Monthly Archives: August 2013

Historian’s Almanac for August 17, 2013

 It was on August 17, 1786 that one of America’s favorite folk heroes, Davey Crockett was born.  As a frontiersman, he earned the nickname, “King of the Wild Frontier.”  Davey Crockett’s achievements have been forgotten, like those of many frontiersmen in America’s history, were it not for two things, his death and a television series.

Crockett was elected three times to Congress, but lost his bid for reelection in 1832.  Somewhat bitter, he made a speech in front of the Madison County courthouse in Jackson, Tennessee, in which he expressed his anger at what he felt was a betrayal.  “Since you have chosen to elect a man with a timber toe to succeed me,” Crockett told his audience, “you may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.”   He did, where he died at the Battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836, in his forty-ninth year.

Davey Crockett was a bigger than life hero in his own lifetime.  But it was the 1950s television series by Walt Disney that turned him into a legendary figure in buckskin suit, coonskin hat, and holding a long rifle.  Both the television series and the hit song, “The Ballad of Davey Crockett,” can be seen and heard today.

It was also on this day in 1877 the William Bonny, better known as “Billy the Kid,” shot Frank “Windy” Cahill.  Cahill was an oversized blacksmith who enjoyed bullying the seventeen year old Billy.  When Cahill called Billy a pimp, Billy called Cahill a son of a bitch.  The massive Cahill jumped on the much smaller Billy and began beating him.  Billy pulled a gun and shot Cahill, who died the day after. 

Billy discovered he liked killing, and soon earned for himself a reputation as a coldblooded killer.  His career came to an end on July 14, 1886, when he was shot and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett.

And I must not fail to mention the birthday of Mae West, born Mary Jane West  1893 (d. 1980).  She was an actress, singer, playwright, and, but is best remembered as a Hollywood sex idol known for her witticisms:  “I’m no model lady.  A model’s just an imitation of the real thing.”  “When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I’ve never tried before.”

 Until next time, be good, do good, and always live under the mercy.

Mr. Darcy Meets Elizabeth Bennet

Although I have never read Pride and Prejudice, long ago I discovered the importance of knowing something about Jane Austen and her novels.  I enjoy conversations with intelligent women, and I know that there is no better way to a lady’s mind than through Jane Austen.  That lovely lady that a man wishes to know may have little, if any, interest in her admirer.  But he need only mention Jane Austen or one of the characters in one of her novels, especially Mr. Darcy, and immediately she is interested.

Consider this hypothetical scene: 

A very attractive, young, professional lady is sitting alone at a curbside table in front of a coffee shop.  She is sipping a latté and reading a paperback book.

A young man, also professional looking, exits the coffee shop, cup in hand.  He sees the young lady and is immediately interested in meeting her.  He walks over to her table.

 “Excuse me.  Do you mind if I share your table?”

The young lady of interest glances up.

“No.  I don’t mind.”  She goes back to reading as if he wasn’t there.

The young man sits down.  He looks this way and that, and then bends his head to see what she is reading.  She looks over the top of her glasses at him.  The look in her eyes tells him that she is irritated, but also interested, or maybe only puzzled.

 “I’m very sorry.  I did not mean to be rude.  I enjoy reading and … ” he pauses long enough to notice that she was smiling.  He smiles and continues.  “My name is Darcy, Fitzwilliam Darcy.”

The young lady laughs.

“And I am Elizabeth Bennet, I presume?”

He smiles, a smile of cautious triumph, then continues.  “I was curious about what you were reading.  It was rude of me.  Please accept my apology.”

Without saying anything, she slowly places the book on the table, cover down. 

Smiling, she looks at him and says, “Guess!”

Recognizing that he has hit the ball and made it to first base, he decides to try for second.

Pride and Prejudice?” he asks with a grin.

Still with her hand on the book, its cover still hidden from view, she asks:  “Do you use this line often?”

“Line?” he asks.


“Ahh, well.”  He appears to be searching for the right answer, something that will keep the door open.”

She comes to his rescue, perhaps not wanting to scare him off. 

