Friday, July 19, 2013

Another look at Henry Shaw as his 213th birthday approaches

Take 5: Another look at Henry Shaw as his 213th birthday approaches

by (Kristen Hare)
Nearly 155 years ago, businessman Henry Shaw opened the Missouri Botanical Garden on the hundreds of acres of prairie he'd previously purchased. With the help of pre-eminent naturalist Asa Gray, William Jackson Hooker, director of England’s Kew Gardens, and St. Louis resident Dr. George Engelmann, Shaw created a major and lasting institution.
Photos courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden Henry Shaw at his townhouse at 7th and Locust.
“A lot of times, people think of Henry Shaw, was he a horticulturist? Was he a botanist? He was really neither,” says Andrew Colligan, head of archives at the garden. “He was a man who had money and vision and wanted to establish an institution that supported both of those fields.”
In Shaw’s time, Colligan says, he began a herbarium, which is basically a library of dried plant specimens. When Shaw started, the herbarium had about 60,000 specimens. Today, it’s about 6.5 million.
Wednesday, July 24, marks the anniversary of Shaw’s birthday, and to celebrate, admission to the garden is free from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
To help us understand Shaw and the impact of his initial vision, Colligan spoke with the St. Louis Beacon about the man, the times in which he lived, and the impact his vision had. Answers have been edited for length.
Beacon: Shaw came to St. Louis at just 18 to open a hardware business. Forty years later, he opened the Missouri Botanical Garden. What happened  during those 40 years that inspired him to create the garden?
Colligan: Shaw initially came to St. Louis in 1819. Riverboat travel had only come up to St. Louis the year prior, in 1818, and he came aboard a ship called The Maid of New Orleans. He saw that St. Louis was geographically located on a good spot on the river.
Early plans for a proposed park garden, east of the existing garden
St. Louis at the time was mainly a French fur-trading outpost on the river, and he thought to set up a general store. It proved to be a very lucrative for him. With each passing year he generated more and more income and during those years he was really dedicated to being a successful businessman. By 1839, he had amassed a fortune of about $250,000, which would have made him a millionaire in his day.
During the 1840s and into the early 1850s, he did three trips abroad. He went on what they would have called the Grand Tour of Europe. He saw all the famous historical sites and also during this time visited many beautiful gardens in Europe, some public, many private.
We have his travel diaries; he visited the Great Pyramids of Giza and he also visited areas around the Mediterranean. His last trip abroad was in 1851 and he saw The Great Expedition of 1851 in London. He also visited the private gardens of Chatsworth. It was later in his life when he was recalling things to his only official biographer that he alluded to the fact that it was during his walk in Chatsworth that he thought, I would like to do something like this on a smaller scale back in my adopted city of St. Louis.
So he brought those ideas inspired by his trips back with him to start the Missouri Botanical Garden. Was that happening around the country at the time, or was he a pioneer in the U.S. with these ideas?
The willow pond at the arboretum
Colligan: I would argue that he was a pioneer. New York did not have a botanical garden until 1892. So, it was kind of unusual. You could almost argue that 200 miles west of St. Louis was the wild west, and that was also how Shaw was able to amass his fortune. People were traveling west, St. Louis was kind of like the last stop.
Shaw isn’t just associated with the garden, but also some other notable St. Louis institutions. Can you talk about his role in places such as Tower Grove Park and the Mercantile Library?
Colligan: Shaw’s second gift to the city, of course, is Tower Grove Park. Over the years he became aware of how city politics ran things, so he was very careful in that he wanted to make sure that things he established would stand the test of time. Shaw’s will, in 1859, clearly laid out in legalese how the garden would be established and he did a similar thing for Tower Grove Park. But he did not want his garden to fall prey to city politics, in particular City Hall. He made it where the garden is not a park. It does not fall within the St. Louis Parks division. It operates individually.
He established Tower Grove Park and actually gives it to the city, but it has its own commissioner; it has its own board. It operates as a St. Louis park, but yet it does not. They have their own grounds keepers and staff.
When Shaw died, they started a board of trustees, established it for the garden. One of the first things that happened was the mayor’s office told the board of trustees that they should have their meetings down at City Hall. They were able to tell the mayor, "Thank you, but no thanks," and that was pretty much the end of it.
The m
The mausoleum
Shaw still has quite a presence in St. Louis, particularly at the garden. People can view his mausoleum and tour his house. Can you share some thing you’ve learned about Shaw that the public may not know?
Colligan: Maybe one thing people may not realize is for a time between 1828 and 1855, Shaw was a slave owner. When he came to St. Louis, he wrote back to family that he was against that practice, it had been outlawed in England. He was disgusted with the practice. We don’t really know what changed his mind ... was it a manner of business? His ownership of slaves ends prior to his establishment of the Missouri Botanical Garden.
But one thing that’s somewhat frustrating about Shaw is that we don’t really have his personal papers.  We don’t have a whole lot. His business papers are well documented. The receipt from the nursery from the first planting of the Missouri Botanical Garden, we can look at that and see what he bought. But we don’t have his love letters.
He was a life long bachelor. The closest thing is that he was sued for breach of promise by a woman named Effie Carstang in the late 1850s, just prior to the garden opening. And that’s the closest thing to a salacious love story with Henry Shaw. And it really is not that exciting. He loaned her a piano. She took it as an intent to marry. He asked for the piano back. And she sued for breach of promise. We can even go into the Shaw papers and see that the piano is more or less listed as a loan. It’s kind of hard to fit a piano on your ring finger.
It is somewhat frustrating. His thoughts on, say, the Civil War, we don’t know. We do know after the Civil War he did hire a number of African Americans, one was more or less his right-hand man and continued to live on Garden grounds until the 1930s and had nothing but good things to say about Henry Shaw.
Now, the Missouri Botanical Garden is a National Historic Landmark, with 79 acres of gardens and an international center for research and conservation. Looking back at plans and documents from Shaw’s time, what do you think he expected the Garden to become?
Colligan: One thing that's worth mentioning is that botany was kind of in its infancy when Shaw established the garden. I would say it really isn’t until more or less the turn of the century that botany becomes the botany that we’re familiar with and we studied in school.
He wanted it to be a world-class institution. He wanted it to be a world-class institution in research and in horticulture and I think that as far as research, we’re always ranked in the top three: the Kew, the New York Botanical Garden, and us. I think he’d be very proud of that.
Aand when you think of it as a display garden, we have the largest Japanese garden in North America. I think he’d be amazed at how much the city has changed and how much the garden has changed. The landscape has changed dramatically since Shaw’s time.
We still have buildings here like Tower Grove House, Linean House, his mausoleum. Those things have been constant while the garden has changed around them. I think when you look at research and horticulture, I think he’d be very pleased not only that the garden is still existing, but it’s at the forefront.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Geronimo’s Appeal to Theodore Roosevelt

