Monday, October 31, 2011
In the spirit of today’s Halloween, we present an Eastern screech owl, denizen of the Rhode Island woods, courtesy of an e-mail from the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, which is sponsoring owl prowls, full moon hikes and wildlife walks throughout the state in November. It’s just one of the bits of whimsy and mischief I’ve noticed today, from the elaborate rogues’ gallery and horror menagerie that annually takes over a house on High Street in Wakefield to the barista in a bumblebee outfit who served me coffee and a bagel at Sweet Cakes Bakery and Café in Peace Dale.
Work gets in the way today, so my Doctuh Funkmeistuh – “Zombies like funk. We are the funky dead.” – persona will have to wait a few moons to unleash itself upon an unsuspecting public, but that doesn’t mean we’ve gone cold turkey on the holiday. Last Friday some friends and I met at the Steel Yard in Providence for the 6th annual Iron Pour. This year’s theme was “Molten Masquerade” and the whole experience was, in owl terms, a hoot. Members of the Iron Guild poured about 500 pounds of liquid, gold-colored iron into various molds, metal skulls, jack-o-lanterns and giant sculptures, while the yard smoldered and blazed, producing billowing white smoke, shimmering steam and exploding stars out of the iron that splattered against the cold ground or expired in the raw autumn night. Equally impressive was the furnace containing the oozing orange metal, sending plumes of wild yellow and blue fire sky high and disgorging streams of the amber liquid when called upon. The ironmaster (or ironmistress in this case) asked the crowd to vote on naming the furnace from such possibilities as El Jefe, Hoss the Boss, Psiclops (not Cyclops, for reasons I can’t remember) and Banshee (inspired by the incessantly noisy but necessary furnace fan) – although I was partial to the suggestion by one guy in the audience who said we should name it Dave…Dave the Furnace.
Some of the molds became spears that were used to attack a monstrous witch, which caught flame and disintegrated into its skeletal pose. Another large mold, once it cooled and was lifted off the ground with a winch and a steel chain, was revealed as a giant, glowing skull. The Iron Guild members, in their best village mob impersonation, moved in loose choreography, attacking various masquerade figures, including a giant goat and a tree-like creature that reminded me of one of the characters on the old “H.R. Pufnstuf” kid show. They lit a massive metal jack-o-lantern and sent it rolling down a hill. They ignited skulls around the perimeter (although the skull directly in front of us seemed to have enough life in it to keep snuffing out the fire, eventually treating us to a brief but spectacular interlude of flaming eyeballs and a torch-like tongue before going dark again). Masked mythical creatures cavorted along with one ironmonger twirling a flaming lasso of sorts, sending colorful sparks into the night. Another character – a crowd favorite – revved a flaming chainsaw and ran around a lot. Every time the molten iron splattered on the ground or collided with other surfaces the oxide produced dazzling fireworks of mostly silver and blue. Pumpkins in the dark jolted to life with each pour, instantly flashing their sinister jack-o-lantern grins. The evening was a theatrical mix of controlled volcanic eruption, magma flow, the rites of destruction and creation, and sparklers on steroids.
At one level the night was about the pure joy of burning things. At another it was modern mythmaking, a blend of art, science and ritual weirdness harking back to the Halloweens of yore and the fire festivals of ancient tribes. Luminous and fanciful, the Halloween Iron Pour is one of those quirky experiments in living alchemy that Providence does so well. Prometheus and Vulcan should be proud.
This week’s question: What was your most memorable Halloween?
During last week’s game 5 of the World Series between the Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals, Fox broadcasting announcer Joe Buck dropped a Rhody size reference between at-bats, noting that “220 Rhode Islands” could fit into Texas. Of course, while the geographic math may be true, on a cultural level it’s doubtful you could find 220 Rhode Islanders who could fit into Texas.