

Indeed, this has been the case long into the past of human history. At various points throughout time, with pressures from wars, famines, and persecutions, extremely large numbers of people have shifted around the globe from the Middle East to far abroad, even into Europe, the Americas and beyond (as we see repeated with the current Syrian refugee crisis). So it is interesting when current genetic research about the past shows that, indeed, these vast movements of people were a real deal.

Research from the University of Otago in New Zealand has found that DNA samples from a Phoenician man buried in the North African city of Carthage, is strongly connected to the European DNA identifiable with the Portugeuse. Interestingly, the Phoenicians were an ancient people originating out of the area of modern-day Lebanon, though DNA tests find that ancient Phoenician DNA is no longer present en-mass in present-day residents of the ancient cities and surroundings of Sidon and Tyre.

The conclusion? The Phoenicians were a well known merchant and trade empire that established cities around the Mediterranean, and possibly the Atlantic coasts, and beyond, during the time of King Solomon’s united Kingdom of Israel in the 900’s B.C. If we look at Biblical history we can see that King Solomon formed a trade agreement with King Hiram of Tyre (a Phoenician king to the north of modern-day Israel).5 The two kingdoms, sailed in partnership around the globe (a feasible postulation).6 Where did they go? What did they do there? Did they establish colonies? Did they merely trade with existing populations? All fascinating questions.

This new DNA research is a fascinating confirmation of what archeology and ancient documents have already established. We live in a great age for archeology, new discoveries, and growing, improved understanding of the ancient past!

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver


1 Katherine Timpf, “Prof Took Students on an ‘EcoSexual Sextravaganza’ Trip to Marry and Have Sex with the Ocean,” The National Review at NationalReview.com, May 26, 2016.

2 Colin Thubron, The Seafarers: The Venetians, Time-Life Books, 1980, page 8.

3 Ecclesiastes 1:9, The Bible, KJV.

4 “DNA from Ancient Phoenician Stuns Scientists,” Digging History at FoxNews.com, May 27, 2016.

5 1 Kings 5:12, The Bible, NKJV: “So the Lord gave Solomon wisdom, as He had promised him; and there was peace between Hiram and Solomon, and the two of them made a treaty together.”
6 1 Kings 5:22, The Bible, NKJV: “For the king [Solomon] had merchant ships at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the merchant ships came bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and monkeys.”

Tomorrow’s History: Weekly Roundup (Austria Moves Right-wing – Unphotogenic: The ‘Not-Kate’ Effect)

Austria’s Far-right Party Loses Election, But Wins As A Movement

While Americans continue to be entranced by the ongoing boxing match between U.S. Presidential candidates, another election has just thrown a spotlight on political conditions across the Atlantic. Austria, which for many people is associated more with Edelweiss and Von Trapps than political innovation, has just given the rest of the world a rare opportunity to see a political future in advance.

Ironically, Austria has, in many ways, been right at the heart-beat of European politics, from the Holy Roman Empire on to the time of the First World War, and most definitely during the Second World War and the short-lived Nazi supremacy, it has often shared the fate of its neighbor, Germany.

In this case, jubilation has broken out across most of the European Union after Alexander Van der Bellen, a leftist and academic took the election for the Austrian Presidency. Interestingly, he won by a miniscule (only 31,000 votes) majority following the counting of absentee votes, a unique and curious circumstance that is likely only to feed the fires of the political opposition that barely lost (Bernd Riegert, “Opinion: Black Eye for Austria as Van der Bellen Wins Presidency,” Deutsche Welle at DW.com, May 23, 2016).

The opposition candidate, Norbert Hofer, is a right-wing politician who supports a nationalist, EU-skeptic state and opposes whole-sale entry of refugees from the Middle East. And while he may not be seated in government, the real news is that a right-wing party has gained enough momentum in Europe to take and nearly win a presidential election. And where Austria goes, Germany may follow, a well acknowledged relationship governs these two language-sharing states. The centrist Social Democrats of Austria lost the election in a big way (the same party with which German leader Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat [which is a political party, not just a statement of faith], has a ruling coalition), indicating Austria may have just become a harbinger of the political winds that are about to change in Germany.

