Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Gudrun Ingvarsdottir, Icelandic immigrant, 
likeness carved
in one side of sperm whale tooth.
Washington Island -

Several weeks ago, at a meeting of the Washington Island Archives, Archivist Janet Berggren brought to our attention a carving inside a glass case. This item had been passed along from the Island Library, where it had been on display for a number of years.  
No one seemed to immediately know what it was, or its significance, although a hand-lettered label on card stock inside the box said, "To Icelanders of Washington Island from the Icelandic Association of Chicago."
The glass case, approximately 16 inches high by one foot square, held what appeared to be a carved sperm whale tooth, mounted on a wooden base with descriptions of the two carved figures, one on either side, inscribed in brass plates fastened to the wooden base. On one side: Gudmunder Gudmundsson 1840-1938. On the opposing side:  his wife (we assume) Gudrun Ingvarsdottir (1842-1940).
This carving was placed on a piece of what appeared to be a square of dark sheepskin, wool side up, of a very dark brown color, shades of which are found among some Icelandic sheep.
[As I write this, I've strained to see more closely their respective dates of birth and death, and I can hardly believe they both lived to 98 years of age!  That will require additional checking to see if my eyes are correct.] 
Gudmunder Gudmundsson, whose two sons,
Tom and Albert, chose
last names Goodman and Goodmander.
The glass case was secured with a light, brass hasp, but to ensure no one messed with the carving, a hardened padlock was snapped in place.  A key for the lock could not be located.

The following week I brought a hacksaw to the Archives in an attempt to cut through the lock.  No dice.  It took a bolt cutter to do the job.  Once the carving could be examined more closely, it did indeed appear to be a carved sperm whale tooth, with the moniker "Dory" on the underside of the base, along with the date, '70.   "Dory" was also carved into one side of the tooth.
The top of the wooden base on which the tooth was mounted (glued, it appears) showed the relief outline of Iceland, and basalt-like columns were carved vertically into the sides, representative of those volcanic formations found in the landscape of Iceland. 
The carving's date, then, was 1970, the same year the Washington Island Icelandic Immigration Centennial was celebrated, highlighting the arrival of the first Icelanders here.  (That same year, also in  June 1970, the new ferry Eyrarbakki was christened with well water from the Eyrarbakki school yard well.)
Janet searched the Archives Index for related articles, and she found that a Centennial celebration had been planned for June 1970.  A request was made in one news article for the availability of rooms to host guests, and 400+ pounds of whitefish were on order for a fish boil.  Several Icelandic dignitaries were expected to make an appearance, including a man who at the time was the Chicago manager for Icelandic Airlines.  But, no news photo or direct connection was uncovered regarding a carved gift from Iceland. 
Similar signature 
While we were convinced this was given to Washington Island in 1970, perhaps accepted by the then Town Chairman, the carver's identity remained to be determined.  The rather stern looking faces carved in the tooth I believed were similar to those faces, also of the Gudmundssons, that I had seen in a museum in Selfoss, Iceland, when we traveled there with a large group in 1987.  Ted Jessen had brought us to the Halldor Einarsson museum of carvings during that trip, that same man who carved Thordarson's furniture.  I recalled filming Jessen as he held up two carved wooden figures, and their likeness resembled closely those carved in the whale's tooth.  
Einarsson, who immigrated first to Manitoba in 1922, then came to Chicago, had left his Chicago area home for Iceland in 1965 after the death of his wife, in order to spend his last years in his homeland.  He took with him many carved pieces accumulated in his personal collection, and he then funded and established a museum in Selfoss to house them.  Einarsson died in 1977.  With continued good health, he could have in fact carved this commemorative piece, either commissioned, or as his personal gift. 

But, a few days passed before I made the association between Halldor Einarsson and "Dory."  On several of the sketch pages observed in one of Thordarson's notebooks, there appeared the same stylized name, "Dory," with its distinctive tail end of the "Y" extended beneath the other letters.  Dory was Einarsson's nickname, it appeared - or at least the way in which he signed his work.  
In my book, I attributed Thordarson's notebook sketches (dated 1931) to someone who had gained Thordarson's trust, and I suggested it was possibly the work of his oldest son, Dewey, who studied to be an artist.  Whoever it was, he received permission to expand upon Thordarson's creative ideas in those personal pages.  Wood carver Einarsson would have earned such trust, through his successful interpretation of Norse mythology in the furniture carvings he made for Thordarson's Chicago office.  Those pieces were later moved to the Rock Island boathouse.
What has not yet been decided is the ultimate disposition of the encased, carved gift to "Icelanders of Washington Island" that now resides in the Archives.  It is the general mission of the Archives - partly due to space available - to receive and maintain documents and photos, but not to collect and display artifacts.  It would seem that the Town of Washington, as the recipient and owner, ought to prominently display this piece where it can best be seen and appreciated by citizens and visitors (and not relegated to a storage room).  
The value of this piece lies more in its cultural connections, rather than its monetary value, although Icelanders who venerate Einarsson's work might look differently on this artifact. 
- Dick Purinton

Tuesday, November 19, 2013



Washington Island, Wisconsin -

[Note:  Thanks to Norman Gilliland, one of the Island Literary Festival presenters in early October, and a Wisconsin Public Radio producer and host, I'll have the opportunity to be interviewed on Wisconsin Public Radio's "Central Time."  (Sister Bay station is WHDI 91.9 FM) -     3:12 p.m.,  December 5th.   Hope you'll join me there…]

            ***                                     ***

The following review by Charlie Calkins appeared in the November 14 Island Observer:

Thordarson and Rock Island by Richard Purinton 
Washington Island, WI:   Island Bayou Press, 2013 (XXVIII and 436 pages).

