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General Interest

Century ago: Great War, great champagne vintage

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Written by RAF CASERT, Associated Press   
Thursday, 23 October 2014 10:48
Vineyards in the Champagne region of France. Image by Agne27. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. EPERNAY, France (AP) – Deep in the labyrinthine cellars of the Pol Roger champagne house, rows of century-old bottles caked in mold bear testimony to perhaps the greatest, and surely the most heroic of vintages.

As champagne goes, 1914 was a superlative year when the warmest of summers left the richest of grapes. As war goes, gunfire could be heard just beyond the hills and most men were off fighting in the horrors of World War I.

Yet, even in those dark days, France without champagne would simply not be France. And somehow, the heady mix produced a vintage for the ages in which dedication beat fear. On Friday in London, Pol Roger will auction off one of those 1914 bottles – minus the mold – with the proceeds going to the recently renovated Imperial War Museum.

If the usual harvesters had turned into soldiers, there were women, old men and sometimes even children to take their place. They picked and pressed in the face of German enemy fire to produce a drink that is still celebrated 100 years later.

“Those who were still in town went into the vineyards. Even the schools were closed,” said Hubert de Billy, the great grandson of Maurice Pol-Roger, the wartime mayor of Epernay, which along with Reims is the heart of champagne production. “Obviously everybody was scared. There was bombing all around.”

The war hit the Champagne region hard and it was not only the wine industry alone that suffered. In Reims, the Notre Dame cathedral, one of world's greatest Gothic treasures, was badly bombed in an act of cultural destruction that helped turn international opinion against Germany.

For the citizens of Champagne, some weeks were so tough that all they could do was seek refuge underground. And Champagne houses obliged – opening their cellars, many going 100 feet below the earth. School was held, mothers gave birth and some denizens used chalk to scrawl graffiti in endless subterranean corridors now owned by the Taittinger champagne house.

“The soft chalk was ideal to express a strong emotion,” company president Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger said of the scratches, some depicting pointed German helmets.

Above ground, it was not only the honor of a nation that was at stake but, just as importantly, the livelihood of a whole region. The winegrowers dealt in the effervescence of joy at a time of moral desolation, yet they had no choice.

“It is the purpose of the city,” said de Billy. “Even the lawyers are devoted to champagne. Without champagne, the life of the town is gone. It was the same in the war.”

That sense of purpose pushed his great-grandfather, mayor Maurice, to go all out for the 1914 vintage even though the town had briefly fallen to the Germans and war was still in earshot. Maurice even printed his own “currency” to pay pickers, assuring them they could turn them in for real francs after the war.

Even in times of desperation, wine growers looked beyond the immediate. The great vintage was only to be ready for drinking a decade later, when, they imagined correctly, the war would be won.

“The 1914 is a vintage that has been picked at the sound of bullets and drunk at the sound of trumpets,” said de Billy.

Even in those days, the lore of champagne was already well established. Winston Churchill had been a devoted fan of Pol Roger since 1906, de Billy said, and later in life the British leader famously said, “Remember, gentlemen, it's not just France we are fighting for, it's Champagne!”

Americans, too, had already found the love of fizz. Poet Alan Seeger, the uncle of folk singer Pete, has become a favorite subject for Taittinger, who celebrates him with a plaque decorated with the verses at the family's chateau just outside Epernay.

Seeger was looking for the bohemian life in Paris but ended as a volunteer for France in the Great War. He died on the Western Front close to Champagne in 1916, but not before writing an ode to the “sweet wine of France that concentrates / The sunshine and the beauty of the world.”

Seeger already mourned “those whose blood, in pious duty shed / Hallows the soil where that same wine had birth.”

Even now it jars how close the horrors and joys of life stand side by side. Past the last vineyards close to Reims, cemeteries and monuments dot the landscape where thousands of crosses, German and French, stand with the same precision as the long rows of vines.

For Pol Roger, it is also that interplay of triumph and tragedy that must be savored when the 1914 bottle is auctioned on Friday.

The price is expected to go as high as 5,000 euros ($6,400), or some 700 euros a flute. The taste, however, won't be anything like the full, yet crisp taste of the 2004 vintage.

“The bubbles that you know when you pour a glass have disappeared,” said de Billy. “The taste will be more coffee, more chocolate. To give you an image, it will be more like a Madeira or a Sherry.”

Yet even one century later, de Billy has to acknowledge the vintage is still strong enough to show its origins.

“You can feel a bit of fizziness on the tongue.”

___

Raf Casert can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rcasert

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-10-22-14 1008GMT



ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE
Vineyards in the Champagne region of France. Image by Agne27. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Last Updated on Thursday, 23 October 2014 11:03
 

'See Rock City' barns vanishing from rural landscape

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Written by KELLY KAZEK, Al.com   
Thursday, 23 October 2014 10:20
'See Rock City' birdhouse in the form of a barn, unused. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com archive and Golden Memories Auction Co. BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Over the course of 80 years, the unusual “See Rock City” advertising campaign led to as many as 900 painted barn roofs at its peak with surprisingly effective results. But as Americans turned to interstates for travel and began bypassing back roads, the roadside attraction known as Rock City began maintaining fewer sign, leaving the paint on the remainder to fade and the barns to slowly rot.

By 1998, there were only about 200 See Rock City barns left, and that number has decreased to only about 100 today. Of those, only about 10 are left in Alabama.

Rock City, located in Chattanooga, Tenn., was the brainstorm of Garnet Carter and his wife, Frieda. Carter was also the inventor of miniature golf – he created Tom Thumb courses that soon became a hit nationwide.

Rock City Gardens, which opened in 1932, featured panoramic views from atop Lookout Mountain as well as unusual rock formations. Frieda also added scenes and gnome-like figures to the gardens to create “fairylands” and other visual surprises.

