A Vision In Austria

September 22, 2012

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This story originally ran on October 1, 2011.  It was an enjoyable story to write.  I hope you enjoy reading it. 


April 28, 1888. 1:30 AM.
Gretchen blew out the candle, slipped beneath the quilt, and tried to go to sleep. She was exhausted from the work of tending to the party guests, but sleep would not come.

Instead, the vision kept returning. An infant being born into this household. The infant growing into a boy, and then into a man. The man assuming great power and bringing death upon millions. Her vision was quite clear. The man was pure evil.

Below her small attic room was the master bedroom, where master Alois and mistress Klara were sleeping. The mistress was with child.

Gretchen slept fitfully, unable to accept the message within the vision. The vision would recur many times, leaving horrible nightmares in its wake. Gretchen often awoke drenched in sweat.

May 24, 1888
Gretchen carried the tea to her mistress, remarking that this was a new variety from the market. Klara replied that it was sweeter than the ordinary tea. Gretchen was deeply disturbed by her own actions. She did not want to poison her mistress, but the visions were becoming stronger, the nightmares were becoming worse, and the message was crystal clear – the baby within Klara’s womb was pure evil and must not be allowed to live. She was being asked to intercede.

July 13, 1888
The house was in mourning after the miscarriage. Alois and Klara grieved the loss of their unborn child. Many had attended the funeral at the church in Ranshofen. The relatives had stayed for several days before returning to their own homes, leaving Alois and Klara alone.

During this time, Gretchen was the steady presence that Alois and Klara needed. She cooked, cleaned, and went to the market just as she always had. But she also comforted Klara, slowly bringing her out of the period of darkness until the briefest glimpses of happiness began to appear on occasion once again.

Two days after the funeral, Gretchen announced that they were out of the new variety of tea, and that the shopkeeper had not been able to get any more in stock. That afternoon, she discreetly discarded the arsenic. No longer would she be forced to poison her mistress.

July 30, 1888
The mistress had left at dawn to visit relatives in the Gmunden distict. Gretchen was cleaning the master bedroom when he came to her.

“You have been a great friend to Klara during this dark time. I owe you a great debt, Fräulein Gretchen” he began. “and I am a man who repays his debts.”

Alois looked into her eyes, and Gretchen knew how the debt would be repaid. She was filled with nervous excitement as he moved toward her. This was the moment she had longed for so many times over the years.

Gretchen fell back onto the bed, filled with desire and welcoming the advance of her master. He pulled up the skirt of her dirndl and within a moment was inside her. Gretchen gasped with pleasure as Herr Hitler’s seed was planted inside her.

How Did Your Ancestors Come To America?

March 5, 2012

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NEW YORK CITY- SEPTEMBER 22:  The Statue of Li...

How did your ancestors come to America?  Very few of us can claim to be descendants of the people who walked from Asia across the land bridge that is now the Bering Sea.  If you are, congratulations.  I personally can only claim residency for just over 100 years.  That does not mean that I have no relatives that live in America before 1900, I just have not found them yet.

My ancestors are almost all European.  That makes it a bit easier for me to track my heritage before the American experience.  I have found that I come from very average people, not poverty stricken and not nobility.  They left Europe to escape the wars, most of them leaving between the Franco-Prussian war and World War I.

There are all sorts of resources available to track your family.  To actually track where you come from is also available.  I am referring to the source of your family, hundreds of generations ago.  I participated in the Geanographic project sponsored by National Geographic.  I sent in a swab from my cheek and they traced my DNA to common sources.  We are all Africans at some point, but my common source is northeastern Europe in the region of Lithuania.

Is any of this important?  It is at least interesting.  In the long run, it is not that important as all of us are related.  We are all human beings, we all eventually have common ancestors.  Knowing where your family comes from, learning the stories, that is what is important.  You can learn more from the decisions your ancestors have made than from any book on ethics, morals, or self help.  You can also learn more about what real life is than the official histories of significant events and famous people.  The birth or death of someone in your own family has much more direct impact on you and you personal development than any politician, movie start or sports hero.

Besides the personal fulfillment that can be found in researching your roots, this type of study provides a cornucopia of ideas for writing.  These are events that are unique to your family, special as only you can portray them.  They are an opportunity to take some of yourself and become part of your past, sharing it with the world through the written word.

