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7 Maddening Examples of Eminent Domain

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If there’s one guaranteed method to raise the collective blood pressure of a community, it’s invoking the controversial land grab practice known as eminent domain. The right of local government to seize private property if they argue it will benefit the greater good (with increased tax revenue or a better economy) has been debated for decades.

Though property owners are compensated, not everyone is willing to stick a price tag on their memories. Nor are the goals of development always as admirable or necessary as they’re claimed to be. Here are a few infamous cases of people who found themselves displaced for less-than-sensible reasons.

1. The Golf Course Manager Needs Your House

There is no shortage of golf courses in West Palm Beach, Florida, which is why John and Wendy Zamecnik were particularly frustrated that the county had targeted their neighborhood for a facelift. In the mid-1980s, over 300 homes were purchased to make way for a new course. Most families sold and moved willingly; the Zamecniks were one of a handful who did not. They watched as the community of empty houses became dilapidated and ransacked while their own land values plummeted. At one point, their home was earmarked to be the residence of the golf course’s manager. According to the Sun-Sentinel, protracted legal battles culminated in the couple being forced out of their home in 2002. The postscript? The golf course was never built.

2. The Church That Never Had a Prayer

Governments can often use some disingenuous tactics to invoke eminent domain, especially when they’re trying to displace non-taxable religious organizations—including the one organized by Reverend Fred Jenkins, who had ambitious plans for his North Hempstead, N.Y. church, St. Luke’s. In 1997, Jenkins spent a considerable sum buying a “fixer-upper” property and sorting out the zoning paperwork so he could move his congregation out of a modest basement location. According to the Christian Science Monitor, no one had told Jenkins the property had been tagged as a redevelopment site three years prior. He had been allowed to spend money for renovations and other plans that would be useless. Worse, the Town offered him $50,000 less than he’d paid for it, leaving him with a mortgage even after the church was destroyed.

3. The Judge with Conflicting Interests

Nevada is often ground zero for cases involving casino expansion. When John Pappas died and left rental property to his widow, Carol Pappas, she and her sons expected to continue operating their small strip mall on the land. But in 1994, Las Vegas demanded Pappas turn it over so they could build a parking garage as part of a redevelopment. She refused; Vegas sued. Presiding Judge Stephen Huffaker ruled that the city could begin bulldozing. But according to the Los Angeles Times, Huffaker failed to mention he had financial ties to the redevelopment plan by owning shares in a local casino. The Pappas family took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court and eventually settled with the city for $4.5 million.

4. Condemned—and Billed for a New Sidewalk

In the late 1990s, Bill Brody purchased and renovated four buildings in Port Chester, N.Y. that housed 10 small business shingles. When the city made a deal with a developer to reinvigorate the downtown area, they failed to formally inform Brody he had only 30 days to lodge a complaint; the law stipulated that a newspaper notice (that he never saw) was enough. Unaware of the time limit, Brody was helpless as the village first seized and then demolished his buildings—but not before billing him $40,000 to improve the sidewalk. Worse, they took over a year to compensate him while, according to the New York Times, collecting rent from his tenants.

The good news? Brody eventually won his litigation against the city. The bad? It took over a decade.

5. Death and Taxes

The quagmire of bureaucracy can sometimes blind officials to the very personal consequences of ushering a family out of their home. In Hurst, Texas, the prospect of a large shopping mall meant over 100 houses would need to be vacated and demolished in 1997. Leonard Prohs was among 10 homeowners trying to hold out, though he requested an extension for a very valid reason: His wife was in an area hospital dying of brain cancer. The court refused his request. According to the Free-Lance Star, Prohs had to leave his wife’s bedside in order to move his belongings out. The land was eventually occupied by, among other stores, a Pet Smart and a Starbucks.

6. Something Smells

In the early 1990s, residents near a sewage treatment plant in Bremerton, Wash. successfully petitioned the city to do something about the smell. The city began condemnation proceedings on dozens of properties nearby, claiming that the land would be used, according to the Kitsap Sun, to "create an odor easement." But as soon as their eminent domain invocation was completed, the paper reported that Bremerton did an about-face and instead sold the land to a car dealership for nearly $2 million—without doing a single thing about the odor.