“Poor dear,” she says in a sympathetic, yet sweet tone, “you are trying to decide if you should continue with the Jane Austen approach, believing that every female is wandering around in a romantic make believe world created by Jane Austen, just waiting for the handsome and charming Mr. Darcy to rescue her, or if you should try a different approach.”

He is unable to speak.  He is confused.   He struggles to assess his situation.  Has he tripped on his way to second base, or has he passed second and on his way to third?

Smiling she continues, “Shall I help you?”

“Please do,” he answers in a somewhat pleading tone.  “I fear that I have forgotten my lines and am in danger of being ushered off the stage.”

“On the contrary, Mr. Darcy, I have not been so amused since, well, I don’t know when.”

Feeling confident that he has just made it to third base, he decides to try for home.  “Shall we continue our discussion over dinner?”

“Dinner?” she asked as if shocked by his boldness, but obviously not.  “Why sir, we have not been properly introduced.”

She rises, picks up the book without letting him see the cover, and begins to walk off.

He is left sitting, wondering what is happening.  Then she stops, turns and says with a smile, “I have coffee here every afternoon at this time, Mr. Darcy.”

His eyes continue to follow her until she disappears.  He takes a sip of coffee, smiles to himself and says, “Until tomorrow, Elizabeth.”

Until next time, be good, do good, and always live under the mercy. 


Fun with the Janeites

I must confess at the outset that I have never read one of Jane Austen’s novels.  Neither have I seen one of the movies based on any of her novels.  Perhaps I am missing something, but with only limited time, I choose to stay with those genres I know I like.

However, long ago I discovered the importance of knowing something about Jane Austen and her novels.  I enjoy conversations with intelligent women, and I know that there is no better way to a lady’s mind than through Jane Austen.  That lovely lady that a man wishes to know may have little, if any, interest in her admirer.  But he need only mention Jane Austen or one of the characters in one of her novels, especially Mr. Darcey, and he has her admiring attention.

Those who admire Jane Austen’s novels to the point of what some might call “obsession” are the subject of Deborah Yaffe’s delightful book, Among the Janeites: A Journey through the World of Jane Austen Fandom (Mariner Books, 2013).  They are both men and women who have read a novel or watched a movie or a miniseries based on one of the novels.  They catch a kind of “Austen virus” for which there is no cure. So, they treat the symptoms by attending meetings of one the Jane Austen societies that can be found around the world.  They dress up in regency costumes.  They go on pilgrimages to sites associated with Jane Austen’s life, or even to sites associated with one or more of the movies or miniseries based on the novels.

Ms Yaffe introduces us to some of the many colorful characters who proudly identify themselves as Janeites.  My favorite Janeite among the many that Ms Yaffe introduces the reader to is Sandy Lerner.  Ms Lerner is a kookie, hippie sort of entrepreneur who made a fortune that enabled her to indulge her obsession without limits.  She purchased Chawton House where Jane Austen once lived, sight unseen, for just under $2 million.  She then spent an additional several million rescuing the house from collapse. 

A newscaster once asked her if she was eccentric.  “I am now that I am rich,” she answered, “I used to be just weird.”

Ms. Yaffe’s style of writing helps convey the fun and excitement of those lovingly referred to as the “Janeites.”   She mentions again and again a scene from Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, in which Firth as Mr. Darcy appears in a wet shirt.  It is a scene known to make many feminine members of the audience “all hot and bothered.”

The Janeites of which Yoffe writes, and of which she is a member, are not any different than those who fill the ranks of the Baker Street Irregulars who dress up in their deer slayer hats and carry around a Sherlock Holmes calabash pipe.   They are individuals of all sorts who have fallen in love with a particular fictional character and wish to share their passion with others of similar taste.  May they live long and prosper.

Historian’s Almanac for August 6, 2013

 On this day in 1926, the first feature-length motion picture with sound, Don Juan, starring the immortal John Barrymore was being shown at Warner Theatre (a.k.a. Piccadilly Theatre) in New York.  A ticket cost $10.00, that’s approximately $130.00 in today’s dollars, to see the nearly three-hour-long spectacular.  The first motion picture with sound was actually shown at the Paris Exposition of 1900.