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Why Does Golf Only Have Four Major Championships?

February 28, 2012

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Harry Vardon, the golfing great from Jersey wh...

Harry Vardon won The Open Championship six times between 1896 and 1914.

This is a question I ponder all of the time, being a golf historian. First one has to remember that coverage of golf tournaments in the infancy stages of golf was done strictly by word of mouth, or an occasional coverage of a big tournament by a local newspaper.

Golf was also a game of few players that were considered Professional golfers in its early days, and many of the top players in the game were truly amateur players. Because of this, the majors consisted of the Open Championship, the United States Open Championship, the United States Amateur and also the British Amateur Championship.

Or should I say…these were considered the major golf championships if you were an Amateur golfer.

Robert Tyre Jones Jr, won all four of these tournaments in 1930. It was deemed the impregnable quadrilateral. Aka….the Grand Slam.

This gave meteoric rise to the term “Major” when referring to golf tournaments. It was basically accepted that these were the four Majors for amateur golfers in that day and age.

This past week if you are a golf fan you likely tuned into some of the coverage of the WCG Accenture World Match Play Championship. This tournament is a match play format, where competitors play head to head against one other golfer over 18 holes. Low score does not win in match play format, but the person winning the most holes wins.

In our “modern era” of golf, there are four recognized Major Championships. They are:

  • The Open Championship
  • The United States Open
  • The PGA Championship
  • The Masters

 Let’s look at each of these and why they are currently considered a Major:

The Open Championship

Notice it is called The Open Championship, only Americans have added the word “British” to the title.

The Open Championship is considered the first true major. Why? Mainly as it has been around the longest and at the time first played (1860 at Prestwick in western Scotland) it undoubtedly brought in the strongest field in a golf tournament being organized anywhere in the world. This tournament more than any other tournament is one of the reasons if not THE reason that golf really expanded and took off and became more of an accepted sport, and not just something done by the upper middle class people in their spare time.

Early players and winners in this tournament were most often club makers, ball makers, caddies, greens keepers people schooled in a combination of all of these professions. Also due to lack of people’s ability to travel, it almost exclusively featured players of primarily from England and Scotland in its first 30 years in existence. The first winner from outside of Scotland or England was France’s Arnaud Massy in 1907. This one gets in to the realm of major championship as it was the first to the dance.

The United States Open

The United States Open was first played in 1895 in Rhode Island. Immigrants had brought the game of golf from Scotland to the Northeast portion of the United States and it was a game catching on quickly among the upper classes in society. In the early days of the tournament, most of the winners had come across to the United States and were funded to do so with the sole purpose of claiming this title, and then returning back to England or Scotland, or in some cases the professional set themselves up nicely for a full time job as a club professional after adding this trophy to their fireplace mantle.

The first American to win the title was John McDermott in 1911, (previously all were won by players native to England or Scotland) but it was really the combination of the tours of Harry Vardon, culminating with Francis Ouimet’s upset win of Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in 1913 at Brookline that really propelled this tournament – and golf for that matter – into the sports limelight in the United States. This paved the way for the popularity of Hagen and Jones in the 20’s in the golden era of sports.

The PGA Championship

The Professional Golf Association Championship – or commonly referred to as the PGA Championship – was first played in 1916, after the formal creation of the Professional Golfers Association of America (pretty hard to have a PGA championship without the PGA,isn’t it). From its inception in 1916 up until 1958, this tournament was played as a match play and not a stroke play tournament.

Due to the strength of golf in the United States, and the initial origins of it being a more grueling match play format instead of stroke play, this tournament has really been considered one of the more important tournaments throughout its entire existence.

The Masters

We are all familiar with the Masters, but it is the new kid on the block. Originally called the Augusta Invitational Tournament by founders Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones. Gene Sarazen hit the “shot heard ’round the world” in 1935, holing a shot from the fairway on the par 15th for a double eagle. This put Sarazen in a 36 hole Playoff against Craig Wood which he eventually won. Sarazen was one of the more popular players of this era and this shot, coupled with the fact that it was Jones’s tournament gave this event all the steam it needed.

