Category Archives: Historian’s Almanac

Historian’s Almanac: August 12, 2016

Today is August 12, 2016.  There are 141 days left in the year and only 87 days left until we elect a new President.

It was on August 12, 1927 that the romantic action-packed World War I movie “Wings” premiered at the Criterion Theater, in New York City.  It was awarded the highest honor, Best Picture, at the first Academy Awards ceremony on May 16, 1929 in Los Angeles, California.  “Wings” was the only silent movie so honored by the Academy.  The script was written to accommodate Clara Bow, superstar and cultural icon known to history as the “It” Girl.

“Wings” is one of the most significant movies in cinema history.  The realistic air combat scenes set the standard by which all subsequent aviation movies were judged.  It took 7 months to film, rather than just 1 month, which was normal at that time.  “Wings” cost $2 million ($26,725,988.70 in 2016) to make, a paltry sum compared to the cost of today’s action movies.  Last year’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” had a budget of $306 million.  “Avatar” (2009) cost $425 million to make.

Frequent bad weather around San Antonio, Texas where “Wings” was filmed left the cast with time on their hands.  By the end of filming, every one of the elevator girls at the St. Anthony Hotel, where the cast was housed, became pregnant.  Clara Bow, who announced her engagement to Victor Fleming upon arrival in San Antonio, had a sizzling affair with Gary Cooper.  It has been said of Cooper, whose career got its big boost from his role in “Wings,” that he bedded every one of his leading ladies during his career.

“Wings” is also remembered as one of the first motion pictures to show nudity.  During a scene at an army recruiting center, the naked backsides of some male recruits being processed can be seen through a cracked door.  Far more titillating, I’m sure, is a brief second during a Paris bedroom scene when movie goers were treated to a glimpse of Clara Bow’s breasts.

[See “Wings” trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9P3XXvleo4]

Janis Joplin gave her last concert on the evening of August 12, 1970 in the Harvard Stadium at Harvard University.  She ended the concert with her own version of George Gershwin’s “Summertime.”  She died of a drug overdose on October 4.  [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bn5TNqjuHiU]

Joseph Lister (1827-1912) introduced the use of an antiseptic during surgery on August 12, 1865, when he applied a solution of carbolic acid to a leg wound of a seven-year-old boy.  In 1879, Dr. Joseph Lawrence named his newly developed mouthwash, “Listerine,” in honor of Joseph Lister.

“The more I see of men, the more I like dogs.”  Clara Bow

“Audiences like their blues singers to be miserable.”  Janis Joplin

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

 

 

Historian’s Almanac: August 4, 2016

Today is August 4, 2016.  There are 149 days left in the year and only 95 days left until we elect a new President.

The Norwegian Nobel Laurate, Knut Hamsun (aka, Knut Pedersen) was born on this day in 1859 in Lom, Gudbrandsdal, Norway.  Born into poverty, Knut was sent to live with an uncle who starved and beat him regularly.  In 1874 he was able to escape from his uncle’s oppression.  He spent the next 5 years doing odd jobs for food and shelter.

Hamsun began his writing career with the publican of his first novel, The Enigmatic Man: A Love Story from Northern Norway, in 1877.  It was a love story that began, “Near a small hill crowned with trees, at the foot of which a small river meandered across the lovely meadow, was a handsome farmhouse. It belonged to the richest man in town, Ole Aae.”

Hamsun was not proud of his first novel, or two others that are among the 30 novels he wrote during his long career.  He did not allow them to be included in his Collected Works during his lifetime.  Why?  As he explained to his publisher:  “I would never have published things like ‘A Reconciliation’, ‘The Enigmatic One’ and ‘Bjørger’ had it not been, each time, to show my brothers and sisters that I was not to be made fun of.”

During his literary career of 70 years, Hamsun wrote short stories, plays, essays, travelogues, and poetry as well as novels.  He first won acclaim with Hunger (1890), a novel about a young writer driven to near madness by hunger and poverty.  He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1920 for Growth of the Soul, first published in 1917.

Among well-known authors who have praised Knut Hamsun are Arthur Koestler, H. G. Wells, and Thomas Mann who hailed him as a “descendant of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Friedrich Nietzsche.”  Isaac Bashevis Singer, a Polish-born Jewish author who wrote only in Yiddish, and himself a Nobel laurate, was a great admirer of Hamsun.  “The whole school of fiction in the 20th century,” said Singer, “stems from Hamsun.”

