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July 9, 2024 8 mins

Enjoy this pair of curious tales as you make your way through the Cabinet today.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to Aaron Menke's Cabinet of Curiosities, a production of
iHeartRadio and Grimm and Mild.

Speaker 2 (00:12):
Our world is full of the unexplainable, and if history
is an open book, all of these amazing tales are
right there on display, just waiting for us to explore.
Welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosities. Traditions are more than

just things we do because we've always done them. For example,
Native American traditions are rich with lessons on how to
respect and connect with the natural world. In doing so,
many Native people gain an understanding of how their own
lives intertwine with the world around them. As an example,
members of the Ajibwe tribe of North America passed down
a legend related to one of the biggest parts of

everyday life life sleep. Most people don't think asleep is
something strongly connected to the natural world around us, but
this legend urges us to look at things differently, and
it even gives rise to a mystical item that you
might have in your home today. The legend goes something
like this, There once was a woman named Asi Bikashi
who watched over every creature on earth while they slept.

She was known to protect infants and children especially, but
she wasn't protecting them from wild animals, ghosts, or even monsters.
She was protecting them from bad dreams. Native peoples believed
that dreams were a force of energy that surrounded a
person while they slept. That energy then caused the person
to see visions in their unconscious state, and so Asi

Bagashi wove delicate silken nets over children's cribs. These nets
trap negative energy so that it couldn't give the children
scary visions. She used her hands to make sure the
nets were strong enough to catch bad energy, but also
soft and soothing enough to sleep under. Because of the
net's elegant, weblike design, Asi Bagashi earned the nickname the

Spider Woman. After a long RESTful night, it was Asi
Bagashi's job to put the sun back into the sky,
another way that she controlled the good energy over the people.

Speaker 1 (02:12):
That she cared for. This was Asi Bagashi's job for
a long time, but at a certain point, the Ajibwe
people began to migrate further and further throughout the land,
and this made it harder for her to spread sunlight
to all of her people. She couldn't do it on
her own, so she asked tribal mothers and grandmothers to help.
Asi Bagashi knew that mothers and grandmothers were strong yet

gentle enough to protect children and babies just like she did,
but they didn't possess the same power of web making.
So Asi Bagashi got creative. She came up with a
way for the people to make webs like hers that
they could take with them anywhere now. At first, she
told the mothers and grandmothers to find a thin piece
of willow and bend it into a circle, and then

she showed them how to use the sinew, likely from
a buffalo, to weave a web within that circle. To
make the webb extra special for children, some women decorated
theirs with feathers, beads, and charms. Willow and sinyw weren't
strong enough to last forever, though the willow would dry out,
and that when that happened, the strands of sinu would collapse.
But that was the point. Asi Bagashi knew that youth

was temporary, so these webs were designed to fall apart
as children grew up and became strong enough to confront
their own bad dreams themselves but even grown ups needed
to help dealing with scary things from time to time,
so many a Jibwa people began to weave webs entirely
from fiber so that they would last longer. These kind
of webs are still used today. You've probably seen them

and may have even had one of your own. Today,
they're called dreamcatchers. Whether or not you believe that different
forms of energy exist, dream catchers can still provide comfort.
They're a symbol of love and protection that mothers provide
for their children, and they're a reminder of Indigenous people's
sense of community and their knowledge of natural resources, a

lesson to be sure that all of us could take
comfort in. Fans will do anything for the artist they love,

sneaking into concerts, buying bootleg merchandise, anything to get closer
to their favorite artist. For some music lovers, however, that's
not far enough. They don't want to just listen to
an artist music or buy their T shirts. They want
to get to know the artists themselves. After all. Fan
is short for fanatic, and a real fanatic wouldn't let
anything come between them and their idol. The year was

nineteen twenty six and twenty one year old Thomas Fatz
Waller was on top of the world. His jazz career
was taking off. He'd been asked to headline the College In,
one of Chicago's most famous jazz clubs, and word was
getting around about the talented pianist with the rapid fire jokes.
Every night, more and more well healed Chicagoans were packing

in to see them. What Fats didn't know was that
one particular jazz enthusiast had become intrigued by his talents.
Instead of going out to see Fats at the College In,
this man was going to bring Fats to him, whether
Fats liked it or not. One night, after a particularly
rock as set, Fats was leaving the stage door for
the College In when he felt something hard and cold

poking into his abdomen. He realized, with mounting horror that
he was surrounded by four suited men, and one of
them was pressing a revolver right into his stomach. The
four men forced Fats into a waiting limousine and told
the driver to head for East Cicero, a suburb of Chicago. Now,
as you might imagine, Fats didn't know what to think.

He had heard of the fearsome Chicago bob who ran
with guns, liquor, and any other smuggled goods that could
get their hands on in the prohibition city. Yet he
couldn't think of what that had to do with him.
He was a jazz pianist, not a gun slingers. As
the limousine drove deeper into the night, Fats worried that
this would be the last ride he would ever take. Finally,

the car pulled up to a nondescript venue in Cicero,
and Fats was forced out once more at gunpoint and
ushered through the door. Inside, he was surprised to find
a party in full swing. The four black suited men
shoved him towards the piano and told him to play,
so Fats Waller played as if his life depended on it.
After the first few songs, he finally dared to look

at the crowd, who were dancing, singing, and cheering with enthusiasm,
And when he did, he was surprised to see a
familiar face at the back of the room, one that
he had seen plastered on wanted posters and newspapers. There
clapping and cheering. The loudest of all was Chicago mob
boss al Capone. It turned out that Fats wasn't in
danger at all. Al Capone was famously a huge fan

of jazz, often booking the biggest acts of the day
to play in his underground Speakeasies Louis Armstrong, Count Bassie,
and Billie Holliday all performed in al Capone's clubs. Al
had heard about Fat's residency at the college in and
so as a surprise for his birthday, four of his
henchmen had decided to bring him a private performance by
Fats Waller as a present. Too bad, they forgot to

ask Fats about it first. Understanding that his life was
no longer at risk, Fats was able to relax and
enjoy the party. The gangsters plied him with mountains of
food and glass after glass of expensive vintage champagne. Although
he tried to leave several times, Capone and his boys
kept convincing him to stay, offering him a tip of
one hundred dollars per song. He reportedly stayed for three days,

taking breaks from playing only to nap on the piano bench. Finally,
the gangsters set Fats Waller free, allowing him to take
the limousine back to the College in they deposited him
back where they found him exhausted, drunk on champagne and
several thousand dollars richer. Fats went on after his kidnapping
by Capone to have a storied career and a huge

impact on jazz piano. He wrote several Broadway musicals and
hundreds of songs, including the jazz standards Honeysuckle Rose, and
Ain't Misbehaving. Things could have gone very differently for Fats Waller. Thankfully,
when al Capone ordered him to blow them away, he
was just talking about the music. I hope you've enjoyed

today's guided tour of the Cabinet of Curiosities. Subscribe for
free on Apple Podcasts, or learn more about the show
by visiting Curiosities podcast dot com. The show was created
by me Aaron Mankey in partnership with how Stuff Works.
I make another award winning show called Lore, which is
a podcast, book series, and television show, and you can

learn all about it over at the Worldoflore dot com.
And until next time, stay curious.

Aaron Mahnke's Cabinet of Curiosities News

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