Monday, April 27, 2009

Day 100/365 Great Aunt Emma

With all the increasing concerns about the swine flu (there's got to be a better name), and the possibility of a pandemic, my thoughts turn to the Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918.

Although it was thought to have originated in China, it first struck with a vengenance in Spain where it killed 8 million people. With troops moving back and forth during World War I, it spread quickly, with almost 1 billion people contracting it world-wide.

In hindsight, the death toll for the Spanish Flu is estimated to be between 50-100 million people.

Read that again: 50-100 million people.

It's effects were greater than the Bubonic Plague, although many of the difficulties encountered weren't that much different (not enough doctors, not enough medical supplies, not enough hospitals, and, eventually, not enough coffins to bury the dead.).

Let me put a human face on this huge number.

This is my Great-Aunt Emma. On this particular day in late September 1918, she is twelve (with a birthday coming up shortly). She and her siblings are sitting for the all-important family photo, made by the traveling photographer in Wytheville Va. The family has made the long trip by wagon over the mountain, in order to pick up a cousin who is has been stationed in Europe during World War I. It is a joyous reunion - so many young men are not returning, but now Edgar is safely back with his family.

My grandfather is on the far left, standing just behind his big sister, Emma, who is the oldest. Addie is on the far right, the second oldest daughter. And the baby (Tom) sits on Addie's lap, while two more sons fidgeting in the background. Right in the middle is (of course) the middle daughter, Leona, fondly called Onie.

Two weeks later, Emma has turned thirteen and died on the very same day, having contracted the Spanish Influenza from her beloved cousin Edgar.

She enjoyed writing stories, teaching Sunday School, and singing. In fact, she had just sang in a school competition and won a blue ribbon for first prize. Her parents saved not only her funeral notice, but her blue ribbon, and her composition book with her stories.

They made sure she wasn't forgotten, even though she was just one of the 50 million or more who died from the Great Pandemic of 1918

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Day 99/365 Charles Dickens, Just Because

Mostly just because PBS has been running a wonderful adaptation of Mr. Dickens Little Dorrit, and the conclusion starts in less than an hour. Over the last year or so, PBS has sucked me into Jane Austen and now Charles Dickens.

Never mind he has the library I wish I had.

Mr. Dickens had a wonderful childhood, and was a particularily voracious reader with an almost photographic memory. When he was twelve, life took a drastic turn for the worse when his father overspent, landing the entire family in the Marshalsea debtor's prison. This series of events later became the foundation for Little Dorrit.

The financial ruin of his family and his days of child labor working in a boot polish factory led to a life-long interest in the living conditions of the working-class poor (not to mention that he was an ardent abolitionist as well).

Dickens was a court stenographer, political writer, an editor, and even wrote advertisements to make ends meet (eventually he was father to ten children).

At the height of his popularity, his writings were released a chapter at a time, and hung up in public store windows, where passerbys could gather to read them.

Although Mr. Dickens was a popular writer, like his father, he struggled with expenses. To cover the expenses for the birth of his fifth child, he wrote A Christmas Carol, taking only a couple weeks to turn out what became one of the most enduring Christmas stories ever written.

This is the frontiespiece and title page of a first edition printing of A Christmas Carol (no, not mine - I wish).

Like other kids in the early 1960's, I grew up watching the Mr. Magoo version of The Christmas Carol. Even after seeing much more sophisticated productions, I must confess, Mr. Magoo is still my favorite.

I still catch glimpses of the Ghost of Christmas Past from time to time, and always say a quiet thank-you to Mr. Dickens.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Day 98/365 Birthday Wishes to Will and Shirl!

With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.
(William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice)

Today's historical vortex sweeps up the unlikely pairing of Shirley Temple and William Shakespeare, both masters of their craft (and both, in the old sense of the phrase: song and dance men).

William and Shirley also share their momentous birthday with an odd mix of famous folks:

  • William Penn who founded Pennsylvania (like it was lost before he got there)
  • James Buchanan (the 15th President, whose fiancee committed suicide)
  • Vladimir Nabokov (Russian writer of books that high school students don't read)
  • Max Planck (physicist who thought of quantum theory, which I don't understand)
  • Halston (his first name was Roy, and his clothing designs are classics)
  • Valerie Bertinelli (yes, the one on the Jenny Craig ads, but also from 1970s TV)

So Happy Birthday to all, and in the immortal words of Shirley Temple:

You know what?
I bet you don't know
what day this is.

You forgot, I bet you
that it left your head.
You know what?

