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Monday, May 3, 2021


Tearing Your Hair Out

by C. A. Asbrey   

The average human body has about five million hair follicles, but whilst they're associated with strength and virility in men, women have spent a large part of history getting rid of strategic parts of it in the name name of beauty. We don't know when it started, but we do know it was an extremely long time ago. 

It's also cultural. The Chinese have only recently taken to hair removal in areas which have become more westernized. They tend towards leaving body hair alone due to a combination of superstition and a belief that body hair is there for protection. And they're not wrong about the element of protection, but that hasn't stopped the rest of us plucking, tearing, burning, lasering or using electrolysis to rid ourselves of some, or all, of our hair.

The ancient Jews considered the entry into adulthood for females as twelve along with the appearance of two pubic hairs. For boys it was thirteen, along with the pair of pubic hairs. If a woman reached the age of twenty-four without producing the requisite number of hairs she was deemed incapable of reproducing. If the hairs appeared earlier, that alone did not signal adulthood, but the age alone did not signify it either. The child had to have the hairs, and attain the age, before the threshold was met. In reality, nobody really checks nowadays, but they used to. Records also exist of similar examinations in Roman culture too. How those hairs were dealt with was gendered. The women removed public and underarm hair, whilst then men did not. This was seen as not only more attractive, but was thought to be healthier for men to have sex with a woman who had removed her body hair. Women were also allowed to remove an facial hair. Men were forbidden to remove body hair in an edict against looking like a woman. The Talmud has instructions on kosher depilatories.

In an aside, Rabbis were forbidden from officiating if they were bald, had no eyebrows, only one eyebrow, or eyebrows which hung over the eyes.

The Greeks and the Romans had similar rules. Ovid , the Roman poet, urged women, "to groom so that no rude goat find his way beneath your arms and that your legs be not rough with bristling hair."

Originally, sharp shells and shark teeth were used, until the razor was invented. It probably came from ancient India about five thousand years ago, but we cannot be sure. We do know that women removed body hair in ancient Babylonian texts, as did Zoroastrians. Egyptians saw hair removal as a sign of status, with some removing it all, including the head. They replaced it with elaborate wigs, and a queen would also wear a false beard as a sign of her power.

Ancient Greeks saw anything below the neck as worthy of removal, and would have shared the shame of the Roman matron seen entering the baths in full bloom. Both men and women saw excess hair as low-class and animalistic, so they would both work hard to remove it using razors, tweezers, and depilatories. Pumice stones would also be used to wear away the stubble too.

Above the neck was another matter. Greek women loved a huge unibrow. The medical term is Synophrys, and they would paint them in, and even stick on dyed goat hair with resin to create the desired look. This look is still favoured in some parts of the world. Women and men in Oman and Tajikistan still see them as attractive, and a sign of fertility and good health. Those not fortunate enough to grow their own buy a herb called usma. They dry the leaves in the sun, and grind them up until they produce a dark sap which can then be applied with a matchstick.

In medieval Europe, the Catholic church encouraged people to allow their hair to grow, but to hide any from public view. This led to a trend for hairier legs, but balder eyebrows. Women either plucked them or shaved them off entirely. There was a trend for plucked and shaven hairlines too. In the Renaissance, statues and paintings showed men and women without the animalistic hair to signify class and elegance. By Elizabethan times the fashion dictated that eyebrows be removed as well as hair on the forehead. Eyebrows were painted on higher up than their actual site to make the long faces which were fashionable. The queen's hairline rose so much that women again shaved part of their head to emulate Elizabeth the first. Rumours persist that this was caused by natural hair loss in the queen, it didn't stop people copying her.

The merkin remained fashionable for a long time, right through the 15th century to the eighteenth, and in some specialist brothels, the 19th. The reason is counterintuitive. Shaving the hair off meant that there was less chance of pubic lice. However, in a world where venereal disease could not be treated, luxuriant hair was a sign of health - hence the pubic wig. It also meant that signs of disease were hidden. The merkin hid a litany of horrors, which men often took back to their unsuspecting wives.

