Historian’s Almanac: March 10, 2015

It was 67 years ago today that Zelda Fitzgerald died tragically in a hospital fire.  Since 1936 she spent various periods as a patient in Highland Hospital in Ashville, North Carolina being treated for mental illness.  On the night of March 10, 1948, Zelda was locked in her room awaiting electroshock treatment when a fire broke out in the hospital’s kitchen.  The fire swept rapidly through the hospital.  Zelda was one of nine patients who died in the fire.

I suppose most of us think of Zelda, if indeed we do, only in association with her famous husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald.  To know Zelda only as “the first American Flapper,” as she was nicknamed by Scott, is to know only an image and not the whole person.  She was much more than half of a twosome known for their hard drinking and exhaustive partying, the living embodiment of what is remembered as the Jazz Age.  The very term “Jazz Age” was coined by Scott.  But she was more than just Scott’s wife.  She was a talented artist and author.

As a writer, she published only one novel, Save Me the Waltz (1932), a semi autographical novel written while being treated for schizophrenia in a Maryland clinic.  The novel was not well received by the critics.  Rather than being proud of her and offering her encouragement, Scott was angry.  Apparently jealous, he called her a “third-rate writer.”  She began writing a second novel, Caesar’s Things, but died before finishing it.

Zelda also wrote articles and short stories for magazines.  “The Iceberg,” a short story Zelda wrote when only seventeen or eighteen was discovered recently and published in The New Yorker in December, 2013 (http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-iceberg-a-story-by-zelda-fitzgerald).  The story won the then high school student a prize and was published in in the Sidney Lanier High School Literary Journal.

Zelda was a gifted artist as well as writer.  She drew sketches and painted throughout her life until her tragic death.  It would be much too difficult for one such as me to even attempt to describe her artwork.  For a suitable discussion of Zelda’s art I refer the reader to “The Art of Zelda Fitzgerald” by Anne Margaret Daniel (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anne-margaret-daniel/the-art-of-zelda-fitzgera_b_6185126.html).

In remembering Zelda Fitzgerald, I can only wonder if what is known today about mental illness and its treatment were available to those who tried to treat her illness during the 1930s and 1940s how different her life might have been.

  • “By the time a person has achieved years adequate for choosing a direction, the die is cast and the moment has long since passed which determined the future.”
    – Zelda Fitzgerald

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation and always walk under the mercy.

Historian’s Almanac: January 4, 2015

Today is the fourth day of January, the first month in both the Julian and Gregorian calendars.  January is named after Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and transitions—doors, gates, passages, windows, etc., that sort of thing. Janus is an interesting character in Roman mythology, but that must wait for another time.

January is one of the seven months with thirty-one days.  It is the second month of winter and coldest month in most of the northern hemisphere.  Oh course, as one might expect it is the warmest month in most of the southern hemisphere, where it is the second month of summer.  It is the seasonally equivalent of July in the northern hemisphere, and, of course just the opposite in the southern hemisphere.

My reason for pointing out this trivia about January is because January 4, today, is National Trivia Day.  What other why to honor the holiday than to indulge oneself in a bit of really meaningless trivia.  January 4 is also National Spaghetti Day.  I guess that fact sets the menu for today.  However, if you want meatballs with your spaghetti, you may want to wait until March 3, when it will be National Meatball Day.

In his state of the union message in January, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty and outlined his agenda for transforming America into a “Great Society”:  “This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America.”  LBJ was not the first, nor the last, to make war on poverty and bring economic justice to the citizens of the United States.

President Johnson aspired to be a second Franklin D. Roosevelt.  He hoped that his Great Society would complete what President Roosevelt’s New Deal began.  It wasn’t to be, unfortunately.  The Vietnam War ruined LBJ’s efforts, just it one might say that World War II undermined FDR’s efforts.

I must not fail to mention that today is the birthday of Sir Isaac Newton, perhaps the greatest scientist of the modern era.  By synthesizing the discoveries of the sixteenth-century Scientific Revolution, Newton provided a model of the universe that remains valid today, contrary to whatever the followers of Albert Einstein may claim.