Dick Purinton has done it again!  With the recent publication of his fourth major book, Thordarson and Rock Island, he has made another significant contribution to the Door County bookshelf.  And it should be noted that this work – consistent with his three previous books – is very much unlike the earlier ones in subject matter.

The title might suggest that Purinton is providing us with a traditional biography of Thordarson, a Chicago electrical industry innovator and Rock Island, Door County, recreational property owner.  Such is not the case.  The author is very careful to be explicit about his intentions:  “What appears in these pages…isn’t a biography…but rather excerpts from Thordarson’s life placed in an understandable sequence, depicted through correspondence, documents and photos.”  (p. IX)   Put another way, Purinton wants his readers to understand the relationship his subject had to this particular place (Rock Island) and the relationships Thordarson had with the many people who tried to help him transform his property into his envisioned dream. Make no mistake.  This is a formidable task.

Purinton relies very heavily on Thordarson’s own correspondence to tell his subject’s story.  The letters alone, however, would not tell much of Thordarson’s transformation of Rock Island.  It was incumbent on the writer to provide the backgrounds and transitions as he generally moves chronologically from one episode to another in Thordarson’s ownership of Rock Island.  Purinton does a masterful job in providing the reader with the background information needed to follow the meaning and understanding of Thordarson’s intent in writing his letters.  The reader comes away believing he / she does understand the flow of ideas, actions, and results.  This is paramount in following Purinton’s purpose.

A glance at the chapter headings suggests, for the most part, standard topics covered in a general chronological order.  “Rock Island Property Purchase,”  “Boathouse Construction,”  “Game Management Escalation,” and “Contemporaries in Door County” are examples.  But what about “A Magnificent Library, A Lifetime of Books”?  What does this have to do with a Rock island recreational property?  Purinton details Thordarson’s lifetime love of the printed word, especially science related books.  Over the years he amassed a spectacular collection of books, which were ultimately housed in his architecturally impressive boathouse.  This fine collection eventually formed the basis for the University of Wisconsin’s rare books collection.  The point here is that the author left little – if anything – out of the story of the man and his island.

This reviewer is impressed by authors who do the required homework (research) necessary to produce a fist-class work.  Clearly, Purinton has done this in all regards.  His bibliography is extensive and impressive.  The accompanying photographs and diagrams with informative captions are to the point and relevant, not fluff added as an afterthought or as a space filler.  In addition, pertinent documents provided help tell the story.

The reader should be forewarned:  This is not a quick nor easy read.   That observation is not intended in any way as a criticism of Purinton’s book.  Instead, it should be considered a compliment, for several reasons.  The book is very complete, and, as a result, very lengthy (436 pages of text).   The pieces of correspondence provided are numerous, many are lengthy, and some are quite detailed.  It takes time to read them and follow them.  Moreover, the author’s discussions necessary for an understanding of them are comprehensive, as are what he calls “notes”, which he uses as explanatory notes rather than formal footnotes.  And, finally, in this regard, there is a great deal of information provided about this very interesting and complex man that deserves pondering, rumination, and reflection.  This takes time for serious readers.  But, it is sure worth the time and effort.

    Charlie Calkins is a retired geography professor, a part-time Door County resident, and an inveterate collector of printed material related to the county.  In his spare time he operates the Badger Bibliophile, a business specializing in buying and selling gently used Wisconsin books and maps.  His wares are sold at several antique malls in the state, including the Old Orchard Antique Center in Egg Harbor.                                              E-mail him at

Monday, November 18, 2013


-  Detroit Harbor, Washington Island

Ferry trips are running more or less on schedule this morning, which is better than expected given the gale warnings posted for the upper lake from Sunday evening through most of Monday.   A glance at our Northport webcam showed several trucks lined up to come over for the 9:30 a.m. ferry to the Island.

Two box trucks were also transported on the earlier run, one of them the Mann's Store grocery shipment that comes across each Monday to provision the shelves at our only island grocery.  When weather is questionable and we're in that time of year when there are few trips during the day, Orion Mann is considerate to put their 25-ft. box truck in line early on a Sunday (when the traffic is generally lighter).  Our crew ferries it to Northport where it sits over night.

Then, on Monday morning it's already in place - regardless of weather or other traffic that morning - for the grocery semi that arrives to transfer pallets of goods.  If Orion can't get across, his cousin, Chris Voight, positions the truck to the food semi at the highway's shoulder, and he later drives it loaded down the dock to the waiting ferry.  This routine is usually accomplished for the earliest ferry leaving Northport, so that Island grocery shelves and display cases will restocked and ready for Island shoppers.  Late Monday morning is an optimum time to shop at Mann's grocery, a few hours after their loaded truck comes off the ferry and backs up to the store's loading dock.

