Beauty and terror on a mid-November Madison WI weekend

On this bright and warmish Monday, the unlettered field hands are singing their folk songs from the AC/DC catalog in memory of its late co-founder as they prepare the Experimental Work Farm & Penal Colony for the onset of winter.

They have covered the teak benches and tables. Drained and disconnected irrigation hoses. Split and covered firewood. Now they are mulching fallen leaves before running the mower over a second time for bagging. The nutrients will cover the gardens to be tilled in in the spring.

Saturday brought a Badger victory over the Michigan Wolverines and Coach Khaki Pants. Alex Hornibrook seems to start off the festivities with a ritual interception and then makes throws Aaron Rodgers would envy. But that Defense!!! Got to admit, for the first time this season, we are believers.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Squire’s early Sunday mornings are spent at a Monroe Street coffee shop — either Collectivo or Barrique’s. This Sunday learned that Chris Rickert has written his last column as the WI State Journal continues to contract. Too bad, he was making such progress.

In the New York Times, Maureen Dowd pronounces autopsied “institutional feminism.”

Institutional feminism died when Gloria Steinem, Madeleine Albright and other top feminists vouched for President Clinton as he brazenly lied about never having had a sexual relationship with “that woman” — Monica Lewinsky. The Clintons and feminists were outraged when Thomas’s supporters painted Anita Hill as “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.” Yet that was precisely the Clintonian tack when women spoke up about Bill’s misbehaving.

Time and again, Hillary was a party to demonizing women as liars, bimbos, trailer trash or troubled souls when it seemed clear they were truthful about her philandering husband.

The Squire of the Stately Manor witnessed just enough of the Packer debacle Sunday (Can’t anybody here play this game?) on the Philco to reinforce his good sense to get tickets for the Madison Symphony Orchestra concert featuring Sharon Isbin on classical Spanish guitar. My goodness how her fingers flew over that beautiful guitar in the Concierto de Aranjuez for Guitar and Orchestra, by Rodrigo.

Sharon Isbin

Sharon Isbin

So beautiful I came close to crying. Also enjoyed conductor John DeMain will also lead the Madison Symphony Orchestra in Copland’s pioneer West-inspired Billy the Kid Suite, which gave six musicians in the timpani section a lot of work, replicating gun fire. Amazing the variety of gizmos they have.

The acoustics are such that we could hear the suppressed cough of the clarinetist  on stage from our back row mezzanine seats ($27 each) at beautiful Overture Hall. (The third highest of four levels.)

An American Tragedy

Saturday and Sunday, caught Cold Blooded; the Clutter Family Murders on the Sundance Channel. That’s the November 15, 1959 murder of all four members of the Kansas family in their homes that formed the basis for the Truman Capote book.

Amazing interviews with members of the Clutter family — the boyfriend (off camera) of the teenage daughter slaughtered in her own bed, the last to die in that 1959 slaughter. They would be in their mid-70s now. A niece reads from the journal she had written at the time about her loss of faith in God that He could permit such a tragedy. Remarkably, an older daughter no longer living at home married just one week later because all the relatives were in town for the funerals. The wedding pictures betray the mix of joy and grief.

A surprise was the interview with the Korean War Army buddy of Perry Smith (played by look-alike Robert Blake in the original movie). He remembered a fun-loving young man. But Smith’s upbringing, his mother’s alcoholism, a sadistic orphanage that beat him for bed-wetting, two suicides of siblings … It was Smith who tied the victims, plunged the knife into Mr. Clutter, and fired the shotguns that killed them all. Both defendants apparently wrote autobiographies at the behest of their defense psychiatrist. But his trial testimony was cut short when the judge ruled only one question was relevant: did the defendants know right from wrong?

As for Richard Hickock, the master mind, a vehicle accident nine years earlier may have scrambled his brain. High school acquaintances describe him as bright and athletic.

The community’s interaction with Truman Capote and Harper Lee is also explored, with interviews from principal investigator Al Dewey’s son, who remembers the famous writers well and acknowledges the special access they received.  Dewey was played by John Forsythe in the 1967 movie and by Chris Cooper in the movie Capote. (“Bergdorf Goodman,” Phillip Seymore Hoffman lisps, running a hand over his threads. “Sears Roebuck,” Cooper as Dewey responds.)

They even talk to the death row prison guard.

Also notable is the pure luck investigators enjoyed. Only after a photograph of a bloody boot print is developed and examined did they notice a second set of faint footprints, suggesting a second perpetrator. When the pair were finally picked up in Las Vegas, they had just retrieved those incriminating boots and other goods they had forwarded through the post office from their sojourn in Mexico. Had they been picked up a day earlier, no boots with the incriminating foot prints.

Odd the murders occurred the same year the Hitchcock movie Psycho came out, which itself was a loose rendition of Wisconsin’s Ed Gein murders, discovered two years earlier. Or that over the weekend, another infamous killer would die, Charles Manson.

We are as a species capable of so much beauty and so much horror.


About David Blaska

Madison WI
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