I bet you I know
what day this is,
'cause I've got the
calendar marked in red.

Blow your whistles
this is Curly Top's birthday
Ev'ry girlie and boy
will get a toy and lots
of candy and cake.

Shake your rattles
'cause it's Curly Top's birthday.
With a hop and a skip
we'll board the ship
upon the lemonade lake.

Old "Captain January" will smile
and welcome you,
He'll sail the "Good Ship Lollipop"
and we will be the crew.

Beat the tin pans
this is Curly Top's birthday.
From the ends of the earth
A happy birthday to you!

Lyrics from Curly Top (1935)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Day 97/365 Tom and Jemmy Sittin' In A Tree

K-I-S-S-I-N...... No wait, that's a different Tom and Jemmy.

I so enjoyed the Weird President Stuff yesterday that I decided to make it an occasional series,but being that the next president is the third, i.e. My Favorite President (Thomas Jefferson), I also decided "occasional" means "next day".

And of course, one president is never enough, so I'll include the fourth as well, especially since he was such a protege of Tom Jefferson.

Is Tom Jefferson good-looking or what? We always think of The Founding Fathers as old white-haired guys but they were really young revolutionaries in their early thirties.

Jefferson was a country farmer, fit as a fiddle, and for that reason he decided after his swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol that he would walk back to his boardinghouse with some of his friends. That was the beginning of the traditional inaugural parade. Really. However, Jefferson did not have Secret Service guys walking on all sides, nor was he wearing heels.

Once Jefferson made it to the White House, he kept a pet mockingbird. It rode around on his shoulder while the President fed it food from his fingers. One can only wonder about the condition of the carpets.

In the spirit of Michelle Obama, Mr. Jefferson was the first President to grow tomatoes. Up until they received his seal of approval, they had been thought poisonous.

Jefferson spoke and understood Italian, Spanish, French, Irish, Latin and Greek. He also suffered terribly from migraine headaches, possibly from trying to understand all those languages at once.

The next time you climb aboard a bus, notice the folding doors (they are modeled after a Jefferson design). And the next time you decide to get fit (whether walking an inaugural parade or elsewhere) and pick up your pedometer, know that Jefferson designed that too.

This is Jemmy.

He adored Thomas Jefferson so much that he served as Vice President, and then took over as the fourth president. His formal name was James Madison, but to his friends he was Jemmy.

Jefferson is usually given credit for the Lousiania Purchase, but James Madison pretty much engineered it and saw it through -in effect doubling the size of America overnight. He then went to the Virginia Statehouse, and convinced them to give up some territory, say, for instance, what is now Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota. Once they turned it over, he labeled it the Northwest Territory (of course this is way before Oregon, Washington State, Idaho, and definitely before Alaska).

Jemmy was the very first president to................wear long pants. No, the others did not wear Bermuda shorts. But back then the style was those odd knickers that only reached the knees. Jemmy was a trend setter, a purveyor of fashion if you will.

Actually, Jemmy was probably just lucky,in that he was married to Dolley, a woman famous for her sense of style, her outrageous parties, and her social panache. I suspect Jemmy just put on what he was told to put on.

Some things never change.

Dolley loved turbans with ostrich feathers, was several inches taller than her husband, seventeen years younger, and made her own lipstick, which she gave away as presents to a lucky few. She was also the only First Lady to be given a permanent seat on the floor of the House of Congress. (Little known tidbit: after a three month courtship, Dolley married Jemmy, and in the process was excommunicated from the Society of Friends, since Jemmy was a non-Quaker.)

And of course she made those great cupcakes.

In a final homage to Tom and Jemmy (at least for now), this is the inscription at President Jefferson's Memorial, lest we forget during these heady days of changing state laws and court decisions:

"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."

And how can we forget:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Tom had it pegged. He absolutely hit one out of the park for our country.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Day 96/365 Heads Up

After the tax history the other day, and being reminded of President Taft getting stuck in the White House bathtub, several other unusual stories of presidents came to mind. While some are busy complaining about the current occupant, let us give thanks that others are no longer there.

I'm thinking this will be an on-going feature, off and on, now and then. So let us begin at the beginning, with "His Mightiness the President" (the title George Washington preferred, in place of the eventually adopted "Mr. President" or "Commander-in-Chief").

Gilbert Stuart painted the portrait above of His Mightiness. Sortof. It's all-George from the neckline up. But the body, arms and legs, is actually John Adams' son-in-law. And Stuart didn't even paint that. The portrait is a composite -the face painted by Stuart, the body by another artist.