Geronimo’s Appeal to Theodore Roosevelt

Geronimo as a prisoner of war at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, 1898. Photo: Frank A. Rinehart, Wikipedia
When he was born he had such a sleepy disposition his parents named him Goyahkla—He Who Yawns. He lived the life of an Apache tribesman in relative quiet for three decades, until he led a trading expedition from the Mogollon Mountains south into Mexico in 1858. He left the Apache camp to do some business in Casa Grandes and returned to find that Mexican soldiers had slaughtered the women and children who had been left behind, including his wife, mother and three small children. “I stood until all had passed, hardly knowing what I would do,” he would recall. “I had no weapon, nor did I hardly wish to fight, neither did I contemplate recovering the bodies of my loved ones, for that was forbidden. I did not pray, nor did I resolve to do anything in particular, for I had no purpose left.”
He returned home and burned his tepee and his family’s possessions. Then he led an assault on a group of Mexicans in Sonora. It would be said that after one of his victims screamed for mercy in the name of Saint Jerome—Jeronimo in Spanish—the Apaches had a new name for Goyahkla. Soon the name provoked fear throughout the West. As immigrants encroached on Native American lands, forcing indigenous people onto reservations, the warrior Geronimo refused to yield.
Born and raised in an area along the Gila River that is now on the Arizona-New Mexico border, Geronimo would spend the next quarter-century attacking and evading both Mexican and U.S. troops, vowing to kill as many white men as he could. He targeted immigrants and their trains, and tormented white settlers in the American West were known to frighten their misbehaving children with the threat that Geronimo would come for them.
Geronimo (third from right, in front) and his fellow Apache prisoners en route to POW camp at Fort Pickens in Pensacola, Florida, in 1886. Photo: Wikipedia
By 1874, after white immigrants demanded federal military intervention, the Apaches were forced onto a reservation in Arizona. Geronimo and a band of followers escaped, and U.S. troops tracked him relentlessly across the deserts and mountains of the West. Badly outnumbered and exhausted by a pursuit that had gone on for 3,000 miles—and which included help from Apache scouts—he finally surrendered to General Nelson A. Miles at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona in 1886 and turned over his Winchester rifle and Sheffield Bowie knife. He was “anxious to make the best terms possible,” Miles noted. Geronimo and his “renegades” agreed to a two-year exile and subsequent return to the reservation.
In New York, President Grover Cleveland fretted over the terms. In a telegram to his secretary of war, Cleveland wrote, “I hope nothing will be done with Geronimo which will prevent our treating him as a prisoner of war, if we cannot hang him, which I would much prefer.”
Geronimo avoided execution, but dispute over the terms of surrender ensured that he would spend the rest of his life as a prisoner of the Army, subject to betrayal and indignity. The Apache leader and his men were sent by boxcar, under heavy guard, to Fort Pickens in Pensacola, Florida, where they performed hard labor. In that alien climate, the Washington Post reported, the Apache  died “like flies at frost time.” Businessmen there soon had the idea to have Geronimo serve as a tourist attraction, and hundreds of visitors daily were let into the fort to lay eyes on the “bloodthirsty” Indian in his cell.
While the POWs were in Florida, the government relocated hundreds of their children from their Arizona reservation to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. More than a third of the students quickly perished from tuberculosis, “died as though smitten with the plague,” the Post reported. Apaches lived in constant terror that more of their children would be taken from them and sent east.
Indian students sent to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania died by the hundreds from infectious diseases. Photo: Wikipedia
Geronimo and his fellow POWs were reunited with their families in 1888, when the Chiricahua Apaches were moved to Mount Vernon Barracks in Alabama. But there, too, the Apaches began to perish—a quarter of them from tuberculosis— until Geronimo and more than 300 others were brought to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1894. Though still captive, they were allowed to live in villages around the post. In 1904, Geronimo was given permission to appear at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, which included an “Apache Village” exhibit on the midway.
He was presented as a living museum piece in an exhibit intended as a “monument to the progress of civilization.” Under guard, he made bows and arrows while Pueblo women seated beside him pounded corn and made pottery, and he was a popular draw. He sold autographs and posed for pictures with those willing to part with a few dollars for the privilege.
Geronimo seemed to enjoy the fair. Many of the exhibits fascinated him, such as a magic show during which a woman sat in a basket covered in cloth and a  man proceeded to plunge the swords through the basket. “I would like to know how she was so quickly healed and why the wounds did not kill her,” Geronimo told one writer. He also saw a “white bear” that seemed to be “as intelligent as a man” and could do whatever his keeper instructed. “I am sure that no grizzly bear could be trained to do these things,” he observed. He took his first ride on a Ferris wheel, where the people below “looked no larger than ants.”