In 1935, Carter had the idea to advertise on barn roofs along routes leading to the attraction, eventually advertising on barns from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, according to SeeRockCity.com. He hoped the signs would lure Americans, who had just begun traveling again as the Great Depression ended, to his unique attraction. It worked.

Most of the barns were painted by Clark Byers of Chattanooga, who spent 30 years painting such slogans as “The Eighth Wonder of the World” and “When You See Rock City, You See the Best” on roofs in 19 states. He retired in 1969 and died in 2004. A few of the barns are still maintained by Rock City.

“Today, spotting one of these ever-recognizable structures not only gives tourists a look at a historic landmark, but takes them on a nostalgic jaunt back to a time when motorists drove blacktop lanes in search of family fun,” the website says.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-10-22-14 1438GMT



ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE
'See Rock City' birdhouse in the form of a barn, unused. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com archive and Golden Memories Auction Co.
Last Updated on Thursday, 23 October 2014 10:31
 

Don Kagin puts huge California gold nugget up for sale

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Written by Associated Press   
Thursday, 23 October 2014 09:33
A 7.3-ounce California gold specimen that sold at auction in October 2010. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com archive and Holabird-Kagin Americana.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – One of the biggest gold nuggets found in modern times in Northern California's historic Gold Country is going up for sale.

Weighing in at more than 6 pounds, the so-called “Butte Nugget” is expected to carry a price tag of $350,000.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports the owner of the nugget asked dealer Don Kagin to keep his name and the location of the discovery secret.

What is known is that it was found in July by a gold hunter on public land in the Butte County mountains.

The nugget will be unveiled Thursday at the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show at Fort Mason.

___

Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-10-22-14 1220GMT



ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE
A 7.3-ounce California gold specimen that sold at auction in October 2010. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers.com archive and Holabird-Kagin Americana.
Last Updated on Thursday, 23 October 2014 09:48
 

Crews begin demolition of Packard plant in Detroit

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Written by COREY WILLIAMS, Associated Press   
Monday, 20 October 2014 10:07
Ruins of the Packard plant in Detroit. Image by Albert Duce. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. DETROIT (AP) – Demolition started Friday on a section of the massive and crumbling Detroit Packard auto factory complex – a symbol of the city's blight and past manufacturing glory.

A high reach demolition excavator was used to rip out reinforced concrete exterior wall and floor supports.

Resembling a large toothy metal claw, the heavy equipment also sent chunks of wood, brick and concrete crashing to the closed-off street below.

Friday's work was meant “to make the area safer for the community, but also safer for our workers that are going to be here on site,” said Kari Smith, Packard project manager.

Peruvian developer Fernando Palazuelo bought the 40-acre site last year for $405,000 at a Wayne County tax foreclosure auction. He wants to bring in apartments, retail, high-tech entrepreneurs, light industrial operations and artist studios.

Palazuelo told The Associated Press in June that the total redevelopment cost should be near $350 million. It would be paid with rent he receives from his projects in Lima, he said.

Built in the early 1900s, the Packard plant was designed by Albert Kahn. The company became a dominant luxury carmaker in the United States in the late 1920s and by the 1940s had 36,000 employees.

The last auto was made there in the mid- to late-1950s and the various buildings eventually were used as warehouses, other manufacturing and small industrial projects.

Former owners failed to pay thousands of dollars in back taxes. City officials have said razing the structures and cleaning out polluted soil could cost as much as $20 million.

“We have clear ownership,” Smith said. “Taxes are paid and now we're moving forward with redevelopment. The whole thing takes time when you're dealing a project of this size.

“What we'll expect to see is a complete cleanup and remediation of all the environmental toxins, all the debris and the reinforced concrete pieces that are causing safety issues in the neighborhood.”

A sweep of the building's interior was done before work started Friday to make sure no one was inside.

“Security is an issue,” Smith said. “It's a very large place, but we're taking all the precautions.”

British graffiti artist Banksy is credited with painting a mural at the site with the message, “I remember when all this was trees.”

The art was moved to a gallery, but Palazuelo would like to get it back.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-10-17-14 2105GMT



ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE
Ruins of the Packard plant in Detroit. Image by Albert Duce. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.
Last Updated on Monday, 20 October 2014 10:24
 

Gala festival rolling for Belle of Louisville centennial

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Written by Associated Press   
Tuesday, 14 October 2014 10:42
The Belle of Louisville, originally christened Idlewild, operated as a passenger ferry between Memphis, Tenn., and West Memphis, Ark. During the World War II she served as a floating USO nightclub for troops stationed at military bases along the Mississippi River. Image by Bo - Belle of Louisville. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – Birthday parties don't usually have hundreds of thousands of guests, but for riverboats turning 100, everything is a little bigger.

The Belle of Louisville's centennial birthday celebration is this week. The event has been years in the planning, and six riverboats are expected for the Centennial Festival Riverboats Tuesday through Sunday.

Planned events include dozens of cruises, riverboat races and parades, fireworks, a balloon glow and musical entertainment. The Courier-Journal says the events on land are free and open to the public.

The Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau expects all the activities to bring as many as 300,000 people, creating an economic impact of $6 million.

The Belle was launched in Pittsburgh as the Idlewild in October 1914. Jefferson County bought the boat at auction in 1962 for $34,000.

Information from: The Courier-Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-10-13-14 0903GMT



ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE
The Belle of Louisville, originally christened Idlewild, operated as a passenger ferry between Memphis, Tenn., and West Memphis, Ark. During the World War II she served as a floating USO nightclub for troops stationed at military bases along the Mississippi River. Image by Bo - Belle of Louisville. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 14 October 2014 10:59
 
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