Norwegians are proud of Knut Hamsun the Nobel Laurate.  But, there is another side of Hamsun’s legacy that is problematic.  Hansum was among a small number of interwar intellectuals who somehow found merit in the pseudo-scientific racial theories that were popular at that time in both Europe and America.

Hamsun supported the German occupation of Norway during World War II.  In 1943, he sent his Nobel medal as a gift to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment.  It may have been an attempt to gain an audience with Hitler, whom he admired.  If so, it worked.

When Hamsun met Hitler in 1943, he dared to advise the Führer on German policy towards Norway.  Hitler, of course, was not used to taking advice from anyone, even such a devoted lackey as Hamsun.  According to Hitler confident, Otto Dietrich, it took Hitler 3 days to get over his anger.

In 1945, when he heard the news of Hitler’s death, Hamsun published a eulogy in the Aftenposten is Norway’s largest printed newspaper:

“Hitler was a warrior, a warrior for humankind and a preacher of the gospel of justice for all nations. He was a reforming character of the highest order, and his historical fate was that he functioned in a time of exampleless [unequalled] brutality, which in the end felled him.

“Thus may the ordinary Western European look at Adolf Hitler. And we, his close followers, bow our heads at his death” (May 7, 1945).

Sufficient time has gone by since the end of World War II to allow Norwegians to excuse Hamsun’s pro-Nazi past and focus on his legacy as a great author.  On the 150th anniversary of his birth in 2009, the Knut Hamsun Center was opened in northern Norway near where he was born.  Resembling a large black cube, the Hamsun Center is a museum and educational center dedicated to honoring his life and work.

Hamsun’s literary works remain on school reading lists in Norway.  Still his wartime collaboration with the German occupation and his pro-Nazi sympathies linger in the background like a ghost.

——

It’s the birthday of Elizabeth, wife of George VI (The King’s Speech), Queen of England (1936-1952), and mother of Elizabeth II.  She was known as the “Queen Mother.”  She died on March 30, 2002.

It’s the anniversary of the death of the American actor Victor Mature, who starred in many Biblical epics, among them Samson and Delilah (1949) and The Robe (1953), and Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954).  Of his career, he once said: “Actually, I am a golfer. That is my real occupation. I never was an actor; ask anybody, particularly the critics.”

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

 

Historian’s Almanac: July 31, 2016

Today is July 31, 2016.  There are 153 days left in the year and only 99 days left until we elect a new President.

Seventy-two years ago today, the French writer, poet, philosopher, journalist, and pioneering aviator, Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint-Exupéry took off from an airbase on the island of Corsica on a reconnaissance flight over the Mediterranean Sea.  He was flying an unarmed Lockheed P-38 Lightning American fighter aircraft.  He did not return to the airbase.  Pilot and plane simply vanished without a trace.

Many pilots vanished on missions during World War II, but Antoine Saint-Exupéry was not just another pilot.  He was a French national treasure.  He was also a French patriot determined to serve his country.  When the Germans invaded France in May, 1940, Saint-Exupéry joined the French Air Force.  Faced with imminent defeat in late June, France asked for an armistice and exited the war.  Saint-Exupéry would not accept defeat.  After spending 27 months in the United States campaigning for America’s entry into the war, he joined the Free French Air Force in North Africa.

Saint Exupéry’s literary career began in 1926 with the publication of L’Aviateur (The Aviator) in the French literary magazine Le Navire d’Argent (The Silver Ship).  A short novel, Night Flight (Vol de nuit) appeared in 1931.  It was based on his experience flying the mail in Argentina.  Night Flight became an international best seller.

Wind, Sand and Stars (Terre des hommes) appeared in 1939.  It was an autobiography, a memoir, in which Saint-Exupéry presents his philosophy of what makes life worth living.  “The book’s themes deal with friendship, death, heroism, camaraderie and solidarity among colleagues, humanity and the search for meaning in life” (www.wikiwand.com/en/Wind, _Sand_and_Stars).

Saint-Exupéry may well have remained a literary figure known mainly to his countrymen and a few students of modern literature were it not for a short novella published a year before his death.  He wrote and illustrated The Little Prince during the 27 months he lived as an expatriate in New York City.

