Sunday, August 19, 2007

My ancestry's brush with fame... and infamy!

While he's all but unknown to even the most knowledgable historians today, my great-great-grandpa Venison Plowe (our family dropped the silent "P" shortly after his death, although the "l" remained lowercase) was at one time arguably the third or fourth most famous lip reader in western Maryland. I hardly need to remind my readers that entertainment options were scarce around the turn of the century, centered as they were mostly on bible reading, deer tickling and poisoning one's spouse. Therefore, an accomplished lip reader could dazzle crowds far and wide with his "feats of verbal verification," as the posters used to say. Yes sir, folks would travel from as far as Johnstown, PA to see ol' Venison practice his craft. One time he even performed in front of 1,500 people at the county fair, although it's possible that most of the crowd was there to see the follow-up act: a pig blowing into a jug.

Still, it was pretty impressive whenever great great grandpa Venison strapped beaver tails to his ears for soundproofing and attempted to repeat back whatever people said to him from a distance as great as 1.9 yards. I say "attempt" because despite the relatively close proximity and the faultiness of the beaver tail earphones, his guesses were almost always wildly off the mark. An audience member might remark "the fire engine is red" and Venison would interpret it as "The Duchess is swathed in jump rope and blubber." But ol' Venison's piss-poor lip reading skills didn't matter because he had a secret trick: he was also a trained hypnotist! No matter what someone would actually say, he'd hypnotize them and the entire audience into thinking the correct phrase was something like "Zeus has crashed through my skylight wearing a mu'umu'u." Whenever I heard stories as a kid about great great grandpa Venison I'd usually ask why he didn't just bill himself as a hypnotist, since they made a lot more money than lip readers anyway. This usually resulted in me getting a belt to the face from the nearest relative for "asking too many gay-ass questions." Later I discovered that Venison was kicked out of the Western Maryland Hypnotists Guild early in his career and blackballed for "theft of ceremonial robes, improper clucking instructions, and suspicion of buggering somnolent bystanders." All in all, I can't say I blame them.

After the demand for lip readers dried up - along with his hypnotizing ability - Venison "fharted around for a whyle," as he later wrote in his "jhournal." He eked out a living writing trashy stories under a pseudonym ("The Stupendous Gus") for hypnosis magazines like Mesmerised Lasses and Wacky Trance, wallowing in profanity by day and moonshine at night, until he accidentally swallowed a toenail clipper and died in 1917. Not a pretty story, I know, but hey I'd like to see some of the sleazeballs and slave traders in your family tree... jerk!

1 comment:

FOT Josh said...

I'm just here for the Johnstown reference.