Roger Johnson passed away

We'd like to mention the recent death of friend and Gills Rock neighbor Roger Johnson, 77, November 12, 2013.  Roger's wife Gloria, who survives him, for many years worked behind the counter at the Ellison Bay Post Office, and we would see her when we picked up and dropped off Island mail there.  Roger's family is an old Gills Rock commercial fishing family, and he fished in his early years before taking up carpentry.  Oldest son, Rick, is one of the few remaining commercial fishermen left in the northern peninsula, fishing from the tug Freitag Bros.

Roger's father, also Richard, served for a time at the Plum Island Life Saving Station, and Roger helped identify many of the men shown in the photo (below) that appeared in Over and Back, published in 1990.

We'll remember Roger also for construction of the Northport Pier Restaurant in 1985/86, and days when we popped into his Gills Rock shop where he worked on projects, adjacent to the ferry landing.  That building was the Johnson family's net shed.

Our sympathies to Roger's family.


The northwest winds of today, and the SW winds Friday into Saturday, were forecast days in advance.  The strong southerly flow caused a suspension of dredging operations, once again, but crews and truckers were back at it once again this morning, because in Detroit Harbor's channel the northerly winds won't hamper tug and barge maneuvers.  Below are a few more recent photos taken during the past week.

Jim Rose photo taken this morning, Nov. 18.

After a day of wind-caused delay, at 7 a.m. the tug Stephen M. Asher
pushed the dredging rig into position as we passed by,
outbound, on the Eyrarbakki.

While there was a break in the weather, with excellent weather Friday to complete a big pour of
concrete, our ferry crews installed a large diameter steel pipe culvert.  Ken Berggren fabricated the drainage box with grate, and he took the plywood lid off long enough for me to photograph the layout.  The project went along smoothly until a deep concrete wall poured many decades ago was discovered beneath the blacktop, directly in the line the pipe would take.  This required the better part of a day's work to saw, jack-hammer and trench toward the steel bulkhead.

An attempt to eliminate a large puddle on the dock where traffic
lines up, this culvert was installed and concrete
was poured Thursday, Nov. 14.  Roen rig (background) laid up for wind and
installation of a new tug generator.

Friday proved to be our finest day outdoors this past week, and I traveled to Sturgeon Bay and discussed my book, Thordarson and Rock Island, on air with Eddie Allen of WDOR.

Time flies quickly during such interviews, and I wondered afterwards if I highlighted enough important things about Rock Island and Thordarson. Regardless, its over, and I appreciated the opportunity and the one phone call from listener Kay Polster who said she possessed a check made out for $24.00 and signed by Thordarson, to her dad, Hector Floyd Koyen.

Floyd and Gladys Koyen spent at least one - maybe several - winters firing the greenhouse boiler on Rock Island to preserve Thordarson's orchids and his other plants from season-to-season.  I remember Floyd commenting on that task, shaking his head about how futile it all seemed, burning cords of wood in order to keep a glass greenhouse warm throughout the winter.  But, it was gainful employment.  (Floyd was a well-driller and a plumber by trade.)  I believe that check, made out in Thordarson's hand, was from 1941, a time when the Thordarson social and family activities on Rock Island were about to winding down, in comparison with earlier years.

Kay visited with me the following day at the Greco Gallery where I was signed books that afternoon.  She brought Floyd's endorsed, cashed check along.  (Floyd must have asked Thordarson if he could keep it as a souvenir.)  It was good to see so many visitors in the Greco Gallery on Third Avenue, out on a rainy afternoon, a few of whom I hadn't seen in years.

Kay (Koyen) Polster holds check her father
received from C. H. Thordarson.
Added to the recent weeks' activities are two book reviews that I will unashamedly publish here in my next blog!  
    -  Dick Purinton

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Jim Rose took this photo this morning, with Roen work and material
barges moored adjacent to the main ferry pier's
south side.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

The Roen barge alongside our regular ferry pier tells the story today, the second straight day with no dredging activity due to strong SW winds and seas that make maneuvering barges difficult and dangerous.  We've been able to make our ferry trips in the southerly winds, all right, but the work of unloading spoils has been temporarily halted because of high SW winds.  There is a roll that comes into Detroit Harbor, even sweeping around the end of the Potato Dock

On Monday, this most recent Veterans Day, our ferries made only several of the scheduled trips.  Two boats carried cars and passengers at 2:00 p.m., and that was the day's last run.  After the early trip, the other morning trips were cancelled.

Monday's cancellations were, I believe, the first such scheduled runs cancelled in 2013.  That day, because the winds were from NW, sea conditions in the Detroit Harbor channel remained smooth, despite gusts, and the Roen crews continued dredging.  In fact, we had several days of quite tolerable weather early this week - though cold - during which dredging operations went full-bore.  But then, when a warming trend brought swings in temperatures of twenty or more degrees, the southerly air flow increased to the point dredging operations were halted. 

Hazards of trucking typically don't
include deer, butduring his last run of the evening
several days ago a deer tried clearing Dave Hanlin's truck
hood.    This photo by Jim Rose shows Hanlin's truck
at Northport, awaiting a replacement windshield.
In the marine construction business there is always something to fix on a weather day, and the Roen crew busied themselves with a generator project yesterday.  But as the clock ticks and the season advances, production must continue or else we'll surely be looking at a prolonged dredging project well  into 2014.  That's not in anyone's best interest.  