The hairy body was celebrated by many men in the 18th century, despite a fashion in hair removal in the upper classes, who wanted to be distinctly different from their lower class contemporaries. Again, the hair was seen as a sign of animalistic appetites and a sign they were free of disease, and as such, hairy serving women were seen as fair prey to upper class rakes. Robert Burns, the Scottish national bard, wrote beautiful songs and poems, but he also created risque verses designed to titivate 18th century males at private parties. Whilst looking at historical porn and dirty poems may be seen as prurient, they really give us an insight into a mindset from the past, and Burns makes it clear that activities like 'mowing', finding a 'magpie's nest' were very much in favour. There is also currently debate about whether or not his writings depict rape, or were just wistful boasts of a performer. To the modern eye, the behaviours described are unacceptable. We do know that 18th century women had little protection, and even fewer rights. The Merry Muses of Caledonia certainly reflect attitudes of the time. Burns is currently being examined in a new light; but was certainly a man of his time, and a product of his time. He is therefore an excellent barometer of male tastes and practices of the time.

And we now come to the 19th century, and Darwin's publication of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. It popularised the theory that the less hairy a woman was, the more attractive she was; a corruption of the scientific theory, as it related to the reduction of fur in humans due to less hairy mates being selected. By the 1900s upper class women, particularly in America, were fixed on the idea that smooth hairless skin related to femininity. Sleeves became shorter showing armpits, and as hems rose, the need to remove of hair from the legs became more pressing. Especially as corporations saw it as a way to make money. A whole new industry grew up providing hair removal by a whole range of methods, and magazines promoted them, making money from the advertising revenue. The pressure on women to conform to a hairless template increased.

Harper's Bazaar (yes, you can blame them ladies) was the first to carry an advert for a razor specifically designed for women in 1914. Gillette's, the Milady Décolleté, was just a safety razor, but was more expensive than the male version, a trend which still continues to this day. Before long other magazines were producing articles about unsightly, and problem, hair. The marketing method is as old as the hills and still in use. Sell the customer a problem, and then sell them the solution.

By WW2 women were going bare-legged in Europe due to a lack of nylon. They painted their legs with gravy browning, and got friends and family to draw a seam down the back of their legs to create the illusion of stockings. To complete the picture, the legs had to be shaved. By the 50s it was normal for women to shave, just in time to prepare us all for the miniskirts and hot pants of the 60s.

A brief counter-reaction from feminists never really caught the public imagination beyond a few. It didn't with me, having dark hair and Celtic genes, which tends towards the hirsute and a thick head of hair. I got my legs lasered a long time ago and never regretted it. It wasn't long before easier travel saw people taking more foreign holidays and those bikini lines had to be perfect. The swimming costumes with legs, and even elbows, were long gone. The smaller they got, the more hair had to be removed. The regular wax, gave way to the French, then the Brazilian, and finally the Hollywood took it all away. We have gone full circle. Those Ancient Greeks and Egyptians would have approved. We are becoming more tolerant of people doing their own thing, and I thoroughly approve of 'live and let live' as a philosophy to live by.


     “So, you want to pretend you’re a Pinkerton? As a female?” His eyes darkened. “I’ve questioned one before, although he didn’t know who I was. They’re trained real well on being both sides of interrogations. You don’t want to do this. Not as a woman. He had a real hard time. You’ll have it even harder.” 

     She sat staring ahead once more, her face impassive and stony.

     “You’ve nothing to say?”

     Her eyes flashed. “Beating the hell out of me won’t change anything but my view of you.”

     Nat reached out and entwined a hard fist in her hair and dragged her backward until the chair balanced on the back legs. He brought his face close to hers, his hot breath burning into her cheek.  “Think harder, lady. This isn’t a game. Who are you?”

     Abigail felt the dragging pain at the back of her head as shards of pain lanced across her scalp. He held her, balanced between his painful grip and a clattering fall to the floor but her stubborn nature wouldn’t let her acquiesce.

     “Others will come after you, no matter what you do to me.” She darted her eyes to meet his, unable to move her pinioned head. “I won’t be the last.”