During his first year as President, George also moonlighted as a ferry service operator across the Potomac (well, really, he was right there, so why not??)

Martha Washington was such a poor speller that George would often write her letters for her. She spelled "cat" with two t's.

The United States actually had a Vice-President nine days before it had a President. John Adams was sworn in on April 21, and Washington on April 30. Why? Adams got to town first.

Of course, after Washington's first term, which lasted 8 years, Adams stepped up again and became the second President.

John and Abigail Adams were the first First Family to live in the White House - dubious honor that it was. Only six rooms were ready, it took thirteen fireplaces to keep them warm, and there were no stairs to the second floor. Just outside the back door was a swamp while the front door opened to a thick forest.

One late night, on their way home from a Washington soiree, the Adams' got lost in the forest. Fortunately, a passing stranger took pity on them and led them home to the White House.

And in one final bizarre twist: In 1770, several British soldiers were standing trial for firing into a Boston mob shortly before the Revolution. Their lawyer was none other than John Adams, who won the acquitals of six soldiers, while the remaining two were only convicted of manslaughter.

Nineteen years later, when he was sworn in as Vice-President, this came back to haunt him as various newspapers questioned his loyalty.

For comparision, imagine President Obama running for office, having served as defense lawyer for one of the 9/11 terrorists.

See? It could be much, much worse.

P.S. We do know that the portrait of John Adams (below) is all-John, from head to hand. Although that hand looks a little strange.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Day 95/365 No More Lost Books

Looks like the staff at Leyburn Library at Washington & Lee University will be able to notify the next person on the waiting list that this book is once again available for checkout.

Yes, when you find that long-lost library book under the bed, covered in dust, it's never too late to return it. With any luck, they'll waive the fine, just like they did for C.S. Gates.

Of course, Gates "borrowed" the book (read: stole it) back in 1864, considering it war booty, and mistakenly thinking he was conquering the Virginia Military Institute.

What volume of literature was so fascinating it begged to be stolen? That would be a 1842 edition,Volume 1, of a four volume set written by W.F.P. Napier, entitled "History of the War in the Peninsula and in the South of France From the Year 1807 to the Year 1814".

Catchy title,eh?

I would love to know just how long it took Gates to wander about the library shelves, deciding which book to abscond with. Did he start in fiction, then decide the occasion called for something more serious, and meander over to military history? Or did he lay awake the night before, thinking "Boy if we win tomorrow, I'm going straight to the library to take their copy of "History of the War in the Peninsula", but only Vol 1, cause the other three volumes suck."

Was there a librarian there, shushing him?

Did the librarian wonder why this Union soldier thought he was in the Virginia Military Institute, instead of down the street at what was then Washington College? (It didn't become Washington & Lee until after the War, when the great Confederate general Robert E. Lee signed on as an instructor).

Did she sigh and shake her head, and say "These people can't possibly win the War, they don't even know where they are!"

Or did she suspect the soldier had a book stuck in his bedroll, and wish she could call campus security? I have a mental picture of a prim and proper librarian, waving a broom at C.S. Gates, insisting that the young man PUT THAT BOOK BACK NOW!

All that really matters of course, is that this book, like all good books, found its way home, to the shelf it belongs on, with the other 3 volumes of its set.

That it took the long way home, choosing to see the world on the way and having an adventure, just warms the heart of this particular bookseller.

Photos from The Associated Press.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Day 94/365 No More Banned Books

Next time you check Harry Potter out of your local library, say a quiet Thank You to this lovely lady.

This is Judith Krug, a one-woman crusade to stop censorship in public libraries. As Director of the American Library Assn.'s Office for Intellectual Freedom since it was founded in 1967, Krug started Banned Books Week in 1982 to promote the right to read stories and express opinions without interference from censors.

Censors in this case refers to all of those who feel the need to monitor what the rest of us read, and what reading material should be available in public libraries.

Ms. Krug died last Saturday in Evanston Illinois. She was passionate about the 1st Amendment (that would be Freedom of Speech), and felt if a book was legally published, it should be made available in any library.

Each year, the library association puts out a list of books most often targeted by censors. Perennial favorites include "Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain and works by writer Judy Blume. In the last few years, the "Harry Potter" books have made the list because they deal with witchcraft and magic.

Our deepest sympathies to the family, and our deepest thanks and appreciation for Judith Krug's lifelong guardianship of our 1st Amendment rights.