Following discussions with Roen and Foth, we will likely permit the offloading of spoils at our regular dock until working conditions improve.  With the swinging of mud and stone in buckets, and the movement of trucks, there is an associated mess and mayhem, which we prefer to take place at the Potato Dock, out of the way of ferry traffic.  But we also realize the necessity of keeping this project moving along, so our main ferry pier may become the temporary offload site until winds abate. 

Gordon Lightfoot's lyrics that paid homage to the men of the Edmund Fitzgerald, lost in a Lake Superior storm November 10, 1975, and to Great Lakes sailors in general, brings to mind storms of historical proportions.  There was the Armistice Day blow of Nov. 11, 1940, to which Arni Richter often referred, etched into his memory.  The November 1913 "White Hurricane" was another, which carried vessels into dire straits in local waters over a period of several days:  the Louisiana, Halsted, and Plymouth.   Winds were recorded exceeding 70 mph during that storm.

Joan Hansen reminded me last week that this year was the 100th anniversary of the Louisiana coming ashore in Washington Harbor, its crew managing to safely reach shore in a lifeboat after a night on board, while the hull burned, eventually to the water line.  The Louisiana was light after unloading cargo in Milwaukee, enroute to Apena, Michigan, and had dropped into Washington Harbor for protection from the wind and seas.  When the wind direction shifted, it dragged anchor with seas bringing it progressively closer to the beach.  That was November 8th.

On the 10th of November, with the storm still raging, it was the lumber barge Halsted's turn, and it landed after many hours broadside on a ledge near shore.  Later, in calmer weather, it would be pulled to safety with the help of a dredge and steam tug, to continue its service.  No lives were lost on either the Louisiana or Halstead.  

One account reported the boiler of the Louisiana salvaged in 1920 by the Leathem Smith Company of Sturgeon Bay.  The compound steam engine was also removed later that year, it is believed.  

North of Washington Island, however, the barge Plymouth had been towed into the bay, possibly seeking the lee of St. Martin Island, towed by the tug Martin.   The tug's Capt. McKinnon indicated later that he was towing toward Washington Harbor when he determined the strain of the tow cables was too much. The tug had itself already taken on much water through leaks in its hull and was in danger.  McKinnon feared that both tug and barge might go down together, and so a decision was made to let the barge go.  Shortly after the tow cables were cut, according to an account, the barge sank with seven men still onboard.  Another account had the Plymouth anchored for a time near Gull Island, with the tug, helpless, a distance away.  

McKinnon had apparently tried to turn his tug around in order to save the men in the water, but he was blown away from the site of the wreck.  It is unclear why so many men were onboard the Plymouth, an unpowered vessel, while it was under tow in heavy weather.  The helplessness of the men aboard the unpowered barge was compounded when the cables were cut. Their loss of life was reported November 12th, 1913.

This photo of the Robert Noble taken by Peggy Olson several years ago serves
as a reminder that when one of our ferries behaves like a rowboat or small
runabout, it isn't a good time to be underway.  In this instance, winds
were westerly and crossing the Door itself was the greatest, though brief, challenge.

 Each day's conditions - wind direction, sea state,
air temperature, ice  (if any)  - can impact the decision to operate

or not.

LOUISIANA - Nov. 8, 1913

The other day at the Archives, Kirby Foss asked, had I ever read the accounts of the Louisiana and Halsted in the Wreck Log from the Plum Island Life Saving Station?  He promptly found them for me, and here are the main portion of neat entries, official accounts for the Louisiana, followed two days later by the Halsted, made by Williamson Robinson, Keeper:

Nor Shellswick with team to haul Beach Apparatus to scene of wreck.

At 6:30 a.m. I received a telephone message from Washington Harbor saying that the steam barge Louisiana had dragged her anchor and was on the shore with the crew on board and that they needed our assistance.  The wind was then blowing a gale form the N.W. with blinding snow storms and it was not practicable to take the life boat to Washington Harbor as it would take hours to reach there.  We loaded the gear of the Beach Apparatus into the life boat and took the boat to Detroit Harbor where I had engaged a team to carry us to Washington Harbor.  We left the station at 7:50 a.m.  It took us some time to load the gear and to launch the life boat in the heavy sea.  We arrived at Detroit Harbor at 8:40 a.m. where I learned that the crew was on shore, that the vessel was on fire and that no assistance was needed.  I was informed that three other vessels in Washington Harbor were in danger of dragging ashore.  We continued our trip overland to the scene of the wreck.  The crew of the Louisiana was ashore and nothing could be done to assist the burning vessel but three other vessels were in danger.  We spent the day & night patrolling the shore. 

 From the Wreck Report entry a few days later, Nov. 10th, 1913, of the Halsted, also entered by Williamson Robinson, Keeper:

Nor Shellswick with team to carry gear of beach apparatus.

