A mustard morning

I visited the National Mustard Museum this morning in Middleton, WI, and tomorrow I will tour the Moist Towlette Museum in Dimondale, MI. You guessed it!  I am on a wacky museum and world’s largest things tour of the Midwest.   I have no time right now to digest all I have seen, but the details will appear in installments on my blog in the coming weeks.   Subscribe to be notified.



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In case you were wondering….

It’s in Ohio:


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This might be the smallest old gas station I’ve come across.  It’s in Broad Brook, a tiny community in north central Connecticut.  To see my whole collection of old gas stations in the U.S., go here.


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What’s a Willfest?

It’s pretty hard to write this without embarrassing myself, but here goes:

I’ve lived in Florida since 1976.  I’m not a native, of course, but it’s been long enough that I should know a fair bit about the state.

I thought I did.

But I had never heard of Will McLean.

Maybe it’s because I’ve lived down on the southeast coast, where things are more urban than the rest of the state and one is way less likely to rub shoulders with native Floridians than up in the central and northern areas.

Because Will McLean and his legacy are way more popular in the ‘real’ Florida parts of the state than the ‘full of transplants’ portions, where he is likely an unknown.

Turns out that  McLean (1919-1990) was an influential Florida folk singer-songwriter.  He was prolific, credited with authoring more than 3,700 songs and stories, and he was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 1996.

Called the “Father of Florida Folk” and  the “Black Hat Troubadour,” McLean chronicled


Photo of Will McLean from festival website

the folk stories of Florida and lived the folk life as well.

“We know about Cebe Tate and his week in the swamp. We know about Acre-Foot Johnson and his mail. We know about the hog-hunting burro of Wewahitchka, geese on the wing and the terrifying wild hog of Gulf Hammock.

“We know the fear as hurricane winds whipped Lake Okeechobee in 1928 to kill thousands in graves of mud. We know this thanks to Will McLean,” one newspaper reported.

“McLean was a troubadour in the traditional sense: a musician/storyteller traveling town to town with evenings of song and stories in exchange for food and shelter. Sometimes, friends said, he would wear out his welcome. So when he couldn’t find a couch, he’d camp; Gore’s Landing along the Ocklawaha River south of Fort McCoy was a favorite place to park his VW mini-bus and stay a week or two.

“‘As long as he had a hook for fishing, a bag of potatoes, he was happy,’ one friend said.”

Born in Chipley, he spent his life finding slivers of Florida lore and preserving them in song and story, voicing them in his resonant, barrel-deep baritone.

“My grandfather must have told me 10,000 stories about Florida, all of them true,” McLean said in 1985.

McLean photos, records, songbooks, harmonicas and videos of his performances at the annual Florida Folk Festival are archived at the College of Central Florida in Ocala.

“He’s one of the informal historians who’s preserved much of Florida heritage,” said Dr. Ron Cooper, a professor of humanities there.

So how did yours truly finally find out about him, you might be wondering.  Like most of the things I discover, I was driving along a rural road.  It was this past March, on my way home after some paddling with a few New York acquaintances over on the west coast of Florida.

I saw this unassuming sign along the road.  What’s a Willfest?IMG_2556c  From the quality of the sign I guessed it might be an upscale garage sale.

So I followed the arrows.  I ended up at the  Sertoma Youth Ranch in rural Brooksville, the site of the annual Will McLean Music Festival, a three-day affair for young folk singers and songwriters and other folks who want to enjoy a fun weekend camping out and listening to great folk music.  It features music workshops, jam sessions, craft and food vendors, continuous live performances on four different stages, and a Best New Florida Song contest.  Sponsored by the Will McLean Foundation, it draws about 3,000 devotees.

I didn’t know all that as I drove down a narrow dirt road that Saturday afternoon and pulled up to a gentleman standing outside a small building that looked like a cross between a guard shack, ticket booth and concession stand.

I was ready with the stupidest question he’d probably heard all weekend:

“What’s a Willfest?” I asked.

It’s about Will McLean the musician, he said through a big grin.

The festival’s facebook page says the 2018 event will be March 9-11.  It’s already on my calendar.

And no, Will McLean is not related to Don McLean of ‘American Pie’ fame.



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Another one right under my nose

In all my years of taking photos of recycled gas stations IMG_3013caround the country I am always amazed when I find one that’s been right under my nose the whole time.  This one, now home to a monument company, is right here in Manchester, CT, a town I’ve been visiting yearly since even before this gas station project began.