I honor the memory of Albert Camus who died on this day in 1960.  Camus was one of the greatest literary figures of the post-World War II period.  He remains one of the best known of the so-called existentialist authors.

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation and always walk under the mercy.

Historian’s Almanac: January 3, 2015

On this day in 1521 Pope Leo X (Giovanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici) issued the papal bull, Decet Romanum Pontificum, excommunicating the German Monk, Martin Luther.  Just over three years earlier Luther launched the Protestant Reformation, when he nailed his Ninety Five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Saxony.

Luther called for the Church to take up the challenge of the wide spread corruption of church doctrine and leadership.  In order for reform to occur, the initiative had to come from the papacy.  That was unlikely at the time.  Leo X was himself an example of the corruption.

Leo X was the second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent (Lorenzo dé Medici), a key figure in the Italian Renaissance.  Leo took holy orders at age seven and was given the abbey of Fonte Dolce.  At eight years of age, he was nominated for an archbishopric, and at seventeen became the youngest cardinal, ever.  In all, he held nearly thirty church offices while still a teenager.

Ironically, shortly before his death, Lorenzo wrote to his son warning him that Rome was the sink of all iniquities and exhorted him to live a virtuous life.  Upon being elected Pope, Leo wrote his elder brother:  “Since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it.”

It is the birthday of J.R.R. Tolkien, born in Bloemfontein, South Africa in 1891.  Tolkien was a member of The Inklings, a literary circle associated with C.S. Lewis.  Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, and Hugo Dyson were among those meet regularly on Tuesday mornings at the Eagle and the Child, a pub in Oxford, England.   Tolkien is chiefly remembered as the author of The Hobbit (1937) and the classic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings (1954-1956).

“Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate
And though I oft have passed them by
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.”

It is the birthday of Victor Borge, (Borge Rosenbaum) born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1909.  Borge was a world-class pianist, conductor, and comedian.  Among his best known routines is “Inflationary Language and Punctuation”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bpIbdZhrzA

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation and always walk under the mercy.

Historian’s Almanac: January 2, 2015

It was on this day in 1839 that Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787-1851), a French artist and photographer, took the first picture of the moon. 1st photo of moon Daguerre took the photo using a process he developed that became known as daguerreotypy.  The image, known as a daguerreotype, “was produced on a silver plate sensitized to iodine and developed in mercury vapor.”

Daguerre is also credited with taking the first photograph, a daguerreotype, of a person.  Two men, a bootblack polishing another man’s shoes, are seen in the lower left-hand corner of a photograph of the Boulevard du Crime in Paris 1st person phototaken by Daguerre in 1838. The appearance of the two men in the photo was no doubt by chance.

Today we remember  Tex Ritter (b. 1905), who went on to Cowboy Heaven on this

day in 1974.  Ritter began his career in 1928 singing cowboy songs on the radio.  He starred in a number of B-western movies during the thirties and forties, but it is perhaps as a cowboy and country singer that he is best remembered.  His recordings of “Rye Whiskey,” “Blood on the Saddle,” “Green Grow the Lilacs,” “Boll Weevil.” “Hillbilly Heaven,” and “High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darlin)” are all classics.  The last won an Oscar in 1953 for “Best Song.”  [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzGtvnjtGtM]  Tex Ritter died of a heart attack on January 2, 1974.

Today is the birthday of Josef Stalin (1878-1953) who said, “Death is the solution to all problems.  No man – no problem.”

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation and always walk under the mercy.


Historian’s Almanac: January 1, 2015

Today is the first day of AD 2015, or “In the year of our Lord, 2015.”  The “January 1” as the first day of the year was a gift of the Roman ruler Julius Caesar, who introduced the Julian calendar in 46 BC.  The “AD” was the creation of the 6th-century monk Dionysius Exiguus.  Since no one knows, or can ever know, the “first day,” it was necessary to have some common reference point from which to calculate time.  From the perspective of the “Age of Faith,” the Middle Ages in Western history, what better choice was there than the traditional birth year of Jesus Christ?

