Friday, August 07, 2009

Lighthouses, Sea Serpents, and the Purple Heart

Today is full of observances, ranging from the truly noble - Purple Heart Day - to the completely outrageous - "Particularly Preposterous Packaging Day". Huh?*

As for the former observance, how does one turn from the horrific images of Hiroshima to a meaningful discussion on Purple Hearts? Except to say that it points out the flip side of any military's coin: military might can be used, like anything else in life, for good deeds and for bad.
“The Purple Heart is awarded in the name of the President of the United States to any member of the Armed Forces of the United States who, while serving under competent authority in any capacity with one of the U.S. Armed Services after April 5, 1917 has been wounded, killed, or died after being wounded. “ ~ Source: AR 600-8-22
It is an award that, according to the Military Order of the Purple Heart's website, is "available to all, desired by none". I know that United States military forces are the bravest, noblest warriors on the planet. They may not always make the brightest decisions, but then ... who does? Nobody is infallible.

In keeping with the American theme, today we also shine the spotlight on our country's quintessential beacon in the night, lighthouses. I have a special place in my heart for lighthouses because my mom enjoys them so much. I enjoy them quite a bit myself, as I enjoy anything associated with large bodies of water. The roots of today's celebration go back almost to the inception of our country's history - on the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Act which commissioned the first lighthouse, Congress passed a resolution designating this date as National Lighthouse Day. That took place 20 years ago on August 7, 1989. You can read the text of the original 1789 Act here. as well as find out a bunch of other fun info regarding America's lighthouses.

Or you could just go to the bookstore of your choice - or geez, how 'bout the library? - and visit each of our nation's majestic maritime guides in the pages of a book. (At Barnes & Noble you can do that while sipping a delicious Starbucks beverage. Just sayin'.)

Lighthouses fire the imagination so much with their stoic, majestic forms, so much so that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a beautiful poem about it: click here to read it.

While you're hanging out at a lighthouse, you might see a creature who also gets billing today: a sea serpent!
Also known as a Leviathan these mythical creatures have been feared by many a sea-faring crew for centuries. If the lighthouse inspires poetry, then the sea serpent has inspired reams and reams of data trying to prove it's existence. Ship captains spin amazing tales of their encounters with the mighty creature, but without any proof I think a lot of them got laughed at. One such story involves the H.M.S. Daedalus and it's Captain M'Quhae (as reported by Edgar Drummond, Lieutenant of HMS Daedalus):
H.M.S. Daedalus, August 6, 1848, lat.25 SW, long 9 37' E., St. Helena 1015 miles. In the 4 to 6 watch, at about 5 o'clock, we observed a most remarkable fish on our lee quarter, crossing the stem in a S.W. direction: the appearance of its head, which, with the back fin, was the only portion of the animal visible, was long, pointed and flattened at the top, perhaps ten feet in length, the upper jaw projecting considerably; the fin was perhaps twenty feet in the rear of the head, and visible occasionally: the captain also asserted that he saw the tail, or another fin, about the same distance behind it: the upper part of the head and shoulders appeared of a dark brown colour, and beneath the under jaw a brownish white. It pursued a steady, undeviating course, keeping its head horizontal with the surface of the water and in rather a raised position, disappearing occasionally beneath a wave for a very brief interval, and not apparently for purposes of respiration. It was going at a rate of perhaps from twelve to fifteen miles an hour, and when nearest was perhaps one hundred yards distant: in fact it gave one quite the idea of a large snake or eel. No one in the ship has ever seen anything similar, so it is at least extraordinary. It was visible to the naked eye for five minutes, and with a glass for perhaps fifteen more. The weather was dark and squally at the time, with some sea running.

I can tell you there is a LOT to be found on sea serpents on the internet. The most important thing I learned is, what makes the stories so fascinating are how different crews on different seas wound up presenting such similar reports. Even despite that some people refuse to believe they exist.

Here are a couple of the better websites I stumbled across:

The Museum of Unnatural History has a section on Sea Serpents
Mythical Creatures and Beasts Wiki

Zany Holidays, short, well-written article
Mister Anderson's Puppet Tales Company, for the kid in every one of us - I think this might be my favorite resource for sea serpent tales, due to the vast number of children's books listed here! Oh, and puppets! Who doesn't love a sea serpent hand puppet?

Today is also Professional Speakers Day - not that I don't want to include them, but frankly they're just not as interesting as say, sea serpents.

For more August holidays, from the mundane to the truly bizarre, please click here, or better yet do a Google search as there are many resources out there to choose from, I just like the one I created a link to the best as it seems to be the most exhaustive and the most legitimate.

*(It appears a well-intentioned Mom and Pop couple fabricated the latter holiday, and require a written request to use their invented holiday even for non-profit. As such I'm going to choose to pass right on over this one, but here's a link to their website anyway.)

**Lighthouse pictures credits: the South Haven, MI lighthouse (encrusted in ice) taken from Pixdaus website (I really don't know who the original photographer is, but it wasn't me) and the Cape Elizabeth lighthouse in Maine is courtesy Kawsar.

No comments:

Post a Comment