“Everyone knows the basic bones of the story: an aviator, downed in the desert and facing long odds of survival, encounters a strange young person, neither man nor really boy, who, it emerges over time, has travelled from his solitary home on a distant asteroid, where he lives alone with a single rose. The rose has made him so miserable that, in torment, he has taken advantage of a flock of birds to convey him to other planets. He is instructed by a wise if cautious fox, and by a sinister angel of death, the snake” (Adam Gopnik, “The Strange Triumph of ‘The Little Prince,’” The New Yorker, April 29, 2014).

The Little Prince was received with mixed reviews, when it first appeared.  It spent only two weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list, whereas Wind, Sand and Stars remained there for five months when it first appeared in 1939.  Readers were confused.  Was it a children’s book?   Was it meant for adults?  Was it an allegory, or perhaps a serious philosophical book?  What was it really about?

Volumes have been written trying to figure out who or what the various characters—the prince, the fox, the snake—represent, or where in Saint-Exupéry’s life they are found.  Once when asked who the Little Prince was, he replied:  “I am the prince.”

Over the years since its first appearance, The Little Prince has been translated into 250 languages and dialects.  It continues to sell two million copies annually, and with total sales exceeding 140 million copies, it is one of the best-selling books ever published.

Why its lasting appeal?  The answer to that question can be found within the publisher’s blurb on the back cover of most editions:  “There are few stories which in some way, in some degree, change the world forever for their readers. This is one.”

Part of the mystery surrounding Saint-Exupéry and the Little Prince is that they both fell out of the sky and disappeared forever.  At least that was the case until September, 1998, when a French fisherman fishing off the coast of France south of Marseille, discovered caught in his nets a silver identity bracelet with Saint-Exupéry’s name on it and that of his wife Consuelo.  The bracelet was later verified as that belonging to Saint-Exupéry.  In May, 2000, the remains of his Lockheed P-38 were discovered near where the bracelet was previously found.

There remains at least one mystery that leaves this blogger wanting to know more of Saint-Exupéry’s disappearance.  A few days after Saint-Exupéry’s disappearance, “[a]n unidentifiable body in a French [military] uniform” was found washed up on a beach south of Marseille.  Was it Saint-Exupéry?  We will never know.

I close with this quote from the Little Prince.  “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

The unabridged audio book of The Little Prince can be found on YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTi536xVuw4

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

 

 

Historian’s Almanac: July 29, 2016

Today is the 29th day of July, 2016.  There are only 149 days left until Christmas and only 155 left in 2016.

It was on this day in 1586 that Sir Walter Raleigh made the first delivery of Virginia tobacco to England.

You will recall that it was Sir Walter who covered a puddle of water with his velvet cloak so that Queen Elizabeth I might not muddy her royal feet.  The first mention of his noble gesture is found in Thomas Fuller’s History of the Worthies of England, published in 1662.

Raleigh was but one of a number of gentlemen rumored at the time to be among the Virgin Queen’s lovers.  Whether or not Queen Elizabeth I did in fact have secret lovers has never been verified by historians.  Elizabeth’s Roman Catholic opponents who wanted to replace her on the throne of England with her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, a Catholic, referred to her as the “whore” of Europe who had “defiled her body and the country” with her “filthy lust.”

There is no doubt that Raleigh was one of the queen’s favorites and that she was obviously charmed by him.  But, though she may have had other male favorites, she was not one to suffer disloyalty.  When it became known that Raleigh had secretly married one of the queen’s ladies in waiting, Sir Walter was packed off to the Tower of London, as was also the recent bride, Elizabeth “Bess” Throckmorton.

Raleigh and his wife were released from prison in 1593.  Raleigh regained the Queen’s favor after several years.

The Raleighs lived happily until Elizabeth’s death on March 23, 1603.  Just four months later Raleigh was arrested and returned to the Tower of London after being implicated in plot against Elizabeth I’s successor, James I.   James I was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots.  At the appointed time on October 29, 1618, Raleigh was beheaded in the Old Palace Yard at the Palace of Westminster.  His severed head was embalmed and given to his wife, Lady Raleigh.  She kept in a velvet bag until her death 29 years later.

A small pouch of tobacco was found in Raleigh’s cell after his execution.  He had written on it in Latin, “It was my companion at that most miserable time”.

Raleigh’s delivery of tobacco to England on this date in 1586 was perhaps his most lasting legacy.  Jamestown became a boom colony as Virginia tobacco became one of the New World’s chief exports to Europe.  Promoters of the foreign weed hailed it as a “sacred herb” with valuable medicinal properties capable of curing 36 ailments. More importantly perhaps is the fact that it quickly became a very profitable source of tax revenue wherever it was introduced.