The refugee crisis has served on the one hand, to highlight the precarious nature of the European Union and it’s fragile infrastructure of allied nations. On the other hand, it has shown that when large numbers of people (in the millions) begin to shift around the globe there will be wars. This has happened from the very ancient past onward. If a million people move from one place to another, and there is not enough room where they are going, they will bump others to the side and be perceived as a threat. That threat has been perceived in Europe, and the beginnings of a militant reaction are evident, even in this latest Austrian election.

It is well to remember the purported Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times.” I think it’s safe to say that interesting times have arrived!

The Awkward Ones: Being Unphotogenic In The Age Of Digital Cameras

And now, let’s go lighthearted for a change.

I recently read an amusing article by British journalist Sarah Vine. She commented on the unfortunate fashion choices of the Princesses of York, Beatrice and Eugenie, that clashed with the willowy grace of the Duchess of Cambridge (Kate Middleton) at a recent garden party held at Buckingham Palace. Kate, in a beautiful cream suit flowed gracefully in the direction of adoring party-goers, whilst trailing behind were the York sisters, who with less statuesque height chose frocks that were somewhat unusual in shape (read: ill-fitting), and bold in print and color. In the framed image, they follow behind the Duchess looking as though they are glaring daggers at the back of her head. Sigh, such is life for the imperfectly photogenic.

In reality, in the image, the sisters were undoubtedly looking elsewhere (and do in fact possess their own brand of beauty), but in the “click-click” nature of digital photography that one frame caught what looked like both a fashion and a deportment faux-pas. The author of the article goes on to discuss the challenges of those who don’t look good on camera, or who always look slightly goofy, while others always seem to be perfectly composed. I can relate to the former! (Sarah Vine, “I Know Exactly How Beatrice and Eugenie Feel When They’re Photographed Next To Kate: I’ve Been There Too, Says Sarah Vine,” The Daily Mail at DailyMail.co.uk, May 25, 2016.)

But it brings up an interesting historical question (one the author also posits): What must it have been like before cameras were around? Back when the best you could hope for to perpetuate your physical appearance was a painting or sculpture? It’s a thought, isn’t it.

Imagine a time when animation of features, expression, and voice were valued over the angles of cheekbones and thinness of limbs. Imagine that strength of arm, determination of mind, aptitude of intellect, ability to cultivate and grow plants and animals, keep a clean, healthy, productive home, cook nutritious, delicious meals, and raise healthy, balanced children was the stuff of which virtue was made, and didn’t take a back-seat to some rarefied, hormone-driven vision of what feminine “beauty” is. Difficult isn’t it?

Let Mr. Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice fame help us, when the subject of his contemplations are demanded of him by the hovering Miss Bingley, he replies, “…My mind was more agreeably engaged. I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow.”

Fine eyes, no less! When was the last time I heard that?!

Difficult as it may be, I think we need to spend time in that past world, imagining it more often. I have nothing against the photogenic, beauty adds to our world, but we need to find a better balance! Beauty of virtue is a thing, too (for more info, please read the book of Proverbs, chapter 31 in the Bible). If we let it, history can remind us that there is more to this life than just surface value.

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

Tomorrow’s History: Weekly Roundup (Trump – Holocaust – Year Without Summer)

“Today’s news is tomorrow’s history,” is a quote attributed to Judy Croome, a South African writer. However, the jist has long been known to historians, is ignored by politicians and celebrities, and has become the fight song of History teachers throughout the world…if only students would listen!

So follow along as we look at some current events, possible implications, and a few random pieces of history that should interest and amuse:

THE GOP PICKS A FINALIST:

DONALD TRUMP APPEARS TO BE THE GOP NOMINEE FOR THE 2016 U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

It seems the era of American oligarchies may have begun (though it has surfaced now and again for decades). Mr. Trump has the luck of FDR with him at the moment…a promise of better things, regardless of the existence of a down payment. Mrs. Clinton is a known quantity with a great deal of baggage and bad health. Mr. Sanders plays well before but one audience, the young, starry-eyed Millennial population that has been taught to idolize the socialist ideal, but has never lived in its dangerous and constrictive borders.