Among the many interesting historical events that occurred on January 1, one often forgotten piece of historical trivia is the inaugural flight of the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, the first commercial airline.  It began operating regularly scheduled flights between St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida, a distance of 23 miles, on January 1, 1914.  The new air service shortened the travel time between the 2 cities from 12 hours by train to a brief 22 minutes by air.  The price of a one-way ticket was $5.

Today’s passenger might question the comfort aboard the Benoist Model 14 aircraft.  The Benoist 14 was a sea plane that normally flew only 5 feet above the water.  Passengers sat on a wooden seat enjoying a cool breeze mixed with ocean spray.[1]

Among notable deaths on this date in history, I must make mention of Hank Williams (1923-1953), one of the best known country-western singers and author of many of the best remembered country-western songs.  Williams died on January 1, 1953 in the back seat of his Cadillac somewhere between Bristol, Virginia and Oak Hill, West Virginia while in route to Canton, Ohio, where he was scheduled to perform on New Year’s Day at the Windsor Theater.

Among the notable births on this day in history is that of J. D. Salinger (1919-2010), one of the most influential American authors of the 20th century.  Salinger is best remembered for his “sort of” autobiographical [Salinger] novel, CATCHER IN THE RYE, published in 1951.  The New York Times hailed it as “an unusually brilliant first novel.”  Others damned it.  It was banned from American schools as “unfit for children to read.”  One irate parent “counted 237 appearances of the word ‘goddam’ in the novel, along with 58 of ‘bastard’, 31 of ‘Chrissake’ and six of ‘fuck’”.[2]  The last has replaced “damn” as a common expression of frustration among today’s youth.

I close with a hearty New Year’s greeting and wish that this next year will be one of the good ones.

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation and always walk under the mercy.

[1] C.V. Glines, “St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line: World’s First Scheduled Airline Using Winged Aircraft,” originally published in the May 1997 issue of AVIATION HISTORY.  See more at: http://www.historynet.com/st-petersburgtampa-airboat-line-worlds-first-scheduled-airline-using-winged-aircraft.htm#sthash.tMG5wJQ7.dpuf – See more at: http://www.historynet.com/st-petersburgtampa-airboat-line-worlds-first-scheduled-airline-using-winged-aircraft.htm#sthash.tMG5wJQ7.dpuf


Sundar Singh, A Christian Mystic?

Sadhus, or holy men, are as Indian as curry. They are part of what gives charm, or an aura mystery, to the subcontinent of India. We sometimes think of them as dirty, clothed in rags, their faces covered in paints of various colors, perhaps demon possessed, smelly, long-haired men wondering about begging for food, or sitting in lotus position in a trance for hours, days, perhaps even years. From time to time they are known to utter words of wisdom, or so they sound to those not accustomed to thinking deeply.

I suppose the Indian holy men are in some way or other unique among the genre, but India does not have a monopoly on religious mystics. They are to be found around the world, among all cultures, in every religion. Yes, they are to be found even within Christianity. The anchoritic monks who populated the Egyptian deserts during the early centuries of Christianity come quickly to mind. Like the Indian sadhus, the anchorites abstained from bathing, clothed themselves in rags, and lived as hermits, all in an effort to earn special favor with God by mortifying the flesh.

WISDOM OF THE SADHU: TEACHINGS OF SUNDAR SINGH, compiled and edited by Kim Comer (Plough Publishing House, 2000) gives us some insight into the life and teachings of Sundar Singh, and Indian sadhu who is considered to have been a Christian mystic. The book is a collection of parables, aphorisms, and other fragments from the teachings of Sundar Singh.