 It’s the birthday of Andy Warhol (1928-1987) known as the “Prince of Pop.”  Warhol was one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century.  In 1961 a friend suggested that he paint something like a soup can.  He did. In 1962 Warhol had his first art exhibit in a gallery in Los Angeles.  He displayed 32 paintings of Campbell soup cans, one for each type of soup.  Warhol sold the entire set to an art dealer for $1000.  The dealer later sold the 32 small canvases for $15 million.  A signed, numbered, and authenticated print of a Campbell Soup can be purchased for around $1,200.  “An artist,” said Warhol, “is somebody who produces things people don’t need.”

 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act into law, thus turning the once solid Democratic South over to the Republican Party.

In 1945, the United States carried out what many consider to have been the greatest war crime of the Second World War.  A B-29 bomber named the Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.  The debate over the motive for dropping the bomb, and a second one on Nagasaki just three days later, will never end.  The horror of it is vividly portrayed in John Hersey’s novel Hiroshima and in the graphic novel Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa, a survivor.

Finally, while thinking about the anniversary of the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima, I was reminded of a USA program to explode an atomic bomb on the moon.  After the Russians launched their Sputnik satellite in 1957, American military leaders became fearful that the Russians might do to us what we did to the Japanese.  The result was a project called “A Study of Lunar Research Flights,” nicknamed “Project 119.”  It was intended to impress the Soviet leaders with America’s military might.  Physicist Leonard Reiffel was placed in charge of the project.  He was assisted by a graduate astronomy student by the name of Carl Sagan.  The event was to take place in 1959, but was abandoned, when someone suggested that it might possibly harm people on earth, other than the Japanese or Russians, we might assume.

Until next time, be good, do good, and always live under the mercy.

Historian’s Almanac for Augusst 4, 2013

It is the anniversary of The Saturday Evening Post’s début as a weekly in 1821.  It continued publication until its demise in 1969, due in part to a successful lawsuit against the magazine for libel.  The suit claimed that an article in the Post alleged that Georgia Bulldogs football coach Wally Butts and Alabama head coach conspired to fix football games. 

Billboard Magazine introduced its “Hot 100” chart.  The first number one song on the Hot 100 chart was Ricky Nelson’s “Poor Little Fool.”  The oldest musician to occupy the number one spot on the Hot 100 was Louis Armstrong, born on this day in 1901.  Satchmo’s recording of “Hello Dolly” sold more than a million copies.  “There is two kinds of music,” said Armstrong, “the good, and the bad.  I play the good kind.”

A ban on all recordings by the Beatles went into effect on most radio stations in the United States in 1966.  The drastic action was taken in response to John Lennon’s comment that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ. 

A twenty-two cent postage stamp honoring the Nobel Laureate William Faulkner went on sale at the post office in Oxford, Mississippi in 1986.  Ironically, Faulkner was fired as the postmaster of the same post office in 1924.   William Faulkner, who once said “Pouring out liquor is like burning books,” was named after his great-grandfather William Clark Falkner, who was gunned down in the town square of Ripley, Mississippi.

And finally these words from Faulkner:  “I decline to accept the end of man… I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among the creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”

Until next time, be good, do good, and always live under the mercy.

Historian’s Almanac for August 3, 2013

 On this day in 1492 Christopher Columbus set sail from Palos, Spain.  Although he knew where wanted to go, he ended up [re]discovering the “new world.”  By doing so, Columbus proved what every woman knows; men simply refuse to ask directions.

In 1922, radio station WGY in Schenectady, New York broadcast the first full-length melodrama.  “The Wolf” was written by Eugene Walter in 1914.  Set in Canada, the play is about one man’s pursuit of revenge for the death of his sister, who was betrayed and deserted by a cad called “the Wolf.”

The first Mickey Mouse watch went on sale in 1933.  It sold for $12.75.  The Japanese Emperor Hirohito was given a Mickey Mouse watch in 1975 and wore it even on formal occasions.  A great crisis occurred in 1979, when the watch stopped running.  The precious watch was rushed to Tokyo for repair by experts on American watches.  All was well when it turned out that the watch only needed a new battery.  Today a vintage 1933 Mickey Mouse watch can be purchased on eBay for $1500.