And as for censorship:

"If your library is not 'unsafe', it probably isn't doing its job."-- John Berry, Library Journal, October 1999

"There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them. "-- Joseph Alexandrovitch Brodsky, 1991, Russian-American poet, b. St. Petersburg and exiled 1972 (1940-1996)

"Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people's idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage." -- Winston Churchill

"Fear of corrupting the mind of the younger generation is the loftiest form of cowardice."-- Holbrook Jackson

"One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present."-- Golda Meir, Israeli political leader (1898-1978)

"Censorship of anything, at any time, in any place, on whatever pretense, has always been and always be the last resort of the boob and the bigot."-- Eugene Gladstone O'Neill, American playwright (1888-1953)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Day 93/365 Tea Parties and Mad Hatters

Driving home late last night (in the middle of freaking nowhere), I noticed a big "Come to Our Tea Party" sign, with today's date. They picked a REALLY big open field, with lots of muddy clay to park in, so apparently they are expecting a lot of devoted followers.

Since I am one of those who files by February 2nd (or earlier if we get that W2), I hadn't paid much attention to Tax Day.

But the sign made me wonder exactly how all this tax stuff got started, since we did have that long-ago Boston Tea Party, and then went off on our own. You'd think we'd remember that, and not have any taxes at all, since they are so rarely spent how each of us thinks they should be.

Thanks to this site: I just got a crash course in tax history.
The distinguished man above is Henry George, circa 1879. Mr. George, was a San Francisco journalist (uh huh, California, here we go) who published Progress and Poverty, a book that questioned why so many Americans seemed to be poor in a nation that such a wealthy nation. His conclusion: Poverty persists amidst plenty because progress causes poverty.

After the Civil War, George moved to California and discovered a "landscape dominated by wealthy ranchers and land barons whose expansive estates were tilled by impoverished tenant farmers", instead of the mythic utopia of free land he expected. George concluded that progress tends to increase the value of land simply because it results in less available land. Private control of available land diverts a community’s wealth into the pockets of a few landlords (think lords and serfs). The price of land — its rent value — represented an "unearned increment," a profit derived not from actual labor, but by hoarding a scarce resource.

George asserted that the "producing classes could overcome mere subsistence living and regain access to the land by confiscating this unearned increment. His solution, the "single-tax," was a tax on rent designed to eliminate profits derived from speculation."

Translation: the rich get richer just by controlling available resources, and the only way the poor will ever catch up, is by taxing the rich, and eventually re-distributing the resouces. Otherwise,
wealth and resources remain concentrated in relatively few hands.

In 1890, the Republican "Billion Dollar Congress" pushed through the all-time highest tariff in our history, claiming it would "fostering industrial prosperity, high wages and a prosperous home market for farmers. Businessmen threw their political and financial support decisively behind the GOP.

In 1897, during that year's depression congressional Republicans passed the Dingley Tariff, pushing rates to yet another all-time high.

In 1906, another Republican (Teddy Roosvelt, he's the one the Teddy Bear is named after) called for a progressive estate tax (on April 14,that infamous vortex date of history).

In 1913, Republican President William Taft (he's the one that got stuck in the White House bathtub), supported and saw the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment, i.e. the Income Tax Amendment.

FWIW, the first income tax form was four pages long, and there were only 30 tax employees to look at all the tax forms.

In 1915, several congressmen complained the tax form is too long, and the House Sergeant-at-arms offered to help them figure their taxes.

By 1921, the tax department is buried under tax returns, and has yet to finish examining the returns from 1918, let alone 1919, 1920, or the incoming 1921 forms.

Republican lawmakers joined with a series of Republican presidents to engineer tax cuts in 1921, 1924, 1926, and 1928. Andrew Mellon moved into his Treasury office from 1921 until 1932 (remember these dates) and was the main proponent of the tax cut approach.

"A major lobbying effort sprung up in support of Mellon's proposals, featuring Capitol Hill appearances by a number of “tax clubs.” The clubs claimed to be grassroots organizations, giving prominent voice to popular opinion. Critics, however, considered them ill-informed, partisan mouthpieces for the rich." (Sound familiar, Tea Party attendees?)

In 1928, Mellon engineered another round of tax cuts, suggesting estate tax repeal and cuts in the corporate income tax.

But what happened in 1929? A date that seems eerily familiar from where we sit now?

Uh huh......the jumping-out-the-window, selling-apples-on-the-street, standing-in-the-soup-line Great Depression.

