Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The 5 Geekiest Facts about the Grand Coulee Dam

I often say that the PBS documentary series American Experience is my favorite show. I exaggerate. BBC's Sherlock is my *favorite* show. AE is second. Therefore, I was devastated when I moved to Colorado and saw that it wasn't on Monday nights, as I had come to expect in South Carolina. The Bachelor filled that void for a while, but it just wasn't the same . . . in that one show is crap, and the other is actually decent.

But in a Festivus miracle (i.e., I can't read a TV schedule--you'd expect someone whose second-favorite show is American Experience to be a little quicker on the uptake), I discovered that it's on Tuesday nights here. Score. So without further ado, here are some geektastic conversation pieces about the Grand Coulee Dam. 

It was totally built over Native American burial grounds.  
The Columbia River was FIERCE--the largest river in the West. 

Evidence of fierceness.
However, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's engineers decided that said burial grounds and salmon spawning waters (apparently the river once turned red from the backs of Columbia salmon) were insignificant in the face of a Great Depression and the need for irrigation and electricity in the Pacific Northwest. Clearly, FDR's engineers had never seen this film.

I bet the 72 men who died constructing the dam think there's a connection.

Construction Boss Manley Harvey Slocum was a lush.
The superintendent of the dam was a confirmed hard-drinker and profane former iron worker. No wonder "B Street," where the workers lived, became infamous for having the most saloons, brothels, and alcohol-consumed per capita than anywhere in the country--as well as the most shootings, knifings, and "social diseases."

I bet this history of B Stret gives 50 Shades of Gray a run for its money.

Pop Culture Connection (Literature)
The project was initially so unpopular, it was deemed the "White Elephant of the Desert." First: Look up the idiom. Then: Read the Hemingway short story. It is, as promised, short.

And heart-breakingly brilliant.

Pop Culture Connection (Music)
Folk legend Woody Guthrie was hired by the Bonneville Power Authority to make a documentary about the "virtues of public power." Sounds fishy to me too. But he took his $266 and wrote a song called "Roll on Columbia" that became a classic anthem of the working man and the environment.  Check it out:


Pop Culture Connection (Precious Indie TV Show)
The power and irrigation created by the Grand Coulee Dam was largely responsible for developing the metropolises of the Pacific Northwest, including a little town called Portland. So I'm pretty sure we can draw a throughline from the Grand Coulee Dam to this show:

It streams, much like the Columbia used to before it was dammed to form Lake Roosevelt. Zing!

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