In his dictated memoirs, Geronimo said that he was glad he had gone to the fair, and that white people were “a kind and peaceful people.”  He added, “During all the time I was at the fair no one tried to harm me in any way. Had this been among the Mexicans I am sure I should have been compelled to defend myself often.”
After the fair, Pawnee Bill’s Wild West show brokered an agreement with the government to have Geronimo join the show, again under Army guard. The Indians in Pawnee Bill’s show were depicted as “lying, thieving, treacherous, murderous” monsters who had killed hundreds of men, women and children and would think nothing of taking a scalp from any member of the audience, given the chance.  Visitors came to see how the “savage” had been “tamed,” and they paid Geronimo to take a button from the coat of the vicious Apache “chief.” Never mind that he had never been a chief and, in fact, bristled when he was referred to as one.
The shows put a good deal of money in his pockets and allowed him to travel, though never without government guards.  If Pawnee Bill wanted him to shoot a buffalo from a moving car, or bill him as “the Worst Indian That Ever Lived,” Geronimo was willing to play along. “The Indian,” one magazine noted at the time, “will always be a fascinating object.”
In March 1905, Geronimo was invited to President Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade; he and five real Indian chiefs, who wore full headgear and painted faces, rode horses down Pennsylvania Avenue. The intent, one newspaper stated, was to show Americans “that they have buried the hatchet forever.”
Geronimo (second from right, in front) and five Native American chiefs rode in President Theodore Roosevelt’s Inauguration Day Parade in 1905. Photo: Library of Congress
After the parade, Geronimo met with Roosevelt in what the New York Tribune reported was a “pathetic appeal” to allow him to return to Arizona. “Take the ropes from our hands,” Geronimo begged, with tears “running down his bullet-scarred cheeks.” Through an interpreter, Roosevelt told Geronimo that the Indian had a “bad heart.”  “You killed many of my people; you burned villages…and were not good Indians.”  The president would have to wait a while “and see how you and your people act” on their reservation.
Geronimo gesticulated “wildly” and the meeting was cut short. “The Great Father is very busy,” a staff member told him, ushering Roosevelt away and urging Geronimo to put his concerns in writing. Roosevelt was told that the Apache warrior would be safer on the reservation in Oklahoma than in Arizona:  “If he went back there he’d be very likely to find a rope awaiting him, for a great many people in the Territory are spoiling for a chance to kill him.”
Geronimo returned to Fort Sill, where newspapers continued to depict him as a “bloodthirsty Apache chief,” living with the “fierce restlessness of a caged beast.” It had cost Uncle Sam more than a million dollars and hundreds of lives to keep him behind lock and key, the Boston Globe reported. But the Hartford Courant had Geronimo “getting square with the palefaces,” as he was so crafty at poker that he kept the soldiers “broke nearly all the time.” His winnings, the paper noted, were used to help pay the cost of educating Apache children.
Journalists who visited him depicted Geronimo as “crazy,” sometimes chasing sightseers on horseback while drinking to excess. His eighth wife, it was reported, had deserted him, and only a small daughter was watching after him.
In 1903, however, Geronimo converted to Christianity and joined the Dutch Reformed Church—Roosevelt’s church—hoping to please the president and obtain a pardon. “My body is sick and my friends have thrown me away,” Geronimo told church members. “I have been a very wicked man, and my heart is not happy. I see that white people have found a way that makes them good and their hearts happy. I want you to show me that way.” Asked to abandon all Indian “superstitions,” as well as gambling and whiskey, Geronimo agreed and was baptized, but the church would later expel him over his inability to stay away from the card tables.
He thanked Roosevelt (“chief of a great people”) profusely in his memoirs for giving him permission to tell his story, but Geronimo never was permitted to return to his homeland. In February 1909, he was thrown from his horse one night and lay on the cold ground before he was discovered after daybreak. He died of pneumonia on February 17.
Geronimo (center, standing) at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. Photo: Library of Congress
The Chicago Daily Tribune ran the headline, “Geronimo Now a Good Indian,” alluding to a quote widely and mistakenly attributed to General Philip Sheridan. Roosevelt himself would sum up his feelings this way: “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”
After a Christian service and a large funeral procession made up of both whites and Native Americans, Geronimo was buried at Fort Sill.  Only then did he cease to be a prisoner of the United States.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The day they stopped Niagara Falls