Just before the stock market crashed, the tax cuts had made life very easy for the American rich, and not all that bad for the average American. Both political parties kept passing tax cut after tax cut, promoting them for political publicity and gain. As Franklin Roosevelt later pointed out, “it was all very merry while it lasted.” But in 1929, the party came to a crashing end.

"From 1929-1932 The Great Depression wreaked havoc on the federal budget; as one observer recalled, “The sun was sinking in a cloudy western sky.” By 1930, Andrew Mellon warned Congress that declining revenues would produce a deficit of $200 million.

His projection was overly optimistic; the actual deficit soared to more $900 million that year. Despite the prospect of even larger deficits to come, both Andrew Mellon and President Herbert Hoover continued to resist tax increases.

This would be why people who grew up in the 1930's fondly reminesce about living in "Hoovervilles" (think the Sacramento tent city that has been on the news).

This is why you can go to estate sales, and find boxes of saved aluminum foil, and string, and rubber bands, still being hoarded by people that were so traumatized by The Great Depression that they never really trusted that it wouldn't happen again.

This is why every single person needs to read their history. There is nothing new. This has happened before, and you owe it to yourself to figure out when you are being manipulated.
If you enjoy being manipulated, at least understand why, and which rich corporation or political party is pulling your strings.

Again, thanks to this site:

I invite you to read it and weep. And if you still don't want to pay taxes, figure out yourself how to fix that street in front of your house.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Day 92/365

April 14 is proving to be one of those historical "vortex" dates. Years before the Titanic's tragic sinking, the first assassination of an American president occurred on April 14, 1865.

The photo above displays Abraham Lincoln's formal stove-pipe top hat, his theater gloves, and his brasshead walking cane, all of which he carried with him to the evening performance of "My American Cousin" at Ford's Theatre, although, as usual, he stuffed the gloves into a coat pocket.

One can imagine Mary Todd Lincoln reminding her husband to take his gloves as they left the White House, and him absentmindedly grabbing them to make her happy.

Interesting corners filled with trivia about Mr. Lincoln have filled hundreds of books, more than any other president.

Among those tidbits:
  • Lincoln was never associated with any organized church, and he had a reputation as an outspoken nonbeliever. The only public comment he ever made concerning his religious beliefs stated that "That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general or of any denomination of Christians in particular. "
  • Lincoln once accepted a challenge to a duel from James Shields, the Democratic State auditor. Since he was given the choice of weapons, Lincoln selected broadswords--with his 6'4" frame and his enormous arms, Lincoln had an insurmountable advantage over his opponent. Shields decided to negotiate verbally with Lincoln instead and the duel never took place.
  • Lincoln was publicly in favor of extending the vote to women as early as 1836.
  • In 1858, Lincoln was so concerned that the text of his "House divided" speech be reported accurately, that after he had given a copy of the address to reporters, he insisted on going to the newspaper office himself and doublechecking their article. (Can you just imagine this now?)
  • Before his first election to the Presidency, Lincoln reported that he was startled by a vision. He caught a glimpse of his face in a mirror saw a double image of himself. The second image in the mirror was pale, "like a dead man." After a few days, when the same pair of images reappeared, he discussed the vision with his wife. Mary Todd Lincoln interpreted it to mean that Lincoln would be elected to two terms as President, but that he would die during his 2nd term.
And finally:
On the day of his assassination, April 14, 1865, Lincoln was so troubled by a dream that he actually discussed it at his Cabinet meeting. He told his colleagues that he had seen himself sailing "in an indescribable vessel and moving rapidly toward an indistinct shore." Even more explicit was a dream that he discussed just a week before he was shot. In this dream, Lincoln awoke, and walked through the silent White House, following the sound of sobbing. When he came to the East Room, he saw a catafalque draped in black. "Who is dead?" Lincoln asked. A military guard replied that it was the President.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Day 91/365 A Premonition of Titanic Proportions

Being a bookseller means listing hundreds of books, and listing those books means reading at least the jacket or first couple chapters, and reading that much of a book means said bookseller has a mind full of trivia (also known as little bits of knowledge about little bits of everything).

Today, the trivia that comes to mind is one of my obsessions since childhood: The Titanic. Yes, way before Jack and Rose, I had Titanic fever. Probably it stems from my mother letting me watch A Night To Remember back in the late 1950s.

Today, April 14, is the 97th aniversary of the sinking of the beautiful Titanic.