We arrived at Detroit Harbor at 9:30 a.m. on our way to wreck of Louisiana.  We learned that the Louisiana needed no assistance but that several other vessels were in danger in Washington Harbor.  We continued our trip overland loading gear of Beach Apparatus on a rig I had previous engaged for that purpose.  On arriving at scene of wreck we found that the Sch. Halsted anchored about 3/4 mile from head of Harbor was dragging ashore.  We patrolled the beach all day and night, building fires for signals to the vessel.  We expected the Halsted to come ashore at any time as at times she would drag a considerable distance and then would hold for an hour or more.  At 5 o'clock Monday morning the Halsted dragged within 60 feet of shore.  We shot a line over her and got the whip aboard.  The water is very bold at that point and the Halsted was hard against a shelf of rock.  We were ready to use the breeches buoy when a heavy seas lifted the Halsted upon the shelf.  It was then so close to shore that the men on  board hung a ladder over her port bow and we assisted them to shore.  When daylight broke we used the whip to bring their clothing ashore.  We could render the Halsted no further assistance but we remained at scene of wreck as a small vessel was in danger of dragging in.  At 3 p.m. the wind went down slightly and as the vessel was in no further danger we came to Detroit Harbor intending to return to Station.  As our boat was covered with ice we remained there overnight, removing ice form boat & returning to station at 11 a.m. Tuesday morning.

-  Dick Purinton

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Mary Jo with new acquaintances at the
Etchilhampton crop circle, early August.


(Continuation from September 7th post: “Crop Circle Confessions”

    From American Public Media, Writer’s Almanac, Nov. 12, 2013 -

Voyager 1 was launched in 1977, sent out into the solar system to explore Jupiter and Saturn along with its twin, Voyager 2. Both probes carry a greeting to any sentient life forms that they may encounter, in the form of a gold-plated record. The information on the record was selected and compiled by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan; it includes spoken greetings in 55 languages, a selection of music from different eras and cultures, and a variety of images and sound recordings from nature, including a baby crying, ocean waves, and whale song. President Jimmy Carter said: "This is a present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination, and our good will in a vast and awesome universe."

In early August of this past summer, Mary Jo and I traveled to England. 

When I tell friends that we traveled to England to see crop circles, I get the same sort of stare our kids gave us when we told them we just finished reading Fifty Shades of Grey. 

An amused look also crept over the face of the British customs agent when we exited the Heathrow terminal upon arrival in the UK.  We said were visiting England to see crop circles. 
“So, what makes you thing you’ll find them here?” he asked, forcing a quizzical smile.  “I remain skeptical.”

I, too, was skeptical.  But in this quest I vowed to keep an open mind, to be the “objective journalist” and record our trip as best I could.  But, upon our return home whenever crop circles are mentioned, I’m asked the similar question:  “So, do we know how they’re made, or who makes them?” 

Following my first-hand experience, having been in and around crop circles, and in discussing and thinking about them, I have as many questions as answers.  But, I’ll say our experience was fascinating, with earthly (and perhaps a touch of heavenly) beauty, and as a result I now believe more firmly in the greater force at work in and beyond our earthly realm.  That energy and higher intelligence exists I credit to the existence of God.  But from a practical point of view, there are so many things in our immediate world and in our universe that remain a mystery, having no clear explanations. 
In becoming aware of crop circle advocates, those who believe these designs in crop fields are messages from a more intelligent life, perhaps from “extra-terrestrials” who come from places we can’t touch, there appears to be an equal number of persons who, through science known to them or from perceived threat to their lives and belief systems, vocally oppose the idea that crop circles are anything other than man-made designs.  Those designs, they say, can be credited to sophisticated pranksters, “hoaxers” who’ve conjured up a puzzle bone for the gullible masses to chew. 

I tend to believe that most crop circles are the visible signs of someone’s (or some entity’s) knowledge.  I’ve joked that, if individuals can believe there are sacred images in burned toast or an image on a barn as being the sign from a higher power, the phenomena of crop circles can as easily point to the pleasant thought that our planet earth and the human race are not alone. 

Now, relate that to your beliefs in whatever way that you will!


We had the opportunity to see many interesting things during our two weeks in England.   Our second week we were on our own for a quick, broad overview more typical of the average American tourist:  Glastonbury, Salisbury, Penzance and London.  But it was our first week, spent several hour’s drive west of London, that was our singular reason to fly to England, to look for and experience crop circles.   

For whatever reasons – excellent croplands, for one – crop circles appear most abundantly during summer months, and they center in the Wiltshire County countryside. 

For six days (our first day spent getting settled) we tramped the rolling hills, snaked single-file into crop fields, hiked along the public walking paths, and absorbed first-hand what ancient people there might have seen, smelled and felt when they were inspired to build earthen mounds or move stones that weighed many tons into patterns. 

Wiltshire County encompasses an area where several major landmarks are located.  Stonehenge, Avebury, Silbury Hill, Kennet-Long Barrow.   These and other lesser-known but equally impressive monuments were the work of ancient people some 4-5000 years ago.  They happen to be located along a line of energy referred to as a “ley line,” that runs, more or less, between Cornwall in the southwest of England, toward the northeast. 

Our evenings were spent in quiet comfort at Court Hill Farm, originally a manor farm of the Bishop of Salisbury (built around 1250) in the small town of Potterne (about 1500 people).  Potterne, in turn, is a mile or two from the larger market town of Devizes, of roughly 11,000 people.  Potterne is also located along A360, the highway that connects Devizes with Stonehenge.   This road was the old coach route connecting London with Bristol.  Nearby is the Kennet and Avon Canal that in the 1700s linked the pottery factories and their goods (too fragile for rough country roads) with the markets of London.  A series of some 29 locks, 16 of which are in a straight line one after the other, after the other, allow the specialized, narrow canal boats to “climb” Caen Hill on their way eastward. 

