Want to buy an abandoned missile silo? Needs a little work

If you’ve got $380,000 on your hands and you’re looking for an unsual home, Zillow has just the thing — an abandoned Atlas F missile silo in Abilene, Kansas. It’s going to take a little work, since there’s water inside it that looks like it’s been there for quite some time, and there’s a lot of rust. But it’s got about 7,000 square feet of space, according to the listing — although only about 1,200 of that would be any good for things like bedrooms. It currently has zero bedrooms and one bathroom. Here’s what the entrance looks like:

If you want an idea of what your missile silo pad might look like if you fixed it up, look no further than this Wired piece from 2009 about a guy who did exactly that with a different Atlas F silo — which is also in Abilene, but the Abilene that’s in Texas, not the Abilene that’s in Kansas.

Bruce Townsley was up late one night in the mid-’80s when he saw an unusual guest take a seat on Johnny’s set: a nuclear missile base real estate mogul named Ed Peden. Peden lives in an abandoned missile base in Kansas and was invited on the show to tell Johnny all about his underground lifestyle. Townsley was hooked.

Using the pre-Google research librarians at the public library outside of Chicago where he then lived, Townsley tracked Peden down. And though it wasn’t until 1997 that Townsley secured his current property, the idea blossomed in his head over the years. After completing his fair share of conventional home remodels in the Chicago area, Townsley wanted a challenge to keep him busy for the rest of his life. So far, his silo property has perfectly fit the bill.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is missile_base_5a.jpg

Other Atlas missile silos have been turned into even more interesting things, including an LSD production facility, a scuba-diving training facility, and a research facility for exploring the colonization of Mars, partially funded by William Shatner. But the ultimate reno of a missile silo has to be this one, which is also in Kansas, just north of Wichita. It’s been turned into a luxury doomsday complex called Survival Condos, where a single-floor unit with everything goes for about $3 million.

The site says that includes “mandatory training” — on the indoor shooting range, no doubt — as well as “a three-year per person food supply, fully furnished and custom designed interior, special equipment for registered members, computer access to condo systems, and much more.” The silo has a swimming pool, climbing wall, full gym facilities, hydronponic gardens, and a built-in food store for residents. There are no windows, but each suite has electronic displays that look like windows, which the site says “simulates Life-Like outdoor views complete with varying light levels that reflect time of day.”

Owner Larry Hall is an ex-government contractor, property developer and doomsday prepper, with a master’s degree in business, who worked for a private defence contractor, designing the weapons database for an air force surveillance plane, and later moved into constructing hardened data centres. He bought the silo in 2008 for $300,000 and spent two years and $20 million transforming the 60 metre-deep building into a 15-storey luxury bunker for the wealthy. Units have reportedly been bought by Tyler Allen, a real estate developer from Florida, and Nik Halik, an Australian entrepreneur who has flown on a civilian mission into outer space and dived to the wreck of the RMS Titanic.

The stress-free charms of boating around Britain’s canal system

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1280px-Bugsworth_058069.jpg

Everyone seems to have found their own ways of dealing with COVID quarantine, whether it’s learning a language, practicing an instrument, baking a lot of sourdough bread, or doing Wordle puzzles. One of the things I got obsessed with for a little while — to the point where I was watching at least one or two videos a day, or letting them play on a second monitor while I was working — is what some call “narrow boating.”

That’s when you own (or rent) a canal boat and spend your days or weekends driving around Britain’s massive canal system at slow speed, just watching the countryside go by. They are called “narrow” boats because that’s exactly what they are — in order to pass through all of the locks between canals, a boat can’t be any wider than seven feet, and it can’t be any longer than about sixty feet. So what you get is a long, thin mobile home.

Continue reading “The stress-free charms of boating around Britain’s canal system”

What we talk about when we talk about Wordle

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, the game of the moment is Wordle — an incredibly simple game that Josh Wardle designed for his partner as a harmless amusement. It has since taken off, and I think it’s for much the same reason that everyone started making sourdough bread during the first COVID lockdown — namely, boredom and a desire to escape. If people aren’t doing Wordle, then they are probably knitting or making pottery, or they’re watching all the original Star Trek series episodes in order.