And it is the 111th anniversary of Futility: The Wreck of the Titan, a book by our friend (shown above) Morgan Robertson, written and published long before the Titanic was even on the drawing boards. Mr. Robertson was a well-known American author of short stories and novels (and possibly invented the periscope, but that's another story). His book originally went unpublished due to the unbelievable nature of his story, but was eventually published by M.F. Mansfield in 1898.

Futility features an enormous British passenger liner called the Titan, which is considered unsinkable, and consequently carries insufficient lifeboats. On a voyage from Southampton port, England to New York City, in the month of April, the Titan hits an iceberg and sinks in the North Atlantic with the loss of almost everyone on board.

There are some differences between the fictional prophecy and the later sinking of the Titanic, but the similarities are almost hair-raising:

  • Both referred to as unsinkable and/or indestructible

  • The Titanic was the world's largest luxury liner (882 feet, displacing 66,000 tons), and was The Titan was largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men (800 feet, displacing 75,000 tons)

  • The Titanic had three propellers and two masts

  • The Titan was equipped with three propellers and two masts

  • Both were launched in April from Southampton, England

  • The Titanic carried only 20 lifeboats, less than half the number required

  • The Titan carried "as few as the law allowed", 24 lifeboats, less than half reuired.

  • Both had a passenger capacity of 3000 souls.

  • The Titanic struck an iceberg on the night of April 14, 1912 in the North Atlantic 400 miles away from Terranova, while traveling at 23 knots.

  • Also on an April night in North Atlantic, the Titan hit an iceberg 400 miles from Terranova, while traveling at 25 knots.

  • When the Titanic sank, more than half of her 2207 passengers died screaming for help.

  • When the Titan sank, more than half of her 2500 passengers drowning, their "voices raised in agonized screams".

But what about the differences?

  • The Titan does not make a glancing blow with the iceberg on a clear night, as the Titanic did, but instead drives headlong onto an iceberg.

  • The Titanic hit the iceberg in clear, crisp, cold conditions, while the Titan hit the iceberg in bad, misty and foggy conditions.

  • 705 people aboard the Titanic were saved, while only 13 of those aboard the Titan survived.

  • The Titanic sank on her maiden voyage, while the Titan had made several voyages.

  • Titanic sank while sailing from Europe to the USA, while Titan was going in the opposite direction.

  • The Titan sinks a ship before hitting the ice. The Titanic came close to an accident with the New York but did not actually hit it.

  • The Titan had sails to improve her speed; the Titanic did not.

  • The Titanic was the second of three nearly identical sister ships (the Olympic and the Britainnic) while the Titan had no sister ships.

After the Titanic sank, Robertson's book was re-released, and there have been several editions since. The one pictured above is a first edition.

Yep, it's mine.

I keep it packed away with my piece of coal that was brought up from the Titanic in the early days just after it was found.

Nope, not selling it.

One last coincidence: the 227th victim pulled from the icy Atlantic waters was one J. Dawson,a young man from Dublin, a coal-trimmer by profession, his body accompanied only with this brief description:

CLOTHING - Dungaree coat and pants; grey shirt.
EFFECTS - N. S. & S. Union 35638.

After laying on ice for over three weeks, Joseph Dawson was laid to rest on May 8th, 1912, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with 149 fellow victims, 44 of whom are still unidentified.

Joseph's tombstone is a plain black granite, marked only with "227", "April 15, 1912" and "J.Dawson". Years later his resting place would become the most famous of all the Titanic burials, as visitors mistook him for the fictitious "Jack Dawson" of James Cameron's "Titanic".

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Day 90/365 Mr. Jefferson, I Presume

Living in Virginia, Thomas Jefferson is a constant presence, to the degree that if the man himself tapped you on the shoulder and you turned to see him in the flesh, it would be completely expected.

Just north of us, in what is now Lynchburg, stands Poplar Hill, Mr. Jefferson's octagonal summer home.

Among many talents, not the least of which was serving as one of our greatest presidents, Mr. Jefferson was also an accomplished architect (these things are drilled into Virginia citizens). The floor plan above was his own design for the first floor of Poplar Hill, dating from approximately 1820 and featuring corner fireplaces and a square dining room centered between the bedroom and parlor.

During the restoration, about 15 years ago, the floor plan was open, with almost no interior walls. Please note that if you were, say, three years old, that minus those interior walls, there is a particularily clear path, perfect for running full-tilt in complete circles through the first floor.

