So this past weekend I did something I’ve not done before on Second Decade: I dropped two episodes at once! The first is the “normal” next progression for the season, Episode 25, “The Man in the Buffalo Fur Suit.” The second is a bonus episode, the first in the “Second Decade: Off Topic” series, which deals with events outside the 1810s, and in fact is based on an article I did a few months ago. Here they are:
You’ve probably heard of Daniel Boone and “Grizzly” Adams, the quintessential frontier mountain men who helped forge America’s frontier identity in the 19th century. But you’ve probably never heard of Estwick Evans. An eccentric New Hampshire lawyer, something compelled to Evans put on a skin-tight suit made of buffalo fur, hoist a 6-foot rifle across his shoulders and take off into the snowy wilderness of New England on a frigid day in February 1818. Evans’s epic journey covered over 4,000 miles, overland across the Great Lakes to Detroit and then down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, out into the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans, and then by ship around Florida and up the Eastern Seaboard back to Boston. On the journey—which he chronicled in an unusual book—Evans observed much of what America was in the Second Decade, and correctly predicted at least some of what it was to become.
Historian Sean Munger takes you along on Evans’s journey, often quoting Evans’s own words and descriptions of the landscapes he saw and the people he met along the way. On this journey you’ll get frostbitten ears in the Green Mountains of Vermont, encounter backwoods witches in upstate New York, join an Indian pow-wow, and float down the Mississippi on a river barge, while all the way experiencing Evans’s self-assured and perhaps narcissistic ruminations on war, peace, gender relations, zoology, slavery and morality. This is a priceless snapshot of what America was like just before the industrial 19th century would change it forever.
This is the first in a projected series of bonus episodes called Second Decade: Off Topic, which examine historical topics outside the scope of the main podcast. This episode spins off a matter mentioned in Episode 25 of the main podcast (“The Man in the Buffalo Fur Suit”).
Unless you’re a movie nerd, chances are the name “Sunn Classic Pictures” doesn’t mean anything to you. But in the 1970s, the Utah-based studio, owned by a company that made shaving razors, had a string of bizarre hits in the form of G-rated documentaries that seriously distorted historical events. While their first hit, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, was relatively benign, Sunn later rose to prominence schlepping stories about ancient aliens, a shadowy and completely impossible plot to replace Abraham Lincoln’s assassin with a look-alike, and faith-fired quests to find Noah’s Ark and follow in the footsteps of “Historic Jesus.” Sunn’s rise coincided with cultural and political shifts in the late 1970s, including the rise of politically-active evangelical Christians who ultimately helped bring Ronald Reagan to power.
In this informal episode, historian Sean Munger relates the history of Sunn Classic Pictures and sketches out the context of the rapidly-changing America that eagerly gobbled up its historically questionable product. In this episode you’ll learn what “four-walling” is and why it was a revolutionary way to market movies; you’ll meet the Cajun-born (and born-again) mastermind behind Sunn’s strategy; you’ll go into the trenches and churches with the likes of Phyllis Schlafly and Anita Bryant; and you’ll understand why Jimmy Carter, himself an evangelical Christian, was deemed less virtuous for America than a divorced ex-B movie actor. This is a bizarre story of faith, politics, UFOs, adventurous astronauts, New Agers and lots and lots of money.