In that vein, I think one of the things that is fascinating to me about Wordle is how different it is from almost everything else around it — and not just games, but media in general. In fact, it’s the opposite of almost everything that falls into that broad category, in almost every way (with one important exception). As I said, it is incredible simple — you get six chances to guess a five-letter word. That’s it. And there’s only one game per day. And it doesn’t cost anything, and there are no ads, and it’s not an app, and you can’t buy new guesses, and it doesn’t spy on your attempts and then try to sell you things.

Continue reading “What we talk about when we talk about Wordle”

A monthly ‘zine of public domain treasures

In his day job, Parker Higgins is the director of advocacy for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and the former head of copyright activism at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. But on the side, he has a passion for public-domain content, so in 2019 he put together a project called 1923, which became a year-long ‘zine which he distributed — on paper! — to subscribers who funded his Kickstarter campaign. The archives of the ‘zine are available online now, and they are fascinating. Here’s what Parker says in the preamble/about section of the site:

The year 1923 has served as an invisible barrier for decades. For the first two decades of the 21st century‚Äîthe very time period that archives, databases, and collections were really starting to come online — the commons was cut off at that year; works published before 1923 were safely in the public domain, while works published in 1923 or later were risky and required individual research.

On January 1, 2019, the public domain resumed its march forward after a 20-year hiatus. Our cultural commons now includes a handful of very famous works: one of the most iconic images of the silent film era; the first book of poetry by e e cummings; a legendary novelty song that topped the charts for weeks. These well-known works got lots of well-deserved attention in January 2019 as they rose into the public domain, their copyright restrictions falling away after so many years.

Continue reading “A monthly ‘zine of public domain treasures”

Pictures from abandoned America

Abandoned Six Flags (New Orleans, LA) | Ozarka Splash Ride Start
The entry ascent of the Ozarka Splash ride at the abandoned Six Flags New Orleans

I confess I have a thing about photos of abandoned institutions — prisons, hospitals, amusement parks, shopping malls, etc. — and photographer Matthew Christopher has exactly the kind of thing I like: detailed and haunting shots of all kinds of crumbling churches and schools across the US. He posts them on his website, Abandoned America, but also on Instagram and Twitter. One of my favorite newsletter writers, Luke “Welcome to Hell World” O’Neill recently interviewed Christopher. As Luke put it in his intro:

You probably have your own local variations on the theme. Abandoned factories that made god knows what with glass hanging like jagged teeth in the windows after years of tossed stones. Town buildings left in bureaucratic limbo ripe for sneaking into. An old library with empty shelves or a squat little brick shit house of an elementary school whose halls echoed no children’s voices but our own surreptitious whispers. The “old firehouse.” The “old” whatever. Something was always the “old” something. A place where important things happened and now do not. 

 - Girard Theatre
The abandoned Girard Theatre in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; the roof of the former supermarket is visible in the center before the stage
Continue reading “Pictures from abandoned America”

One of the Founding Fathers tricked his way into creating a bank

Chase Bank - Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv

Thanks to the popularity of the musical Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda, plenty of people know the role that the eponymous legislator played in the creation of the United States, before he was killed during a duel. They may even know that he helped create the idea of a central bank, as the nation’s first Treasury Secretary. But what is probably less known is how his rival, Aaron Burr, had almost as long-lasting and important a legacy in banking — one that relied on assistance from Hamilton — but his began with a bit of misdirection. As this short history details, the result was what became Chase Bank:

In the late 1790s, following the new US Constitution’s adoption, New York City was enjoying a period of commercial growth and expanding population. These increases didn‚Äôt come without a price, however, and one of the most vexing problems the city faced was the lack of clean water. Aaron Burr observed the need for a healthy water supply and devised a plan to employ the local demand for water into a vehicle he could use to enrich himself.

He proposed the creation of a private company — the Manhattan Company — that would provide clean water for street cleaning and firefighting as well as the infrastructure for the project by laying pipes. Burr’s Manhattan Company ultimately won approval from the state Legislature. However, Burr’s plan was an artifice and a ruse. What he really wanted to do was start a bank; hence, just before his Manhattan Company was approved, Burr inserted a clause in the bill giving his company sweeping powers to use surplus capital to function as a bank.

