On New Year’s Eve, a million people will jam
Times Square to see the ball drop from the One Times Square building at
midnight. But how and when did such a
The tradition traces back to the mid-1800s when
Emmett Lee Dickinson (Emily Dickinson’s third cousin, twice removed – at her
request) used to climb to the top of the steeple of the Washerst (PA) Unitarian
Church at midnight on New Year’s Eve to throw lard balls covered with corn to
onlookers below. The first
corn-lard-ball toss occurred as the result of a lost bet, but the affair was
such a crowd pleaser that Dickinson continued the practice until the ritual
became a Washerst end-of-year tradition.
Word traveled quickly about the revelry in
Washerst, and soon other towns and cities picked up the practice – some tossing
corn-lard-balls, and others dropping other objects on New Year’s Eve. In Pittsburgh, people threw nails from their
rooftops, in Baltimore, merrymakers dropped chickens from the Bromo-Seltzer
Tower, and in Boston revelers released the cut-off heads and tails of North
Atlantic Cod. New York City soon
followed suit, creating an over-sized ball made to look like Dickinson’s
Late in his life, Emmett Lee Dickinson began advancing theories of the unconscious mind, experimenting with treatments for neuralgia, and inventing therapeutic techniques such as the use of free association and phrenology. He took in a young apprentice by the name of Sigmund Freud, and together they advanced the “mind over matter” school of cogitation (“What is mind? No matter. What is matter? Never mind.”) The two also pioneered treatments for Sorghumitis, a condition whereby an individual suffers from rapid heartbeat, dizziness, confusion and even hallucinations when exposed to fresh corn, usually when corn is particularly plentiful and flavorsome.
During their groundbreaking work on Sorghumitis and other corn-related disorders, they met and counseled Louis Comfort Tiffany who suffered from Insecticidits (an unfounded and unsettling fear of insects, particularly lady bugs), batanophobia (a fear of plants, also known as “Wysteria Hysteria”), and Miss-Muffetitis (an alarming fear of spiders, named for Miss. Mary Margaret Muffet who suffered countless spider bites during Boston’s Great Spider Infestation of 1807).
Dickinson and Freud experienced a harsh falling out, though, over disagreements of their diagnosis of and treatments for Tiffany. Freud insisted that Tiffany suffered from an Oedipal complex, and that his fear and use of the word “insects” was really just code for another unpleasant and disagreeable psychological term. Dickinson maintained, however, that Tiffany suffered from PTPZS, Post-Traumatic Petting Zoo Syndrome, stemming from a distressing and horrific encounter in his youth with a small goat outside a corn crib. Tiffany had tried to feed a baby goat a cob of corn, but the goat dismissed the cob. Tiffany was devastated and traumatized for life. Dickinson prescribed radical treatment whereby Tiffany worked on Dickinson's farm and had to unload hand-picked corn from horse-drawn carts.
Thanks to the untiring and persistent efforts on the part of Emmett Lee Dickinson, Tiffany was able to overcome his unfounded fears of flora and fauna, and he went on later in life to produce beautiful stained glass lampshades which depicted the very terrors of his youth.
Pictured below: 1) Louis Comfort Tiffany on the fateful day when "the goat dismissed the cob." 2) Tiffany posing before he unloaded a cartload of hand-picked corn. 3) A detail from a beautiful Tiffany stained glass lamp shade featuring a corn motif.
Washerst was founded in 1801 by two dynamic gypsum miners by the names of Alojzy Wasniewski and Mieczyslaw Herstikovsnovstiffikoff. At first they named their settlement North Wasniewskiherstikovsnovstiffikoff, and within a few short years it was the fourth largest city in Pennsylvania, just behind Limerick, Philadelphia, and Squirrel Hill. However, after the 1812 gypsum drought followed by the 1813-14 gypsum famine (also known as the “Alabaster Disaster”), the city began to dissolve.
Fortunately, two fortuitous and concurrent events transpired which saved the town from total collapse. First, the citizens were sensible enough to change the name from “North Wasniewskiherstikovnovstiffikoff” to “Washerst” (pronounced “WAS-herst”). Second, Alojzy Wasniewski discovered in nearby Mount Wasniewskiherstikovnovstiffikoff an immense vein of calcium bentonite. As a result, Washerst became the world’s leading producer of clumping kitty litter.
To this day, Washerst is the world’s principal producer of cat litter, and it is the global headquarters for Kleen Kitty Kat Litter,® the top brand of cat litter used around the planet. Civic pride of Washerstians is reflected in their town motto, “Washerst – We Are A Kleen Community.”
Pictures of Washerst are here.
Pictured below are Alojzy Wasniewski, Mieczyslaw Herstikovsnovstiffikoff, and the pride of Washerst: Kleen Kitty Kat Litter.
Exciting news for Dickinson fans: Oprah Winfrey has agreed to be a speaker at the 2012 Emmett Lee Dickinson Organization of Poetry Enthusiasts (DOPE) conference in October at Dickinson College (the Emmett Lee Dickinson Community College campus) in Washerst, PA. The 2012 theme is Curious and Curiouser Debates. Panel discussions and conversations will focus on some of the most perplexing issues surrounding Emmett Lee Dickinson's life and work.
Oprah Winfrey said that the poetry of of Emmett Lee Dickinson changed her life, and her Oprah's Book Club feature of "The Poetry of Emmett Lee Dickinson" generated some of the highest ratings her talk show ever experienced.
