Thursday, May 31, 2012


On a recent trip to a fancy corner of West Virginia, Megan and I found ourselves in a restored hotel from the gaslight era--The Blennerhassett (by all means, check out this .pdf of words that also have at least two pairs of like letters.  Is there a word, like Blennerhassett, that has three pair of like letters?  Plenty, I think.  What about consecutive like letters?  Apparently only "bookkeeper" fits that bill.  This all needed to be a foottnnote, I apologize).

Anyway, I'd always wondered how this independent and beautiful hotel could exist in Parkersburg, which is pleasant but rundown, "one of those Sodoms of the Ohio River," or so it's called by a character from James Agee's Night of the Hunter.

(No Sodom now, Parkersburg's motto is "Let's Be Friends.")

Turns out, The Blennerhassett had been the hotel of a boom period (coal? oil? shipping?), then a flophouse in the 30s and 40s, and was finally renovated within the last few years.

Library with Backgammon board; player piano; guy in the corner who says, "See here."

It was terrific to take a one-night vacation to a place that's less than an hour away.  Prudent opulence, and a good celebration of eight years of dating/marriage.  And besides the hotel, the Blennerhassett's got a claim on an island that's open to tourists, which allowed for some picnicking, animal dodging, and political curiosity.

We found that the Island, which is a short ferry ride from the town, has as strange a history as the hotel.  The namesake, Harman Blennerhassett, had married his niece in England and been forced to flee to the permissive U.S. (This story was nearly made famous in a deleted verse of America the Beautiful).

Once here, H. Blen. set up a manse in the middle of the Ohio and began producing a dank hemp crop.  Somehow--and this is odd considering the fact that the niece-marrying are usually standup guys--he got himself embroiled with noted duelist Aaron Burr, and both men were tried by the government for various treasons after entertaining the idea of a break-away Southwest Empire.

Megan and I didn't see much treason on the island, but we did see a rabid opossum hassling a goose, which recalled to one of us, the one who has a rabid and unkempt imagination, that Burr-Hamilton duel of Bygonera.

Two things got purchased on this weekend away, one which recalls the Harman Blennerhassett era of the eighteen-oughts and one which recalls the flophouse era of the 30s.

The first was a glass bug jar which folks in the early-19th used to hang in their kitchens to catch flies with.  Megan had to buy this authentic West Virginia product (actually made in Massachusetts) mostly because she had guessed correctly when our tour guide asked us what we thought it was.  We picked up the reproduction in the gift shop.

(Shortly before this purchase, I dutifully reported to a clerk that the toilet in The Necessary House, as the in-character tour guides called it, was overflowing.  West Virginia Parks and Recreation workers seemed completely unfazed by this plumbing disaster, maybe because they were concerned with the resurgent opossum, which we later heard tell was carrying a brood of opossi in her opouch.

The bug jar is pretty).

The second purchase was a drink wheel from the Blennerhassett Hotel gift shop.  This doohickey--I should tell you that I just had a nice time typing "doohickey wiki" into my google bar and will report on the history of the word in a moment--this doohickey tells me the ingredients of all sorts of classic cocktails, how to prepare them, and whether to shake or stir, and all of that info's contained in a 4-inch diameter circle of metal.  I realize this thing is probably in every gift shop, but since The Blennerhassett has the air of a classic cocktail, and of Depression-era rule-breaking, the wheel feels like a specific memento.

This is pretty much it.  Meanwhile, a "doohickey" is a mixture of a doodad and a hickey (two parts doodad, one part hickey, with a water back); a hickey is either "a small fitting used in wiring for electric lights, a fixture piped for gas," or it's just something a person can't remember the name of.  The OED is unsure.  It's possible that the Blennerhassett's gaslights were maintained with hickeys, but there weren't any noticeable doohickeys on the premises, besides, of course, The Cocktail Wheel.  A "doodad" is also etymologically vexing, but a "dad" is "a large piece knocked off" of something, as in "a dad of bread."  A "doo" is only a misspelling, as in the puritan Arthur Dent's line, "What a marriage, what a meeting, what a doo." 

I've always wanted to be the kind of person who gets into jazz and knows a little about cocktails, but the former requires listening to hours of jazz, and the latter just involves drinking, so this cocktail wheel has provided me with a project I've happily moved ahead with.  I'm trying to taste the cocktails in the order in which they appear on the wheel, and I have one every time there's a Celtics game on.

This has helped us restock our paltry bar and helped me feel cosmopolitan, which was incidentally the second drink I made, after a nice daiquiri.

I've botched a Brandy Alexander, whipped up a White Russian, ruined a Whiskey Sour with low quality lemon juice, and I've celebrated my Sidecar, which is a perfect drink for me--it emerged from flophouse days, the Sidecar did, and Esquire called it the only good cocktail to be born of Prohibition.  So it's got a story.  Along with a little brandy, a little triplesec, some low-quality lemon juice that I doctored with Tropicana . . . Not bad.

I'm hoping the Celtics win a couple games against the Heat, and if they make the finals, I'll certainly get a shot at a Rusty Nail, a Martini, a Margarita, a Manhattan, a Gimlet, and a Gibson.

Overall, the trip was--and the classy drinking has been--quite a nice time.  What a marriage, what a meeting, what a doo.

1 comment:

David Grover said...

Mississippi, of course, as every schoolchild rhythm-rhymes, has three pairs of letters. Try to find a word as long with as few distinct letters: 4 letters in an 11-letter word (Okefenokee is 5:10).

How about barroommaid?

I've similarly been intrigued by cocktails, as they represent what seems to be a very delicate and involved form of beveraging very different from beering or wining. Only since I don't drink, my interest has been more academic. Tonight, however, Em and I had an experimental mocktail party to see what all the hubbub was about; she's blogging about it right now.