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              It was a blustery weekend in Muskrat Flats. The wind was conducting a symphony as the poplars bordering the vineyard...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"Tommy played piano like a kid out in the Rain, but he lost his leg in Dallas, He was dancing with a train!" The Butthole Surfers

There was quite the commotion in the center of town, yesterday as most of the local gentry wandered out to participate in Silver Days, the annual event which marks the incorporation of the town Muskrat Flats. As always when there was a commotion in the Flats, it usually happened in grand form, with a large audience.

Silver was the precious metal which brought this town together. When the silver was discovered folks traveled from far and wide to get a piece of the action. Before anyone knew it, the work camps turned into rooming houses and apartments. The moonshine still turned into a saloon where two-bits would get you drunk as well as enjoying the comforts of one of the ladies upstairs.

Then, there was the mercantile set up by the owners of the mine, the appropriately named Silverstein Brothers. How unlikely that they would find their fortune in a product spelled out so clearly in their last name. The mercantile was the company store. You could purchase items on future earnings from your paycheck. How convenient.

Further down the road was the forge built by Mordecai Donaldson the blacksmith, right next to Addie Johnson's Cooperage and Sabatier and Yves' Livestock and Feed. All of these buildings have been preserved and presently function as part of the Muskrat Flats Agricultural Archive and Farm Museum.

The information which is unavailable to the tourists is that the actual archival documents themselves, are filed in the same location which once housed the opium den run by the Chang sisters Chen Mei and Beatrice (she changed her name). That house of ill repute was felled one night in 1864, as well as the saloon . They were both firebombed by the zealots in the local temperance movement from the First Congregational Church. Also a victim to the self righteous zealotry that night was the Buddhist shrine frequented by the Chinese laborers. Muskrat Flats wasn't always as forward a thinking and progressive place we now know it to be. The saloon was rebuilt. However the Civil War era invention of the hypodermic needle and a quick visit to local apothecary for some morphine was quickly rendering the need for smoking opium obsolete.

The crown jewel of this boom in the formation of the town Muskrat Flats was finalized when the railroad came through, and a brand new ornate railroad station was constructed in the Victorian style of architecture, in the center of town. The Railroad station, has been refurbished. Long ago the trains stop running through Muskrat Flats. But the Station has been preserved none the less with the most modern and up-to-date amenities inside, still it is an ornate and opulent reminder of the gilded and exciting age in which it was constructed. The main focal point of the Farm Museum boasts an exterior you would not expect from a town named Muskrat Flats.

In 1865, shortly after the saloon was rebuilt, the Sheriff of Muskrat Flats, a fair minded man who had a penchant for the practical joke and notorious lip for the bourbon set into motion the plans for what would become Silver Days. Sheriff Coleman Hawthorne III was a Beacon Hill bred and Harvard educated lawyer. He was a visionary who liked to make money and he knew he could make more money as a wheeling and dealing sheriff of a frontier town than as a partner in a Boston law office. He would have made a fine president for the growing Union, had it not been for his hedonistic ways. Besides, being Sheriff was infinitely more exciting and molded to the lifestyle he chose to live.

People looked to him oddly when he went with the Victorian Style for the new transportation center in town. But that was his style. He needed a draw. He knew that importing people into your town from the surrounding area was a very effective method of relieving them of their hard earned cash.

It was a surprise to no one that Sheriff Hawthorne had a fondness for Mark Twain, one of the greatest contemporary writers and humorists of the day. Silver Days would be a celebration of every day life in Muskrat Flats. This every day life almost seemed as if it had been written by Twain himself. Paying homage to Twain, The first Silver Days featured a Calaveras County style Jumping Frog Contest as well a life sized chess match with human pieces dressed as Connecticut Yankees versus the traditional chess pieces adorned with a Camelot Flair.

The modern day celebration re-enacts both of these events as well as a re-creation of reading of the articles of incorporation for Muskrat Flats and the declaration of Silver Days as delivered by Sheriff Hawthorne, dressed as he was that day, back in 1865, as Mark Twain.

The pageantry also includes one of Hawthorne's most notorious and public pranks, the nailing of Deputy Sheriff Waldo Robertson's pants hem to a railroad tie. As Robertson sat in his chair below the main grandstand, drunk and distracted, by one of the ladies from the Double Life Saloon, the deputy was an easy target for his mischievous superior, as he had an acquaintance nail the deputy's pants leg to a railroad tie. Although he was drunk and distracted Robertson knew that he was among the Muskrat Flats elite who had to get up and move to allow a steam locomotive to make a pass through the station at high noon. History tells us as everyone else got up to move at the appointed time. The deputy flopped onto the tracks and became somewhat hysterical as he realized his predicament and the slow moving train bore down upon him. He managed to free himself in time, much to the delight of the laughing masses.