Kennet-Longbarrow:  Tomb?  Site for rituals?  The
purpose is speculation, although several skeletons were found
within small, partitioned rooms.

With a variety of things to see and do from a tourism point of view - and not to overlook the many pubs, coach inns and the Wadworth Brewery, also in Devizes - most visitors have little contact with the dozens of crop circles that appear in Wiltshire crop fields each summer.  That’s due both to lack of time as well as considered interest.  As many as three dozen crop circles per month “land” during the summer months, spread over a generous countryside in a variety of crop fields.  These have been witnessed and recorded for some 30 or more years, now.  Although artwork and reports of crop circles from previous centuries exist, they apparently lacked the regularity and complexity of design found in recent times.


Many visitors on tour in Southern England include a whistle stop at Stonehenge and then move on to other sights.  We brushed with Stonehenge on our first full day in Wiltshire when we turned to the right instead of toward the National Trust parking lot entrance, away from the busy highway toward a field where we would see our first crop circle. 

That was a bit surreal, to walk in a wheat field a half-mile from Stonehenge.  There we were surrounded by at least six tumuli – ancient dirt mounds approximately 30-ft. in diameter, 10-ft. in height - that for the most part farmers avoided over the centuries as they cultivated their fields.  Tumuli can be seen in many locations, and their purpose isn’t clearly known.  From our vantage point on the slight rise above the highway (the dual carriage way A303, where trucks and cars buzzed endlessly past) we observed a continuous line of several hundred people circling those giant stones.  Visitors are prevented from approaching the stones by rope barriers. 

Our view of Stonehenge from the field across the highway.
(with telephoto lens)

Later that week, we would visit Stonehenge, but it would be at daybreak, before the day’s regular crowds appeared.   A special pass was obtained by our tour leader, allowing our group of seven to walk among the stones (but not touch them). 

It was this connection with soil and crops that offered a close connection to the earlier inhabitants of that place.  I found myself always looking down, kicking at the ground, examining tilled soil, hoping that the next chunk of flint I saw – and the pieces of rock are endless – might show signs of having been worked by ancient hands. 

Typical flinty Wiltshire soils.

The first circle we entered made its appearance about four nights prior to our visit, according to our tour leader, Barbara.  In other words, this circle was considered to be rather “fresh.”  That fact would become more apparent through closer inspection of the design execution, and by the energy the circle gave off.  Barbara drew a pair of dowsing sticks from her backpack, as she would often do during our week together, and she placed them in front of her, sticks in parallel.  Then she slowly entered the circle, the laid-down area of crop that made up the geometric design.  As she did so, the copper rods swung wide apart, as if repelled, one from the other.  Then, from inside the circle with dowsing sticks spread apart, pointed in opposing directions,  she walked outside the circle’s perimeter.  As she did, the sticks gradually but quickly closed to the parallel position once again. 

Barbara has visited, examined and “measured” crop circles for some 23 summers, and she is familiar to people in Wiltshire crop circle circles.   In what seemed to be a most remote site, we met people who recognized Barbara and who had met her years earlier in other crop circle visits.  Her knowledge of these circles is extensive.  Her belief is firm that they are made by “others.”

Barbara demonstrating copper dowsing sticks.

She repeated her demonstration many times with her dowsing rods, measuring the energy of nearly one dozen circles during our six day stay in Wiltshire.  Her sticks were most reactive near the centers of circles.  There were at least two crop circles where her dowsing rods did nothing, and those circles, she said, were known to be man-made.  One was a crude crop circle,  a replication made by men hired to execute a design in a field of barley for a French film crew.  The other example was claimed to be the brain-child of a young man who lived on a canal boat not far away, near the Barge Inn.  Its creator was proud of his design and execution, but without knowing this history, our group had already agreed with Barbara’s dowsing rods:  this circle was a dud and it lacked energy.

A most pleasant surprise was the overall beauty of the Wiltshire countryside, its rolling hills, beautiful fields, and farm and village buildings with their thatched or tiled roofs.  We frequently edged toward the side of the road with our van in order to let large tractors pulling grain wagons, or huge combines, pass along narrow roads hemmed by hedges.  Numerous fields then were in the process of being harvested, and some were adjacent to those fields in which we walked.

The soils were dark, but flinty.  A good five to ten percent was broken stone, I’d estimate.  Beneath the loose soil, at a distance of one or several meters, were beds of chalk, whitish bedrock that in a few places approaches the surface.  Huge, white horses were etched into the hillsides in seven or eight Wiltshire locations.  Some were known to be very old, while others were examples of recent artwork from villages honoring early ancestors.  Contrasting with the bucolic scenery were occasional “tank crossing” signs and light tan barracks, signs of the British army.  Wiltshire is also an area used regularly for field maneuvers, war games and gunnery practice.  We saw several Sikorsky helicopters flying at low altitude over the adjacent hills, but we heard no artillery fire while we were there.

Although we were prepared to encounter rain – and it did rain one evening and part of an early morning – our days were, for the most part, sunny.  But even a sunny day means there is cloud cover of low, fluffy cumulus in at least 50% of the sky.  Temperatures ranged from the mid-60s to mid-70s the entire week, with light breezes, most pleasant for spending time outdoors.

