Category Archives: Mythology

JOE MAGARAC: NEGLECTED AMERICAN FOLK HERO

Joe MagaracLabor Day weekend is the appropriate time to post this look at neglected working class folk hero Joe Magarac. This figure was the Steel Mill equivalent of Paul Bunyan and John Henry.

Though mostly associated with Polish-American steel workers in Pittsburgh, PA the general figure of a literal “man of steel” helping and protecting his coworkers can be found from the East Coast through the American Midwest. Sometimes the figure is Croation or some other ethnicity instead of Polish. 

Written versions of Joe Magarac and/or similar steel worker tall tales seem to have started around 1930 or 1931. Oral legends about such figures – but not specifically Joe Magarac – have been dated as early as the 1890s.

Vintage advertisements from tattered old newspapers indicate that such Man of Steel imagery may have been used for the steel industry prior to World War One. This “Which came first, the chicken or the egg” dilemma for Joe Magarac and other Steel Men puts one in mind of the quandary surrounding Billiken lore.        

Joe Magarac statueAs a lame play on words since this is Labor Day season I’ll present Joe Magarac’s origin and then depict his tales as “Labors” like in The Labors of Hercules.

BIRTH – Joe Magarac supposedly sprang into existence from a mound of iron ore and – depending on the version – that mound was either in Pittsburgh or the Old Country. Magarac emerged from the melting mound fully grown and spoke broken English like so many of the other Polish steel workers. He was called into being by the urgent need to catch up on production since the current shift had fallen dangerously behind.

Joe was 7 or 8 feet tall, his flesh was like solid steel, his torso was as wide as a smoke-stack and his arms were as thick as railroad ties. His surname Magarac meant “mule” in the workhorse sense, referring to his stamina. Joe’s appetite was such that he carried his lunch in a washtub instead of a standard lunch box.

Magarac’s favorite leisure time activity was polka-dancing and halushkis were his favorite food.

THE LABORS OF JOE MAGARAC:   Continue reading

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FOOL KILLER FORTY-EIGHT: JULY 1911

Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the many facets of Fool Killer lore. FOR PART ONE, INCLUDING THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT, CLICK HERE

Fool Killer grayPART FORTY-EIGHT: Some of the Fool Killer’s targets in the July 1911 issue of James Larkin Pearson’s publication –

*** J.P. Morgan and other “plutes” (plutocrats) who were buying up every news outlet that did negative stories about their abuses. In a way this started us on the path of our present-day situation in which bloated rich pigs like the Silicon Valley Robber Barons own all the news media and social media outlets to control what information gets out.

*** Smokers. Pearson and his version of the Fool Killer considered them stench-ridden, wheezing and coughing losers with yellow fingernails.

*** William A Clark, former Democrat Senator from Montana, who was disputing the tax assessment on his multi-million dollar property on New York’s Fifth Avenue. He claimed it was too high and wouldn’t pay it. 

*** Astrologers, astrology in general, and horoscopes.

*** People who drank, since Pearson’s bizarre puritanical crusade calling for Prohibition continued.

*** “It’s a bug-hunt, man.” William Benton Miller of the American Museum of Natural History, who was setting off on a 4-month expedition into North Carolina’s Black Mountains to look for new bugs for the museum’s collection. Pearson couldn’t resist joking about the undertaking and about its financier, Samuel V Huffman. Continue reading

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CHINESE MYTHOLOGY: YI THE DIVINE ARCHER

BALLADEER’S BLOG’S TENTH YEAR OF BLOGGING CONTINUES … 

 I.WHAT’S UP WITH YI?  – Yi the Divine Archer from Chinese mythology deserves to be remembered in one breath with some of the other great heroes and monster slayers from belief systems around the world. Most people are only familiar with his feat of shooting down multiple suns that appeared in the sky one day, but this article will provide a light- hearted look at all of his fantastic adventures. 