Sundar Singh was a mystic, perhaps even a Christian mystic. But was he a Christian? Of that I am not wholly convinced. In its review of WISDOM OF THE SADHU: TEACHINGS OF SUNDAR SINGH, the Library Journal refers to Sundar Singh as one “who found his way to a kind of Christianity based on his own mystical experience of Jesus.” I am not sure how to understand that conclusion, but I cannot agree with the comment that Sundar Singh’s mystical faith as revealed in this collection from his teachings is somehow “a deeply authentic Christianity.” I do agree with the conclusion that the book should be of interest to “spiritual seekers, Christian and non-Christian alike.”

I enjoy reading books, even novels, written by individuals who are wrestling with the question of how to find meaning and purpose in life, if there is any. That is what drew me to WISDOM OF THE SADHU. It is also what drew me to Thomas á Kempis’ THE IMITATION OF CHRIST and other similar books. Wisdom of the Sadhu is a good read. The sampling of Sundar Singh’s teaching is very interesting, and the writing style is music to the ears.

I love books. They are to be enjoyed for their own sake, not just for the pleasure they give to the reader. Plough Publishing is to be commended for publishing a book that is a pleasure to hold as well as read. The quality of the paper, the print, even the cover all communicate to the reader that Wisdom of the Sadhu is a book to be enjoyed, not just read.

Noah, A Wordless Book

When my youngest daughter was 3 or 4 years old, she took a couple pages of white typing paper folded them in half and then drew some stick figured people on each half sheet.  She announced that she was making a “story book.”

After helping her put the pages together in a “book,” I asked her, “What shall we call the story?”

“The Snowman,” she replied.

There were no words in the book.  It was “a wordless book.”  In fact, there were many, many words hidden in those pages.  Often when we sat together on the sofa or the floor, she would turn the pages of her wordless book and tell me the story of the snowman.  The story was always the same, but the words she used to tell the story would change.  That little wordless book she made was the door to a magic world that only a child, or an adult guided by a child’s imagination, can inhabit.  I still have that little wordless book, both the original and photo copies.

I thought of THE SNOWMAN after receiving a review copy of Mark Ludy’s NOAH:  A WORDLESS PICTURE BOOK (New York:  Plough Publishing House, 2014).  Ludy’s NOAH is a beautifully illustrated book.  Every page is filled with colorful, detailed pictures.  The faces of Noah, Mrs. Noah, the other people, and even the animals have expressions that invite the “reader” to feel the emotions and enter into the story.

I have difficulty finding the words to express my delight with Mr. Ludy’s illustrations.  One feature I noticed that I feel enhances the book’s value is that the character’s are always very human, but generic.  By “generic” I mean they are not racial stereotypes.  After all, we have no idea what people of Noah’s day looked like, except that they were as human as we are today.  A child can believe this is Noah, without unconsciously identifying him as Euro, Afro, or whatever.

I enjoyed the book, but what about a small child, the obvious target audience?  To find out, I asked my wife to share it with a four year old friend of ours, Kingsley.   Setting together on the sofa, my wife began to turn the pages and tell the story of Noah, pointing to various details in the illustrations as she did so.  After finishing, Kingsley ask her to “read” the book again, and again, and again, until they she read it four times.  Kingsley told his mother to tell Mrs. Waibel that when she came to visit again she should bring the “Noah book” with me.

There are many good children’s books; some become classics.  I feel confident that Mark Ludy’s Noah is one that will enjoy a very long and fruitful life.

Of Time Travel, Beat Poets, and Boobies

It was not a good night.  An aching lower back and right hip, sleep apnea, a late night slice of pepperoni pizza followed by a dish of organic vanilla bean ice cream with pure maple syrup poured over it, topped off with real whipped cream, and a guilty conscience for all of the above fulfilled the promise of a restless night.

My “slumber” was disturbed, as usual, by the repeated beeping of my digital alarm clock with its blinking red numbers that matched the blood veins in my tired eyes announcing it was 4:30 a.m., time to rise, shine, and head for the local Baptist Healthplex to perform my daily ritual aimed at delaying my admission to paradise by extending my time in purgatory.

