Author: Jennifer Colton-Jones

Jennifer Colton-Jones is always searching for something interesting, in between writing, studying and living in the Pacific Northwest.

The Lonely Tower

A single apartment sits at the top of an ancient tower in the middle of the Jordanian desert. The tower at Um er-Rasas stands 46-feet-tall with no door, no stairs, and no way to ever leave. The square base of the tower, one mile north of the Byzantine city of Kastron Mefa’a is completely solid and constructed so well it still stands after 1,000 years of desert wind and sun. The church and courtyard at its base have crumbled into dust.

Now home to only birds, the tower may be the only standing structure left from the Stylite movement. These ascetic, Christian monks, were so dedicated to self-discipline and depriving themselves of comfort they lived in isolation high above the rest of the world. The Jordanian tower likely housed one of these Stylite monks in the fifth-century.

The Stylites followed the footsteps of St. Simeon Stylite the Elder. Known for his unceasing prayer, Simeon became so popular to pilgrims he had no time for his own devotions. To guarantee he had quiet, Simeon climbed aboard a platform on the top of a tower in the town of Aleppo in modern-day Syria. Although he allowed visitors to climb a ladder to seek his counsel in the afternoons, he never left. Simeon ascended to his platform in 423 A.D. and remained until his death 37 years later.

Internationally Adored

Merriam-Webster may be one of the most respected names in the dictionary business, but the giant isn’t always perfect. In 1934, the company released an edition of Webster’s New International Dictionary including the word “dord,” which was defined as a synonym for “density.” But no such term actually existed within the physics and chemistry lexicon.

This “ghost word” came about after someone at Webster misinterpreted a piece of paper sent in by the company’s chemistry editor. It read, “D or d, cont./density.” What the editor meant to convey is that “density” should be added to the list of words that can be abbreviated with “D.” Dord was somehow assigned a pronunciation guide (dôrd), it slipped past the proofreaders, and it ended up on page 771 of the esteemed catalog of English vocabulary.

Inevitable future line of IKEA wastepaper baskets notwithstanding, “dord” is no longer masquerading as a real word. An editor identified the impostor in 1939, but it wasn’t fully banished from all G & C Merriam Company dictionaries until 1947.

The Petticoat Rebellion of 1916

Please warmly welcome our newest contributor, Jennifer Colton-Jones.

Laura Stockton Starcher, 1917 (The Oregonian/Oregon Historical Society)
Laura Stockton Starcher, 1917 (The Oregonian/Oregon Historical Society)

On a December morning in 1916, the polls opened in the small town of Umatilla, Oregon, for a municipal election. As the day stretched on, the town’s men drifted in and out, casting a ballot here or there. By midday, the men started to wonder what had happened to the women. For months, the women had talked of their newly gained right to vote—women in Oregon won the right to vote in 1912, eight years before the 19th Amendment—but election morning came and went without a peep from Umatilla’s fairer residents.

Perhaps the women had decided they couldn’t spare the time to vote. Perhaps they assumed the incumbents would keep their seats with no serious opposition on the ticket. Perhaps it simply slipped their minds. It would fit: The town’s city councilmen often failed—or simply forgot—to attend council meetings themselves.

The men scratched their heads and looked around. Chickens ran in the unpaved streets, and the sidewalks were broken and cracked under dark and useless streetlights, turned off when the city didn’t pay its electric bill. For years, the women had begged, scolded, and commanded the men to clean up the town, to no avail. Yet when they had the opportunity to speak with their votes, the women’s voices were silent…or were they?

In the early afternoon, the women began to arrive at the polling stations, almost all at once, and almost without exception. By the time the polls closed that evening, the women of Umatilla had pulled off a strange sort of conspiracy unlike anything the country had ever seen.

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