The day Niagara Falls ran dry: Newly discovered photos show the moment the iconic waterfall came to a standstill!
Its been 42 years, a previously unseen set of photos of the mighty Niagara Falls reduced to nothing more than a barren cliff-top have surfaced. The stark images reveal North America 's iconic - and most powerful - waterfall to be almost as dry as a desert.
In June 1969, U.S. Engineers diverted the flow of the Niagara River away from the American side of the falls for several months.
Description: FF9BC8989FCB4674AF2AEDEE02C21261@margPC
Stark: A completely dry Niagara Falls never seen before or since the six months in
July 1969 when U.S. Engineers set about restructuring the American side of the twin landmark.
Description: F9715957B9E94AD498B999E6A79CF91A@margPC
Mountain of rubble: This set of photos only recently came to light when
Russ Glasson found them in a shoebox in his in-laws' Connecticut garage.
Their plan was to remove the large amount of loose rock from the base of the waterfall, an idea which they eventually abandoned due to expense in November of that year. During the interim, they studied the riverbed and mechanically bolted and strengthened a number of faults to delay the gradual erosion of the American Falls .
The team, made up of U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, blew up their temporary dam in November, 1969 and six million cubic feet of water once again thundered over the falls' sides every minute.
Now, after lying unseen for more than four decades, a set of images showing the eerie calm at the American Falls that year have been unearthed by a man from Connecticut.
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Plan: The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers studied the riverbed and mechanically bolted and
strengthened a number of faults to delay the gradual erosion of the American Falls . Description:
Historical moment: In order to stop the Niagara River from running over the American Falls,
engineers constructed a dam consisting of 27,800 tons of rock, stopping the water for the first time ever.
Russ Glasson recently stumbled across the pictures, which were taken by his in-laws, and had been left in an old shoebox in their garage for over four decades.
Mr. Glasson said: 'My in-laws took these pictures during the six months through June to November that the Army was working to improve the health of the American Falls .'
Two rockslides from the plate of the falls in 1931 and 1954 had caused a large amount of rock to be collected at the base. In 1965, reporters at a local newspaper, Niagara Falls Gazette, revealed that the American Falls would eventually cease to flow and stop altogether if the rocks were not removed.
Four years later, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers were charged with de-watering the falls to clean the river bed and to remove any loose rock at the bottom of the falls.
Gradual deterioration: Two rockslides from the plate of the falls in 1931 and 1954
had caused a large amount of rock to be collected at the base.
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Eerie calm: The temporary dam can be seen in the top-right of this photograph.
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Thunderous: The American Falls as they normally appear,
with millions of gallons of water hurtling over the edge every minute.
To achieve this the army had to build a 600ft dam across the Niagara River, which meant that 60,000 gallons of water that flowed every second was diverted over the larger Horseshoe Falls which flow entirely on the Canadian side of the border.
The dam itself consisted of 27,800 tons of rock, and then on June 12 1969, after flowing continuously for a long, long time, the American Falls stopped.Over the course of the next six months thousands of visitors flocked to the falls to witness the historic occasion.
Once the engineers had removed the collected rocks from the falls base and made geological testing to make safe the rest, the falls were re-watered on November 25 in front of 2,650 onlookers.
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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

11 Eponymous Brands and the People Behind Them

1. Adolph “Adi” Dassler – Adidas

© Schnoerrer/dpa/Corbis
Adi and his brother Rudolph owned their own shoe company in Germany during the 1920s and 30s. Their products were so popular, many of the German competitors in the 1928 Olympics wore Dassler Brothers shoes. But during WWII the brothers had a falling out. While both joined the Nazi party, Rudolph was more fanatical and went off to fight, leaving Adi to make shoes for the military. After the war ended, Rudolph left and formed his own company, Puma. Adi then renamed the original company after himself, and Adidas was born.

2. King Camp Gillette – Disposable Razor

King realized early on that people liked things they could use for a short time and then throw away. Since constantly sharpening your razor was a pain, he decided to come up with a disposable one. After five years of work he finally succeeded, and founded the Gillette Safety Razor Company in 1901. King came up with the idea to give away the razor for free and charge men for the blades. He also believed in a socialist utopia, where all companies would be combined into one, which would be owned by the public. He offered Teddy Roosevelt a $1 million salary to be head of this theoretical company, but was turned down. He also believed that everyone in the United States should live in one giant city called Metropolis, which would be powered by Niagara Falls.

3. Candido Jacuzzi – Hot tubs

The seven Jacuzzi brothers emigrated from Italy to California in the early 1900s. Once there they started coming up with innovations for the big new craze: the airplane. Their biggest hit was the creation of the first plane with an enclosed cabin, which the US Postal Service bought to deliver mail. According to legend, their mother was worried about her sons’ safety and eventually convinced the brothers to change jobs. They started concentrating on hydraulic pumps for irrigation and hospital use. In the late 1940s, Candido’s young son Kenneth started suffering from arthritis. He received hydrotherapy at a hospital, but his father decided his son needed to have access to it at home as well. He filed a patent for his invention, but it wasn’t until another relative, Roy, joined the business years later that they started selling their Jacuzzi tubs to the public.

4. Charles Rudolph Walgreen – Drug stores

Today Walgreens pharmacies can be found in more than 8,000 locations around the US. But originally, Charles had nothing to do with pharmacies. He was working in a shoe factory in the late 1800s when he lost part of a finger in an accident. The doctor who patched him up managed to convince him to become an apprentice in a drug store. Eventually he became a licensed pharmacist, but enlisted to fight in the Spanish-American war before he could do anything with his new skills. At the war’s end, he started opening pharmacies that also had other amenities like over-the-counter goods and soda fountains. Soon Walgreens were popular hangouts, and Charles owned a chain of hundreds of them before his death in 1939.

5. Earl Tupper – Tupperware

Earl wasn’t always in plastics. Originally he was a landscaping man, but the Great Depression put him out of business. He got a job at DuPont and created a lightweight, flexible plastic, which the government then used for gas masks during WWII. In 1948, ten years after he founded the Tupperware Plastics Company, he was contacted by a woman named Brownie Wise. At that time Tupperware was sold in stores, but Wise had started selling it at women’s get-togethers to great success. She and Earl joined forces and soon he pulled his entire line from shops and it was sold exclusively at these “Tupperware Parties.”