Because Oprah was so moved by Dickinson's poem "Because I could not stop for Debt," she will encore one of her "My Favorite Things" extravaganzas at the DOPE conference in October. Guests of the event will be inundated with some of Oprah's favorite things, including cinnamon waxed floss, double-A batteries, bacon flavored tooth paste, fanny pack floppy flasks, tube socks, Scottish shaving kilts, and full-body hooded unitards.
Emmett Lee Dickinson’s father, Emery Dickinson, had 8 brothers, including Charles Dickinson of Nashville, Tennessee. In 1806, Charles Dickinson was killed in a duel by future president Andrew Jackson.
Charles Dickinson had been friends with Andrew Jackson for many years. They met as apprentice cordwainers (shoemakers; not cobblers as cobblers were craftsmen who repaired shoes). Dickinson was quite adept with making pegged construction and English Welted shoes; Jackson was proficient with Norwegian, stitchdown, and bolognese stitched shoes.
At the time Jackson was dating Rachel Donelson, but he became incensed when he obeserved her flirting with Captain Lewis Robards during Nashville’s annual Hornpipe and Jig Jubilee. To make Rachel jealous, Jackson asked Dickinson to plan a blind date for him, and Dickinson obliged. He arranged for Jackson to attend a cotillion with the Fry sisters of Bumpus Mills at Colonel Mottrom and Priscilla Pennypacker’s Fee Fi Faux Farm.
The day before the cotillion, Jackson spotted the Fry sisters at Adley Gladden’s country store, and he was repulsed by their unsightliness. He charged to Dickinson’s lodging and exclaimed, “if ugly were a crime, the Fry sisters would get life.”
Dickinson was taken aback, and replied that Galusha Fry, the older sister, was a treasure. “Then a treasure best buried,” remarked Jackson. He continued, “One has the right to be ugly, but those sisters have abused the privilege. Sir,” he bellowed, “the last time I saw ugly like that, I had to pay admission.”
The two men quarreled fiercely. Jackson called Dickinson a rogue, a cheat, and a sassy cat. Dickinson called Jackson a worthless scoundrel, a poltroon and a coward. The final knock-back occurred, though, when Dickinson called Jackson an “equivocator.” Jackson stood speechless, his mouth agape. He had never been more furious. Finally, he slapped Dickinson firmly in the face with his riding glove. “I challenge you to a duel, Sir,” he bellowed, “for I am no equivocator.”
Here is information about the duel published in “The Tennessean”:
On the morning of May 30, 1806, the two men and their seconds along with several spectators gathered on Kentucky soil and readied themselves for their confrontation. Upon the command, "Fire!" Jackson resolved to let Dickinson shoot first. He wore loose clothing and stood at an angle so as to disguise the location of his heart. Dickinson fired and hit Jackson, but as the smoke cleared Jackson stood his ground. Dickinson's bullet missed Jackson's breastbone and rib cage, inflicting a painful and bloody but not life-threatening wound.
Calmly, Jackson raised his pistol, looked grimly into Dickinson's eyes and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. Jackson examined his pistol and discovered that the hammer had been half-cocked. He completed the cock, aimed again, and fired. This time the bullet fired, penetrated Dickinson's abdomen below his ribs, and passed through his body, leaving a gaping hole in his flesh. Dickinson slumped over and fell to the ground, and died a short time later, having succumbed to his mortal wound.
For more information about the Dickinson-Jackson duel, click here.
For the complete (so far) history of Emmett Lee Dickinson (Emily Dickinson's third cousin, twice removed) click here.
The Emmett Lee Dickinson Organization of Poetry Enthusiasts (DOPE) has signed transnationally famous crossword constructor Merl Reagle as a speaker for the 2012 DOPE conference at Dickinson College (the Emmett Lee Dickinson campus) in Washerst, PA. The 2012 theme is Curious and Curiouser Debates. Panel discussions and conversations will focus on some of the most perplexing issues surrounding Emmett Lee Dickinson's life and work.
Reagle will present a full-day forum on the use of Dickinsonian words in crossword puzzles. Some examples:
· 5-letter word: “Eternal valley?” 
· 7-letter word: Rite that starts with fun! 
· 4-letter word: An unpleasant sensation occurring in varying degrees of severity as a consequence of injury,
disease, or emotional disorder, often in the neck. 
· 9-letter word: Chamber made 
The Dickinson Organization of Poetry Enthusiasts (DOPE) will meet October 12 - 14, 2012, at Dickinson College (Emmett Lee Dickinson Community College Campus) in Washerst, PA. The 2012 theme is Curious and Curiouser Debates. Panel discussions and conversations will focus on some of the most perplexing issues surrounding Emmett Lee Dickinson's life and work: Why didn't Dickinson publish? What literary characteristics did third-cousin Emily Dickinson pilfer from Emmett Lee for her own work? Why did the poet become a recluse? Why was he obsessed with corn?
Additional conference information and registration details will be posted as soon as the DOPEs can get it ready.
Emmett Lee Dickinson's daughter Qwerty Dickinson’s son, Lee Thaddeus Dickinson, married Velvalee Blucher in the early 1930s. Lee T. Dickinson was a doll maker, and in 1937 he and Velvalee opened a doll shop in New York City, catering to affluent doll collectors. In 1944 Velvalee was convicted for espionage against the United States on behalf of Japan by sending secret information in her dolls to contacts in Buenos Aires. Lee T. Dickinson escaped prosecution due to the fact that he died in 1943.
Additional information about Velvalee Dickison is found here and here.
For more information on the great American poet Emmett Lee Dickinson (Emily Dickinson's third cousin, twice removed -- at her request) click here.