Among the notable birthdays to celebrate is that of John T. Scopes, born on this day in 1900.  Scopes was serving as a football coach and substitute teacher at the Rhea County High School in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925.  The ACLU wanted to test Tennessee’s Butler Act banning the teaching of evolution in the public schools.  The merchants of Dayton wanted to put their town on the map.  Scopes agreed to test the law.  The result was one of the most sensational and widely known trials in American history, the so-called “Monkey Trial.”

The trial pitted two heroic figures against each other, William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution and Clarence Darrow for the defense.  Bryan was a three-time presidential candidate and defender of biblical inerrancy.  Darrow was a famous defense lawyer and libertarian.  The presence of H. L. Mencken, editor of the American Mercury, guaranteed the trial would be a national, if not international, sensation.

Historian’s Almanac for August 2, 2013

Today is August 2, 2013.  It is the anniversary of the first U. S. Census conducted in 1790.  It recorded the population of the new nation as of August 2, 1790.  According to the census, believed by both President George Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson to understate the nation’s true population, there were 3,893,635 people living in the thirteen states.  Of that number, 694,280 were slaves.  The most recent total as of 2012 is 393.9 million souls.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland was first published on this day in 1865.  All copies of the first printing sold out quickly.  Queen Victoria enjoyed the book very much.   Some critics believe that the Queen of Hearts in Carroll’s tale is a caricature of Queen Victoria.  One of the most popular children’s books, it has never been out of print.

In 1876, a young gunslinger named Jack McCall walked into a saloon in Deadwood, South Dakota, where Wild Bill Hickok was playing poker with his back to the door.  McCall shot Wild Bill in the back of the head without warning.  Hickok, the most famous gunfighter in the West, died with his gun in the holster and a pair of black aces and black eights in his hand.  McCall became the first man legally hanged in the Dakota Territory for having murdered an American legend.

And finally a bit of wisdom from Alice in Wonderland:

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, or you wouldn’t have come here.”

 Until next time, be good, do good, and always live under the mercy.


Historian’s Almanac for August 1, 2013

Today is August 1, 2013.  It was on this day in 1914 that the Great War began when Germany and Russia declared war on each other and the French government ordered mobilization.  No event in history since the fall of the Roman Empire in the West had a greater impact on world history.  What became known as World War I was but the first act of a two-act war, the second act of which was World War II.  Had the Great War not occurred, there would not have been a Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the rise of Hitler in Germany, World War II, the Holocaust, or the Cold War.

The 11th Olympic Games opened in Berlin (1936) hosted by Adolf Hitler.  Hitler saw an opportunity for his new German Reich to be the center of world attention.  He also meant for the Olympics to display to the whole world the superiority of the Aryan race.  The first aim was achieved, but the second was a failure.  Jessie Owens, a twenty-two-year-old African American, won four gold medals.  The crowd cheered and Germany’s star athlete, Luz Long, congratulated Owens’ when he won the gold medal in the long jump.  Hitler refused to shake Owens’ hand.

Just three days before Anne Frank and her family were arrested and sent to a concentration (1944), she made her final entry in her diary.  She talked about the conflict in her personality between the serious and the frivolous.

“I know exactly how I’d like to be, how I am . . . on the inside. But unfortunately I’m only like that with myself. And perhaps that’s why — no, I’m sure that’s the reason why — I think of myself as happy on the inside and other people think I’m happy on the outside. I’m guided by the pure Anne within, but on the outside I’m nothing but a frolicsome little goat tugging at its tether. As I’ve told you, what I say is not what I feel, which is why I have a reputation for being a boy-chaser, a flirt, a smart aleck and a reader of romances. The happy-go-lucky Anne laughs, gives a flippant reply, shrugs her shoulders and pretends she couldn’t care less. The quiet Anne reacts in just the opposite way” (Diary of Anne Frank, 1952).

It is the birthday of Herman Melville, best known for his novel, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, published in 1851.  The novel was not a success in Melville’s lifetime.  It did not sell out the initial printing of 3,000 copies.  Today it is considered one of the greatest American novels.

And finally this.  Calvin Coolidge, known as “Silent Cal,” said little, but when he did speak, he spoke words of true wisdom.  E. g.:  “More people out of work leads to higher unemployment.”

Until next time, be good, do good, and always live under the mercy.