Civil War Soldier’s Memorial

 

 

James Morrison Quivey’s Civil War Memorial Record from the 1880’s. Roll your mouse or finger over image to zoom.

My wife can trace her family roots back into the 17th century, when James Mackerwithee sailed from Scotland to eventually settle in Dedham, Mass. outside Boston around 1660. Two of her distant relatives served in the American Revolution, and James Morrison Quivey, her great-great grandfather, served on horseback during the Civil War. For this we have proof, in the form of Quivey’s Military Memorial War Record, a sepia-toned, poster-size lithograph that has been proudly displayed in her parent’s home since I have known her.

On August 20, 1862, at age 23, Quivey mustered into the Pennsylvania Volunteers to fight with what would become the famous Ringgold Battalion, according to his obituary written in the Canonsburg, Penn. Daily Notes March 5, 1927, shown below.

James M. Quivey, aged 88 years veteran of the Civil war, and a member of Company D, Ringgold Calvary, 22nd regiment died at his home in Pike street last night, at 7:30 o’clock. Mr. Quivey served in the War of the Rebellion in the famous Ringgold command for two years and ten months and was one of the last of the veterans in this community. A native of Chartiers township, Mr. Quivey spent practically all his life in this community, being a widely known farmer until his retirement some years ago. Mr. Quivey was born March 1, 1839, in Chartiers township. In 1867 he was married to Mary White, who died in 1904. In 1912 Mr. Quivey married Mary T. Camp, who survives. Mr. Quivey also leaves the following sons and daughters of his first wife: John W. Quivey, Chartiers township; Harry G. Quivey, Wylandville; Mrs. Allie Porter, Houston; Miss Lena E. Quivey, Sewickley, and Mrs. Charles Campbell, of Beaver. Eleven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren also survive.  

Books were written detailing the exploits of this battalion during the “War of the Rebellion,” as it was referred to at the time. Here are two that can be researched online:

The Twenty-second Pennsylvania cavalry and the Ringgold battalion, 1861-1865; by Samuel Clarke Farrar. Quivey is listed at the end of the book on page 494, along with his fellow troops. There is also a book by John W. Elwood entitled Elwood’s stories of the old Ringgold Cavalry, 1847-1865: the first three year cavalry of the Civil War: with introduction by the Rev. H.H. Ryland.

I am assuming Quivey filled in his name and information on the memorial himself, as other Civil War memorial lithographs, sometimes given as gifts, can be found with more professional-looking calligraphy. It would also appear that he did quite well during the war, never being in a battle, thereby never being wounded or taken prisoner. Or perhaps he purposely left these fields blank some 20 years after, being too much for his growing family to take. Who knows?

James M. Quivey

At 30 inches wide, the lithographed portrait takes serious time to study, and details decisive military battles, highlights all the important military generals (from the North anyway), displays US Army Corps badges, breaks down how many men were furnished by each state, including over 93,000 “colored troops,” and over 3,000 from Indian Nations. It also highlights that more men, on both sides, died of disease during the war than were killed in battle, died of their wounds or died in prison.

What I don’t yet know and tried to find out was how Quivey acquired the memorial. Was it at a GAR reunion? I have the helpful and knowledgeable specialists at Cowan’s Auctions in Cincinnati and Cleveland, and Ron Meininger at Antebellum Covers to thank for providing me with more information than I knew at the beginning of my research. Check out both these sights and their links for a wealth of information on the Civil War and beyond. If you have ever watched The History Detectives on PBS, then you’ll know of Wes Cowan.

The lithograph shows signs of water damage, and it is not hand-painted as other memorials were. These two strikes lessen the value of this mass-produced piece somewhat. But overall, the 135-year-old memorial holds up, and is the kind of family conversation piece that any Civil War buff would drool over. Thankfully, it is under glass.

James Morrison Quivey’s family tree dating back to 1660.

