Sputnikfest 2014


Rahr-West Art Museum - click HERE for more info!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

It’s About the Smiles
A popular feature at each year’s Sputnikfest are the Star Wars characters.  What do Star Wars and Sputnik have in common?  Not much, when you get right down to it.  I will admit that in the early planning stages of the event I was a bit skeptical as to including Star Wars or “alien” elements in the festival.  Manitowoc, Wisconsin can lay claim to something no other city in the world can – part of a Russian satellite crashed into our city at the height of the Cold War.  My initial thoughts were that we should focus on the retro/Cold War/early Space Age aspects of the event.   I figured – there are plenty of sci-fi conventions and such where a person can go see Star Wars characters and aliens … but you know what?  There aren’t a lot of opportunities in Manitowoc, Wisconsin to see a Stormtrooper pushing a baby carriage. 
The 501’st Legion is a world-wide all-volunteer Star Wars themed costuming organization, with the mission of “promoting Star Wars, facilitating the use of costumes and contributing to their communities through charity work and volunteerism.”  The 501st legion has over 6,000 members world-wide and is 15 years old this year.  The Wisconsin Garrison is three years old this year and has more than 60 members, with more enlisting all the time. 
I asked Garrison Public Relations Officer Kristal Brandt why it is that they do what they do.  She replied “Why we do this will differ for each member.  However the answer always seems to come back to the smiles.  When a Stormtrooper, Vader or any character for that matter steps out the excitement and the smiles that follow are priceless ... It always comes back to the smiles.”
If you are interested in knowing more about the 501st Legion, check out their website.  Last year members of the Wisconsin Garrison appeared at nearly 80 events throughout the State.  The Dark Side of the Force apparently has a heart of gold.  The only payment the group asks for is a donation to either a charity of the event’s choice, or one the group will be happy to recommend. 
To become a member of the 501st you have to have a passion for Star Wars – and for helping others, be at least 18 years old, and have a professional quality Star Wars costume.  GPRO Brandt told me their “members take pride in building their costumes to be screen accurate.  The first step in the process is to research, research, research.”   The 501st website has a costume reference library that details the standards for each character.  Most elements are hand-crafted and these costumes don’t come cheap –  a basic Stormtrooper costume starts at about $1,200.  Some other costumes may cost a little less, many characters a lot more. 
The Star Wars characters do play an active role in Sputnikfest.   Last year Darth Vader guided the fire truck into position for the alien drop and the characters also served guard to hold back the masses of children waiting to charge in and fill their pockets with little rubber aliens.  See a previous post for details on how the Alien Drop works, but after the winning alien is determined, all the remaining aliens are scooped up by enthusiastic children.  Sometimes they are bit too enthusiastic and want to rush in and start grabbing up the alien booty before the contest winner has been determined.  At last year’s event the Star Wars characters really had their hands full trying to “hold the line.”  The spectacle of Darth Vader, Stormtroopers and assembled Empire Heavies struggling to keep a group of children back prompted Museum Director Greg Vadney to quip to one of the characters – “See, that’s why you guys lost the Death Star twice.”
Visit Sputnikfest on September 7, 2013 in Manitowoc, Wisconsin to see the 501st Legion Wisconsin Garrison in action.  And see firsthand why it truly is all about the smiles.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Farmers’ Almanac , known for its long-range weather predictions, presented in a format heavy on human interest features and home-spun humor, has been published continuously since 1818.  It is quite amazing that in an age where print magazines seem to be going the way of the buggy whip, as recently as September 2012 the Weather Channel noted that the Farmer’s Almanac print edition enjoys a circulation number in the neighborhood of 3.1 million copies.  The publication’s exact method for making its prognostications are proprietary, but they do rely – at least in part, these days – on weather satellites.  In March of 2010 the Farmers’ Almanac made note of the 50th anniversary of the first weather satellite.  Another satellite related reference will be included in the 2014 edition – the publication has contacted Sputnikfest organizers of to say they will be featuring the festival in the 2014 edition, set to be released in August of this year.  Is that cool or what?  Might not quite be like making the cover of the Rolling Stone – but around these parts, the Farmers’ Almanac is a pretty big deal.  With the 2014 edition set to hit the newsstands just before the 2013 edition of Sputnikfest – the timing couldn’t be better.   Planet Terry

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Wake-Up Call for Uncle Sam

The Russians launched Sputnik I on Monday, October 4, 1957 (“Red Monday”).  In the following weeks this small shiny metal sphere orbited the earth broadcasting its signal, which could be heard by anyone with a short-wave radio receiver.  This “beep heard ‘round the world” was a real wake-up call for the United States.  How had the “Commies” caught us so unprepared? 