This year's celebration was one of the finest to date. Judge Evelyn Thompson's wife, once again won the blue ribbon in both the landscaping design competitions as well as in the competition for best homemade fruit pie. A myriad of foods were available, most of which were fried. Some of them have no business going into a fryer in the first place such as batter dipped chocolate bars, and cheesecake. A daily farmer's market featuring local organic produce brought a healthy alternative for the more discerning palate. Along with these foods was the Midway staffed by lecherous carnies hawking their rigged games of chance and their amusement park type rides lashed together with bungee cords and stressed out cotter pins.

The Odd Fellows hosted their annual land preservation trust fund raiser, The Muskrat BBQ featuring fire roasted chicken, skillet potatoes, corn on the cob with cilantro lime butter and mounds of Potato Salad, Broccoli Slaw, and Strawberry Shortcake and of course a large colorful caricature of a barbecued muskrat. Their dinner is always a hit.

Saturday night witnessed a performance by the jam band, PRY. During their set Waldo the Ill Tempered did his famous donkey trick.The trick entails Waldo mounting a lively donkey (not like that, you weirdo) Then, as the band played Mexicali Blues, Waldo dug in his spurs and the donkey began to gallop around in a corral. Then, a large cloud of dust was kicked up as Waldo brought the donkey to a sudden stop. When the dust cleared, two donkeys were in the corral, much to the delight of the crowd. He did this one more time and this time a baby donkey appeared ... awwwwwwww.

Waldo demonstrated what his donkeys did best as he also regaled the crowd Sunday afternoon with 6 1/2 innings of Donkey Baseball as his Ill Tempered Radicals defeated a team made of up local celebrities 6-5. But that spectacle wasn't as entertaining as the one that had occurred the previous afternoon.

The mayhem began during the re-creation of the reading of the articles of incorporation. The Hibernian Flat Landers had just finished playing their drums and pipes. They were quite a sight, Tie dyed t-shirts and tartan kilts are not the softest color combination on the eyes. providing the entertainment previous to the re-enactment of the Sheriff's Silver Days Declaration.

One of the pipers, James Benoit, he would call himself "Benwah ... you know, like the balls," was playing the part of Deputy Robertson. Anyway, Benwah was a little more inebriated than Deputy Robertson was so many years ago. His breakfast had consisted a shot of Irish Whiskey, and a pint of Guinness with a raw egg cracked into it. His mid morning snack was another couple of shots followed by another couple of pints of the dark stout. He needed to grease the skids a little when he was going to be piping. Perhaps he used a little too much grease. This was apparent as he stumbled and staggered trying to get into his Deputy Robertson outfit, repeatedly mis-stepping into the baggy brown Dickies.

His reddish complexion reflected the midday sun like a mirror as he finally lounged in his chair. As onlookers gathered around, he was vaguely aware of the goings on behind him, more concerned with his fellow Flat Landers who were enjoying the joke of his drunkenness just as much as he was and trying to get him to crack up during the re-enactment of the ceremony.

The speech was finished and the steam locomotive, parked about 300 yards away blew it's whistle and began to pick up steam for it's stop at the station and a scenic ride around the perimeter of the Flats ... the inaugural run of the newest attraction at the Farm Museum, a working steam locomotive.

The Hibernians were obviously distracted and didn't notice everyone else getting out of the way as the locomotive began moving toward them as they continued to taunt Benwah. They moved back and let him do his thing. He got up, stumbled and fell and wouldn't you know Benwah really got his pant leg caught in one of the railroad ties. As quickly as he began his part on the re-enactment, it turned into a life and death struggle. He was screaming and hollering for help and everyone just laughed and guffawed along with the joke. It wasn't until the train was dangerously close that onlookers realized he really was stuck and hysterically trying to free himself.

As the train bore down on him, the conductor was getting anxious, he knew he was supposed to move, "he should have moved by now." He thought. The conductor had already eased up on the throttle and began braking but there was only so much he could do about the momentum he had.

One of the Hibernians leaped across the tracks and tackled Benwah. His pants ripped away as if they had been designed to do just that. They missed getting hit by the train but fell upon the table where a majority of the Flat Landers had laid their pipes. Both of their bodies crashed on to the table and pipes. As the residual air in the bags was released two things happened. An awful droning whine could be heard followed by the sharp rap of wood hitting bone and flesh as the once flaccid air sacs tightened up and whipped the resting drone pipes to a horizontal position hitting Benwah square in the face as he and his rescuer crashed to the ground.

There were gasps of horror, but just as it had been 143 years ago with Deputy Robertson, the gasps of horror were quickly drowned out by raucous laughter. Yes another one for the history books folks. Just another day in Muskrat Flats. Sheriff Hawthorne would have been proud.

"With the Hail on my back like a shotgun blast." - You will always find me ...

Running Hard out of Muskrat Flats.


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