"When you're born, you get a ticket to the freak show. When you're born in America, you get a front row seat."
- George Carlin
Who says patriotism has to be dull? America's true greatness is a lot more interesting than red-white-and-blue bunting, tricorn hats, and golf on the moon. Our country was founded as a haven for the oddballs of the Earth - what is freedom if not the freedom to be bizarre? While the U.S.A. may not be the economic powerhouse it once was, we still lead the world in CDP (Crazy Domestic Product). Every day during Keep America Weird Week, we'll salute the nutjobs who've made this the freakiest nation on the globe as we count down the 50 Greatest American Weirdos. Today, meet numbers 50 through 41…
#50. Pete Parisi: My 13-year-old mind was blown by late-night encounters with a public-access headtrip called World Wide Magazine. A slouchy cab driver with a video camera, a mocking sense of humor, and dozens of bizarre friends, Parisi wallowed in the seedy, surreal side of St. Louis for 15 years. No corner of the city was too grimy for him to push his camcorder into, no local institution too august for him to make fun of (and be escorted off the premises by security goons who never got the joke). Too bad he missed the YouTube age...
#49. John Humphrey Noyes: "Free love" isn't some Swedish or Dutch import from the 1960s. The term was coined right here in America, by an expelled Yale theology student and Utopian socialist named John Humphrey Noyes. He founded the Oneida Community in upstate New York in 1848, a radical evangelical commune whose members shared everything, if you get my drift. Their heady brew of politics, sex, and spirituality alarmed the stuffy burghers of 19th-century America, and Noyes was eventually hounded into exile in Canada. But his son Pierrepont Noyes turned the Oneida Community's metalworking shop into Oneida Limited, one of the country's largest manufacturers of high-end flatware. It's a classic example of American alchemy: turning weirdness into gold (or at least silverware).
#48. John "Frenchy" Fuqua: Football historians remember Fuqua for his role in the Immaculate Reception, a controversial play that won a 1972 playoff game for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Fashion historians remember him for his over-the-top disco-glam outfits, including fur-trimmed capes, cavalier hats, garishly colored jumpsuits, and a glass cane. His signature footwear: platform shoes containing live tropical fish. Of course the fish were color-coordinated with each day's outfit.
#47. Aaron Burr: Busted a cap in a fellow Founding Father, killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804. Raised a private army to seize Spanish territory in Mexico and start an independent nation - then told the Spanish that his real aim was to conquer Washington, DC. Fled to London after his treason trial to hang out with radical philosopher Jeremy Bentham. They don't make Vice-Presidents like Aaron Burr anymore.
#46. Doc Dart: In which the scion of a prominent Michigan banking family develops a screechy, squealing "singing" voice, starts a punk band with a bad word in the name, runs unsuccessfully for mayor of Lansing, opens a baseball-card store, records a solo album named after his therapist, attracts death threats from his neighbors by putting a huge anti-American sign on his lawn on 9/11/2001, warns the participants of an elementary school "fun run" to beware of anthrax, disavows his old band to the point where he refuses to speak their name, changes his own name to "26", and now rarely leaves his house except to feed the raccoons and deer who come to his backyard. Forget Charlie Sheen and Joaquin Phoenix. Doc Dart has done more genuinely crazy crap than every fake-outrageous celebrity combined.
#45. Gene Ray: The Internet was a potent channel for insanity before it was even called the Internet, but its potential wasn't fully established until Time Cube. This impenetrable theory - something to do with four simultaneous days happening every 24 hours - set a standard for Internet lunacy that has never been topped. Drop in anywhere at random in Ray's belligerent screed and you'll find grade-A, all-American crankery. "Evil Educated 'Singularity' Stupid - ignores the Cubic Wisdom of Wisest Human and The Greatest Thinker." "Academia teaches evil android singularity, displacing families with today's androids, passive, subsmissive, subservient & stupid." All good fun as far as it goes - but what if he's right?
#44. Carry A. Nation: A hatchet-faced, hatchet-wielding anti-booze angel from hell, Carry A. Nation (yes, incredibly, her real name) was arrested 30 times between 1900 and 1910 for smashing up saloons. Her legal bills were paid through the sale of souvenir hatchets and newsletters like The Smasher's Mail. She cheered President William McKinley's assassination on the grounds that he was probably a tippler. She met saloonkeepers with greetings like "Good morning, destroyer of men's souls." Nation died in 1911 after an ill-fated vaudeville career that included being pelted with eggs by a London audience, but was remembered long afterward in a waggish sign often seen in taverns: "All Nations Welcome But Carrie."
#43. Wild Man Fischer: Discovered in the late 1960s howling his tuneless "songs" on the streets of L.A. for a dime a performance, Fischer was adopted by musical eccentrics like Frank Zappa and Barnes & Barnes (of "Fish Heads" fame). But his own discography - including the first album ever released by Rhino Records - outweirds any of their more self-conscious attempts at freakery without even trying. A 2004 performance of "Monkeys vs. Donkeys" on Jimmy Kimmel Live proved that Fischer had lost none of his perverse charisma, and regained none of his fried brain cells.
#42. Charles Ponzi: Can there be a higher tribute for a con man than an entire con named after him? Carlo Pietro Giovanni Guglielmo Tebaldo Ponzi didn't exactly invent the scheme that bears his name. He just took it to new and audacious heights, defrauding investors of some $20 million. Ponzi learned nothing from the con's ignominious collapse in 1921. While his fraud conviction was under appeal, he traveled to Florida and launched a new land-fraud operation. After 12 years in prison, he moved to Brazil and eventually died there, penniless. But not before telling an American reporter he had no regrets: "(I gave) them the best show that was ever staged in their territory since the landing of the Pilgrims! It was easily worth fifteen million bucks to watch me put the thing over." Showmanship, chutzpah, and money for nothing: what could be more American?
#41. Maryjean Ballner: "If we understood fluent meow, our cats would tell us that petting is passé. Because your cat wants a massage."
Who are your favorite American weirdos? Come back tomorrow to meet ten more of the star-spangled wackjobs who have helped Keep America Weird!