This morning was different.  Instead of grabbing a bottle of pure spring water on my way out the door, I chose to brew a cup of extra strong coffee on my way to my laptop computer, where I would waste an indeterminate amount of time feeding my brain cells, grey like the remaining hair that circles the bald top of my head, allowing only desirable sounds to enter through the two holes, artistically placed, one on each side.

Ignoring the news and thereby staving off the usual daily dose of depression until later, I directed my attention to the veritable feast of internet blogs waiting to be devoured, each one filled with opinions and insights as valuable as my own.

My dream of someday escaping reality by time travel was shattered when I read “Why time travel will remain a sci-fi fantasy.”  “Scientists have proved that a single photon obeys Einstein’s theory that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light and that time travel is therefore impossible” (1).

With that avenue of escape blocked, I turned to Leslea Newman’s memoir of being a student of Allen Ginsberg during the summer of 1979 at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.  Prior to that summer her image of “Ginzy” was a picture of the great poet “naked with love beads draped around his neck.”  What she encountered after knocking on his door, was a bearded old gentleman “in gray baggy pants, white cotton dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up and striped maroon tie.”  Was she shocked, disillusioned, or disappointed?  She does not say, but she later found out that Ginsberg was once told by his guru that if he wanted to be taken seriously as a poet, he would have to wear a suit.  And so he did for the rest of his life.  (2)

There is good news for the new mother enjoying her cup of coffee while breastfeeding her newborn infant.  According to the blog, “Science of Mom,” the latte she is sharing with her newborn is far more milk than coffee.  In fact, the infant’s intake of caffeine is less than 10% of the mother’s.  So, mothers go ahead and enjoy that cup of coffee.  (3)

While on the subject of fresh, organic, booby milk for newborns, “OneGoodDad” posted a picture of three children eating bowls of Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese with their heads covered with blankets.  Why?  In order that they could relive the early days when their mother would take them out to lunch in public.  That blog received numerous comments.

One reader recalled when 37 years earlier while shopping in Gimbels Department Store, “I conveniently sat down in an easy chair in the furniture department and proceeded to nurse my son.”  When confronted by another, more sophisticated lady who informed her that the ladies room was a more appropriate venue, she replied that her son was not going to eat in les toilettes des dames.

One reader, “Anna,” noted that “some of the best supporters of breast feeding women are the men who love them.”  That should come as no surprise.  As any happily married woman can testify, boys never get over the pleasure of well-formed boob. (4)

Well, it’s time to stop wasting time reading blogs.  There are important things to be done before the curtain falls on another exciting day in the life of yours truly.  But first I need to check my Facebook page, and I want to see if I can find on YouTube the song I heard last night on PBS’s program, Independent Lens.  Then there’s Twitter, email, etc., etc., etc.

Have a good day, and remember to be good to all God’s creation and always walk under the mercy.

(1)  http://physicsforme.com/2011/07/25/why-time-travel-will-remain-a-sci-fi-fantasy/

(2)  http://flavorwire.com/378744/former-students-recollections-of-classes-taught-by-famous-authors/6

(3)  http://scienceofmom.com/2014/08/08/caffeine-and-breastfeeding/

(4)  http://thejasongreene.com/2014/08/06/my-kids-eating-lunch-under-a-blanket-in-honor-of-national-breastfeeding-month/


Historian’s Almanac for July 12, 2014

Benjamin D. Maxham - Henry David Thoreau - Restored.jpg Today is the birthday of Henry David Thoreau, born in Concord, Massachusetts on July 12, 1817.  That would make him 197 years old, if he were still with us.  Being a figure in American history rather than biblical history, he died at age forty-five, two years shy of what a male born in 1817 could expect to live.   If he was born in1917, he might have lived a little longer, but only a little.  Life expectancy in 1910 was just 48.4 for a male, not much improvement since 1817.  By 1920, it rose to 53.6.  There was more gained between 1910 and 1920, just ten years, than the eighty-three years between 1817 and 1910.