6. Frank Zamboni – Ice Resurfacers

Image credit:
Before household refrigerators were common, the ice making business was booming. But in 1939, twelve years after Frank and his brother started their ice block business, refrigerators were popular enough that they saw little future in the venture. Stuck with many large refrigeration units, they decided to open an ice rink. It was there that Frank, who had no more than a 9th grade education, came up with a way to resurface the ice. Originally it took three men an hour and a half to get it done, but in 1949 he invented the precursor of the ice machine we know today. Now one man could resurface a rink in ten minutes. Like Xerox and Kleenex, Zamboni is a trademarked word that we now use to refer to all ice resurfacing machines. In April 2012, the 10,000th Zamboni ever sold was delivered to the Montreal Canadiens.

7. Dr. Klaus Märtens – Footwear

The Nazis were apparently very good at footwear. Like Adidas, Doc Martens were designed during WWII by Klaus while he was on leave from the German army due to an ankle injury. He experimented with making better boots for himself, and when the war was ending and Germans started looting from their own cities, he managed to get his hands on a bunch of leather. When the war officially ended he pilfered more from disused Luftwaffe air fields. He was surprised to find when he opened his shops that 40% of the people who purchased his comfortable, durable boots were housewives. Once his shoes were popular enough, an English company bought the rights to distribute them in the UK. Since it was only 1959 and feelings towards Germany were still negative, the name was Anglicized to Doc Martens.

8. Orville Redenbacher – Popcorn

The creator of the most popular popcorn in the United States didn’t even start selling it until he was almost 50 years old. Orville spent most of his life breeding corn hybrids, tens of thousands of them, until he found one that would pop 40% larger than normal corn. Since this special corn, called “RedBow,” was more expensive, many distributors were hesitant to buy it. Orville hired a Chicago marketing company for $13,000. Their advice? Call the popcorn Orville Redenbacher’s and put his picture on the label. While Orville was fond of saying his mother came up with that idea for free, it worked and starting in the 1970s he was appearing in dozens of popular television commercials and going on chat shows to convince the public he was a real person.

9. Josiah Wedgwood – Pottery

Josiah may be remembered today in his eponymous pottery, but his life was far more exciting than that association would lead one to think. In his day he was a prominent abolitionist, and his pottery company made a medallion with the design of a black slave on his knees with the motto, “Am I not a man and brother?” He produced large quantities of the medallion and distributed them for free through the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Fashionable women started wearing them as jewelry and men smoked pipes with the image on the side. It became the most widely recognized image of a black person during the 1700s. Sadly, Josiah died before slavery was abolished in England. However, he also has the distinction of being the grandfather of Charles Darwin.

10. William Henry “Boss” Hoover – Vacuums

Boss’s last name is so synonymous with vacuum cleaners that in the UK it is both the go-to noun and verb; there they hoover the house with a hoover. But it wasn’t Boss who came up with the idea. James Murray Spangler invented the first upright vacuum in 1908 because his asthma was exacerbated by the dust the carpet sweeper used at his work stirred up. He was making one every 2-3 weeks when he loaned a model to his cousin Susan Hoover. Her husband, Boss, was looking for a new business venture since he was a leatherworker and the popularity of the car was reducing people’s need for his goods. He seized the opportunity and bought Spangler’s patent from him. But if only a few people had been interested in Boss’s leather goods, absolutely no one was interested in his weird sucking machine. Desperate, he put an ad in a popular magazine allowing what was possibly the first ever “free at home trial.” The gimmick worked and within four years the Hoover Company was an international brand.

11. Linus Yale, Jr. – Locks

Linus was originally a gifted portrait painter. But in 1858, his father died and Linus started working at the lock company his dad had founded. Once there, Linus used his drawing skills to envision ever more complex and secure locks. In order to make sure companies bought from him and not his competitors, Linus learned how to pick their locks and would demonstrate how easily they could be broken into at banks and businesses. He died of a heart attack in 1858 1868 while in the middle of negotiating the use of his locks in a new skyscraper. Yale went on to be the #1 lock manufacturer in the US.
* * *
There are plenty more where these came from. If there’s an eponymous brand whose history you’d like to know more about, leave a comment and we’ll talk about a sequel.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The American Civil War was a very misunderstood historical event

American Civil War, aka War Between the States, aka the War of Northern Aggression, aka the War Between Southern Confederacy and Northern States' Federal Government.

1. First, it wasn't a civil war.

It was not a war between two parties trying to control the same government. It was an attempt of the Southern States to secede from the Union. You may say that it was a rebellion, but see the next part.

2. The Southern States had the right to secede.

The Constitution (10th Amendment) reserved all rights for the States and their people except those that were reserved for the Federal Government or were explicitly denied to the States (right to coin money, right to form international treaties, etc.). A right to secede from a union between sovereign nations is a right that was not explicitly denied to the States by the Constitution; nor was it reserved for the Federal government (a right to expel a state from the Union). Therefore, constitutionally, the States had that right.

Were the States sovereign nations before the signing of the Constitution? Historically, after the Colonies broke away from the United Kingdom, they reverted to the state of nature. Afterwards, they each re-formed into states, each with its constitution and legislature. Afterwards, the States formed a union, in which their sovereignty was preserved. (Also, what is the very last thing that you see if you look at the back of the Constitution? That's right: you see signatures of the representatives of the specific States.) The Constitution was ratified as a contract between sovereign nations and a government they were creating.