Above all, Mr. Trump is shiner, wealthier, and exudes more power, and those three things play well in American elections, especially in an era of underlying financial recession (where the economy looks good-ish on the outside, but beneath it is in peril). The outcome remains to be seen.

Whatever the choice, it is clear the U.S. is barrelling rapidly away from the foundations of the Union, the Constitution. We are drifting perilously close to the shores of a confederacy, rather than a union of states. Love them or hate them, the Judeo-Christian principles upon which the nation was founded gave us greater purpose, cause, and humanity. Without that we tread toward a dark age (incidentally, those are never pleasant to live through, and most die in them).

TO REMEMBER THE HOLOCAUST

An interesting news story re-surfaced this week thanks to the algorithmic aggregators of news that feed us our daily thoughts on Facebook as it followed on the May 4th and 5th occasion of Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), commemorating the Jewish lives lost in the slaughter by the Nazis. Featured on the “House Beautiful” magazine website, it related the discovery last year by renovators in Holland of an inscription on a door. Written in 1942, it appears to be the last written testament of a Jewish couple in hiding during WW2 (Nikki Erlick, “A House Reno Reveals A Heartbreaking Message Etched Into A Door,” House Beautiful at HouseBeautiful.com, July 17, 2015).

A short, simple inscription in Dutch which said, “Look on the roof and find my last personal things and try after the war to find family of ours. Give them my things and you will become something. Oh God of Israel, have mercy on your humiliated brothers. Signed, Levie Sajet born at 1-8-1881 born in Nijmegen and his housewife Ester Zilberstein born at Stettin on the 28-7-1899.”

Tragic events in history can become so big and anonymous that we sometimes fail to relate on an individual level to those who have suffered. But such a short, sad witness to two lives must affect us. It must bring us back to the understanding that people just like us died then, and die now, and that murder is evil.

This tragic replay of history was cited in a quote by Mordechai Palzur, a Holocaust survivor and former diplomat, “I’m not sure that there is any improvement because we see that hundreds of thousands of people are being murdered and they are showing how they cut off the heads and so on and nothing happens [referring to the current conflict across the Middle East]. I would not generalize and say that there has been a change, but altogether from what we see today the people who were cruel then they are cruel today,” (Sam Sokol, “Against Orders, Some Diplomats Saved Jews During Holocaust,” The Media Line for The Jerusalem Post at JPost.com, May 5, 2016).

1816, THE YEAR WITHOUT SUMMER

Let’s take a step back, say, two-hundred years to 1816. It was, in many ways, a frightening year. The sun stopped shining brightly, crops failed (accounts speak of frosts in mid-June), and the warm, sunny productive season of Summer was nowhere to be found. Don’t worry, in case you are, it wasn’t man-made global warming, but rather…just plain old global cooling courtesy of the planet itself.

The reason, fully understood much later, was a volcanic eruption in the Indian Ocean. Mt. Tambora, erupting in April 1815, had sent ash high into the atmosphere, which manually blocked the sunlight from filtering down to the surface of the earth, where it was needed. Overall the year wasn’t an overly cold one, it just happened to get very cold right during growing season leading to crop failure and food shortages. Even Thomas Jefferson noted the phenomenon in his copious records keeping at Monticello. (Robert McNamara, “The Year Without A Summer Was A Bizarre Weather Disaster in 1816,” About: Education at History1800s.About.Com, November 27, 2014.)

Some historians even suggest that this dismal year for crops pushed restless souls west to seek better land, becoming therefore an impetus for the vast westward migration and settlement in American history. My own family, one of them at least, had just survived a stint in Napoleon Bonaparte’s army in the disastrous invasion of Russia of 1812. He picked up his family a few years later in the 1820’s and departed the Swiss-German borderlands for Pennsylvania, a generation later his children would push west with the rest of the migration and settle in Nebraska.

The lesson, watch out for earthquakes and volcanic explosions that have far reaching consequences (I say this as we experience an increased amount of seismic activity in the Ring of Fire). Also, remember, an event here, a consequence there, and we, too, can feel the very pulse of history, if we are not careful. Events trigger other events, so keep your eyes open and stay the course!

I’ll be back next week to bring you another weekly roundup of tomorrow’s history!