I think my first introduction to Thoreau was as a college freshman when my English Lit professor put WALDEN, OR LIFE IN THE WOODS, on her required reading list.  She has long since gone on to that great library in heaven where I hope to go one day, so I can now confess that I did not actually read the book.  I suspect she knew that at the time.

When I was assigned such an exciting book in a high school English class, I was always able to find it in a Classic Comic Book edition.  Remember those?  They saved many a high school student of my time from the painful task of reading such great classics as SILAS MARNER.  I have checked the complete list of Classic Comics and found that Thoreau’s WALDEN was never published in that format.  Since the internet was more than 30 years in the future, I am not sure how I ever wrote the required paper on WALDEN.  But I did.

I do not recall how much of WALDEN I managed to read, but I have never forgotten the opening sentence and often find myself contemplating it.  “I went out to the woods,” Thoreau begins, “because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

It is that last bit, “and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived,” that has forever haunted me.  The individual’s ongoing search to find meaning and purpose in his or her life has always interested me.  My favorite books are those written in the first person, whether fiction or nonfiction, where the main character is trying to convince himself that at the end of life’s journey he will not discover that he missed it, that he wasted the brief time allotted to him in a meaningless quest for pleasure and for treasures that in the end will rot away like a fallen tree in the forest.

“Vanity of vanities,
says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities!
All is vanity” (Eccles. 1:1; ESV).

How many people have been born and died through all the ages? The multitude has come and gone without ever being noticed by anyone except God.  They spent their whole lives in daily toil trying to avoid confronting the question of whether or not it would have been best if they had never existed.  This, I believe, is what WALDEN is really about.

Thoreau separated himself from all the distractions around him in order to learn from nature what it had to teach about the real meaning and purpose of life.  He was a romantic who took seriously William Wordsworth’s admonition to find the answers in communion with nature.

“One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Thoreau spent much of his time observing and experiencing all the wonder and beauty of nature.  He did not find evidence of God’s handiwork in nature.  As a transcendentalist, he saw nature as divine.  And since man is a part of nature, he is divine.  In his retreat to Walden Pound Thoreau found what the hippies of the 1970s searched for but never found.

Strangely, Thoreau did not remain in his Garden of Eden around Walden Pound.  After two years, two months, and two days of meditation he returned to civilization, to Concord, Massachusetts, where he lived until his death in 1862.

In the conclusion to WALDEN, Thoreau wrote:  “I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation and always walk under the mercy.


Historian’s Almanac for July 9, 2014

Product DetailsOn the evening of July 8, 1893, James Cornish was stabbed in the chest during a barroom brawl on Chicago’s South side.   He was rushed to Provident Hospital, founded in 1891 by Dr. Daniel Hale Williams (1856-1931).

Dr. Williams was one of only four African American physicians in Chicago at the time.  A former barber and son of a barber, he decided to give up the barber’s trade and follow his growing interest in medicine.  He enrolled in Chicago Medical College, known today as Northwestern University Medical School, in 1880.  After graduating in 1883, Dr. Williams open his own practice.

At the time African American doctors were not allowed to practice in white hospitals.  So, in 1891 Dr. Williams opened America’s first interracial hospital, Provident Hospital, with a total of only twelve beds.

James Cornish was in a desperate state when he was admitted.  He was bleeding internally and sure to die.  Dr. Williams decided to act.  Without the benefit of adequate anesthesia, x-rays, antibiotics, penicillin, or blood transfusion, Dr. Williams opened Cornish’s chest.  The patient’s heart was beating 130 times per minute.  Carefully, Dr. Williams repaired a severed blood vessel and stitched up a one inch cut in the pericardium surrounding the heart.

James Cornish survived the operation.  Fifty-five days later, he left Provident Hospital to live another twenty years.

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams performed the first successful open heart surgery in medical history.  It was not until World War II that heart surgery became an accepted part of medical practice.

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation and always walk under the mercy.