Yi is pronounced “Yee” according to some sources, but according to others it’s pronounced “EEE”, so you can insert your own Ned Beatty joke here. Continue reading

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FOOL KILLER FORTY-SEVEN: JUNE 1911

Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the many facets of Fool Killer lore. FOR PART ONE, INCLUDING THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT, CLICK HERE

Fool Killer timelessPART FORTY-SEVEN – Among the Fool Killer’s targets in the June of 1911 issue of James Larkin Pearson’s publication:

*** “The Four Hundred,” the contemporary term used for the moneyed and privileged of New York City. (Coined by Ward McAllister) Pearson and his version of the Fool Killer detested them and viewed them the same way we of today view the corrupt Democrat and Republican career politicians plus the corporate and Silicon Valley robber barons.  

*** Dancing schools. As I often point out, Pearson’s Fool Killer had qualities that would annoy BOTH the political left AND the political right of today. Many right-wingers would disapprove of their hostility toward the robber barons, while many left-wingers would disapprove of the strange religious zeal which lay behind Pearson’s hostility toward dancing and dancing schools, which he found “sinful.”

*** Husbands who did nothing but drink booze, play cards, smoke, swear and chew tobacco. Drowning was his preferred method of killing such men.

*** High Society women of New York, for their latest folly. It had become (very briefly) fashionable to walk the streets with a small calf (yes, a small calf) on a leash instead of the fru-fru poodles they had been walking with til the present. Today on Social Media we see that there are still imbeciles who will do ANYTHING just because they’re told other people are doing it.

*** Frederick Forest Berry, for authoring The Torch of Reason, because of the way Berry used reason to criticize religion and belief in God.

*** Danville, VA Police Chief R.E. Morris, who, after serving for 6 years, turned out to really be an escaped fugitive named Edgar Stribling (Pearson accidentally spelled it “Stripling”), a convicted murderer who had been on the run for 13 years. Continue reading

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THE INDEPENDENCE DAY “SPEECH” THAT NEVER WAS

Declaration of IndependenceFor the most part the silly conspiracy theories about the establishment of the United States are good only for laughs. One of my favorites, however, features a speech from a mysterious figure usually associated with Freemasons, Rosicrucians and/or the Bavarian Illuminati of Adam Weishaupt.

I don’t believe for one minute that such an enigmatic man showed up and tipped the balance toward ratifying the Declaration of Independence with a fiery, impassioned speech. However, I DO believe that the wording of that fictional tirade is pretty moving and nicely captures the feel of Independence Day.

Here is the relevant part. I’m omitting the ridiculous section where this mystery man supposedly made Nostradamus-style predictions about America’s future.

Independence Hall“They (the British) may stretch our necks on all the gibbets in the land. They may turn every rock into a scaffold, every tree into a gallows, every home into a grave and yet the words of that parchment can never die!”

“They may pour our blood on a thousand scaffolds and yet from every drop that dyes the axe a new champion of freedom will spring into birth. The British king may blot out the stars of God from the sky but he cannot blot out His words written on that parchment there. The works of God may perish … His words, never!”  

“The words of this Declaration will live in the world long after our bones are dust. To the mechanic in his workshop they will speak hope. To the slave in the mines, freedom. But to the coward kings these words will speak in tones of warning they cannot choose but hear.” Continue reading

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FOOL KILLER FORTY-SIX: MAY 1911

Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the many facets of Fool Killer lore. FOR PART ONE, INCLUDING THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT, CLICK HERE

Fool Killer picPART FORTY-SIX – Items of note in the May of 1911 issue of James Larkin Pearson’s version of The Fool-Killer:

*** Pearson’s Fool Killer figure targeted money-obsessed clergymen and pretended they wanted a new version of the Ten Commandments emphasizing profits.

*** The Fool Killer targeted the way so many corrupt millionaires were suddenly overcome with “medical ailments” when they were being investigated or after getting sentenced to prison time. 

*** In another of the surreal satirical bits which Pearson was writing more frequently, this month he had the Fool Killer encounter a medical abomination called the Composite Man. The Fool Killer visited the Rockefeller Institute in New York (called the Rocky D Oilyfeller Institute in Pearson’s odd stylistic blend of Frank Baum and Walt Kelly with Bullwinkle & Rocky).