 

Vintage Romance Postcards

posted in: Vintage images | 0

With a grin on her face and a hand to her breast, a young woman asks the caller on the other end of the line if they can meet at the usual place. Two young lovers sit awkwardly on an old wooden fence without a care. A man pokes his head through the “man hole” of a merry widow’s obnoxiously large hat. Long before meet up and dating apps like Tinder, Skout and Meet My Dog, yes there really is an app called Meet My Dog, young lovers and separated sweethearts sent one another colorful postcards. They were simpler times, with only thoughts of love and how long it would take to make it to the post office. No swiping, no sexting, no shame. Such was the case for my wife’s great-grandparents Claudy Otmer Hill and Laura Belle Faber of Putnam County, W.Va., who during their courtship in the early 1900’s penned one another dozens of romantic postcards. They were married only 13 1/2 years before Laura’s death. Nevertheless, they had five children together.

Claudy Other Hill and Laura Bell Faber, April 14, 1897

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So if you’re not feeling the love this Valentines day, have a look at this collection of somewhat provocative, somewhat chauvinistic postcards, where groping and kissing with vegetables and fruit (I don’t know why) depict the language of love.

Laura Faber Hill with her children

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marriage certificate for Laura Bell Faber and Claudy Otmer Hill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other website links to view old romantic postcards:

Oldpostards.com

The images reproduced above are for educational use only. The postcards on this page are not for sale. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sound of Crunching Through Fresh Snow On A Winter’s Hike

It was 7 degrees as I pulled up to the Mohican State Park campgrounds Sunday morning, searching for a parking spot, as I was intentionally late for their annual Winter Hike. I admit I wanted the promised walking stick cut from the surrounding forest’s hardwood (for the first 100 participants), but I didn’t want crowd noise. Less than a dozen sticks were left when I walked into the commissary, it wrapped in the smell of hot vegetable soup, coffee, cocoa and a crackling fire. The smooth red oak stick, with tiny images of Smokey Bear and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources logo burned into it, served me well as I navigated the Hemlock Gorge Trail, which more or less hugs the north bank of the Clearfork-Mohican River.

In the recording below, featuring me walking toward and past a rapid on my right, you can sometimes hear the stick as I take deliberate steps – and missteps – through a blanket of crunchy, fresh snow in the heavy Sorel boots I’ve had since living in Wyoming.

The second recording features the sound of a woodpecker. I believe it to be a Hairy woodpecker, but I am not certain, because for this recording I kneeled inside a hollow tree along the trail, sitting back from the river approximately 20 yards. Why would I sit still in the freezing cold inside a tree for 10 minutes? I was using a pair of small microphones placed inside a do-it-yourself windproof housing made from a set of earmuffs I recently purchased for $2 on eBay. See how I did this below. This hike was part of its trial run. The sound of the river takes on an interesting and different tone inside the hollow tree. The woodpecker was somewhere in front of me. I am happy nobody one saw me sitting inside the tree, as I’m sure it would have looked weird to anyone passing by.

Wanting to find out what I missed by not traveling with the group, I spoke with a naturalist after returning to the commissary for my soup and hot cocoa. She spoke of birds, tracks, trees and winter, or course. She also mentioned Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, a very small aphid-like insect and invasive species that has taken hold in southern Ohio’s forest, plus much of the Appalachian Mountains and clear up into Maine. The pest has yet to arrive at Mohican. The bug sucks the sap from young twigs, eventually killing the tree. For the sake of the trail I walked along named for the Hemlock, I hope the bug never makes it.

 

The quasi-binaural fuzzy headset microphone DIY process:

Stuffing is taken out of the earmuffs. Surprisingly, they are still warm. Photo by Richard Alan Hannon
A Dremel tool is used to cut additional holes into the plastic. Plastic wrap used to cover leftovers keeps plastic bits out of the fur.  Photo by Richard Alan Hannon
The finished product, complete with a red cloth tag sewn onto the right side. Photo by Richard Alan Hannon

Women of the Akron KKK update

posted in: Ku Klux Klan, Ohio | 0

I received a photograph in the mail yesterday featuring a group of women, some old, some young, all dressed in bright white gowns. I had been expecting this photograph; otherwise, I would have mistaken these straight-faced women, all except one flashing a cheerful smile who obviously did not get the memo, for a group of WWI-era nurses gathered for their group portrait before heading back to the front. The woman in the odd pointed hat , and the Grand Poobah, with her feathered hat in the center, gives the group away for what they really were, Women of the Ku Klux Klan (WKKK). The 8×10 reproduction image, and accompanying letter, came from a 63-year-old woman in central Pennsylvania who saw my post from 2016 on women in the Akron, Ohio KKK, and reached out to me.