Keeping thinking history in the meantime!

– Amanda Stiver

Getting the Story…the Whole Story

get-the-story-the-whole-story

Source: morguefile.com/eskodesign

HISTORY.   Or just, the news. When does the one become the other?

A hundred years ago the news was on the page of a newspaper, heard through the local telegrapher’s office, or announced at public meetings or church assemblies…or through gossip. Radio hadn’t quite arrived in 1916, and TV was a long way off, to say nothing of the Internet. So the news usually came at you…relatively slowly.

Is it slow anymore?   Hardly.

What do we owe our intelligence as consumers of this deluge of digital, video, audio or printed matter? We owe ourselves and we owe others the truth.

How do you get the truth from three minute video news stories. Twitter and Facebook posts of a handful of words? Instagram images that tell but one single thread of what ought to be a fully woven story?

TAKE YOUR TIME, QUERY YOUR SOURCES

FIND your way, slow the news down. Digest the story. Then consume another. Look at a story or news item as if with facets. Each side should be explored and there are usually even more than two posited sides of the story. Find those facets and analyze them by a standard of truth.

Find out the bias of the report you’ve just read or watched. Learn about the writer, the  news agency, what is their political interest, what is their national interest? Analyze the thread of logic. Seek wisdom, and if there is none, find out why.

Go to news sources outside your country, not because they are always right, but because as was wisely written…

“…in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14).

TRUTH

THERE is truth. You have to assume that somewhere, buried beneath the landslide of blather it exists. But to find it, you often have to put your own self interest aside. The greater good…what is it? The rule of law…what supports it? What precedents lead to good government? Good leadership?

And remember…after you find the truth, don’t let go of it.

History is made in the stacking up of events. News stories are made, in many cases, in the moment and for a moment’s notice.

Seek the long term. Find the history.

– Amanda Stiver

What Other Flags Fly in Support of Slavery?

IT’S A WEEK for heavy subjects, so let’s look at the recent flag removals from Southern state capitals…

Though the removal of the flag of the Confederate States of America (a long-dead representative republic based, economically and culturally, on the repugnant sin of human slavery) ought to have come many years ago, not just in reaction to a tragic massacre, but as a matter of course of the acknowledgement of the Union of the United States after the American Civil War; one cannot help but notice a certain hypocrisy among American politicians.

Readily and eagerly they hop on the bandwagon of publicity by taking down flags of a defunct republic (a noble thought, but not one that faces significant opposition), while at this very time, a mere 12 hour flight away, another self-proclaimed nation/terror state – the Islamic State, which is a theocracy, and does violence and murder to any under the rule of its flag, is also presently, culturally based on the human slave trade.

Why are these same voices in America so utterly silent? Why, if they truly wish to abolish the sin of human slavery, do they not declaim those who continue to indulge in its depravity around the world, in the Middle East, in Asia, and other places?

Keep thinking history.

– Amanda Stiver

Tragedy in Charleston…Division is Destructive

YOU KNOW, what strikes me with this latest tragic shooting in Charleston, is that while the US media has been preoccupied with the high profile psychological problems of two individuals (Bruce Jenner and Rachel Dolezal), we have been neglecting the core principles of what makes America great. It is our heritage of honor, dignity, respect, morality (hard fought for during a bloody Civil War), and, most importantly, fear of God and His Law, regardless of ethnicity, that has made and can make America great. Bluntly, our professional media is divisive and destructive. Respectful coverage of the lives of the individuals lost in this recent shooting will be neglected for political aims (as we lead up to a campaign year), and skewed for various agendas. Tragedy of loss of life, compounded by the tragedy of division.

As a student of history it is not impossible to understand that what happens when a society is riveted by its rifts and hatreds, its criminals, and its moral inadequacies. We can look to the debauchery of Rome as it slid into oblivion to see a case study for lost focus. America is great because it is full of regular folks, being regularly law abiding, and caring about their neighbors, regardless of ethnicity. Millions of immigrants from various backgrounds have come here to become “Americans.” Some came by force, some came by choice, but without that coalescing of identity into “American” – we will become stressed and fractured by division, hatred and violence. America is framed by a set of laws, a Constitution. Back in the day, a constitution was what we called our human frame, our bodies. If you don’t have a body of laws that frame our society, that protect the individual and define respect for same, we have nothing, we simply have to wait for the “strong men” who want a piece of the action to hack away through violence and intimidation so we can pay for the pleasure of not being killed. Am I being extreme? I think not…please refer to recent coverage of the Middle East and the rise of ISIS.