Our group in front of Silbury Hill, a man made mound of over 4000 years.
(That's right- I was the lone man in the group!)

The fields where these crop circles “land” are random.  One crop circle here, one there.  They are often many miles apart, with sometimes two unfolding in the same night.  Pilots who rely for income on taking people aloft to view and photograph crop circles make it their business to know when and where the latest circles pop up.  Within hours, several internet sites post aerial photos of the new circles, adding to the information gathered of older ones.  The crop circle photo announcements are accompanied with general directions.  Nearby roads and highways are named, along with other pertinent information.  Within 24 hours a new crop circle design is analyzed by one or more “experts” who then dissect the geometry, comparing it with previous, similar crop circle designs.  Opinions are offered as to what this all could mean.

Sometimes, word of mouth provides the news.  One afternoon, when having a late lunch at a Subway in Devizes (local pubs serve lunch but shut down their kitchens for several hours in the middle of the afternoon) we met several other “croppies” who dropped news of a new circle near Etchilhampton.  This hill was located on the far side of Devizes from where we ate lunch, but it was still only a ten-minute drive.  

Etchilhampton crop circle
as viewed from the air. 

When we arrived at the car park area to one side of the lane, it was apparent we had found the right field.  Other vehicles were already parked there, including a tour bus and several campers.   This crop circle, which had appeared overnight, was the largest one we experienced, measuring what I estimated to cover 150 yards in diameter.   The formation, even to our new eyes that had little to compare it with, appeared nicely done, with “crisp” lines in the wheat.  Barbara’s dowsing sticks reacted like a Geiger counter to uranium. 

Hampton-Etchel crop circle as
viewed from further up the hill.

I found this circle to be quite relaxing, and for whatever reasons (perhaps the jet lag catching up with me), after lying down on the wheat, under heavy cloud cover and the threat rain, I fell asleep.  Jokingly, I say I “lost time” there - which in a way, I did.   Seldom do I find my surroundings in public relaxing enough to fall asleep, even after hours of having had insufficient sleep.  Serenity was found within that circle.

I napped while the "New Swirled
Order" whirled about me.

Mary Jo met several women from Manchester who take their vacations in the Wiltshire area each August to experience crop circles.  Others we met had come from Spain, Belgium and Holland, each for the express purpose of visiting crop circles.

Two special experiences offered to us by Barbara:  flights over the fields of Wiltshire in order to see the circles from the air, and a visit with Michael Glickman, retired architect, teacher and an expert and critic on crop circle designs. 

Seeing the fields from the air made the crop circles stand out.  Mary Jo took photos during her flight, while I stayed on the ground, content to visit and watch the planes come and go.   One of her photos was included in my first crop circle blog, of a design near Hackpen Hill.  In fact, we visited that hill that very same morning.  This was a circle of pleasing design, one that seemed to us to be quite “active.”  Our location was near one of the white chalk horses, and just beyond the horse, the grain harvest was underway.  Clouds of dust billowed upward from the combines, and tractors pulling grain trams and balers followed close behind.

We had lunch prepared for us by the private airport’s owner and his wife (grass runways), and then we drove to see Michael Glickman.  From having viewed several videos prior to our trip, we knew about Glickman and his love of crop circle geometry, and his wit with visitors.  He didn’t let us down.  Confined now for health reasons to his home and unable to move without assistance, Michael will yet entertain guests in what he calls, “Tea Time With Michael.”   

His mind and his wit were as lively that afternoon as we could have hoped for during the hour or so we visited.  To condense what he said in a few sentences, or paragraphs, would be difficult, and the result wouldn’t do him or the subject matter justice.  You can see interviews with Michael Glickman posted on the internet, if you wish. 

Michael was a fully entertaining and gracious host, and we were touched by his insight and humor, knowing his health now restricted his daily routine, but not his intellect.  He is a believer that some form of higher intelligence made these crop circles – most of them, anyway – and that there are mathematical messages in the universal language of geometry, if we take time to examine each of them closely.  This he has done, for many years.   As a means of partial support, he sells books, posters, tee-shirts and tote bags that help spread his crop circle insights. 

Michael Glickman: a geometry lesson.

I purchased one of his books, “Cornography, The New Swirled Order.”  He calls this series of essays, “Despatches From the Crop Circles,” and the pages are filled with his humor, with sarcasm reserved for skeptics.  

Here is one sample entry form his book:

  “One of the people who are taken in by the lies of the so-called hoaxers is Farmer Naughton of Bishops Cannings, who last year brought his combine to cut out the lovely seven-fold ‘basket’ rather than leave it for people to enjoy.  This year, to the astonishment of all, he put up an honesty box and opened the field.

“I visited him to thank him and to take him a photograph and drawing of his new formation, which to me is one of the most articulate geometrical designs we have ever had.  He said that he had wanted to cut it out immediately, but his wife persuaded him, against his better judgement, to allow people in.

“He glanced at the picture, but was anxious to let me know that he still thought it was done by vandals.  I suggested then that he and I go immediately half a mile down the road to the Wiltshire Constabulary Headquarters. We could ask why, as predictable acts of damage to property take place every year in a limited area and within a defined season, they have never made an arrest.  I told him that I was able to supply the names both of individuals who claim to cause the damage and “researchers” who aid and promote them.