Women of the KKK (WKKK), taken in Akron, Ohio between 1910 and 1919. Photo provided by Vicky Manley

 

Vicky Manley is the self-described genealogy buff for her family. Although the group photo has been passed down through her family for generations, she knows little about it other that it was taken in Akron, Ohio. Like the images I found in the crumbling black cardboard scrapbooks handed down through my wife’s family, hardly a word was spoken about the sepia-toned group shot. These are not the kind of things discussed around the Thanksgiving table. Census records for her grandmother put her in Akron between 1910 and 1919, in what was once the Rubber Capital of the World. There because her husband was a rubber factory worker.

Manley is undeniably not pleased with her grandmother’s choice to be a member of the WKKK, where women bonded through the shared sewing of sheets, most likely weaving a bit of hatred into each stitch. Through telephone conversations, Manley expressed dismay at the image and what it represents. Nevertheless, she openly shared a small piece of her family tree, knots and all. Her hope, and mine, is that by looking at images like these, where women come together to unabashedly pose during events (some of which sanctioned by their elected officials), others may add to the discussion so that we all gain a better understanding of the Klan’s appeal to women, and the racial intolerances of the time. Then ask ourselves if we are really so far removed from this reprehensible time in US history.

Future reading:

Kathleen M Blee’s 1991 book entitled Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s, the original paperback version of which featuring a cover photograph of women dressed in similar garb to Manley’s photograph, is still available in paperback.

Other online articles, images and references:

https://timeline.com/the-kkk-started-a-branch-just-for-women-in-the-1920s-and-half-a-million-joined-72ab1439b78b

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_of_the_Ku_Klux_Klan

https://www.buzzfeed.com/lindagordon/how-women-in-the-kkk-were-instrumental-to-its-rise?utm_term=.cv3l03ErJ#.tvgp8P9jW

https://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/photos-ku-klux-klan-in-colorado-in-the-1920s#id9

http://www.ohiomemory.org/cdm/ref/collection/p267401coll36/id/11967

Update 1/14/18

I sent an email to the Special Collections Division of the Akron-Summit County Public Library (ASCPL) requesting their input regarding this post. They graciously wrote back with quite a few searchable links (found below), one of which is THE AKRON, OHIO Ku Klux Klan 1921 – 1928, a 1974 University of Akron MA thesis by John Lee Maples, downloadable in PDF form, found here. I quickly downloaded it, ran optical character recognition (OCR) software, and typed in the word women. This produced a few noteworthy sentences including this one highlighting a KKK event in November 1923.

“The local Klan band performed with the Women of the Ku Klux Klan • s glee club. There were speeches to excite the zeal of Klansmen and a barbecue to provide for gustatorial needs. Then, with Rev. E. M. Anneshansley officiating, a fifty foot cross was burned, closing the Konclave.”

While you’re at the library’s digitized books download page, download the Akron Negro Directory as well. Of interest in this publication, beyond names of Akron’s African-American citizens at the time, and the black-owned businesses that advertised in its pages, is the statistical, educational and historical information provided. For instance, Akron’s black population in 1940 was 14,076 according to the directory. I now know what blacks spent for food, gas, electric and telephone. There were eight African-Americans who fought for the Union during the Civil War. Most importantly, as far as this blog post is concerned, the directory provides Federal census data addressing the southern migration of blacks to the city.

Below is my return email from the ASCPL’s Special Collections Division. All links work. However, you’ll need a library card for some. And note that not all PDF’s have been OCR’d.

There are a number of our other online resources you can check if you haven’t already.