ABRAHAM Lincoln once quoted this simple statement, “And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” If you want to quote Lincoln’s source, see the book of Mark, chapter 3, verse 25.

If we continue to feed on divisions, to disdain the beauty and mechanics of law abiding, and to neglect the value of life, our house, our nation will fail. If by chance, we can summon the courage, by the grace of God, to reject division and those that feed on it, to treasure the Divine intelligence of Law, and to respect life…we might, might have a chance. The choice is ours.

Value, and keep thinking history! For we are living tomorrow’s history today.

– Amanda Stiver

The Window of History

window

Image: morguefile.com/hamper

Sitting in my office I have a great view of the woods. I can see birds, cats, deer, my neighbors, lush deciduous trees, the change of seasons and the occasional fox or raccoon. My view out the window is never the same twice. It can be similar, but never an exact copy. A leaf moves, the clouds are different, the dappling of sunshine through leaves changes, and different creatures troll the yard.

I never get tired of peering out that window to see what’s below. Such variety is refreshing and I often turn to look out when I get filled to saturation with staring at the computer.

Window of history

In the same way I never get tired of peering through the window of history. Okay, sometimes I do get tired of the same historical subject. So I solve the problem, I rotate subjects. On the whole, though, I don’t get tired of history. I find that a trip back in time via a well written history book helps me to see the present more clearly.

According to the StrengthsFinder program this is a particular trait called “Context.” StrengthsFinder is a workplace personality testing program that helps users find out how to use their strengths in connection with others.

Context is the use of a knowledge of history to see how that past shapes people and events. The ultimate goal being to anticipate what may happen in the future. According to StrengthsFinder it is also a way of relating to other people by empathizing with how they came to be the way they are.

Thus history becomes a window into not only the past, but also the future.

Back to the future!

I have been on a recent stroll through the boulevard of history, peering into various centuries and cultures as I go. It’s really a form of historical tourism, only you learn stuff and don’t pay as much as you would for a third-rate hotel room assigned to you because of over-booking.

Since the beginning of the year I’ve been to ancient Greece, the American Civil War era, the Revolutionary War era, and I’m just beginning a look into the history of the City of Jerusalem. Each book is a window, allowing me to see into the past with an eye open to the potential of what may come in the future.

What have I learned?

People haven’t really changed much despite centuries and millennia of existence. The window dressing may be different, but human motivation, greed, lust, anger, jealousy… are still the same and they still are at the crux of what turns the tide of world events.

So what window of history will you peer through today? What will you see and how will it affect your understanding of the present and the future?

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

Olympic Shooting Sports: Finally, A Positive Example

I like the Olympics. They are full of history. Mostly ancient Greek history, but also Celtic history. Many of our modern day track and field sports were well known at Celtic feis (arts and sports festivals). The shot-put, the hammer throw, and foot races, among others.

The Celtic hammer throw (Dublin Irish Festival 2012). (Image: Amanda Stiver)

But what I really like about this year’s games, especially in light of the tragic shootings in the past several years, is the positive image of the firearms and archery sports.

I’m pleased to see firearms used rightly, for constructive competition that celebrates eye-hand coordination and intense focus. Weapons are useless and inert without someone who decides to use them. I like that there are high-profile, skilled, focused, and honorable men and women who compete and show that using a gun or a bow is not inherently evil.

How a gun is used is the key. What you choose to do with it once you pick it up.

Positive reasons

Which leads me to the Cheyenne River in South Dakota. It’s our family locus. We go back there to visit and we compete in familial target competitions. We use our firearms carefully, specifically, and with great regard for safety. Many of my family also hunt for meat during the deer season. We are at home with rifle and shotgun. We take great joy in using them rightly.

(Image: Amanda Stiver)

We have a family tradition that goes back generations using not just guns, but also bow and arrow. It’s part of my family history.