IMG_3015cGo here to see the rest of my gas station collection.

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That’s a new one on me

It’s not often I happen upon a religion I haven’t heard of before, but I did yesterday, in rural Royalston, Massachusetts, of all places.

I was on my way back from my second paddle of the Northeast season.  I went out a week ago in sunny 80-degree weather, but yesterday’s paddle was bit harsher, lower 50’s and cloudy.

But with only a slight breeze and no rain it was a nice time to explore the nooks and crannies of Tully Lake, a Corps of Engineers impoundment in the north central part of the state.  You can see from the photo below that we were bundled up a bit.

On to the religion.  “Vale Do Amanhecher” proclaimed the sign in front of a churchy looking building along  two-lane (no line in the middle) South Royalston Road.  ThereIMG_2875c was no one there on that Saturday afternoon, just the building, which probably started life as another, more mainstream denomination, and a parking lot.

Not the typical Baptist or Methodist establishment, I suspected, so I snapped a few photos and planned to do so some internet research later on, figuring there might be a tale to tell.

There is a tale, that’s for sure.  Lots of it in Portugese.  I rely heavily on a Wikipedia page, which carried this cautionary note:


Vale do Amanhecer or in English, Valley of Dawn, is indeed a religious community.  It was conceived in Brazil by a female ex-truck driver and medium, Tia Neiva, born Neiva Chaves Zelaya, who died in 1985.  In 1969 it was established in its present location, called The Valley, in the city of Planaltina, about 31 miles from Brazilia.  Its official language is Portuguese.  Tia Neiva was the first female truck driver in the country, by the way.

There are approximately 500 residents, many of whom, according to the official web site, are abandoned children taken in by Tia Neiva.  Followers number in the tens of thousands.

The focal point of the community is the Temple of Dawn, built of stone. At the back of the elliptical-shaped temple there is an enormous statue of Pai Seta Branca (“Father White Arrow”), the pre-Columbian spirit who allegedly began to talk to Tia Neiva in 1957 and to guide and aid her and her followers in the creation of the doctrine, the Temple and, eventually, the Valley. He is always depicted as a nice-looking, young, strong, South American native man, wearing a blue tunic, a long, feathered headdress and leather sandals and holding a white arrow.

Here’s where it gets fun:  The church doctrine appears to be a mashup of christianity, spiritism, mysticism, afro-brazilian religions, ancient egyptian beliefs and flying saucers.  All bases seem covered, that’s for sure.

Two kinds of people are found in the Valley of Dawn: Mediums and Visitants (also called patients).  Between three and four thousand people visit the Valley every day seeking help for their spiritual or personal problems.

The Mediums wear special robes with bright colours. Most of them are considered the reincarnation of an extraterrestrial giant people, “the Equitumans,” who supposedly landed on the Earth 32,000 years ago, and later returned in successive reincarnations in various civilizations.  In establishing The Valley on Earth, Tia Neiva was following theIMG_2877c orders of the supreme commander, none other than Pai Seta Branca, the statuary fellow in the Temple, who seems to be an amalgam of several indigenous figures, Incan and American-Indian, and is also known to be the reincarnation of Francis of Assisi.

How all of this tentacled itself into a small church building along a two-lane road in rural Royalston, Massachusetts, I have no idea.  There’s another in Marietta, Georgia, for a total of two in the U.S.  There are single outposts in England, Trinidad, Bolivia and Guyana, along with four in Portugal, a more understandable place to colonize, given the language.

For way more information about this than you probably want,  there are numerous You Tube videos, a website, a facebook page this scholarly treatise from 2011 and this history from the World Religions and Spirituality website.  Your Portuguese will come in handy for all but the latter two.

And while I’m onto religion, check out the Church of the Double Bladed Paddle.


On Tully Lake in north central Massachusetts (Photo by David Hannam)





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When you’ve got at itch…it’s nice to have Mom handy

A young wood stork gets an itch scratched by an attending parent out at the Wakodahatchee Wetlands.  The place is overrun with wood storks, their nests and their babies right now.IMG_2671c

The anhingas come in a far second in nesting space occupied, with the blue herons, green herons, tri-colored herons, glossy ibis and egrets lodged in whatever nooks and crannies they can find.

It’s a popular place this winter, so be prepared to wait for a parking spot.  More photos below:


If you want to see all my other ‘itch’ photos, just put the word ‘itch’ in the search box, upper right.

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