You can search for more photographs in two places:

The first is Summit Memory (http://www.summitmemory.org/), the collaborative digital collections site we administer. Because this is a collaborative project, we may not hold copyright to or actually have the photos you find on the site. Be sure to use the Advanced search option to search for multiple words or phrases.

The second is the Local History Database (http://db.akronlibrary.org/DBS/SpecColldbO/Default.aspx), the index to archival items we have here at the library. You don’t actually see the items in this database, but you’ll get descriptions of them and can contact us if you’re interested in ordering copies of or  want more information on items.

There are a few resources you can use to search the Akron Beacon Journal (ABJ):

http://www.akronlibrary.org/research/databases-by-title#a 

By using the “Akron Beacon Journal” link and logging in with your ASCPL library card, you can search the newspaper from 1985-present using NewsBank’s America’s News database. This database does not include ads or photos but will indicate when photos accompanied a story. To search an exact phrase, put the words in quotation marks: “sons of Italy” history. If you don’t have a card with us, check to see if your local library provides access to this database. If not, check out Newspapers.com below.

http://www.akronlibrary.org/locations/main-library/special-collections/genealogy/akron-beacon-journal-subject-indexes 

Alphabetical subject indexes to the ABJ from 1841-1939 in PDF. These have not been OCR’d so you cannot search them. You must browse them as you would a book. There are bookmarks for some sections, including births, deaths, and marriages. If you are local, you may find it easier to come in and use the books we have on our shelves. These indexes provide citations that you can use to either request articles from us or come into Special Collections and find yourself using our microfilm.

https://www.newspapers.com/browse/US/Ohio/Akron 

Akron newspapers in Newspapers.com. You need a subscription to view digitized pages, but anyone can do a search and view a list of results. If you decide not to do a free trial or subscribe, you can do searches and find citations that you can use to either request articles from us or come into Special Collections and find yourself using our microfilm.

You can access the Akron city directories from 1859-1969 at http://www.akronlibrary.org/locations/main-library/special-collections/genealogy/historic-city-directories. These have been OCR’d so you can search them, but we also recommend browsing them as you would the books. There are bookmarks for particular sections of each directory to help you navigate. We also have hard copies of these and more recent directories here in Special Collections.

You might also check with the University of Akron’s Archival Services to see what resources they might have, http://www.uakron.edu/libraries/archives/.

Binaural Breakfast Dishes

This is the latest incarnation of my do-it-yourself quasi-binaural headphone setup for the pair of Luhd PM-01AB stereo microphones. I’ve tried a couple of other DIY approaches with these mics. First came the idea of using cannibalized mounts stripped from the kind of headphones airlines hand out on their longer flights (or used to anyway). These worked fine for a while, but were uncomfortable and drew more stares than I wanted. Idea number two, using the kind of earbud mounts that slip behind your ears, lasted as long as it took to build them. I want to leave the microphone’s foam windscreens in place, and this mount, with the foam, wouldn’t stay in my ears.

Onto idea number three, which I think is a keeper. I purchased three 80’s-looking, Walkman-ish headphones from a local dollar store, buying two for backups as I envision inadvertently sitting on them someday. At a dollar apiece, the headphones are crap, with no base end, no highs, and no real middle either actually. But they are perfect as a housing for the Luhd’s. They stay on my head, draw little attention, and are easy to make.

After ripping out the headphone drivers, I used a Dremel tool, with its small diamond bit, to drill additional “air” holes in the plastic (without going overboard and ruining the expensive headphones). I then lined the outside diameter of the mounts, where they would touch my ears, with self-adhesive black felt (having some left over from a DIY tripod project). And for good measure, I used a red garage sale label to denote the right microphone.

Another requirement with the setup is that it has to be not permanent. I want to be able to use the mics in their A/B configuration if the recording requires it. Removable black gaffers tape keeps the microphones in place (along with the felt).

Are they stealthy? Who’s to say? Are they nerdish? You bet. Will the project make a mess of your kitchen table? Sure. Do they work? Below is my first recording using them. An extraordinary recording of me doing dishes this past Saturday morning after breakfast. There’s some slight shifting in the stereo space as I was going back and forth along the counter, but not enough to make you sick. It is also a time-compressed recording. Who wants to listen to five minutes of me doing dishes anyway?