              The reason for the visit? Our title character wanted to check in on the latest work on medical transplants. The doctors at the institute surgically removed the lone healthy body part on a variety of their most far-gone patients and sewed them all into a lone figure called the Composite Man and the Pieced-Up Man interchangeably.

              The Composite Man had the head of a preacher, the chest of a drummer, the heart of a lawyer, the stomach and bowels of a farmer, the left arm of a blacksmith, the right arm of an editor, one leg of a dude and the other leg came from a tramp. The competing portions of the Composite Man’s anatomy not only prevented him from accomplishing any one undertaking but resulted in him breaking into his component parts and dying within one day of his release. Continue reading

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HAPPY BLOOM’S DAY 2020!

jamesjoyceYes, it’s the 16th of June, better known to James Joyce geeks like me as Bloom’s Day. The day is named in honor of Leopold Bloom, the Jewish advertising sales rep and Freemason who is one of the major characters in Joyce’s novel Ulysses. The novel also brings along Stephen Dedalus, the protagonist of his earlier novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

For those unfamiliar with this work, Ulysses is Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness novel in which he metaphorically features the events from the Odyssey in a single day – June 16th, 1904, in Dublin. (The day he met Nora Barnacle, the woman he would eventually marry after living together for decades)

Bloom represents Ulysses/Odysseus, Stephen represents Telemachus and Leopold’s wife, Molly Bloom, represents Penelope. Continue reading

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SHUGENDO MYTHOLOGY: A LOOK AT EN NO OZUNU

En No OzunuRegular readers of Balladeer’s Blog know that I consider all religions to be mythology, which people are usually fine with unless it’s their own personal religion I’m examining. At any rate En No Ozunu is revered as the founder and most active mythical figure in the belief system called Shugendo, and in some offshoot cults of Shugendo as a virtual patron deity of ninja practices and ancient weather forecasting.

Practitioners of the Shugendo faith are called Yamabushi and their belief system fuses elements of Shinto, Ainu, Buddhism and Taoism along with features of shamanism and the ancient Japanese reverence for mountains, all of which are considered sacred ground in Shugendo. The ninja connection is very big in popular culture but actually the Ainu are more technically the originators of many ninjutsu practices.  

En No Ozunu supposedly began his existence on Earth when he was born to a mortal woman who was Continue reading

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FOOL KILLER FORTY-FIVE: MARCH 1911

Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the many facets of Fool Killer lore. FOR PART ONE, INCLUDING THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT, CLICK HERE 

Fool Killer HorsleyPART FORTY-FIVE – Of interest to me in the March of 1911 issue of James Larkin Pearson’s version of the Fool Killer:

*** A derogatory reference to a fool as “whiffledick.” Obviously that would not carry the exact same meaning back in 1911 as it does today, but it caught my eye. The target of the insult and the exact context cannot be determined from the copy of the issue I had access to because of too much fading.

*** The Fool Killer targeted an Illinois farmer named Reedy (no first name given) for authoring a study he performed which – Reedy claimed – proved that cows need music to improve milk production. Reedy had Oscar H. Bollman (We needed HIS last name?) install a Mason & Hamlin piano in the barn where Reedy had a professional piano player perform for the cows during milking time. Reedy claimed his 19 cows were producing more milk than any 30 cows. Celebrity singers were already lining up to sing to Reedy’s cows. I’m not kidding.

*** Bloated rich pigs who bought miles of land that they wouldn’t need. Continue reading

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IROQUOIS DEITY: ONHDAGWIJA THE MOOSE GODDESS

mooseONHDAGWIJA – The moose goddess. Onhdagwija wandered the forests interacting with and looking after the animals she ruled over. The most prominent myth featuring her depicts her falling in love with an Iroquois hunter. She assumes human form and begins preparing acorn bread for him in his temporary bark cabin while he is off hunting during the day. Continue reading

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