The issue

Which is why it makes me sad and angry that people wantonly destroy human lives in tragedies like we have seen in Norway, Arizona, Colorado, and now Wisconsin. But frankly, it makes me mad that people murder at all, with or without weapons!

And that brings me back to the summer games. I’m proud to see athletes choose to use firearms and bows rightly, and in a safe, positive way.

Just as in every aspect of history, the choice is always down to us. We can choose to perpetuate bad historical precedents of violence and hate or we can choose to stand up for a moral code that values human life and positive traditions.

– Amanda Stiver

The Boundaries of History: Mountains

(Image: Amanda Stiver)

I’m watching a storm break over the Bitterroot Mountains. It’s a spectacular show of grays, blues, greens, and a touch of white off and on. Almost as spectacular as the sunset I watched over the same mountains a few days later. I live in the Midwest in a house among grove of trees and I rarely get to see a solid sunset, just a tint now and then, so watching the mountain version on my visit to Montana was worth the wait.

Mountains. What can I say about them? They are solid, craggy, and looming. They get in the way, they make people go around them and occasionally, they spew lava and pyroclastic muck.

They also make history. For without mountains, the conflicts, borders, traditions, and cultures of our human history would be something completely different. If it were plains all the way around, history would probably look like a glorified game on a chessboard.

(Image: Amanda Stiver)

Kings and their armies would charge across and gain a few miles, and then the opponent would charge over and take them back. Like an endless replay of the trenches of World War One. It takes a lot of manpower and materiel to gain and hold an indefensible flat space. It’s harder to take a mountain fortress, but easier to hold it.

Mountains have shaped us. Mountains and rivers and plains and valleys and oceans. They still shape us.

“And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings,…”

Food for thought.

Keep thinking history.

– Amanda Stiver

Wall Drug: An American Experience

I’m back in one of those tourist haunts that helps define the geography of my life. That sounds a lot more romantic than it is. I’m in Wall, South Dakota, at Wall Drug, a strip of western themed tourist trap that is a true tribute to the effectiveness of billboard advertising.

(Image: Amanda Stiver)

When Ted Hustead and his wife moved to the town of Wall to operate their drugstore back in the 1930’s, they latched onto the idea of using billboards to advertise their wares to weary and thirsty passing tourists. If you have ever taken Interstate 90 across the state of South Dakota, you know what I’m talking about. You can establish your relative location in the state by the sheer number of “Wall Drug” billboards that stack up in herds along the freeway.

Selling the goods

The funny thing about it is that it actually works. After 1,200 miles of seeing Wall Drug signs, people become, quite naturally, curious. Even people like me who have driven these roads to see family so many times I can watch the scenery (or sometimes lack thereof) pass through my visual memory with my eyes closed. Familiarly provides no immunity to the lure of Wall.

(Image: Amanda Stiver)

I think this is because Wall Drug, despite all the tourist adverts and schtick, provides things that tourists naturally crave – restrooms and cold liquids and ice cream. That and a nice bookstore and some quality western art. It also provides the myth of the west, with wooden cowboys and gamblers lurking in the halls of the indoor street. The complex has grown over the years, but the core is comfortingly familiar.

My last visit was 15 years ago, and by and large it remains the same. Families roaming the halls, ice cream in one hand, camera in the other. People taking a pit stop before continuing on to Mt. Rushmore or the Badlands. Just as I did on my visit years ago I bought a book, a definite step up from my initial visit when I was small and craved such sundries as cute little dolls dressed as western characters.

Questions raised

There is something plaintive, too, about a place like Wall. It raises questions: How long will tourism last in a tough economy? How long will we even recognize the quaintness of such a place? What does the future hold for a country whose younger generations know only a caricature of the history of the American West?

(Image: Amanda Stiver)

Maybe part of the answer is in that history of the peoples whose collective experiences made the West great. Where ideals of hard work, faith and justice, side by side with hardship and struggle fill in the spaces of the Western Myth of gamblers, claim jumpers, and outlaws.

If you’re in South Dakota and need a cool drink on your parched journey, stop at Wall and contemplate these questions and maybe you’ll be the one to find the answer.

– Amanda Stiver