Harry Houdini and Rochester

Screenshot of film showing Harry Houdini's jump, handcuffed, from the Weighlock Bridge in Rochester. It was his first manacled stunt. (Click image to be taken to the video.)

Screenshot of film showing Harry Houdini’s jump, handcuffed, from the Weighlock Bridge in Rochester in 1907. It was his first manacled stunt. (Click image to be taken to the video.)

Here’s a fun fact that I couldn’t pass up sharing: On May 7, 1907, Harry Houdini performed his first manacled bridge stunt by jumping off the Weighlock Bridge, near Court Street in downtown Rochester. He was wearing two pair of handcuffs which, as you can see in this film, were secured by Policeman Decker (as identified by the Rochester Union and Advertiser).

According to an article in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, in the 1890s Houdini had actually been offered a job in Rochester, ironically as superintendent of Sargent and Greenleaf, a lockmaking company then located here.

That’s just Rochester, making history again!

UPDATE: Just what is the “Weighlock Bridge”?  Turns out, it was a covered area where boats would come in to be weighed to determine their toll. The weight of the empty boat was subtracted from the weight of the boat full of cargo. According to ErieCanal.org, “it was located on the west bank of the canal, on the east side of the Genesee River, just south of Court Street.”

Weighlocks on Erie Canal, Rochester, N.Y. (214976 -- [Leighton & Valentine Co., N.Y.]) - From: Rochester Public Library Local History Division. -- A postcard view of the weighlock, looking north with the city in the background, approximately 1910.

A postcard view of the weighlock, looking north with the city in the background, approximately 1910.

Title: Erie Canal weigh lock [photograph]. Photographer/Artist: Stone, Albert R., 1866-1934. Date: 1911? Physical Details: 1 photograph : b&w ; 7 x 9 in. Collection: Albert R. Stone Negative Collection, Rochester Museum & Science Center, Rochester, NY Summary: The weighlock (or weigh lock) was built in 1852. It is located on the east side of the Genesee River, just south of Court Street. Canal boats enter the covered area, where the toll is determined by the weight of the loaded boat. Rochester Images image Number: sct11583 http://www.rochester.lib.ny.us/rochimag/rmsc/ scm11/scm11583.jpg

Collection: Albert R. Stone Negative Collection, Rochester Museum & Science Center, Rochester, NY

50 thoughts on turning 50 #29: T.H.I.N.K.

Eugene de Blaas (1843-1932) The Friendly Gossip

Eugene de Blaas (1843-1932) The Friendly Gossip

Someone posed a question on Facebook recently, asking how you know when the story you’re about to tell someone is actually gossip.

Gossip. It’s a topic I’ve actually thought about quite a lot over the years.

I was at a women’s Bible study once, many moons ago. While I had been a Christian for a long time (at least in label if not necessarily in understanding), it was my first Bible study ever, my first women’s event ever, and I was really new at this church. The women broke off into small groups for prayer – another new thing for me – and started going around the table and sharing fairly lengthy stories about people they were requesting prayer for. Details that included at least first names as well as specifics about situations, illnesses, etc.

One women started talking about her baby sitter, requesting prayer for her while revealing where she lived and some specific details about her family. Turns out, I was pretty sure she was talking about a friend of my daughter, and when the story was finished I asked a question about the girl. The woman leading our group turned to me and said, “Joanne! We’re not here to gossip!”

I’m sure I turned 50 shades of red. I didn’t know any of these women, had never been to a Bible study before and was mortified that I’d been found out as an ignorant Christian. This was gossip?

The truth is, I had sat through some very detailed “prayer requests” that, if you really think about it, were just gossip. That they were shared in a Bible study didn’t change that fact. But in my zeal to learn how to be a Christian, I also learned how to share and receive prayer requests.

Yup, I learned how to be a better gossip in church. Continue reading

50 thoughts on turning 50 #28: Signs, signs, everywhere signs

EPA award 2015

Not quite two weeks ago, I was on a deadline for my humor column and battling a solid wall known as writer’s block. No amount of thinking, free writing, talking to the dogs or crying got me and farther than a few sentences for the column that was due on April 5th.