Claiming that the States had no right to secede is the same as claiming that when two people enter into a contract or a treaty (without specified time limits), they have no right to terminate the contract whenever they wish. It contradicts the accepted practices of contracts.

Therefore, the Civil War was an attempt of the Southern States to secede from the Union. It would be no different from, say, Spain deciding today that it wants to secede from the European Union and EU invading Spain to make it a "subject" of Brussels. I.e., your regular expansionist invasion.

3. Was the war about slavery?

Well, yes and no. It was in the sense that the Southern States seceded when it became clear that the Congress would be dominated by the anti-slavery Northern States. But it's not so simple as to say that the war was a crusade to end slavery in the South.

First, Lincoln and many other Northerners did not care about the slavery per se. They cared about preserving the Union. Lincoln is known for saying that if he could preserve the Union by freeing all the slaves, he would do that; if he could do it by freeing half the slaves, he would do that; if he could do it by freeing none of the slaves, he would do that too.

Many Northern abolitionists were in favor of letting the Southern states secede for three reasons: a) they did not want to be in the same Union with the states involved in the abominable practice, b) they believed (correctly) that Southern states were adamantly pro-slavery due to the reasons of honor and politics, c) they knew that the economic forces would make slavery unprofitable very soon (as they did in many other countries).

So, what was the war about? In no order of importance:

a) Southern States' rights and honor. Southerners felt that they had the right to self-government in the areas that locally concerned the individual states, not the Union altogether, and the the Federal government was abusing its powers. Plus, the Southerners felt that the Northerners were disdainful of the Southern culture and were trying to turn the Southerners into second-class citizens. (Yes, I know it's ironic for slave-owners to feel this way. I never claimed they were consistent. Many of the Founding Fathers were also slave-owners and were also inconsistent.)

b) Money. The Northern States wanted to dominate the Congress in order to be able to impose tariffs on the European imports to "protect" Northern manufactured goods. European nations, in retaliation, imposed tariffs on American exports, which were, for the most part, agricultural products (mainly cotton) from the South. So, if the Northern States controlled the Congress, they could make things favorable for the Northern manufacturers and hurt Southern farmers.

c) Northern racism and economic interests. Many Northerners wanted slavery abolished (both in the Southern States and in the Federal territories). Not all of them had humanist motives. Many of them (including the author of the famous Wilmot Proviso which would ban slavery in any territories acquired from Mexico) wanted the labor markets available for the white men.

They were 19th-century version of modern-day opponents of doing business with illegal immigrants and China. There are two reasons to oppose that today: i) one can be concerned about the welfare of the Mexicans and the Chinese, ii) one can be a racist and more concerned about "bona fide Americans" getting the jobs. The same was the case in the North in the 19th century. Many anti-slavery advocates wanted the labor markets secured for white men and former slaves shipped out of the country back to Africa or the Caribbean.

d) Southern racism and economic interest. Yes, obviously, there were Southerners who considered the slaves to be non-humans and who had interest in keeping them working in plantations, cotton gin or not. To ignore that would be intellectually dishonest.

4. Was the War worth it?

This is a complicated question. Obviously, the lives of many slaves became better off as a result of the War. There is no denying it.

Then again: the War remains the bloodiest single conflict in the US history. US remains the only Western nation to end slavery by killing a lot of its own citizens. (Even in Russia the serfdom ended around the same time peacefully.) Slavery was going to end anyway, and very soon: changing economic realities (the invention of the cotton gin, etc.) would make sure of that. Of course, the slaves might not be ok with waiting for another few decades for the markets to change, but it is not clear that all the murder of the soldiers and civilians was justified...

Economically, the War (and the ensuing Restoration) devastated the South, and its effects are still felt.

Politically, the War was a case of freeing the slaves and enslaving the free. It reversed the polarity between the Federal Government and the States. While originally, the Federal Government was a government of enumerated powers, whose sovereigns were the States (who could threaten to nullify the Government's laws if they proved to be unconstitutional or threaten to secede), after the war, it became clear that the ball was in the Federal Government's court.

The size and power of the Federal Government, its involvement in people's personal lives, in the economy, in all aspects of the society started growing and grows still. No American today is free from the tyranny of the majority, one way or another. While before, if one did not like conditions in one state, he could move to another, today, the conditions are made more-or-less uniform by the Federal tyranny. One's choice is to move to another country, which is not as easy as to move, say, from Louisiana to Massachusetts.

Effectively, whatever gains in political freedom for individuals and communities had been accomplished by the War for Independence from Britain were reversed by the Civil War.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The 13 strangest composer deaths in classical music

Jean-Baptiste Lully

This French Baroque master, the favourite opera of King Louis XIV, died from a self-inflicted wound to his foot, which he stabbed with his own pointed staff (used for keeping time) while conducting his Te Deum. Gangrene kicked in, spreading to his leg and finally killing him on March 22, 1687, three months after he had dealt the blow.

Henry Purcell

The English composer who penned the opera Dido and Aeneas was taken too soon; he was just 36, and at the height of his career. He died at his home in Dean’s Yard, Westminster, having caught a chill after returning home late from the theatre (or tavern) one night to find that his wife had locked him out… Or so the story goes. He is buried adjacent to the organ in Westminster Abbey, and his Funeral Music for Queen Mary was played at his own funeral.

