Our Man in Canada and the USA and Dicky’s Skull

I’ve had three weeks off to go on holiday to Canada and the USA. That doesn’t mean I’ve got nothing to blog about as I happily spent some time exploring the heritage of the places I visited. The EMP museum in Seattle was worth a visit. In the shadow of the city’s most famous landmark, the Space Needle, EMP has the most outlandish exterior of any museum I’ve ever been to. EMP is a museum of pop culture and its designer, Frank O. Gehry, looked to music for inspiration, specifically the shape of guitars. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it but at least it made the place easy to find.

photo by the blogger

photo by the blogger

Most Canadian and American museums charge an entry fee. This made me think about how lucky we are in the UK to get free admission to our art and heritage, a fact that I’ve always taken for granted. Collections in the Landscape is a project that seeks to improve access to the museum but I realised that just by keeping it free, we’re already miles ahead. The displays at EMP are concerned with music, television and film and are only a few decades old. This did not make the experience any less valid, especially if you are a big fan boy like me. Yes, that is Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet.

photo by Jacqui Hull

photo by Jacqui Hull

 Back in the early 1990s, Seattle’s most influential cultural export was grunge rock and my formative years were punctuated by the music of Nirvana, of which EMP has a great exhibition. The lead singer, Kurt Cobain, was famous for his cardigans and smashed-up guitars, some of which were on display. The 20th/21st century is absent from BMAG’s permanent displays and this was a timely example of how meaningful and exciting recent history can be.

photo by the blogger

photo by the blogger

Another of the city’s rock luminaries is Jimi Hendrix who spent the height of his career in the UK in the 1960s. His Carnaby Street fashions contrast with the “come as you are” wardrobe of Kurt Cobain. I was amused to learn that Hendrix’s sole condition for relocating to England was to meet Eric Clapton, that and the fact that he needed to get a passport.

photo by the blogger

photo by the blogger

It’s easy to think that the history of Canada and the USA only extends back a few hundred years and this is certainly true when it comes to the European settlers. However, it is important to remember that people have been there for much longer and that the indigenous communities have a rich culture of their own to appreciate. In fact, almost everywhere we went the horizon was dominated by totem poles, which are hard to ignore.

photo by Jacqui Hull

photo by Jacqui Hull

Unexpectedly, my greatest education of America’s history came from Spooked in Seattle Ghost Tours because they took us around the oldest buildings in the city and underneath them! The tour guide’s creepy stories ventured back to the days of the first European settlers, the Gold Rush in the 1800s and their troubled relationship with the Native Americans; subjects which aren’t usually the main topic of discussion. Their tour takes in the oldest restaurant in Seattle which has a haunted washroom (toilet) and you have to summon up some courage to “spend a penny”. If you ever visit, I highly recommend this tour. They also have their own “death museum”. http://spookedinseattle.com/

photo by the blogger

photo by the blogger

This brings me nicely back home to Derbyshire and the tale of Dicky’s Skull. There is a lesser-known old superstition in England that a skull found in a house should not be removed or else bad luck will follow; even illness or death. On the other hand, tenants who treat the skull with respect will find it a favourable talisman against misfortune. There are several examples near Buxton, including houses in Castleton and Flagg. “Dicky” has residence on the window sill at Tunstead Farm, overlooking the road that runs between Whaley Bridge and Chapel-en le Frith. Not only does Dicky get annoyed when he is relocated but when there are changes to any of the land nearby too.

Randolph Douglas collection BMAG

Randolph Douglas collection BMAG

There are conflicting tales that say who exactly Dicky was but they all concur that he was someone who was murdered. It is said that the skull was thrown into nearby Combs Reservoir and that all the fish died as a consequence. Dicky’s most famous victory was over the Northwestern Railway Company. They decided to build a railway bridge upon land owned by Tunstead farm which would have linked Buxton with Whaley Bridge. They were not aware of the skull’s power and the curse soon began to take effect on the building work; foundations which had been built collapsed on more than one occasion, one section of the bridge collapsed overnight burying all the workmen’s tools and the workmen themselves became ill. In the end, the company decided to put an end to the spiralling costs of going head-to-head with the jinx and decided to build higher up the line at Dane Hey. The story attracted so much publicity at the time that Lancashire poet Samuel Laycock wrote this poem in 1870 called “Address to Dicky”:

Neaw, Dickie, be quiet wi’ thee,lad,

An ‘let navvies an’ railways a ‘be;

Mon tha shouldn’t do soa, it’s too bad,

What harm are they doin’ to thee?

Deed folk shouldn’t meddle at o’

But leov o’ these matters to th’wick;

They’ll see they’re done gradely, aw know-

Dos’t’ yer what aw say to thee, Dick?

Randolph Douglas collection BMAG

Randolph Douglas collection BMAG

Happy Halloween from Collections in the Landscape!

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One thought on “Our Man in Canada and the USA and Dicky’s Skull

  1. Pingback: Our Man in the USA part two | Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

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