While Jones always intended this to be a get together for his golfing buddies, the tournament really became considered a major during the early 1960’s for two main reasons – Sportswriters became more enamored with “counting” major championships and television started covering golf with the rivalry developing between the golf fans of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus in particular.

The Forgotten Majors

 Back when the amateur tournaments were considered more along the lines of majors for the amateur golfers, there were other tournaments that were considered “Major’s” of the time for those who were golf professionals. I will mention three of them that were at least under consideration of being majors in their time.

The Western Open

In the United States, the Western Open was definitely considered a major. It began play in 1899 and just like the United States Open, the formative years of this tournament were usually won by players travelling to the US from England and Scotland. Many sources you will see will indicate that this tournament was not considered an “official” major at that time, but I would argue that back in the pre- World War II era of golf, nothing was really considered a Major outside of the four tournaments mentioned previously.

When you look at former Champions it is an impressive roll call, especially from its inception up until the 1950’s when this tournament started to go to the wayside and things at Augusta started to pick up.

The British PGA Match-Play Championship

This tournament was every bit as important to the European golf scene as the PGA Championship was to the American golf scene. The British Match Play started in 1903 and was played up until 1979. The event was sponsored by a newspaper – The News of the World, and in many cases when referencing the tournament it is called by this name and not the British Match Play.

This was the top prize money tournament in the British Golf genre, even more than the Open Championship. In the early days of the tournament, particularly pre-World War I, this tournament was assuredly considered a major by its participants and the players were without question the finest group of players on the planet year in and year out.

The World Championships of Golf

This was a tournament that did not have a long storied history as it was only played from 1946-1957. During that time however, it boasted one of the largest pay days on tour for the winner, and from 1952-1957 the winner of this tournament won the money title for the year…and by a lot.

The event provided one of the few showcases of its time for leading international players to compete against the best U.S. professionals, who rarely travelled outside of their country to play. The tournament got into a dispute with the PGA in 1958 and that essentially ended a short run for this high pay day affair for the professionals.

At the very least, the Western Open and the British Match play should be considered Major Tournaments for part of their existence. I won’t go into my personal feelings here in this article, but due to the strength of the fields in those tournaments and the perception and status those tournaments held – once upon a time at least – many of those wins should be counted for those players as major championships.

Today’s 5th Major?

In recent years, two tournaments have gained some momentum as being considered a 5th major on the professional tour.

The Players Championship

The one with the most following to make this happen is surely The Players Championship. Originally known as the Tournament Players Championship, this event started in 1974, moved to Colonial the following year, and then relocated to Ponte Vedra Beach Florida starting in 1977. It has been played at the TPC Sawgrass course since 1982 which is most known for its island green 17th that forces players to hit a short iron shot to a green surrounded by nothing other than water.

The field for this event is a bit more limited and includes almost with certainty all of the top 50 players in the world, under difficult conditions. The prize pool is enormous by any standard and this event yields a total prize purse of 9.5 million dollars as of 2011. It is also the tournament that seems to have the most tour players promoting it as a 5th major.

The Memorial Tournament

This tournament would likely fall just under the realm of the Players Championship, but is given a lot of credence on the PGA tour for a couple of reasons. First, it was founded and is still ran by Jack Nicklaus, who many consider the greatest golfer of all time. Second, the tournament is always played at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, which is considered an outstanding, beautiful and difficult golf club, and third it is one of only five tournaments on the PGA tour that are considered “invitation only” tournaments.

The course is usually set up unusually difficult, and the fact that Nicklaus has attempted to turn this into an Augusta like atmosphere adds to the psyche of the tournament. The main feature of this tournament which has been held since 1976, is that the tournament honors a past golfers who is forever enshrined in the annals of the tournament and a plaque featuring their inductions is permanently kept on the course grounds near the clubhouse.

What about the World Golf Championships?

The World Golf Events started in 1999 as three events, expanded to four events in 2000, and this year will be expanding to five events with the addition of the Tournament of Hope held in South Africa.

Let’s look at each of these individually:

The WGC Accenture Match Play Championship

In my mind this is a no brainer to be considered a major. It is the top 64 players in the world rankings playing head to head, and you have to win 6 matches to claim the title. This harkens back to the beginnings of golf when it was match play, this is arguably the toughest of any title to win in professional tournament golf.

