Happy Monday, readers! This week we’re browsing some really delightful longreads with beautiful language, fascinating subjects, and deep looks into society and culture. There’s a splendid farewell to Barnum and Bailey’s, a profile of WeRateDogs, the story of unraveling a very old mystery, and two superb personal essays. As always, let us known what’s moving you in the comments!
‘The Circus Leaves Town‘ (Jessica Lussenhop for BBC News)
After nearly 150 years, Barnum & Bailey’s is going under, unable to adapt to the demands of passing time. While it’s not the only circus in the world, it’s one of the most iconic, and this is definitely the end of an era — and the end of a lively, insular world that played out on the rails of the circus train, where people lived, loved, raised children, and built community.
The production members hail from 13 different countries including Mongolia, Hungary, Russia, China, and Chile. All the show’s music is performed live, so a full band travels along, as well as a lighting and pyrotechnics crew, a team of veterinarians, vendor and concessions workers, the costume and wardrobe staff, the pie car chefs, interpreters and – at certain times – even a travelling circus ministry.
‘Pet Project‘ (Megan Greenwell for Esquire)
WeRateDogs has become a pop culture juggernaut, with an empire including not just a wildly popular Twitter but a game, a book deal, and a h*ckin’ lot of merch, and this is a fascinating read on the origins of the account, it’s creator, and what happens next. It’s a good read, Brent.
But internet veterans know that memes and viral Twitter accounts don’t tend to last forever. As Ryan Milner, a professor of media studies at College of Charleston who studies Internet culture, puts it: “Sign your book deals while ye may, because, absolutely, in six months will people be over this, will the jokes have run stale? Virality is a super-sharp spike and then it fades off.” I think back to the lesson about product life cycles from Nelson’s Principles of Marketing class. The professor’s chart showed an upside-down “U,” culminating in a decline in popularity. She did not discuss exceptions.
‘Finding Lisa: A story of murders, mysteries, loss, and, incredibly, new life‘ (Shelley Murphy for The Boston Globe)
This is a fascinating story about a young woman who unpeeled the many layers of an onion to find out who she was — with help from strangers scouring ancestry databases, law enforcement across the US, and countless others behind the scenes who wanted to answer a deceptively simple question: Where did Lisa come from?
Bob Evans was something of a chameleon. Sometimes he was clean-shaven, sometimes badly disheveled with a scruffy beard. He spoke with a Southern accent, an East Coast accent, or no accent at all. Several women recalled his bright, blue eyes and described him as charming. He was smart, fluent in French, and, according to one witness interviewed by police, also spoke Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic. Investigators suspect he may have served in the military, but they have been unable to identify him. They don’t know where he was born and raised, or where he was before he surfaced in New Hampshire in the late 1970s, when he appeared to be in his late 20s or early 30s.
‘The Privilege of Having Soft Hands‘ (Kaila Philo for Catapult)
Our hands are an intimate part of ourselves, expressing our history, identity, and heritage — for some of us, though, they might merit little more than a glance. Delving deep into your relationship with your hands, and what they say about your shared history, can reveal a great deal about who you are, who you long to be, and who you might become.
My parents’ hands were the remnants of great struggle; my siblings’ hands were wiry, thin, darkening when exposed to sunlight, seeming to age ten years for every one or two. Mine somehow remained untouched by the inheritance of labor, and sometimes, the darkest times, I’d pretend I had been born into gentility—the daughter of a renowned history professor and an adventurer, or maybe an opera singer and a documentary filmmaker—before being stolen in the night by these strangers.
‘The Hunted‘ (Debbie Weingarten for Guernica)
This fantastic, deftly structured essay explores life along the edge of the US/Mexico border and the risks immigrants take to cross, but also ranch culture, and family, and childbearing, all snarled up in each other in a delightfully languid, compelling tangle that presses the reader to keep going deeper and deeper along a shared journey.
Under the cover of spindly trees, families huddle to keep from being noticed. When the Border Patrol helicopters drop from the sky, they hover so low that they kick up walls of dust too thick to see through. Panicked mothers are separated from their children are separated from the boys traveling alone. They run further into the maze of washes; they may not know to find water inside a barrel cactus, to chew mesquite beans for sustenance, to suck the blood-red pulp from cactus fruit.
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Photo: Wir haben es satt!/Creative Commons