Alexander Scriabin

Teenagers often say they could “just die” when acne takes over their faces, but in Scriabin’s case this is precisely what happened. The Russian composer-pianist made his last public appearance in St Petersburg on April 2, 1915. Just a few days later he noticed a pimple on his upper lip. On April 7 the furuncle was infected and Scriabin was bedridden and febrile. By the 11th, well-wishers crowded the staircase of his flat, for two types of blood poisoning had set in. Scriabin died a few days later, with his manuscript containing sketches for the Misteriya open on the piano.

Alban Berg

An insect bite was the undoing of this pupil of Schoenberg. A sting gave rise to a carbuncle on his back; since the Bergs were poor his wife attempted a home operation using a pair of scissors. As a result, the Austrian composer died from blood poisoning on Christmas Eve, at the age of 50.


Berg wasn’t the only pupil of Schoenberg to die in particularly unfortunate circumstances; fellow serialist composer Anton Webern also met a tragic fate. It was September 15, 1945 – World War II had just ended. Webern had stepped outside to enjoy a cigar without waking his sleeping grandchildren, unaware that a curfew was being enforced by the Allied occupying forces. He was shot dead by an American soldier who saw him light up.

Jean-Marie Leclair

This French Baroque composer and virtuoso violinist separated from his second wife in 1758, moving into a bachelor pad in a rough neighbourhood in Paris. There, in 1764, he was found stabbed to death. The mystery of his murder was never solved but it is believed that his estranged wife was responsible and stood to gain financially. Leclair’s nephew, Guillaume-François Vial, was the primary suspect at the time.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
(1756 – 1791)

Mozart’s untimely death while he was composing his Requiem has been the subject of rumour, speculation and wild accusations for more than 200 years. One of the lesser-known legends to have done the rounds is that Mozart was poisoned with mercury by the Freemasons, assassinated for publicly revealing the secrets of their Craft in the libretto and plot of his opera The Magic Flute. The claim persisted in Nazi-era Germany in a 1936 article entitled Mozart’s Life and Violent Death, which aligned the Jewish faith to suspicious Masonic practices. However, there is no evidence that Mozart’s efforts were met with disapproval from the Freemasons.
Another rumour has it that Franz Hofdemel, Mozart’s lodge brother, murdered the composer for having an affair with his wife Magdalena, a 23-year-old student of Mozart’s. Hofdemel is said to have attacked the pregnant Magdalena and committed suicide on the day of Mozart’s funeral.
The most frequently cited, romantic theory is that Antonio Salieri was so insanely jealous of Mozart’s genius that he conspired to kill him. Mozart endured 15 days of excruciating pain, swelling and discomfort before his death, but his symptoms on the whole were not consistent with poisoning.
As there were no signs of foul play no autopsy was conducted, historians and medical professionals today can only speculate on the condition that claimed him. The most commonly held belief is that Mozart died of rheumatic fever – indeed, there was a fever epidemic in Vienna at the time – but in the past ten years a new theory has emerged: that Mozart died from a disease caused by a parasitic worm called trichinella, spread by tainted meat. The offending dish? Pork chops – Mozart’s favourite, which he referred to in a letter dated October 7-8, 1791.

Charles Valentin Alkan

This French pianist-composer extraordinaire also had a keen interest in the Bible and the Talmud. For many years it was believed that he died a suitably erudite death, crushed under a pile of books after reaching for the Talmud on a high shelf. But a recently discovered letter, written by Alkan’s concierge, casts doubt on this anecdote. Apparently the concierge discovered Alkan in his kitchen, trapped under a coat rack, perhaps having suffered a stroke or heart attack. He was 74 at the time of his death.

Ernst Chausson

The French Romantic composer who penned the ravishing Poème for violin was out for a bicycle ride outside his property in Limay when he lost control on a downhill slope and crashed into a brick wall, dying instantly.

Hugo Wolf


In early 1897, the great lieder composer began to show signs of mental derangement brought on by his syphilis, forcing him to stop composing altogether. After an attempt to drown himself, he admitted himself into an insane asylum, where he died in 1903 at the age of 43.

Enrique Granados

At the height of his success, during WWI, the Spanish nationalist composer was invited was invited by President Woodrow Wilson to give a piano recital at the White House. When Granados and his wife missed the boat back to Spain, they travelled to England, then boarding the “Sussex” ferry to take them on to France. On March 24, 1916, while crossing the English Channel, the Sussex was hit by a German U-boat torpedo. Granados, who had a life-long fear of the ocean, drowned after he jumped out of his lifeboat in a valiant but futile attempt to save his wife.

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky's death remains a mystery to this day. He fell ill just days after conducting the premiere of his deeply personal Sixth Symphony, the Pathéthique. Eyewitnesses including his brother Modest suggest that he had taken a "fateful sip of unboiled water" that led to cholera. But it is widely believed that the Russian composer had been having an illicit relationship with a young nobleman he was tutoring. In 1980 musicologist Aleksandra Orlova published a theory proposing that Tchaikovsky committed suicide rather than live with the scandal of th

Claude Vivier

With the murder of Montreal-born composer Claude Vivier, a student of Stockhausen, the music world lost one of the most original voices to emerge in the late 20th century. Vivier was 34 when he was fatally stabbed in his apartment by a male prostitute he met in a bar. On the worktable was the manuscript of the composer’s final, incomplete work, Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele? (Do You Believe in the Immortality of the Soul?) In this hauntingly prophetic dramatised monologue, Vivier describes a journey on the Metro during which he becomes strongly attracted to a young man. The music ends abruptly after the sung line, “Then he removed a dagger from his jacket and stabbed me through the heart.”

