Long before the days of TV weather teams and Doppler radar, Cape Girardeau residents had to depend on a much more primitive source for weather forecasts: Col. Matt Morrison, the self-proclaimed "goosebone weather prophet."
According to the Old Farmer's Almanac, the "goosebone" refers to the supposed ability to forecast the harshness of the coming winter by looking at the coloration of a cooked goose's breastbone. After cooking the bird around Thanksgiving, the breastbone would be preserved and allowed to dry. It would soon change colors, with darker patterns foretelling a difficult winter.
The "Colonel" went beyond just studying bird carcasses, however. His forecasts were frequently printed year round in the Weekly Tribune newspaper from 1915 until his death in 1918. He was part Don McNeely and part Rush Limbaugh: a media personality -- at least locally -- who mixed his forecasts with political commentary and homespun phrases.
A newspaper story from June 15, 1917, provides a representative sample of his ramblings:
Col. Matt Thinks Frisco Plans To Hornswoggle Us
"Well, I see by the paper that the Frisco officials came down, looked over the flock of geese and then slipped us the isch-gabibble sign," remarked Col. Matt Morrison, the goosebone weather prophet, in his midweek discourse on the news of the day.
"It's my opinion that them Frisco officials called on us just to have a good laff. Whenever I read about any of them coming down here to try and adjust the controversy, as the newspapers always say, I can't keep from laffin'. Whenever the Frisco officials come down here, they come to slip us some wind. They ain't goin' to do nothin', so what's use talkin' about us.
"You know they fetched down a picture of a depot a few weeks ago they said would cost $35,000. But when we got to investigatin' a little bit, we found it could be built for about $15,000. I've been sayin' all along that them Frisco officials are goin' to put somethin' over on us, and I guess we might as well give up and let 'em have it, as the girl said when her feller stole a kiss. But take it from me, they got us all sized up as bein' soft.
"Well, summer is comin. I told 'em three months ago we wouldn't have any hot weather before the middle of June. When I predicted all these cyclones, the men 'round town said I had bats in my belfry. But I've hit the bull's-eye every prediction this year. You know, lots of people in this here town think they're wise, but if they don't look out they'll be et for spinach. Some call me a dead one, but I'll see lots of 'em planted."
Despite his frequent boasting, his prognostications weren't always right. An amusing story from May 19, 1916, called attention to one of his busted forecasts:
Five hours after Col. Matt Morrison, the goosebone weather prophet, had announced Monday that there would be no more cool weather until autumn, there was a sudden drop in the temperature.
The Colonel made his announcement upon his return from one of his farms. He brought with him a blackberry vine laden with blossoms.
"You know these don't bloom until after blackberry winter," sighed the Colonel. "Well, them two cold days last week wuz blackberry winter. Now, take it from me, we are going to have some mighty fine hot weather from now on. There'll not be another cold day until October."
Col. Morrison could not be located yesterday when an effort was made to get a goosebone opinion of the present cold snap. One of his assistants ventured the opinion that the Colonel had seen his shadow around the old brick wall on South Spanish street and had gone into his hole.
That "old brick wall" was a sore point between Morrison and his neighbors, as depicted in a news account from April 21, 1916:
War Declared On Brick Wall On Spanish St.
An organized campaign has been started to have the city council condemn that brick walls and adjoining shacks on Spanish street, just north of St. Vincent's Catholic church. These buildings are owned by Col. Matt Morrison, the goosebone weather prophet.
Mrs. A. D. Speak, one of the active members of the parish, yesterday began circulating a petition among the property owners of the vicinity and obtained a number of signatures. She stated last night that she did not find a property owner who refused to sign the petition, which asks the city council to condemn the old hull and the shacks.
Another petition was started in circulation by Father T. J. Levan, the pastor of the church. It is understood that this document also met with universal approval of those who were interviewed.
The brick walls have been standing for almost a score of years and efforts to have Col. Morrison voluntarily remove them have proved to no avail. The property owners of that part of the city were chagrined last week to discover that the goosebone weather prophet had just completed the construction of a frame vault in the rear of the ruins and just a few feet north of the church.
Should the city council decline to condemn the brick wall and other eyesores, the property owners are going to go into the courts to have the vault removed.
The brick wall was formerly a fashionable residence, which was destroyed by fire about twenty years ago. Since that time the walls have been permitted to stand just as the fire left them. It now seems as if some definite action has begun to bring about their removal, although Col. Morrison declares that he will not take away a single brick.
"If they don't let me alone, I'll put up another vault," snarled the goosebone prophet last evening.
Today, that spot is marked by a conspicuous empty lot, so the mess was cleaned up eventually. It's unclear from the available news clippings, however, if the work happened before or after his death.
This wouldn't be the first time Morrison would go out of his way to annoy his neighbors, however.
NEXT, in Part 2: Col. Matt Morrison -- ruthless slumlord, gentleman of leisure, and curmudgeon-at-large, cements his legacy as one of most colorful characters in Cape Girardeau history.