Laboratory, Penn., an unusual name in itself and now connected to the “Beaman’s Laboratory” in Falmouth’s “Beamen” college, has an unusual variant name in Pancake. To remind, this Laboratory (there’s 1 other pp in US with this name, near Lincolnton, NC) was uncovered due to another listed variant name of Marlinsburg.
Of the 3 other US Pancakes, one exists in Centre County, Penn., a place name also mentioned recently (LINK).
Strange, Dear, but True, Dear
By Dick Cavett
September 11, 2009 9:30 pmSeptember 11, 2009 9:30 pm
We were living in an ice-house that winter.
(That sentence is not about a power failure, but is the result of my favorite high school English teacher in Nebraska, Esther Montgomery, who advocated trying for an arresting opening sentence in writing a story. I hope you are arrested.)
I could as easily have begun with, “It was an ice-house; and it had been inhabited by Franklin D. Roosevelt.”
Clarification: My wife and I had been offered a place to go on winter weekends to recover from the weekly grind of taping five 90-minute shows in four days on ABC. It was, in fact, a former ice-house on the property of a majestic old manse in, I think it was, Stockbridge, N.Y. Its walls were at least a solid foot thick and it belonged to the eminent Canadian actor Donald Davis, abroad for the winter. He had fixed it up into a cozy dwelling, surrounded by woods. Memories of older neighbors confirmed F.D.R.’s having used it as a sometime retreat for himself and a lady friend. (Unfortunately, the walls could not talk.)
You are about to have your credulity strained, on a topic in line with an earlier column. One that caused readers to send their own similarly bizarre incidents.
It was a bright winter Saturday morning and I’d gone into the small town to get the paper. Not having done this before, I realized in returning that I hadn’t paid attention and was not sure how to get back. I was lost. All streets looked equally likely, so I picked one of many for no reason.
I picked wrong, but that led to what followed.
In front of a schoolhouse there were a lot of parked cars and people milling around among tables, apparently shopping for whatever was on display. Seeing the words “Village Book Fair” made me want to stop, but for some forgotten reason, I was in a hurry. It was clearly a popular event but, sadly, there were no vacant parking spaces for even a quick inspection, so I chose, reluctantly, to move on. But suddenly a car obligingly pulled out right in front of me, and I pulled in.
Twenty or so card tables held a sea of books. Still in a hurry, I decided to check only the nearest table that chance and the exiting car had placed before me. Without looking at any titles, I picked up a clearly used volume, mainly to see the quality and condition of the books offered. I didn’t even notice the title, but let it fall open somewhere near the middle and read a passage at random, the (approximate) following words: “Harrison was disappointed. Montauk would not show its face for the fog, and he so wanted me to love the adored place as much as he did.” The author went on to say that they spent the week-end, fog-bound, in the old house on the mist-shrouded cliffs.
A glance at the spine revealed the book to be an autobiography from the 1940s: “Who Tells Me True,” by Michael Strange. “Harrison” was Harrison Tweed, an eminent attorney at the historic and prestigious Wall Street firm of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy and (chance again) a friend of Roosevelt’s.
I like to think that one or two perhaps elderly and steeped-in-literary-knowledge readers among you would realize that the combination of “Michael” and “Harrison” does not indicate a gay partnership. “Michael Strange” was the nom de plume of Blanche Oelrichs (1890-1950) — poet, playwright, actress — a bohemian woman of letters of the 1920s and ’30s who was married to John Barrymore for a time, and to Harrison Tweed for another. The daring lady had been known to startle the few neighbors in the remote area by the unheard of practice of going topless on the Montauk cliffs.
The McKim, Mead, and White historic house referred to in Ms. Strange’s book had been nicknamed “Tick Hall” by Tweed and his law-colleague fishing buddies — owing to the unwelcome presence, even back then, of the pestiferous local arachnid later notorious for spreading Lyme disease. The surf-casting weekend occupants of the house referred to one another as “Tick Tweed” and “Tick Morgan” and, quite likely, “Tick Roosevelt.”
Not an incredibly remarkable story so far, I admit.
Why the goose flesh? I had purchased that house from 91-year-old Harrison Tweed. Three days earlier.
Being a victim of innumeracy, I don’t know how you would calculate the odds against such a happening. In such instances, is there maybe something operating other than sheer chance? Does anyone know a good book on the subject?
A skeptic might begin attacking the almost supernatural quality of the thing with the picking up of the book. Even though in hoisting it I didn’t consciously look at the title, maybe in my deep unconscious I had somehow registered the title years before?
But did the same force make me open it to the only page that concerned me? Adding to this the randomly chosen street, the unexpected book fair, the unexpected parking place, the one table among the many — and I suppose you could add the double Roosevelt connection (ice-house/Tweed friendship) . . . putting all that together, you get odds comparable, I should think, to those against people foolish enough to dispose of needed dollars in the lottery. (I like the idea that only in a society “illiterate” about numbers could the lottery exist at all.)
What the hell is coincidence anyway, in its most astonishing instances? A subject worth pursuing at another time? Thinking about it fogs my mind, and makes me recall something that’s haunted me for years. It’s a koan-like thought from my class with the reincarnated Socrates of Yale, philosophy professor Paul Weiss: the idea that that, logically, there is no such thing as a possibility that did not take place. In what sense, then, was it possible?
And what, then, do you call things like my Tweed house incident. A possibility that was not caused?
Keep your answer brief, but pithy.
P.S. No more Burton teasing. Next time, including a hilarious story.
P.P.S. Could I buy someone in Philadelphia a season ticket to boo Michael Vick for me?
Close proximity of Tick Hall (Montauk, NY), Old Lyme, and Bloch Island, all mentioned in this blog now.