The WGC Cadillac Championship

Has been previously under different title sponsors including WGC-American Express Championship and also WGC-CA Championship. This basically replaced the “old” tournament on the PGA tour that was held at Doral each year, so not sure that this one is elevated to the level of being considered a major in anyone’s book.

The WGC Bridgestone Invitational

Another one that used to be something else on the regular tour – basically the tournament stop at Firestone. Once upon a time this was called the World Series of Golf tournament, and while big, was never under the mention of being considered a major.

WGC-HSBC Champions

This tournament was added to the World Golf Championships in 2009, it has been played in China, so it often times get skipped by many of the US players due to travel distance.

Call it what it is!

I for one would argue that the World Golf Championships should have the World Match Play tournament recognized as a Major Championships. Why? The strength of the field is second to none, the prize money is larger than pretty much anything on tour, and the tournament is recognized around the globe, regardless of tour as a big event. You have the top 64 in the World Golf rankings so there are truly no fluke winners. This is the best of the best and a truly international field.

Time for us to put away outdated views of sportswriters from the 1960’s and earlier. Golf needs to do the right thing here and consider that the number of Major tournaments does not have to be limited to just 4, but instead awarding that distinction of those events that were or are considered to be the biggest and best tournament of the era in which they are played.

Until next time, Stay Classy Cruden Bay, Scotland!


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This Old Barn

January 22, 2011

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[Editor’s note: although Crunchy’s article about her attempt to save the barn in West Des Moines was the inspiration for the story, this is a completely fictional history. It should not be interpreted as a history of that particular barn, but an example of the legacy of all old buildings]

I’m an old barn, and they want to tear me down. I’m impeding development, they say. There’s no historical value in keeping me around, they say. Nothing special ever happened here, they say.

While I hate to be disagreeable, I must beg to differ. This old barn has seen a great many things is the years that have passed since I was built in 1932.

My history goes back further than that. I’m the second barn to be built on this land. In 1893, Paul Wright erected a wooden barn in the very spot where I stand today. It was in that barn that Paul milked his Herefords and laid the foundation for generations of Wright farmers.

Paul was joined by his son William, and the two managed the farm together for a quarter of a century. By the time that Paul was ready to retire, William’s own son John was ready to join the business.

In the fall of 1931, tragedy struck the Wright farm. Near midnight one October evening, the barn caught fire and burned to the ground. Most of the cattle were in the pasture – only a newborn calf and his mother perished in the blaze.

In the spring of 1932, construction began on a new barn – me. John Wright convinced his father that it made more sense to build the barn with bricks, rather than rebuilding with wood and risking yet another fire.

Convincing his father was the easy part – convincing the bank in the midst of the Great Depression was yet another. In the end, Frank Jacoby at Prairie National bank agreed to lend the Wrights the extra money to build a barn of brick.

I can still remember the first birth that occurred within my walls. The heifer was having difficulties with the delivery. William Wright was out of town, so John called upon his neighbor for help. After William was finally able to tie a rope around the calf’s leg, he and Magnus Jorgensen pulled the calf to safety. A short while later, the calf was taking a few tentative steps and nuzzling with its mother.

Young Carl Wright loved to play in the barn. When he was younger, he and his friends would make a fort from the hay bales in the loft. When he was a bit older, he shared his first kiss with Betsy Hill in a dark corner of the loft – undisturbed by the world outside.

A year after Carl and Betsy were married, Henry was born. I clearly remember a day in 1955 when the five-year-old boy brought fresh cookies from the kitchen to his father. One of the dogs – the little terrier – startled Henry and caused him to drop the plate of cookies on the ground. Little Henry burst into tears at the great tragedy. When Carl saw his boy crying, he held Henry in his arms and told him that everything would be all right. I could feel the love between father and son that day.

The youngest Wright to call the farm home was Keith. Keith never enjoyed the fieldwork or the milking, but he spent time around the old barn. He would tune in the old radio to catch the faintest of signals from the station broadcasting his team’s games. On warm summer days, he would throw a baseball against my brick wall repeatedly – developing the fastball that would land him partial college scholarship.

All good things eventually come to an end. As the farm income decreased, the bids from developers increased, and eventually the Wrights were forced to sell. I managed to hang around for a few years, but now it seems that my time has come – unless people realize that important history happened within my walls.