7. Only a One-Car Garage?

When Lakewood, Ohio discovered their waterfront properties were appealing to condominium developers, they began to plot the exodus of hundreds of residents out of the area. But with occupants resisting, the city had to come up with a way to classify their area as “blighted,” or run down. Because the homes and apartments were well-maintained, Lakewood opted for higher standards: homes were earmarked for seizure because “blighted” was defined to mean anything less than a two-car garage, three bedrooms, and central air conditioning. The entire plan was distasteful enough that, according to a 2003 CBS News report, citizens eventually voted the acting mayor out of office.

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8 Odd Items People Have Used to Decorate Christmas Trees
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Decorating a Christmas tree is a time-honored holiday tradition. But the ornaments that adorned the firs of yore looked a lot different than the colorful bulbs that are likely hanging from your tree right now. And some of them squawked! From ears of corn to live canaries, these old-school trimmings didn't make the jump to modern times.

1. FRUIT

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For centuries, fruit—in many forms—was used to decorate Christmas trees. One legend even directly connects the modern red ornament to the fruit on these old trees. The story goes that in the village of Meisenthal in modern France, residents decorated Christmas trees with a small apple varietal. A drought destroyed the crop in 1858 and red glass baubles were created to fill the gap.

2. FANCY CAKES

Apples aren't the only edibles that have found their way onto Christmas trees. An 1896 Good Housekeeping article noted that, “The fancily frosted cakes in different designs found at German bakeries look well on a tree and are inexpensive ... Candy strawberries look very pretty, but several dozen will be required to make an effective display. They should be suspended near the tips of the branches.”

3. EARS OF CORN

Ear of Yellow Corn In Field Ready for Harvest
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A 1907 Harper’s Bazar (as it was originally spelled) article advised country children who couldn’t get store-bought decorations to make their own “gingerbread or doughnut animals, men, and birds” and use the ever-popular “ears of corn silvered for icicles.”

4. FAUX BIRD NESTS

In 1877's The Girls’ Home Book, writer Laura Valentine suggested that a fake bird nest would make a lovely decoration, and directed tree trimmers to “Get the cook to give you some halves of unboiled egg-shells. Dip them in white of egg (but first you must have some moss ready); make a hollow of moss in your hand, and put the half-shell in it. The moss will adhere to the outside very well ... Line it in the inside with feathers, and when dry, put sugar-plum eggs in it. These nests look charming in the foliage of the Christmas tree.”

5. LIVE BIRDS

A canary sits in a Christmas tree
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An 1895 Western Journal of Education article is full of tips on how to trim the perfect Christmas tree. Alongside solid advice (don’t light candles on the tree as they’re “more or less dangerous”) and old standbys ('old but effective' popcorn strings), they also had a slightly livelier idea: “Live canaries or mocking-birds, in small cages, are very pretty hung in trees or suspended about the room.” But if that doesn’t appeal, “stuffed birds can also be perched in trees, and a white dove or a larger bird, with wings spread, can be suspended over a tree with very pretty effect.”

6. FAKE SNOW

In 1896, Good Housekeeping had an "updated" idea for the strings of popcorn found on many trees: “[Popcorn] is much prettier and more effective when pinned to the tree, than when strung as is usually the case. Certainly, it requires more labor, but the result is so gratifying that I hardly think you would again return to the old method of stringing the corn.” Just get popcorn and very cheap pins and then pin each individual popped kernel to the tree, and “your tree will look as though [it's] covered with snow, and will present a fine appearance without any further decorations.”

Don’t have time to spend days pinning popcorn to your tree but still want to create the popular Victorian Christmas Snow Tree? A 1978 issue of The Old-House Journal explained that “all one needs is last year’s Christmas tree, glue, cotton batting, and patience.” They then advised spraying the tree a dark gold color so it looks more alive, tearing the batting into strips, and draping the strips over the tree. As for the glue? That’s for the next step.