Paranormal...or a Warning? by Elizabeth Clements


Ross Creek Coulee is a wide, picturesque, windswept valley that winds around the high bluffs guarding the south-eastern sector of the bustling town of Medicine Hat, Alberta. Cattle graze contentedly, indifferent to the Iron Horse puffing by. Guiding the passenger train along the single track, Engineer Bob Twohey enjoys the bovine scene on this fine June day in 1908 while fireman, Gus Day, stokes the boiler. Shouting above the rumble of the engine, they chug around a bend from downtown, heading east toward Dunmore, their next stop. (Medicine Hat Museum Archives of early train)

Suddenly a train appears out of nowhere, racing toward them at breakneck speed. Thinking it a mirage created by the heat, Bob Twohey blinks and rubs his eyes. It’s not a mirage. We’re going to hit head on!

Frantic to brake his train, Bob yells a warning to Gus. The approaching train shows no sign of slowing. Too late and too horrified to stop the inevitable, the two trainmen cross them selves and brace for death. But there’s something odd about this train breathing down on them through a misty gray shroud. At the last second, the train swerves off the track and whips by them while its crew grins and waves at them in the tradition of C.P.R. trainmen exchanging greetings. The locomotive, with all the coach windows lit, careens around a bend and vanishes.

 Bob and Gus gape at each other. A ghost train? Shaken, but unable to fathom what they’d seen, they shrug it off as a mirage and continue down the track toward Dunmore.

Lightning is said to strike twice, but can a phantom train appear twice in the same spot? Several nights, later S.E. Schlosser and engineer, J. Nicholson, encountered the same unexplainable eerie sight of a locomotive barreling toward them on the track. Again, the spectral cab crew waved as they whizzed by with all the coach windows lit up. Schlosser thought he was losing it. Luckily for him, he was working with a different crew member. The engineer, J. Nicholson, had seen the same apparition as Schlosser had and was equally baffled.


“On July 8, later that summer, the same engineer, Nicholson, was heading east toward Dunmore. At the same spot in the Ross Creek coulee Nicholson was horrified by the sight of another train heading straight for him, but this time it was for real.” 

Some people dismissed this phantom train story as a tall tale that wound its way into a whimsical part of Alberta folklore—but there’s no denying the fact that on July 8, 1908 a total of seven people were killed in a head-on collision of two locomotives, derailing one and destroying a baggage car. According to this news item, it appears more than seven people died. “In the ensuing crash, both engineers, Twohey and Nicholson, died on impact. A fireman named Gray and a conductor named Mallet, both crewmembers of the inbound passenger train, along with seven of the passengers, were also killed in the crash.”

The dispute, therefore, hinges on the existence of the phantom train itself, not the collision. In my research I came across two conflicting but interesting accounts of who rode with Twohey during the first encounter with the phantom train. Was Gus Day on board with Twohey in the first incident with the train…or was it S.E. Schlosser? After pondering over the accounts, I’m of the opinion that S.E. Schlosser was involved with both encounters. In one version, retired crewman, Andrew Staysko related the event to a journalist in 1966 that it was Gus who first witnessed the ghost train.  Then there is train fireman S.E. Schlosser who claims to have been working with Twohey when they saw the train. He said Twohey was so shaken up by the encounter that he elected to not operate a train but instead work in the railyard for a while. Apparently Twohey was so superstitious that he even consulted a fortune teller who said he was going to die soon.  However, a few weeks later, he did return to his engineering duties on a different locomotive.

According to his own account, Schlosser was so spooked by this (second) encounter that he took up yard work for several weeks before he once again ventured out as a fireman on another train.  Gus Day, who was usually the fireman on that locomotive (that crashed), had been assigned to yard service and his life was spared.

 Here’s Schlosser’s version of that fateful day: “I was firing up an engine in the yard one evening in early July when the report of an accident came in. The Spokane Flyer and a Lethbridge passenger train had a head-on collision in the single track three kilometers outside of Medicine Hat, on the exact spot where the Ghost Train had appeared. The Lethbridge locomotive had derailed and its baggage car was destroyed. Seven people were killed in the accident, including the two engineers. One was my buddy Twohey, and the other was Nicholson.”