Not until the mid-twentieth century did modern medicine acknowledge that tobacco, far from being good for one’s health, was in fact a deadly weed.  Such was already noted by James I in a treatise he wrote in 1604 titled “A Counterblaste to Tobacco”, in which denounced the use of tobacco as “[a] custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomelesse.”

 

Also of note during these two weeks of the major political party conventions to nominate candidates for the upcoming election is that on this day in 1960, Vice President Richard Nixon was nominated as the Republican candidate for president.  Although Nixon lost the election to John F. Kennedy, he was elected president in 1969.  Ironically, it was on July 29, 1974 that the House Judiciary Committee voted 27 – 11 to recommend President Nixon be impeached.

 

And finally the world’s best known sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, made his first appearance in the “Adventure of Dancing Men” on this day in 1898.

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

 

 

Al Capone and America’s Noble Experiment

My father and another man owned a small meat packing business in Freeport, Wisconsin during the 1920s and the Great Depression.  They, like so many small businesses, went bankrupt during the depression.

Freeport lies 133 miles northwest of Chicago.  My father delivered meat to various stores, etc., in and around Freeport and all the way to Chicago.  Some of Al Capone’s speakeasies in Chicago were among his customers.  My father never met any of the bootleggers or gangsters.  Probably the closest he ever came to one was when he went to see a movie on the evening of July 21, 1934 at the Biograph Theatre on the north side of Chicago.  It was the following night, in front of the Biograph Theatre, that federal agents gunned down John Dillinger.  Ironically, the movie playing was “Manhattan Melodrama,” a gangster movie featuring Clark Gable and William Powell.

America was at that time—1920-1933—conducting what was called a “noble experiment”—prohibition.  “National prohibition of alcohol . . . was undertaken to reduce crime and corruption, solve social problems, reduce the tax burden created by prisons and poorhouses, and improve health and hygiene in America.”  It failed in every area.  In fact, many believe that all prohibition did accomplish was to make organized crime big business.

Prohibition became the law of the land with ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution on January 16, 1919.  The amendment prohibited “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes . . . .”  Mississippi was the first state to ratify the amendment (January 7, 1918).  The necessary number of states ratifying the amendment was reached, when Nebraska became the 36th of the 48 states then in the Union to ratify it on January 16, 1919.

Prohibition divided the nation into camps.  Those who supported prohibition were known as “dries.”  Those who opposed it were known as “wets.”  The dries were led by rural Protestants and social Progressives in both the Democratic and Republican parties.  They saw it as a victory for the improvement of public health and morals.  The wets opposed prohibition as an attempt to impose largely rural and Protestant values on urban centers with large immigrant and Catholic populations.

Although there was widespread support for the Eighteenth Amendment, at least initially, there was significant opposition.  The amendment left it to the federal and state governments to pass the necessary legislation to enforce the ban.  Congress acted by passing the National Prohibition Act, commonly referred to as the Volstead Act, over President Woodrow Wilson’s veto in October, 1919.

The Volstead Act went into effect at midnight on January 17, 1920.  The first documented violation occurred just fifty-nine minutes later, when $100,000 worth of “medicinal” whiskey was hijacked from two railroad freight cars in Chicago.

It was near impossible to enforce prohibition.  Most citizens simply ignored the law.  Prohibition did succeed in making lawbreakers out of ordinary, law-abiding citizens, while at the same time lowering respect for law in general.  Ordinary working-class people felt that they were being deprived of their occasional glass of beer or shot of whiskey by the upper classes that had easy access to as much as they wished to consume.

There was little enthusiasm among federal, state, and local law enforcement to enforce prohibition.  Congress provided funds to hire a mere 1,500 agents to prevent 125 million people from having a drink of liquor or a glass of beer.  A federal judge ruled that physicians could prescribe liquor for “medicinal” purposes, resulting in an average of 10 million such prescriptions per year.  Some doctors sold blank prescription books.

Even if violators were arrested, it was difficult to get a conviction.  Of 7,000 arrested in New York during given period, only 17 were convicted and none sentenced to jail.  Juries often refused to convict violators.  In San Francisco a jury drank up the evidence, thus forcing the judge to dismiss the case for lack of evidence.