“He was not too keen on that idea. I wonder why not?  A few days later, the circlemakers, to reward him I guess, delivered another formation in the same field.  He was not delighted.”


The fact that crop is destroyed by circlemakers, and also by visitors and curiosity seekers drawn to such sites, is not appreciated by most farmers.  A few farmers tolerate visitors and accept the fact that circles will appear from time to time, much like we might allow trespassing during our tourism season, I suppose.  Some farmers, probably the exception, believe they were honored, or blessed, to have been the recipient of a crop circle, and their loss of crop is therefore obligingly tolerated.

To bring a better feeling of understanding and appreciation between croppies and farmers, there was an attempt this past crop circle season to sell “passes,” a compensation system that would return monies collected from circle visitors to the farmers.  However well intended, this idea never got off the ground. 

We warily looked over our shoulders on a number of occasions, Mary Jo and I, believing that if we owned those fields, we, too, might be possessive of our land and crops.  Not once did we experience hostilities from farmers.  No one came out with dogs and shotguns.  Although we may have been naive, the many public walking trails between farm fields makes hiking, dog walking, bicycling and occasional car traffic between fields seem not so unusual, as it might in our country.  

In all cases, we observed visitors to the farmer’s crop fields take the long-way-round, stepping only in tram lines, or at best staying within the slim path already blazed by others, so as to minimize disturbance to the crop. 

Nevertheless, it was quite apparent that many potential bushels of a farmer’s crop are destroyed whenever crop circles are laid down, the stalks bent so that the combine head won’t pick them up during harvest.  This is a fact, and if the particular farmer isn’t tuned to the universe in exactly the same manner as the circlemakers – and if he believes it is the work of hoaxers from the nearby village – well, then, he will be very displeased.

In one instance, on our last day after having visited Stonehenge that morning, we drove to the Tidcom Causeway and a hill adjacent to the ancient roadway used by Romans.  This crop circle, named the “clothespins” by internet analysts who like to give each of them names, was freshly laid the night before. 

A donation for the honesty box,
crop circle near Tidcom.

We were among the few visitors there when we arrived.  The farmer, to his credit, placed an honesty box bolted to a steel drum near the edge of his field, and he had also blazed a convenient path through his crop from the roadside.  These were inviting, friendly things to do, and we dropped in the requested 3-pounds each to walk on his land and visit that circle.  As tourists, we didn’t find this to be an unreasonable request.

Make no mistake, that some in Wiltshire County do understand the value of crop circles from a tourism standpoint, and they will point out the perpetuation of this craft over a several decade period, much as one might proudly point to the work done by a colony of artists.  The mysticism and spirituality of crop circles may be mentioned, but credit is generally given to local “artists,” whoever they may be.  

According to the magazine Wiltshire Life (Sept. 2013 issue) the Wiltshire Police “are taking a hard line against the circle makers and are encouraging farmers to report any circles as criminal damage, as soon as they appear.  However, arrests appear to be few and far between, and the hoaxers have yet to fully explain their methods, timing and stealth during midnight hours.

“Witnesses claim time and again to have seen small balls of light over fields, and in the morning a new crop circle revealed.”

The chances of elaborate designs occurring over large areas, sometimes several fields in one night, without their originators standing up to take full credit, after several generations of such phenomena, seems to me slim and far-fetched.  Yet, it is also hard to imagine crop circles as the work of beings from elsewhere in this universe.

Faith in our beliefs may be strengthened, or weakened, as we choose.  These experiences we’ll continue to ponder.  

- Dick Purinton

Sunday, November 3, 2013


Washington Island -

The photo of our Island post office was taken Thursday morning, around 7:35.   It was a dark, foggy morning with rain during the night.  A few cars were out.  Dump trucks were running dredging spoils to the Town's site on Gunnlaugsson Road.   A few patrons were next door at the Red Cup.  In many respects, though, it was a very quiet day, heading into the first of November.

Unfortunately for youngsters who were looking forward to trick-or-treating, the day didn't improve much from this point.  By 4 p.m. rain put the damper on an outdoor Halloween activity at school, with accompanying temperature in the lower 40s.

Danish Mill - a wet but inviting scene in the early morning hour.

Rain doesn't stop dredging.  In fact, the good thing about these past days was the low daily wind speed.  However, a windy stretch is forecast, and the Roen crew may take the next two days to reunite with family members.  A broken pin on the excavator bucker in mid-week required switching back to the crane with bucket for a few days, until the new part was obtained.   The material dredged in the previous 48 hours was as rocky as any thus far.  On the one hand, it's a good thing the excavator can dig through those areas.  However, the offloading into trucks is slowed because the stones (combined with some softer material) is harder for the crane bucket to grab and place into trucks.

Water levels fluctuated greatly in recent weeks. Today, Sunday, the level is as high as a month or more ago.  But we've also seen dips in the level when the wind is northerly.  The Army Corps measurements indicated Lake Michigan was approximately 7.5 inches higher than at the same time last year.  At least that's a net gain for the year, so far.

For the month of September, Island Weather Observer John Delwiche reported rain fall amounts a few hundredths over the historical monthly average of 3.21"       For the year, however, we are nearly 7.5 inches above average, which accounts in part for the overall increase in lake level.

-  Dick Purinton