            In my humble opinion, I’m inclined to lean toward Mr. Schlosser’s account that he was the fireman onboard who witnessed both phantom encounters and was so spooked by the second one that he opted to work in the railyard. It’s ironic that Twohey had finally returned to his engineer duties only to die in a train wreck he’d envisioned a few weeks earlier. And J. Nicholson, too, had seen the omen of his death.

             Over the years, the story of Medicine Hat’s phantom train has appeared in various publications: newspaper articles, True West Magazine, and Barbara Smith’s “Ghost  Stories of Alberta”.  I first read about this tragedy back in the 80s when I bought Senator F.W. Gershaw’s excellent little book, “Saamis: The Medicine Hat”.

If you click on this link you can get a good visual of a train traveling along the track through Ross Creek Coulee together with one version of who was on board that fateful day. 

The Real Ghost Train of Medicine Hat - YouTube

 Picturesque Ross Creek Coulee is just a stone’s throw from my home. I’ve walked the path all along that long coulee many times where cows still graze and the stream still wends its way through the prairie grass. I’ve waved at the train many times as it rolled in either direction on its single track. But I never saw that Phantom Train. There are many more stories of ghostly encounters in Medicine Hat, but I’ll leave those for another day.

                                                                          Photo by Nicholas Clements Photography




Link for Diamond Jack’s Angel/Hot Western Nights Anthology




Sunday, May 2, 2021

Pivoting Can Be a Good Thing

 Post by Doris McCraw

writing as Angela Raines

Photo property of the author

As we move toward a less restrictive world, I wondered what this post would look like? Would what I did and thought about during the past year of dealing with a 'pandemic' have changed me? Like many, I questioned myself about how productive and creative I'd been. A New York Times article about Brie Larson, of 'Captain Marvel' fame, and her 'pivot', solidified the topic of this month's post.

First, I set some ground rules for this retrospective. 

1. Beating yourself up for not being perfect is not allowed

2. Apologizing for doing things you're proud of. It's not bragging

3. Passing judgement on others who chose a different path.

So having set the parameters, here I go.

I was lucky to continue working part-time from home and then when we opened the Visitor Center, I had employers who did their very best to make sure steps were in place to ensure not only my safety but the safety of those walking through our doors. At the same time, it did cut into some of my 'creative' time.

Photo property of the author

I chose to take advantage of not only my surroundings but to share them with others. I've always enjoyed the outdoors and this gave me the opportunity to get out, walk/hike, and take photos of things that caught my eye. Believe me, I have trails that are stunning within a mile to ten from my front door. I am so thrilled this year afforded me the chance to realize how blessed I am.

Did I miss seeing friends? Well, to answer that question is a bit tricky. I call myself a highly functioning social introvert. Given a choice, I would prefer my own company and that of my pets to the outside world. At the same time, when I am with people, I truly do enjoy it, I'm just tired afterward. I will say, Zoom, despite the ubiquitousness of that platform, gave me the chance to participate in conferences and classes I would not have been able to attend in a regular year.

Photo property of the author

What about creative endeavors? Without being able to meet and write in person, I spoke with others in my Thursday writing group and we pivoted to an online Facebook model that is still going strong over a year later. The first novel is not completely edited from the first draft, but it's close. Two others are also well along to having a first draft done. 

I started doing author interviews for another blog and I truly do enjoy sharing with others what these amazing writers have to say. 

I've also learned that movement and learning are important to me. I've dug deeper into history topics that excite me. I started learning Spanish online thanks to Duolingo that I started just as the pandemic hit. For those who wonder, I'm still doing daily classes.

Photo property of the author

I've realized what my mother meant when I was speaking enthusiastically about how I'd changed after I left home when she said to me "No, you just remembered who you were." For me, this past year has been the chance to get to know myself better and follow some dreams I've had for some time. I guess the 'pivot' was a good thing for me.

And for fun, as the 'Hot' days of summer arrive, sit back, grab a book, and enjoy the day!


Doris Gardner-McCraw -

Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Western Writers of America,
Colorado Author League,
Women Writing the West

Angela Raines - author: Telling Stories Where Love & History Meet

Post (c) by Doris McCraw,  All Rights Reserved