At the age of three, my daughter channeled her inner Jefferson, and discovered the circular path through the first floor, much to the dismay of the docents. The little felon was immediately asked to leave, and spent the remainder of our visit on the front steps with her much-offended grandmother, who has never returned to Poplar Hill since. Whenever it is mentioned, she immediately refers to the "kicking out" of her granddaughter by Mr. Jefferson.

I should mention here that the entire first floor at the time was completely bare of any restoration whatsoever - no furnishings, nothing besides brick walls and wood flooring. In addition, we were the only visitors.

I have to believe our third president was a devoted parent himself, since on March 28, 1787, Mr. Jefferson wrote to his own daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph: "No body in this world can make me so happy or so miserable as you."

In the years following that infamous incident, my daughter has never run willy-nilly through any another historical site, and so apparently has learned her lesson.

Sometime this spring or summer, we will attempt to enter Poplar Hill once again (the restoration is now complete), visit the home of my most favorite president, and restrain ourselves from running breakneck through the exhibits. Docents, consider yourselves forewarned.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Jefferson!

Day 89/365 Happy Birthday Eostre!

Now that everyone is done biting the ears off their chocolate bunnies, you should probably know you've just participated in a very ancient holiday.

Easter originated thousands of years ago among more than a few diverse cultures, including Germanic and Celtic tribes, and ancient Babylon. A few of the fertility goddess honored with their own holiday include:
  • Aphrodite (Cyprus)
  • Ashtoreth (Israel)
  • Astarté (Greece)
  • Demeter (Mycenae)
  • Hathor (Egypt)
  • Ishtar (Assyria)
  • Kali (India)
  • Ostara (Norse Goddess of fertility)

But my favorite front runner was mentioned by The Venerable Bede, a Christian scholar (672-735 CE) when he recorded that Easter was named after Eostre (a.k.a. Eastre). She was the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe. Her name was derived from the ancient word for spring: "eastre."

But what about the bunny? How did the Easter Bunny come about? It seems Eastre's consort was the Hare, simply because hares were extremely common, and famous for "breeding like bunnies", so they became the very symbol of fertility. And of course, fertility was associated with eggs, so Eostre was famous for appearing with the most fertile animal known, and bringing eggs for a triple assurance of a successful planting season.

How did Eostre become associated with Christian holidays? A little bit of church salesmanship, designed to bridge the gap between the newfangled Christian religion and those pesky pagans who refused to drop their holidays did the trick.

It didn't hurt any that there was already a pagan celebration predating Christianity by 200 years, about Cybele, the Phrygian fertility goddess, and her fictional consort Attis, who was believed to have died and been resurrected each year during the month of March.

Attis (who was the re-constituted Osiris, Dionysus, or Orpheus with a new name) was a god of plants, particularily perennials. Born of a virgin, he died and was reborn annually. The festival began on Black Friday and culminated after three days in a day of rejoicing over the resurrection.

This is my favorite depiction of Eostre, very pre-Raphaelite in style, showing the goddess deliriously happy in her garden, ready to ensure a successful growing season. The only thing missing is the bunny.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Day 88/365 Smoke Gets in Your Eyes...An Addendum

Smoking isn't cool. Hasn't been for a long time. Tobacco farmers are becoming a thing of the past, even Virginia has passed a no-smoking law for restaurants. Nevertheless, tobacco is part of our county history, our state history, and our national history, dating from the moment the first English settled at Jamestown Virginia.

Tobacco itself (Nicotiana tabacum named for the Portuguese Joan Nicot, who introduced the plant to France) is a pretty plant, and drying tobacco has a sweet pungent smell.

Our county still has many of the old tobacco sheds standing, although they are most often storage sheds or garages these days.

The traditional construction is of logs, fitted together and resembling nothing more than Lincoln Logs, with the chinks daubed and stuffed ("chinked") with mud and clay.

The side-hanging shelter was meant to house a horse-drawn wagon, waiting for it's load of dried tobacco sheaves to haul to market.

When the main door of the tobacco barn is opened up, what strikes the visitor is the immense darkness inside. Looking up, there are poles hung in layers, usually three to four layers deep, arranged so that each pole can be loaded with a tied bundle of fresh cut tobacco leaves (cut off the plant from the bottom up), known as a sheave. The poles will be loaded from the top down, with the fire built and tended on the dirt floor below.

The intensity of the fire, as well as the length of exposure to it, will determine the quality of the tobacco when its sold at market. The market is essentially a many-blocks long warehouse, with tobacco piled on the floor, each pile with an identifying number. The buyers (yes, from the evil cigarette companies), walk up and down the rows of piled tobacco, shouting out bids. The best tobacco goes for the highest price, usually to the largest companies.