7. TOXIC SPARKLES

A sparkling Christmas tree
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That glue was important for making your tree sparkle. Instructions in the Western Journal of Education (1895) advised applying glue to the tree and then scattering mica on it to create a spectacular dazzle. Sadly, 80 years later, The Old-House Journal was lamenting that “mica snow ... has all but disappeared from the market and may take some searching to find.” (Perhaps because, as a safety data sheet for mica says, “The substance is toxic to lungs [and] mucous membranes. Repeated or prolonged exposure to the substance can produce target organs damage.”)

The Girls’ Home Book had an alternate idea for these mica-less days, suggesting “[a] very pretty mode of ornamenting the Christmas tree is to hang small garlands or bunches of crystallized leaves ... on the branches.” Just take some pieces of fir branches and suspend them into a bucket filled with alum. Pour in a gallon of boiling water and a day later you have twigs that glitter like diamonds. (More safety warnings: “Breathing of dust may aggravate acute or chronic asthma and chronic pulmonary disease.” [PDF])

But the desire for a sparkly tree goes back much further than the 19th century, and didn’t always require safety warnings. One chronicler recorded that during the reign of Henry VIII there was a banquet for Epiphany (January 6th) that featured a glistening mountain topped with “a tree of gold, the branches and boughs [wrought into ornamental patterns] with gold, spreading on every side over the mountain with roses and pomegranates.”

8. PRESENTS

Present hanging from a Christmas tree
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In 1896, Good Housekeeping explained to its readers that “If the [Christmas] tree is placed in a carpeted room it would be well to previously cover the floor immediately surrounding the tree, with white paper or spread a sheet” on the floor, which all seems perfectly normal by today’s standards ... until the next paragraph. “It would be pretty,” the magazine continues, “to arrange the gifts about the base of the tree instead of hanging them upon the tree as is customary amongst Americans.”

Throughout the mid to late 19th century, there are references to hanging Christmas presents from the tree. “To save expense, yet at the same time to insure a brilliant effect, it is a good plan to hang the gifts so that bright contrasting colors may set off the tree," Ladies’ Home Journal suggested in 1890. "Bundles done up in brown paper are never pretty; but dolls, bright-covered books, gayly painted toys, bright silk handkerchiefs and white scarfs, sleds, wagons, etc. should be placed in prominent view.” An 1856 issue of Guardian (a magazine for “young men and ladies”) proclaimed that “the various presents, shine in the branches, which almost bend under their kind burdens,” which even included “a staff for grand-pa, and a pair of spectacles for grandmother.”

What killed off this tradition? There are many possibilities, but an 1894 issue of The Cultivator & Country Gentleman has a strangely familiar suggestion from a reader: “A pretty Christmas tree is pretty without decoration, and yet, after it has been stripped of its load of presents, it looks bare unless it has some trimming. In Germany the shining balls and the like are carefully put away each year, a few new ones being added from year to year, and one of the delights of Christmas is the bringing out of these treasures. We have tried this plan and find it works excellently.”

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Cook Your Next Out-of-This-World Meal in a Cosmic Le Creuset Dutch Oven
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Le Creuset

Le Creuset, one of the most coveted names in cookware, has given its classic Dutch oven a stellar makeover. As delish reports, the updated item is decorated with the image of a starry night sky.

The pot’s midnight blue exterior is scattered with white and yellow stars. The print, which is known as “cosmos,” is one of the brand’s boldest looks yet.

Le Creuset Dutch ovens have gained a cult following for their durable cast iron hardware and iconic design. The enameled equipment comes in several vibrant colors, including pink, turquoise, and the company’s signature orange.

While Le Creuset has produced patterned pots in the past, they’re usually hard to come by. Earlier this year, it released limited-edition soup pots inspired by Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. This latest product appears to be sticking around for the foreseeable future, but shoppers are still limited in their options. The cosmos look is only available as a 4.5-quart round oven and it's exclusively sold by Bloomingdale's. If you’re looking to gift this to a heavenly home cook in your life, it will cost you $380—about $80 more than a regular Le Creuset oven of the same size.

Space-printed cookware.

Space-printed cookware.

[h/t delish]

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