After Burr’s Manhattan Company achieved incorporation, it quickly began to engage in the banking business and operated under that name until it merged with Chase Bank in the early 1950s. After a series of subsequent mergers, beginning in the early 1980s and culminating with the union of the JPMorgan and Chase banks, JPMorgan Chase became the largest bank in the United States

Neil Young, still not burning out or fading away

NYCH_Jam.jpg

I guess if you are famous for singing “It’s better to burn out than to fade away” (from “My my, hey, hey” off the Rust Never Sleeps album from 1978) you have to be pretty careful not to do either one — and Neil Young seems to be doing more than just about any other senior citizen (he’s 76) to avoid either of those fates, with the possible exception of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Willie Nelson (okay, Elton John and Bruce Springsteen are doing okay too).

Neil just told Spotify to remove all of his music, because they let Joe Rogan promote COVID misinformation on his podcast, which Spotify bought in 2020 for $100 million. And he also just released a documentary — filmed by his wife, Darryl Hannah — to go along with his newest album, called Barn. It’s called that because he reunited with the members of Crazy Horse, his legendary band, and they set up shop in an 18th-century barn on a ranch in Colorado.

It’s kind of amazing to watch Neil wail away at his guitar and harmonica, stomping up and down in classic Neil Young style, wearing ripped jeans and an old T-shirt, just like he did 40 years or so ago. And all the guys bang away at their instruments too, although they do so a little more gently than they used to, and they are a bit more hunched over. Maybe they forget the lyrics now and then. Still, kind of inspirational. Pitchfork’s review says: “Neil Young is standing on the porch, smoking weed, waiting for somebody else to show up. That’s the basic premise of “They Might Be Lost,” the strangest, loosest—and thus, the quintessential—song from Barn, his latest album.”

Continue reading “Neil Young, still not burning out or fading away”

Photo retrospective: Toronto in the 1960s and ’70s

The musician Mighty Sparrow, centre, was known as the King of Calypso in the 1960s and ’70s. This photo was taken at a barbecue for Contrast, a Black-run newspaper.

Toronto Life magazine has a fantastic retrospective of Toronto in the 1960s and ’70s, courtesy of a photo collection from Joan Latchford — a former nun who left the convent in the UK where she spent seven years, and returned to Toronto and bought a Hasselblad camera:

“Instead of paying bills, of which I had a number, I decided I would get something that I really wanted, which was a good camera,” she once said. She soon switched to a Leica, set up a darkroom in her basement, and started a photography career, knocking on magazine editors’ doors to sell her images. Her clients included the CBC, Chatelaine and the National Film Board’s stills division, which commissioned her to capture images of Toronto’s Caribbean diaspora. After her death in 2017, she left behind around 40,000 negatives, which she’d meticulously filed under categories like, “Men,” “Women,” “Children,” “Celebrities” and “Humour.” She also kept detailed notes: one of her phone books had B.B. King’s number in it.

Yonge Street, 1971: On summer weekends, Yonge Street would close off for pedestrians. “It was a cool time back then, when everyone would be out and about,” says Wilyman

The story of John Troyer, a legendary witch hunter in the 1800s

A fascinating story here from Rosemary Counter, who found out that an uncle was a famous witch hunter in the 1800s.

In the summer of 1829, in a sleepy Ontario sheep-farming settlement called Baldoon, the McDonald family found themselves tormented by their two-storey home. Without warning, beams would drop from the ceiling, and at night, the kitchen filled with the noise of marching feet. Over the years, the disturbances grew more terrifying. Fires spontaneously ignited. Rocks and bullets rained down on the house. Once, a twenty-five-centimetre hunting knife tore through the air.

By 1831, a desperate McDonald family realized they needed professional help, so the patriarch, John, travelled 200 kilometres—three days on horseback, riding dawn to dusk—to consult with a highly recommended healer. According to an 1871 account by John’s son, the diagnosis required gazing into a moonstone, which revealed “a long low log house” where lived a witch and the source of the McDonalds’ suffering. The witch took the form of a black-headed stray goose, and it was decided that, if they shot the goose’s wing with a sterling silver bullet, they’d at once stop her—which they did. The ghost never struck again.

Two centuries later, the Baldoon mystery reigns as one of Canada’s greatest ghost stories—you can find tellings and retellings in just about every collection of Canadian folklore. Less well known, perhaps, is the person who ultimately solved it: John Troyer, a man legendary at the time for his unconventional talents in herbal remedies, fortune telling, white magic, bloodletting, water dowsing, exorcisms, and of course, witch hunting. He was also my distant uncle.