Some writers claim that there’s no such thing as writer’s block, preaching that “butt in chair” will get the writing job done. That’s a great start. But when you have to write something coherent, and funny, writer’s block is a real thing.

So there I was, banging my head against the wall trying to finish one of the dozen column ideas I had, when I thought about going on hiatus from the humor column. I’d just signed the contract for my next book – this is a local history book with a focus on Mt. Hope Cemetery – and I was thinking that maybe trying to mix two genres was going to be more difficult than I thought. I can’t just turn on the funny; it’s a lot of work and there’s a lot of mental “funny” that goes on before I sit down to write the column. I’m typically not a great multitasker, creatively speaking. I need to be in research mode full time to get the book done on schedule.

I finally got the column done, sent it to my editor – and that night learned that a humor column I wrote had won a first place Evangelical Press Association Higher Goals Award in the Humorous category. The column? “Insomnia: things that keep me awake at night”, which I wrote during another episode of writer’s block.

EPA award 002

What the judges said about my winning column. The irony was not lost on me that the column that won, while I was battling writer’s block, was a column about writer’s block.

A long time ago, in a religiously focused life, I would have taken that as a sign from God that I should not give up writing the column. And in some ways, it was a validation for me to keep writing the column while working on the book. I love writing humor, and knowing that what I write makes readers happy is important to me.

But the history book makes my publisher happy. I mean, he’s really excited about it, so the fact he gave me a contract when I pitched the book was a sign, too, right? Plus, I’m really excited about it; it feels like the right time for a project I’ve been working on for a couple of years. And I think the people I’m writing about who are dead in the graves would be excited about it, if they were able to have an opinion. (And one of them may have an opinion, given something that happened when I was walking around the grave site, talking out loud.)

But then I go back to the humor sign. What if I have writer’s block next month? And the next? What if I should have signed the contract for a different book idea I’d also pitched (which was more humor-focused)? Uh oh, did I make a mistake?

Back when I was looking for God’s direction in literally everything, I saw almost everything as a sign from God. Do this. Don’t do that. It started to feel like the song by Five Man Electric Band:

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

It led to a condition I call Paralysis By Analysis. All of these signs got confusing, to the point that I was afraid to make any decision. I mean, I want to do what God wants me to do, right? And if I don’t do what God wants me to do, He gets mad, right? But how was I supposed to know what God wants me to do? So I ended up doing nothing, or at the very least not trying new things or exploring things outside my comfort zone.

As I’ve matured, and especially as I hit my 40s and now 50, I’ve learned that you can read anything as a sign, especially if you’re already inclined to second guess your decision.

So Lesson #27? How do you read the signs? Maybe there aren’t really any signs at all, except the ones we erect ourselves.

How do you know what does God want you to do? I think God wants you to honor him by using your talents, by taking advantage of every moment life gives you, by making other people happy and seeing God in you, in whatever way that is. Do people see joy? Kindness? Integrity? Faith? Humor? Those are the signs we need to be looking for.

Theologically sound? Probably not. But as we all know, I’ve never claimed to be a theologian and my spirituality lately is a little outside the box. I am, after all, the person who walks through cemeteries talking to the people buried there. But do consider this: don’t spend so much time looking for signs that you miss the adventure.

And because I know the song is now stuck in your head, here’s the whole thing.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. Read more here.

And the winner is … me?

EPA award 2015

Imagine my surprise this week when, while congratulating writing and publishing friends on their wins at the recent Evangelical Press Association Awards in Denver, I scrolled through the list of Higher Goals winners in the Humorous category and saw who won first place – ME, for my column “Insomnia”.

I had forgotten then the publishers of Refreshed Magazine had entered my columns in this year’s contest. I was surprised at not only the win, but … first place??

