Pilgrims Flock to "Grunge Drop"


          
Many years ago, a curious phenomenon was noticed at the bottom of a cliff just outside of Casper, Wyoming. A hole developed in the ground, and later a flame began to burn in the hole. Since it posed no danger to surrounding structures or residents, the local authorities allowed it to burn without hindrance. Scientists are not sure exactly what caused it, but it is now considered an example of what is known as geoquasiphrenic combustion.

          
In 1947, one of the fathers of the anti-grunge movement, Edgar Callan, was on vacation in the area with a friend when a local resident showed him the perpetual flame. Callan's friend was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers. Callan took one look at the flame, and then glanced at his friend. Immediately, this revered pioneer knew he was onto something. In loud, stentorian tones, Callan exclaimed, "Give me your grunge!" Callan's friend was stunned but complied, and Callan immediately tossed the jeans, t-shirt, and sneakers into the burning pit. This became the genesis of an idea that has gained popularity steadily over the years.

          
Three months later, Callan was back at the flame-- only this time with a tour group of three hundred followers. Each was carrying a sack filled with grunge, and all were wearing dress clothes. One by one, they filed past the spot where Callan's friend had discarded his grunge, and they tossed their unsuitable clothes into the burning pit. "Grunge will be stopped!" cried Callan as his followers cheered.

          
By 1949, the legions making their way to Grunge Drop had become too numerous to count, and the authorities had grown concerned that burning large quantities of grunge in one spot would be harmful to the local environment. Scientists were enlisted to gauge the actual impact, but all concluded-- much to their amazement-- that something about the flame at Grunge Drop counteracted the natural toxins found in grunge and rendered it all harmless. Nevertheless, permanent instrumentation was installed in late 1951 to provide constant readings, "just in case," as a local politician said at the time.

          
In 1954, the crowds were beginning to choke the area's roads, and nearby residents began to protest. Laws were passed, and court challenges were filed on both sides, and by 1955 one case had reached the Supreme Court. In Cherry vs. City Council, the Court ruled that the pilgrims' right of free speech outweighed any other concerns. Nevertheless, the harshest times for Grunge Drop were yet to come.

          
The pro-grunge and "not in my backyard" forces joined and conspired to attempt to eliminate Grunge Drop from the map once and for all. They managed to gain sufficient influence in the state government and on April 1, 1959 arranged for the state-owned land surrounding Grunge Drop to be sold to the Depth Probe Co., a manufacturer of shorts. Callan and other anti-grunge leaders cried foul but had not been paying close attention to what was happening, and the deal was closed before they were able to stop it.

          
In the dark of night on April 3, 1959, Grunge Drop was fenced off by its new owner and the public barred. This was a key event in the turning of the tide that led grunge to become so prevalent beginning in the 1960's. The anti-grunge movement became severely demoralized by this significant loss, as Grunge Drop was an important symbol in the war on grunge.

          
However, all was not lost. Although shorts became as popular as ever, the manufacturer developed a severe case of hubris and started to attempt to diversify into a multi-national conglomerate, much like ITT and other companies in the late '60s. Owing to some risky acquisitions and investments that failed miserably, this company was forced into bankruptcy in late 1972. Michael Phelan, a wealthy banker who had risen to prominence in the anti-grunge movement by that time, noticed this and, recognizing the immense symbolic importance of Grunge Drop, arranged to purchase the land himself with money he had saved over the years.

          
After taking title to the land, Phelan unlocked the gates, and found that the flame was still burning. The area had become overgrown, but Phelan quickly cleaned it and restored it to its condition in 1949. The pilgrims, on the other hand, were nowhere to be seen. Grunge had gained a firm stranglehold on society. "I was very low in spirits," Phelan recalled in a recent interview with Stop Grunge magazine. "I knew that if we were to make headway against grunge, this important symbol had to be restored to its former prominence," he said.

          
Phelan began to organize reunions of past pilgrims, who would renew their vows against grunge and toss newly purchased grunge into the pit. "I hated to buy grunge just to get rid of it, since the manufacturers must have been laughing all the way to the bank, but I figured I had to take one step back to get two steps forward," explained Phelan.

          
Slowly but steadily, Phelan's strategy began to show dividends. By early 1985, the crowds had returned, and Grunge Drop was again the place to go for anyone who wanted to profess allegiance to the anti-grunge cause in a public way.

          
One pilgrim, Alan Cumquat, said quite succinctly, "We all need Grunge Drop." Another, Debbie Pistachio, said, "I'm really impressed and plan to tell all my friends and neighbors." Meanwhile, the flame burns, waiting for its daily procession of those burdened by grunge to drop their loads and begin their new, grunge-free lives.