I hope you find this idea/tutorial useful, and look forward to reading about your DIY binaural setup.

By the way, Luhd makes a binaural version of their microphones as well that renders my idea unnecessary. They didn’t however when I purchased my pair. And from what I’ve read, the PM-01AB have a slight bit less self noise, which is important to me for low-noise field recording work.

Recoding note: The Luhd mics use PIP. They are plugged into a Sony PCM D100 which was hidden in a vest pocket away from splashing water.

 

 

 

Dismissing Preconceived Ideas

I’ve spent quite a bit of time at Mohican State Park near my home in north central Ohio, making photographs, recording natural sound, taking it all in. Before moving out West and visiting parks with substantially more scenic grandeur, Mohican was, for me, the place to be one with nature. I took my parents there years ago and snapped a quick photograph of them with the park’s covered bridge behind them. I’ve stood on that same ground many times since, and now that they are both gone, standing there reminds me of that day.

Dad and Mom in front of the Mohican State Park covered bridge. Photo by Richard Alan Hannon

To get to the covered bridge, which spans the Clearfork Mohican River, one has to snake down a series of switchbacks, dropping some 300 feet in elevation in the process. I am used to each twist and turn now. Even so, driving this in the winter can be a bit nerve rattling, as it is easy to get distracted by the scenery below. As you take that final turn into the gorge, the wooden covered bridge is there at the bottom to greet you.

I generally walk right past the bridge before sunrise, not giving it a thought, in order to hop onto trails that lead to the waterfalls. This was the case one time last fall, when I heard a new sound, like someone throwing rocks at the bridge. Acorns, not rocks, it turns out, falling from trees that hang over the end of the bridge. In a rush to capture the dawn chorus (which is not great in the fall anyway), I ignored this “distracting” sound, thinking I needed to record waterfalls, again. Only after walking 50 or so yards down trail did I realize the sound was fleeting, a once-a-year thing. I turned around, because, just as in photography, it is never a good idea to set out with a head full of preconceived ideas. The sound of acorns falling from their branches, hitting the bridge’s metal roof, then tumbling to the concrete pad and occasionally even further to the streambed below, made a fantastic sound. Had I kept walking with my mind focused on something I hadn’t even heard yet, I would have never captured it.

I drove once again to the bridge last week, this time on a photography hunt. Fall colors were not yet at their prime. Morning steam coming off the river saved me a little, but it was time for plan B. I took out a small recorder and captured the sound of my footsteps as I walked across the bridge, built from hardwood harvested in the forest (so says a plaque fixed to the bridge). What you hear in the mix below are those footsteps, followed by the sound of tumbling acorns.

Recording note: Footsteps are recorded with a Sony PCM D100 – its mics on wide mode – holding the recorder down toward my feet. You can hear the sound of the river rapids intensify as I approach the middle of the bridge. For the acorns, I used a pair of Audio Technica 3032 mics in a DIY baffled omni mount. As always, wearing a nice pair of headphones will help here.

 

See a park map here:  http://parks.ohiodnr.gov/Portals/parks/PDFs/parks/Maps/Mohican/mohicantrailmap.pdf

Throttle Up: The Sound of Boats Entering Lake Erie

My wife and I drove up to Lake Erie, Nickel Plate Beach specifically, in October to take advantage of what we presumed to be one of the last warm days of the year. It’s a straight shot north from the house, plus the beach becomes dog- friendly after Labor Day. What we didn’t take into consideration was the less-than ideal water quality. Levels of bluish-green algae, or cyanobacteria, are up around the shores of western Lake Erie due partially to point sources like industrial pollution, but in large part to agricultural runoff into the streams that feed into the lake. Our destination was no exception. The bacteria produce a toxin called microsystin, which can be harmful to humans, and our dog Maggie. A sign posted at the beach entrance warns swimmers of the potential threat, but Maggie doesn’t read, plus she goes into an absolute and near-uncontrollable frenzy at the first sight and sound of waves lapping along a beach. Thanks to the BP oil spill, she’s run through tarball-infested waters along the Gulf coast, so this was nothing new for our iron-stomached dog. Nevertheless I chose to stay clear and opted for plan B.

