Friday, February 04, 2005

“Is the atomic weight of cobalt 58.9?”

The Movie: Ghostbusters II, 1989 (Harold Ramis and Dan Ackroyd, screenwriters; Ivan Reitman, dir.)
Who says it: Harold Ramis as Dr. Egon Spengler
The context: Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Ackroyd) asks Egon whether he thinks the river of slime coursing through New York City has anything to do with the world-domination plans of Vigo the Carpathian.
How to use it: When the answer to a question is obviously “yes.”

So the other day I walked downtown and got my hair cut at The Crow's Nest, which is run by a very nice woman named Norma McDonough. Besides styling hair, Norma is a Maine humorist and gives psychic readings. (This collection of skills seems to affirm my lifelong philosophy: "If you can't change your life, change your hairstyle.")

Anyway, Norma knows Gardiner. She filled me in on the plans for developing the downtown area, and was able to answer a lot of my questions about the town and its history.

I've already mentioned that I live across the street from the old Gardiner Paperboard factory, which has been closed and vacant since 2001. Before it was Gardiner Paperboard, it was the Yorktowne Paper Mill; it seems that there's been some kind of paper factory on that site since the mid-1800s.

A local history buff told Norma that during the Civil War, when the paper factories could not get cotton from the South, the mill owner imported a shipment of Egyptian mummies, to use the wrappings as rag content for paper. According to the story, factory workers unwrapped the mummies, used the rags for paper pulp, and threw the human remains into the Cobbossee Stream, where they were swept into the Kennebec River and ultimately out to sea.

You can imagine how fascinated I am with this story. In my non-existent spare time over the past couple of days, I've tried to find out how much truth there is to it, if any -- and I'll keep looking, but it seems that this may be a vintage urban myth. Still, it's true that mummies were sold in wholesale quantities for all kinds of commercial purposes during the 19th century -- Mary Roach discusses this in a chapter of her excellent book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. So this story is plausible, though I can't imagine anyone would admit to it now, even if the records still exist somewhere.

It captures my imagination. During the Civil War, the able-bodied men went off to fight, so the factory workers would have been women, children, and old men. I love the idea of them unwrapping these mummies, discovering amulets and scarabs within the wrappings, trying to convince themselves that because these were old and Egyptian they weren't human beings just like themselves.

4 comments:

Madley said...

What a great story... can't wait to hear what else you hear about the mummy trade!

Welcome to your new contributor -- and how'd Norma do with your 'do? LOL

AnswerGirl said...

Norma did a good job -- I'll be going back!

Anonymous said...

Well I have to admit you had & have my attention, well this really does answer where hollywood developed the idea for all those mummy movies, just so happens were egyptian by origin, if I stumble here again I will have to see just how much further you have gone with this, funny how the very birth of science fiction comes from something that really was at one time a true fact, happy trails, Bobby!!!

Anonymous said...

Just one more note, I don't believe I have ever wrote a note as an anonymous writer and then gave my first name at the end of it, nicely done, Bobby!!!!