The finger-pointing started soon after and, predictably, came down along party lines.  Gerhard Mennen Williams, Democrat Governor of Michigan from 1949 to 1961, took a rather clever shot at Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower - in rhyming verse.  15 of the last 18 American presidents have been avid golfers and in times of crisis most have been criticized for it.  Governor Williams speculated that President Eisenhower and been caught unawares by Sputnik - because he had been spending too much time on the golf course.  He penned the following short poem, which was printed in the New York Times.

Oh little Sputnik, flying high
With made-in-Moscow beep,
You tell the world it’s a Commie sky
and Uncle Sam’s asleep.

You say on fairway and on rough
The Kremlin knows it all,
We hope our golfer knows enough
To get us on the ball.

 G. Mennen Williams (1911-1988)

Then-Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson said this about the Sputnik launch: “Now, somehow, in some new way, the sky seemed almost alien. I also remember the profound shock of realizing that it might be possible for another nation to achieve technological superiority over this great country of ours.”

The fear was that the Russians could now access the skies over our great country for nefarious means.  In fact, the only physical damage done to America by the Sputnik program was a relatively small hole punched in the middle of a street in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. 

With apologies to the late Governor Williams:

Oh little Sputnik Number Four, you thought you were the best
But you fell to earth in Manitowoc and gave us Sputnikfest.

See you in Manitowoc on Saturday September 7, 2013 - Planet Terry

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Thing on Sputnik 4
I am a comic collector – and I just picked up one more for my collection about a week ago.  The image here is a scan of the actual comic that I bought on eBay.  Not mint condition by any means, but solid.  (By the way, it is interesting how “wear” on comics is viewed by collectors.  Of course, all things being equal, I prefer a Near Mint comic over a Good comic any day.  But I don’t mind having a comic that shows a little honest wear and tear.  This simply shows that it was read, probably more than once, and maybe shared with a friend or two.  It’s what these things were meant for.  That sort of “genuine” wear on many other collectibles is considered “patina” and is prized.  But, I digress …)  What drew me to this particular comic, and why I am writing about it here, is the text on the upper right area of the cover – a tag-line promoting a particular story in this comic: “SCOOP! … the thing on Sputnik 4.”
Now, as any Sputnikfest aficionado knows, Sputnik 4 is the one that ended up in Manitowoc in 1962.  This comic is Issue 2 of the title “Race for the Moon” and is dated September 1958 – about a year after Sputnik 1 was launched by the Russians.  At the time this story was published the Russians had launched Sputniks 2 and 3 (November 1957 and May 1958, respectively) but Sputnik 4 would not launch until March 1961 – two and a half years after this story hit the drug-store spinner rack.  This would explain why the satellite in the story looks nothing like Sputnik 4. 
Here is a link to Pappy’s Golden Age Comics Blogzine – a blog featuring images and stories from vintage comics.  If you are interested, you can read the entire story here, which is only 5 pages long.  The story itself is nothing spectacular, but the artwork is pure fifties vintage sci-fi cool.  The author imagines a wheel-shaped space station manned by the U.S. military and in the course of the story, Sputnik 4 ends up on the space station.  In the final panel of the story the narrator notes that they will, of course, return Sputnik 4 to orbit “in the interest of good foreign relations” and continue on with their mission of “making friends in a new and vaster realm” – which is a pretty positive message considering the Cold War environment in 1958. 
By the way, we did have our first planning meeting for Sputnikfest 2013 this past week.  I’ll share more specific details as things come together in the coming months, but rest assured that the Sputnikfest wheels are rolling!  Planet Terry