Lamar and Theresa Keener, publishers of Refreshed Magazine, took home numerous EPA awards and deserve loads of congratulations for their hard work and dedication to putting out such a high quality magazine. I’m honored that they include in their Refreshed family!

Buckets and buckets and buckets of gratitude are due my editor, Lori Arnold, for her patience, grace and willingness to put up with my quirks and writers block. There’s no greater blessing a writer can have than an excellent editor who laughs at her jokes.

This is my third EPA award, but whose counting? Well, I am, because if I’m being honest I’m still always amazed that people read my scribbling. The biggest thanks, of course, goes out to you, dear reader, for reading my musings and ramblings so that I don’t have to get a real job.

You can read my column every month in Refreshed Magazine, both in print and online.

And the next book is …

Mt. Hope Cemetery, October 2014 (c) Joanne Brokaw

Mt. Hope Cemetery, October 2014 (c) Joanne Brokaw

As regular readers of the blog know, for some time now I’ve been fascinated with Mt. Hope Cemetery – the geography, the peace, the history, walking the dogs there. It’s spurred my own genealogical research but also research into some mysteries and murders, locals ties to national stories, interesting stories about everyday people and just random weirdo stories.

I’ve blogged about my adventures in the cemetery and I’ve always been surprised by the number of people who are as fascinated as I am with the things I uncover.

Well, if that’s you, then you’ll be happy to know that my next book is a go, and it’s going to be about people buried at Mt. Hope! It’ll be published once again by Wordcrafts, whom I adore working with. Continue reading

Raising funds to cover vet bills for the dogs injured in the Add En On kennel fire

Screenshot 13WHAM FB page

Screenshot 13WHAM FB page; click photo to read the story

This past Sunday, a devastating fire destroyed local animal kennel Add En On in Mendon, NY. While some of the dogs and cats managed to be saved, sadly more than a dozen didn’t make it out alive.

Those who did survive and who needed medical treatment were taken to Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Services in Brighton, NY. Unfortunately, one of those dogs had injuries so severe he needed to be euthanized.

If you’d like to make a tax deductible donation (note that some of the crowd sourcing sites are not tax deductible) to cover the veterinary costs for the dogs who were injured, you can do through Rochester Hope For Pets. In the designation box, make sure you designate it to OTHER and specifically write in there that it’s “to pay for emergency expenses for the dogs injured in the Add En On fire.” The money goes directly to the charity which then disperses the funds as designated.

Make sure you designate your donation to help the dogs injured in the Add En On fire.

Make sure you designate your donation to help the dogs injured in the Add En On fire.

Rochester Hope for Pets is a local charity that offers financial assistance and grants to pet owners to help cover one time needs. It’s the charity I designated to receive my publisher’s charitable contributions from the sale of my books and I’ve also made donations – because I was a recipient of a grant when Scout died, which covered his final expenses.

And one last note: you do not have to take your dog to an animal hospital within the Monroe Vet system to have your expenses considered for a grant. That’s important to note. If you have a need and would like to apply, visit their website for more information.

50 thoughts on turning 50: #27 We are the sum of our ancestors, at least when it comes to fear

Turns out that if you scare the bejeesus out of a mouse, its offspring will be afraid of the same things.

Turns out that if you scare the bejeesus out of a lab mouse, its offspring will be afraid of the same things.

I remember, many years ago, watching an episode of “Touched By An Angel” in which the angel Monica is counseling a young girl brought up in difficult circumstances who is fearful that she’ll go on to live the same life her parents led. Monica assures the girl that just because her parents before her made bad choices in life, it doesn’t mean she has to follow in their footsteps.

“We are not the sum of our ancestors,” says the soft spoken Monica.

I wrote that quote down (as you know, I’m a quote junkie) and have mused on it often over the years. We are not the sum of our ancestors. Or are we?

According to a study out of Emory University, researchers have used olfactory conditioning to study whether or not fear can be passed on genetically to offspring. In other words, if your great grandmother had the bejeesus scared out of her by spiders, does that explain your own spider phobia? Continue reading