Disrespect for the law reached the highest levels of government.  Both Presidents Woodrow Wilson and his successor kept private stashes of liquor in the White House.  One attorney general serving under Harding accepted bribes from bootleggers. An ingenious entrepreneur named George Cassidy was the unofficial bootlegger to Congressmen and Senators.  He made regular daily deliveries, as many as 25 a day, to House and Senate offices.  Cassidy wore a trademark green hat so that capitol police would recognize him and not interfere with his business.  He operated his enterprise for five years in the House grounds before transferring to the Senate office building for another five years.

Americans made folk heroes out of gangsters who risked their freedom to quench the public’s thirst for alcoholic beverages.  They weren’t gangsters so much as they were Robin Hood like defenders of the public’s right to drink what he or she pleased against a too intrusive government.  “I violate the Prohibition law, sure,” Al Capone admitted.  “Who doesn’t?  The only difference is that I take more chances than the man who drinks a cocktail before dinner and a flock of highballs after it.  But he’s just as much a violator as I am.”

It is impossible to speak of the Roaring Twenties and Prohibition without mentioning Alphonse Gabriel “Al” Capone.  “Only twenty-nine and at the height of his power,” writes journalist Nathen Miller, “Capone held a near monopoly on bootlegging, gambling, prostitution, and labor racketeering in the Chicago area.”

When Frank J. Loesch, reformer and founder of the Chicago Crime Commission, wanted to have an honest election in Chicago in November, 1928, he went to Capone and asked, “Will you help me by keeping your damned cutthroats and hoodlums from interfering with the polling booths?”

“All right,” answered Capone, “I’ll have the cops send over squad cars the night before the election and jug all the hoodlums and keep ‘em in the cooler until the polls close.”

Chicago police went through the streets the night before the election and rounded up known lawbreakers.  Seventy police cars cruised city streets on the day of the election.  Capone honored his word.  Loesch later recalled, “It turned out to be the squarest and most successful election in forty years.  There was not one complaint, not one election fraud and no threat of trouble all day.”  Chicago was Capone’s city.

Capone was a successful businessman, if also a gangster. The Office of the U.S. Attorney in 1925 estimated Capone’s annual income at $105 million, or approximately $1.5 billion in 2015.  He knew how to prosper in a free economy.   “I am like any other man,” he once said.  “All I do is supply a demand.”  Adam Smith discovered the law of supply and demand; Al Capone knew how to exploit it.  “Prohibition,” he said, “has made nothing but trouble.”  He recognized that there was a demand for a product that could not be obtained through legitimate channels.  Like a good capitalist, he became the supplier.  “When I sell liquor,” said Capone, “it’s called bootlegging; when my patrons serve it on Lake Shore Drive, it’s called hospitality.”

Capone did not believe that competition between criminal gangs should include murder.  “There was, and there is, plenty of business for all,” he said.  But a smile went only so far.  A smile backed up by a gun was sometimes necessary.  When rivals refused Capone’s peace terms, he simply had them gunned down.

Hymie Weiss, leader of the North Side Gang, rejected Capone’s peace overtures, he and several of his associates were gunned down in broad daylight.  Capone, who everyone knew ordered the hit, said that “Hymie Weiss is dead because he was bull-headed.”  Always conscious of his public image, Capone paid the medical expenses of an innocent bystander injured during the raid.  He also paid for damages done to shops in the area.

Capone made one fatal mistake as a business man; he failed to pay taxes on criminal income.  The Supreme Court ruled 1927 that even illegally earned income was taxable.  Capone was arrested and convicted of income tax evasion in 1931.  In addition to being sentenced to eleven years in prison, he was fined $50,000 plus $7,692 for court costs.  He also owed the IRS $215,000 plus interest in back taxes.

Capone was 33 and suffering syphilis, gonorrhea, and cocaine addiction, when he entered prison in May, 1932.  He was paroled in November, 1939 after serving just over seven years of his eleven year sentence.  His progressive mental decline resulting from syphilis was evident even before his release and retirement to his estate at Palm Island, Florida.  He died January 25, 1947. Only months before a psychiatric examination revealed that he had the mental capacity of a 12-year-old child.

A little known aspect of Capone’s life was his love of music.  He was a fan of opera and jazz.  He played the banjo and mandola.  While at Alcatraz he played banjo in the prison band, the Rock Islanders that gave concerts for inmates on Sundays.  He even wrote a love song, Madonna Mia, which was recorded in 2009.

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

 

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

[2] THE VIRGINIA QUARTERLY REVIEW, Spring 2002.