Aerial view of the harbor at Huron, Ohio, USA. Taken 1 October 1992. Photo by Ken Winters, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library.

The Huron River empties into Lake Erie across a harbor from where my wife and dog were now running with reckless abandon. A concrete fishing pier runs along the western edge of the harbor inlet, terminating at a series a large limestone rocks that form the remainder of a jetty that stretches out to a lighthouse built in the 1930’s. It was at the end of the concrete pier where I made a few photographs and set up my recorder for the sound you hear below. Instead of placing hydrophones near one another, or even along the same plane, I dropped the left hydrophone on the north side of the pier and the right hydrophone on the east side. This gave me two different underwater sounds, with the left picking up more of the sound of waves lapping against the jagged limestone wall, and the right capturing the sound of boaters as they opened up their throttles after leaving the jetty.

This time of year, when the lake is cooling down after the summer months, walleye and yellow perch are coming up into the shallows just offshore. I suspect many of these boaters are going after their fair share, and quite of few of them really lay on the throttle as they leave the inlet.

It turns out that attempting to record a clean, noise-free sound portrait void of human activity of any area in Ohio can just as frustrating as finding a clean, pollution-free beach. The more I record using hydrophones, the more discouraged I am with the noise pollution I am capturing underwater.

In the interest of full disclosure, for the last two years I’ve been able to attend an end-of-summer fish fry. The fish, battered in wonderful seasonings, are fantastic, plentiful, free, and caught by anglers that take their boats out into Lake Erie. So should I really be complaining about man-made boat noise? Yet I can only imagine what it sounds like underwater on opening day of fishing season, or even farther out into the lake with the sounds of bulk carriers that traverse its waters from Toledo to Buffalo. For a current picture of the amount of traffic on Lake Erie (or any waterway in the world for that matter), take a look at the website Marinetraffic.com. You will be astounded.

Recording note: I used two Aquarian H2A hydrophones, running into a Sound Devices Mixpre-D pre-amp feeding into a Sony PCM M10 recording at 96kHz/24bit.

 

 

 

 

 

Sounds From A Pow-Wow

posted in: field recording, Ohio | 0

I attended a Native American pow-wow this past weekend, my first since covering a large gathering years ago for a Wyoming newspaper. The pow-wow back then was a great experience. The grand entry, where all the dancers in their colorful, fancy regalia parade in a clockwise fashion around the arena, began around sunset. A Wyoming sunset can be beautiful any time of year, but just as pretty and not as noticed is the sky opposite where the sun goes down. The pale pinks and pastel blues mix and intensify above the eastern horizon for a brief display seen only in the West it seems. My night concluded with the honor of being able, along with our writer, to sit inside a sweat lodge during a ceremony (for as long as I could stand the heat). A fortunate experience I remember vividly.

When I saw there was a pow-wow in my area, I knew I wanted to capture the sounds of it. To record the glistening bells on the dancers feet as they shuffle around the arena, and especially the sound of the drums, which symbolize the heartbeat of the earth.

Below is a compressed mix of the Grand Entry and a few of the songs performed by drum groups pounding away on their large drums under a tent adjacent the arena.

Recording note: I used a Sony PCM D100, with its microphones in wide mode, to record at 24 bit/96khz. I was standing just outside the tent to record the three drum circles, and opposite the arena’s stereo p.a. system to capture the Grand Entry.

The Sound of the Ohio State Reformatory

posted in: field recording, Ohio | 0

I was given the opportunity this past February to roam unaccompanied inside the old Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio. I had been there a couple of times before, once to make images shortly after the filming of the Shawshank Redemption, and once on a brief tour. However this was my first chance to record its sound. Some say it is haunted. I left my Proton Pack at home. Instead I brought along two recorders, two contact microphones, a pair of omnis arranged in my DIY baffled head and a thick sweater. It was cold and lonely inside those rusty 131-year-old cells.