These tobacco sales produced livelihoods for many small farmers for decades in our country, providing some small payback for what is a backbreaking way of making a living.

I myself haven't smoked since college and my grandfather only grew tobacco for personal use, rolling his own after dinner and lighting up while we sat on the back porch steps. His health never suffered until he switched to smoking commercially made cigarettes. For me, there is still some sort of deep-seated generational memory triggered when I open up that door on the tobacco barn. Those ancient logs harbor the sweet, pungent smell of history and quickly conjure up visions of my grandfather, and the tendrils of smoke drifting up in the twilight.

All these photos (and this tobacco barn) were taken at the Booker T. Washington National Monument in Franklin County VA.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Day 87/365 Grey Kitty Knocking

We moved to from Virginia to Minnesota twelve years ago Sunday, driving down with 2 trucks packed full. Upon arrival, we backed one of the trucks up into the front yard, opened up the door, and took a brief walk around the yard. When we came back to the truck, a large black and white cat was sitting on the front steps. We have never been entirely sure she didn't wander into the truck in Minnesota and make the trip with us, or if she was the "Welcome Kitty" for our new neighborhood, and just adopted us.

For the next eleven years, this beautiful kitty hung around our house, affectionately known as Sweet Girl. When my husband set up a woodshop out in the garage, she took up residence out their, taking over one of the comfy chairs. In the winter, it was her private apartment, complete with thermal heating pad, a thick plush sleeping rug, and her own heat lamp. But it was more than a few of those eleven years till she would allow us to pet her or occasionally pick her up. Coming inside was never a consideration and any discussion of a trip to the vet was met with a raised tail and a condescending sniff.

Then, a year ago this month, Sweet Girl started losing weight, and sticking close to us. Within a week, she passed away, simply laying down and going to sleep.

During her last year, she had started having other feline visitors: a large golden cat, a serious shy brown tabby, a somewhat rowdy grey tabby, and a final visitor, a fluffy grey kitty, with a touch of tabby, and huge glowing green eyes.

What we didn't realize is that she was "interviewing" for another house cat, to take over for her, and watch out for us.

The fluffy grey kitty was apparently approved of, and after waiting an appropriate amount of time, became coming around again to check on us.

After a year, he (or she) is feeling comfortable enough to eat a good meal on the porch in back, then settle in for a nap on the sunny front porch. Today, he let me take pictures (albeit through the window, but we're definitely getting somewhere).

The first profile, looking down the street, new master of the front yard.

Contemplating his new responsibilities, and the advantages of a full food bowl, a warm porch to sleep on, and a safe shelter during storms.

Finally, the first portrait.

Those huge green eyes really do glow - they are almost a mint green.

Thanks, Sweet Girl - you picked a worthy kitty for our family.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Day 86/365 Can I Get A Witness?

I find myself going off on a music tangent lately, and while everyone else is dealing with Conficker computer worms, and silly April Fools jokes, I just realized today marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Marvin Gaye.

Next to the four British boys, Marvin is my favorite. His music ends up playing in my office at least a couple times a week, and remains timeless, meaning I've probably heard every song he recorded a thousand times, and yet, the next time I listen I still hear something new.

Miss you, Marvin. You left us way too soon.

April 1st is mostly remarked upon for the tradition of jokes and pranks, and for that reason it's my least favorite holiday -I'm not a big joke player. Nevertheless, April 1st carries it's own historical memories:

1789 - In New York City, the U.S. House of Representatives meets for the very first time. (Yes, some of those same bills are *still* being debated I'm sure).

1918 - The British Royal Air Force is established (thanks to World War I).

1933- The Nazi's pick this date to close Jewish businesses (and my mom is 11 days old).

1946 - One hundred and seventy people are killed in the Hawaiian Islands, by tidal waves (this is the occasion of the famous picture of Hilo's harbor with no water -it had been momentarily sucked out to sea, and was about to come back as a monstrous tidal wave).

1960- TIROS-1 was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It's our very first weather satellite, a little late to track that 1946 tsunami in Hawaii. It could only operate in daylight, and wasn't pointed at earth all the time, but it was a start. What was it's first picture transmission? The coast of Maine. (I mean really, where else?)

By an odd coincidence, this is also the date (in 1875) that Charles Darwin's cousin, James Galton, created and published the very first newspaper weather map in The London Times.

And he did not mention the weather in Maine.