Monday, September 05, 2005

Origin: Fire Brigades

Benjamin Franklin, an advocate of fire safety in the home, wrote an article in his Gazette suggesting: “In the first Place, as an Ounce of Prevention is worth a Pound of Cure, I would advise ‘em to take care how they suffer living Coals in a full Shovel, to be carried out of one Room into another, or up or down Stairs, unless in a Warmingpan shut; for Scraps of Fire may fall into Chinks and make no Appearance until Midnight; when your Stairs being in Flames, you may be forced, (as I once was) to leap out of your Windows, and hazard your Necks to avoid being oven-roasted.”

This was sound advice from Mr. Franklin who was one of the first to suggest the need for a body of men who would be available to fight a fire, perhaps a “Club or Society of active Men belonging to each Fire Engine; whose Business is to attend all Fires with it whenever they happen.”

On a recent trip to Philadelphia and a tour around the historic district, I was pleased to see that many old buildings have retained the original fire marks of their respective insurance companies, some of which began in England and then moved to America. These new businesses were both lucrative and competitive. On acceptance of a policy, the insurance company installed their fire mark on the insured building, usually on the first floor where it could easily be seen. Originally, the fire marks were made of lead and cast in a mold with the insurance company’s number under a unique emblem. They were decorated in bright colors and sometimes included a gold leaf accent. However, from 1780 to 1800, the high cost of lead made the fire marks too expensive, so copper, tin or a mixture of metals was used. Fire marks designs varied considerably with each insurance company. The Fire Association of Philadelphia (c. 1817) displayed a hose wrapped around a pump while the Insurance Company of North America depicted an eagle and a hose.

Insurance companies organized their own fire brigades to protect their clients’ properties. The men of these brigades were chosen for their strength and disposition. They wore magnificent, colorful uniforms that easily distinguished members of one brigade from another. The men of a brigade were proud and often gregarious by nature. When an alarm sounded, each brigade set off to discover the whereabouts of the fire. If the building displayed a rival’s fire mark, the brigade not only let the property burn, but actually impeded the legitimate brigade’s attempts to douse the fire by kicking over their competitors’ leather buckets, swearing or physically fighting while the building burned to the ground.

Anyone who saw the movie Gangs of New York might remember there was just such an incident where rival firefighters literally took to fisticuffs over a fire as the building was razed to the ground.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Mystery of Leylines

What are leylines? Are they merely ancient paths or do they hold some kind of mystical earth power? Is it true that UFOs have been seen in the sky following leylines?

Growing up as I did in the County of Essex, England, I had heard about leylines but it was not until I did research for my book Extraordinary Places…Close to London (see page 37) that I realized there are leylines in other parts of the world too. The Lines of Nazca, Peru (see photo), the Altiplano of Bolivia, and right here in the United States, we have the Great North Road on the Chaco in Arizona. These as well as other locations around the world all offer similar characteristics: long straight roads with monuments, churches, rings of stones, places of historic interest, etc. that mark the way. Often these leylines cannot be seen from ground level but can be clearly seen from the air. Why would that happen?

One of the first people to notice and document leylines in England was Alfred Watkins (1855-1935) who was an avid photographer. Watkins’ son, Allen, later wrote about his father’s discovery. “Then without any warning it all happened suddenly. His mind was flooded with a rush of images forming one coherent plan. The scales fell from his eyes and he saw that over many long years of prehistory, all trackways were in straight lines marked out by experts on a sighting system. The whole plan of The Old Straight Track stood suddenly revealed.”

Interestingly, the leylines in England do follow a straight path over terrain that could be more easily navigated by a circuitous route. This is true in other countries too where the tracks have taken a traveler up and over a mountain rather than an easier route around it. Is there some reason to keep a track straight?

Watkins never gave us an explanation for these ancient tracks that are now called leylines. Dowsing experts have followed the leylines and tell us there is subterranean water activity. To this day, pilots follow leylines as they navigate the skies, so is it so strange to think that if we have been ‘visited’ by UFOs, they would also follow the same lines? Many believe animals possess extra sensitivity to earth power and congregate at certain spots that have been deemed leylines. When something strange happens in a village, the incident is often expressed as, “…well, what do you expect, it’s on a leyline…”