Yet another feature-length film is about to start filming at the historic prison. Escape Plan 3, starring Sylvester Stallone. This will be his second visit to the prison. He also starred alongside Kurt Russell in the 1989 film Tango and Cash. OSR and the movie industry goes way back to when Harry and Walter Go To New York was filmed there in the mid ‘70’s. Harrison Ford was sent to the prison in the 1997 film Air Force One. Here is IMDB’s list.

What you’ll hear in the mix below, along with the ambient sound of birds that have taken up residence near the large windows, and wind sweeping down corridors, is the sound of cell and chapel doors opening and closing, me walking up and down a huge metal spiral staircase that connects the top and bottom of a cell block, and me walking the length of another cell block, rubbing a wooden broom handle against the bars as I walked. All of these sounds were recorded separately (at 96kHz/24bit) with both contact and regular microphones.

I’m told that when the prison was active (it remained in operation until 1990) it sounded nothing like this. This of course makes sense. Inmates, even the good ones like Andy Dufresne, got little sleep.

Floating Fire Ant Flashbacks

There have been quite of few images and stories floating around the Internet in the last few days of giant fire ant colonies floating on the water’s surface around Houston. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, and the tropical storm that continues to dump overwhelming amounts of rain as it churns eastward toward Louisiana after devastating the Houston area, these images bring back uncomfortably itchy memories of covering quite a few hurricanes, and even more flood events, in Baton Rouge and beyond over the years.

When I moved to south Louisiana in 2000, I remember hearing the tale of an elderly person in a Texas nursing home who was killed by a swarm of red ants while sleeping in their nursing home bed. Perhaps that was urban legend, but the nightmarish horror story stuck. It wasn’t enough that I had to cautiously walk down the center line of flooded streets, since that was usually high ground, thinking at any time I could go feet first into a manhole blown open by rushing water. I also had to worry about floating brown rafts of nasty fire ants as well. To a soaking wet fire ant, whose buddies have been crawling back and forth all over you in a desperate effort to save the queen, you are nothing but dry ground. As they climb onto you, they will be extra angry after being uprooted from their underground homes and having floated – their hind legs and antennae locked in a death grip to millions of their mindless little colleagues – for so long.

I never seemed to have realized it until after it was too late, but I have been bit in the ankles, legs and hands plenty of times by fire ants. Not islands of them at once thankfully, but nevertheless, to this day, even while living in Ohio; I have cautionary flashbacks as I walk across an open field. Hopefully fire ants are climate change deniers, and stay put south of the Ohio River. But I digress.

With all this in mind I want to share with you the sound these red devils make inside their evil lairs. I recorded these fire ants in November 2015 in a historic cemetery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a place where Spanish moss-covered Live oak trees sweep out far and wide, their long, hardy, drooping branches lightly brushing against 19th century above ground whitewashed tombs, and where both Union and Confederate soldiers hid behind those same tombstones for protection during a fierce battle on August 5, 1862. Any place in south Louisiana is a good home for a fire ant – my former front and back yard included – but a cemetery makes a perfect abode, as edges of tombstones, and the remains that lie beneath, are rarely disturbed and long forgotten.

Armed with a pair of rubber dishwashing gloves, I gingerly placed two contact microphones (in this instance they make the inaudible perceivable) inside an active mound that all but encased the grave marker of Annie B. Schorten. Schorten was born in 1847, died in 1922, and, for the duration of my stay anyway, regrettably had her spirit tormented by the vile little insects. To make matters worse, invasive fire ants were brought into the United States years after she passed on. Ants survived one of the world’s five mass extinctions, so there is no reason to think they cannot survive any flood Mother Nature rains down upon them.

Since I am not an entomologist or an ant expert, I will not pretend to explain the sounds you hear in the recording excerpt below, or how or why ants make the sounds they do to communicate. There is however plenty of information on the web regarding this. Just sit back, close your eyes, and enjoy the creepy sounds. But for heavens sake don’t do while taking your evening bath.

As a side note, I have found the best way to combat a fire ant bite itch is to blast it for as long as possible with a blow dryer as hot as you can stand it. Your results may vary.

 

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