‘Eternal’ flame snuffed out over its gas bill

Did you ever, like me, wonder about those “eternal” flames which burn at some monuments around the world?

As in, how can they really be sure the flame never goes out? Doesn’t it ever rain there? Who is watching at 3 in the morning when there’s a strong gust of wind? Are they immune to teenage pranksters?

It turns out that much more mundane reasons can snuff out an eternal flame.

Last week one in a major war memorial in the former Soviet Union was turned off because its caretakers didn’t pay the gas bill.

It happened in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. The memorial was maintained by the City of Bishkek and it seems they were having a bit of financial difficulty.

Well, more than a little. The city hadn’t paid the gas bill on the eternal flame in more than three years. It had reached $9,400. (That is, of course, the American equivalent of whatever currency they use in Kyrgyzstan. I don’t know what their unit of currency is but whatever it is, you’ve got to pay it.”)

Taalai Dalbayev, who is the head of gas supply service for Kyrgyzgas said he’d kept telling the Biskhek city government if they didn’t pay their gas bill on the eternal flame he’d turn it off.

You can imagine the city council, or whatever, laughing “yeah, right, turn off our eternal flame. He’d never do that.”

Turns out he would. And did.

So where does that leave the memorial? Well, it’s really not a laughing matter. The memorial celebrates victory over the Nazis in World War II and that’s certainly something that needs to be observed.

The nationwide observance of that victory is set for May 9, which is next week, and the people in Bishkek are hoping to have the not- quite- so- eternal flame back on by then.

But, you know, now that we know it went out, it won’t quite be the same, will it?

I remember how I felt, as a kid, when I learned the Olympic flame actually goes out hundreds of times in its stirring trip from Athens to wherever the next Olympics is being held.

I had believed it was still the same fire which burned in ancient Greece and had been kept flaming all through the centuries, a living symbol of the Olympic ideal.

Turns out the portrayal on “King of the Hill” was much more accurate. Remember? Hank won a contest to carry the torch through Arlen and, of course, he almost immediately drops it in a puddle, the flame goes out and Hank is reviled for “destroying the Olympics.”

(Turns out bizarro neighbor Dale Gribble had previously lit his cigarette with the torch, so Bobby Hill simply re-lights the torch with the cigarette, thus saving the Olympics.)

But I felt a little better when I found out there’s something still going that’s not quite an eternal flame but it will do.

There’s a light bulb that was first turned on in 1901 and it’s still burning today.

No kidding, it’s been well documented. The bulb is in the Livermore Pleasanton Fire Department in Livermore, California and it’s been going for 111 years.

No punch line. It’s true.

I read somewhere that what burns out the old filament lights isn’t really the heat so much as the process of the filament heating up, then cooling off, then heating up again. One of these times you’ll turn it on, hear the familiar “ping!” and it has burned out.

The Livermore bulb doesn’t get turned on and off, so it it’s still burning bright.

Apparently Livermore, unlike Bishkek, has never missed paying its utility bills.

I especially like that it’s in a fire station. How appropriate and what a symbol for something that’s always there and always “on” when you need it.

Now this may or may not be the case, but for about 30 years I’ve been observing a light bulb in a rural Milam County location that I’ve never seen turned off, day or night, even though I’m a little surprised the power is still on at this no-longer-used place.

I don’t think I’ll reveal the location because that might just get it turned off as a prank.

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2012-05-03 digital edition

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