As we celebrate the art and life of Tomie dePaola, who died Monday at the age of 85, let’s discuss why one of his most famous books is also a frequently banned book in the U.S. Strega Nona is the main character in this popular series. Literally, her name translates from Italian to mean “Grandma Witch.” In the first book, Strega Nona practices white—or good—witchcraft. She helps the townspeople in Calabria, Italy. Strega Nona is a hero we still need.
The book is an Italian American folktale written and illustrated by Tomie, who was of Italian American descent. Tomie based his main character on his grandmother, Concetta. In the book, the aging Strega Nona employs Big Anthony to help her with her chores. Big Anthony watches Strega Nona cast spells. One day, Big Anthony attempts to cast a spell; however, unbeknownst to him, he forgot one critical part. No worries! Strega Nona saves the day.
The Winchester Mystery House (WMH) is presently closed for tours while we isolate for COVID-19; however, you can watch a 41-minute tour of the property. The video is entertaining with lots of historical perspective and facts woven into the story.
Sarah Lockwood Pardee Winchester (1840-1922) was a wealthy woman known for continually renovating her home in San Jose, California. Back East, Sarah was known as the “Belle of New Haven” and was a desirable—and wealthy—woman in New Haven, Connecticut. On 1862, she married William Wirt Winchester (1837-1881), the only son of Oliver Winchester, owner of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Tragedy befell the young couple. Four years into marriage, the couple welcomed Annie Pardee Winchester into the world on June 15, 1866. Forty days later, on July 25, Annie succumbed from marasmus. The couple would not have any more children.
Sarah and William’s marriage struggled. Sarah’s father-in-law Oliver died, leaving William to handle the entire business. Within a year after Oliver’s death, William died from TB at the age of 44. Sarah inherited $20 million dollars in cash, plus 3,000 shares in the business. Her daily income was $1,000, which would be roughly $26,000 per day. Sarah was a very wealthy woman.
Sarah sought to live near Pardee family members, choosing to move to California. The young widow, presumably age 41, purchased an 8-room farmhouse that sat on 161 acres in California. Sarah worked every day hiring contractors, employees, and gardeners to fashion one of the largest and most mysterious homes in America.
The Winchester Mystery House documentary does a decent job guiding virtual tourists around the property. An interesting fact: Sarah stood 4 feet 10 inches tall. Therefore, some of the strange or odd building features are built for a woman of her size.
Sarah had the financial ability to indulge in extravagances. She loved to garden; therefore, it seems reasonable that she would have 2 conservatories: One to the North and the other to the South.
She had 6 kitchens. However, a couple were used for her large staff. Between 41-43 people worked and lived on the property. It is said that Sarah paid her employees well above minimum wages.
The video exaggerates a few items. The series could have gone into the more plausible theories about Sarah’s fascination on renovating the house. For instance, there isn’t any historical record of Sarah being a member of an occult group or visiting a psychic who supposedly told her to build a house across the country to confuse the spirits of people killed by the Winchester guns. These are merely anecdotes.
The question people want answered is: Why? Why did she keep on building? We will never know. Nor will we know if the “Séance Room” (as it is called in the documentary) was actually used for seances. Only one person—Sarah—had access to the room. She sat alone in the room. Sure, the room is designed a bit odd, that doesn’t mean that she held seances there. In fact, it shows she wouldn’t. Instead, I proffer that the room was more for meditation and prayer.
What we do know is that she liked to build rooms and used the most expensive materials available. Her favorite stained-glass pattern was the Spider’s Web, possibly purchased through Tiffany’s. And, boy, there are a lot of stained-glass windows in the house.
Twenty-two years into the project, and the house was 7 stories high. After the April 18, 1906 San Francisco earthquake, several top floors became unstable and were compromised. Today, the house has 4 stories.
Thirty-seven miles from Dubai sits a small experimental town that has been reclaimed by the elements. Known as “Ghost Village,” “Old Village,” or “Buried Village,” this abandoned hamlet holds many mysteries.
Built during the 1970-80s, the town was conceived as permanent housing for nomadic tribes. The UAE (United Arab Emirates founded on December 2, 1971) sought to built towns for the Bedouin or Bedu tribes. One such town was built outside of Al Madam.
The “Ghost Village” consists of two rows of houses and one mosque. The colorful interiors contrast with the inhospitable sandstorms that push sand dunes into the buildings. The town gave way to nature.
UAE government agencies have attempted to identify who lived in this town. Unfortunately, there aren’t many people left to explain how and when the people fled. It is believed that the Al Kutbi tribe resided here. But no one knows for sure.
Dark tourism tours have popularized the town. Talk of an evil djinn named Umm Duwais inhabiting the town and scaring tourists out are making the Internet rounds. According to Arabian legends, djinns can be good, neutral, or evil. Maybe this djinn is good and is merely telling tourists to be cautious when entering the desert.