Titanic: The final messages from a stricken ship

The Carpathia rescuing Titanic passengers The Carpathia was one of the ships that received the Titanic's calls for help
On the night the Titanic struck an iceberg, a network of wireless operators on ships and land stations frantically communicated with each other across the expanses of the North Atlantic in an effort to mount a rescue mission. The surviving messages form a real-time record of the events of that night.
The story of the Titanic is barnacled with myths and legends.
It has become part of the popular imagination, a symbol for the most epic and glamorous failure. It is tragedy with tea dances.
But there is really only one first-hand, real-time record of what happened that night - the collection of wireless messages sent between the Titanic and the other ships which hurriedly tried to organise a rescue operation, during that freezing night in April 1912.
It is a telegraphic narrative showing how the Titanic had been given warnings of ice by other ships - and which records the increasingly frantic calls for assistance after the collision with the huge iceberg.
And to mark the Titanic's centenary, the BBC World Service's Discovery programme is broadcasting an unusual re-creation of these conversations.

Find out more

Titanic Lifeboats
Titanic - In Her Own Words, a Discovery special on the BBC World Service is presented by Sean Coughlan. Transmission times and dates can be found here.
Audio artist Susanne Weber has used speech synthesis software to translate these Morse messages into spoken words.
These are mechanical voices recreating the exchange of wireless messages, rather than actors performing a script, and it produces an eerie representation of how these overlapping messages crackled out over the airwaves.
It is something like hearing the urgent and confused text messages sent from a disaster.
Unlike in the Hollywood films of the tragedy, these wireless messages are stoically understated. Copied out in neat copperplate handwriting, and kept on the ships that had been in contact with Titanic, they are the actual words of the crew and passengers.
It's the Titanic in her own words.
Wireless was still a relatively young technology at the time of the Titanic's maiden voyage.
The Marconi company, the Edwardian equivalent of a top technology brand, had put its wireless operators on board some of the more prestigious ships.
The Titanic, as the showcase of an ambitious, optimistic era, had the biggest and best wireless equipment in the world.
It was still something of a novelty and much of the initial wireless traffic was from first class passengers sending messages to their friends, rather like text messages showing off about a glamourous trip.
Guglielmo Marconi at work in the wireless room of his yacht Electra Italian electrical engineer Guglielmo Marconi's equipment was on board many prestigious ships
"Hello Boy. Dining with you tonight in spirit, heart with you always. Best love, Girl," read one message sent on to New York, the Titanic's intended destination.
A message sent on to Los Angeles said: "No sickness. All well. Notify all interested in poker."
"Fine voyage, fine ship," wrote another, unaware of the awful irony of how that might later sound.
The wireless operators sending these messages were independent young men of the modern age, who had been recruited with the promise of escaping "blind alley careers".
They chatted to wireless operators in other ships in a jaunty, mock public school slang, calling each other "old man".
As well as letting passengers send personal messages, they provided the first wireless news service for ships.
As the Titanic crossed the Atlantic, the news headlines were about industrial unrest on the railways and a high-profile murder in France.
Message received by the Olympic A message from the Olympic reports that it has received word from the Titanic
But the wireless was also beginning to be used for more serious purposes.
Ships gave each other safety information - and the Titanic received detailed advice about the location of icebergs - or "bergs, growlers and field ice" as one ship's captain described them.
Investigations after the sinking would never satisfactorily establish why these warnings had been ignored.
The senior wireless operator, Jack Phillips, had still been sending passengers' messages when the ship struck an iceberg. The collision was described as sounding like the tearing of calico.
With only enough room in the lifeboats for half the passengers and crew, the Titanic's captain turned to his only lifeline - the wireless - and asked the two Marconi operators to call for assistance.

The famous SOS

Artist's impression
Wireless operators originally used Marconi's "CQD" distress signal. "CQ" was the signal to stop transmission and pay attention. The "D" was added to signal distress. In 1906 the International Radio Telegraphic Convention in Berlin created the signal "SOS" for summoning assistance. The letters were chosen for their simplicity in Morse Code - three dots, three dashes and three dots. While the "SOS" superseded "CQD" in 1908 Marconi operators rarely used it. It became standard after the sinking of the Titanic.
The distress signal used by Marconi operators - CQD - boomed out over the Atlantic. The wireless operators joked they may as well also try another new distress signal that had been introduced - SOS - because they might never get a chance to use it again.
While the lifeboats were lowered, with awful goodbyes between husbands, wives and children, the wireless operators stuck to their task.
"Come at once. We have struck a berg. It's a CQD, old man," the Titanic called to another ship, the Carpathia.
"We have struck an iceberg and sinking by the head," she told a German ship, the Frankfurt.
The Titanic's messages caused consternation and disbelief among other ships.
They called back to the Titanic struggling to grasp what was happening, then urgently forwarded the distress signals in the hope that someone would be near enough to help.
It was like trying to organise a rescue by Twitter, with operators trying to make sense of the stream of sometimes contradictory information.
"We are putting passengers off in small boats. Women and children in boats. Cannot last much longer. Losing power," said the Titanic as the situation grew ever more desperate.
"This is Titanic. CQD. Engine room flooded."
The Titanic's Captain Edward Smith The Titanic's captain Edward Smith gave the orders for the distress signals to be sent out
In response her sister ship, the Olympic called back: "Am lighting up all boilers as fast as we can."
There were also flashes of anger in the confusion. "You fool... keep out," the Titanic barked at a ship almost 200 miles away who had interrupted to inquire: "What is the matter with you?"
The last recorded messages are increasingly desperate and fragmented - although a shore station officer following the exchanges reported there was "never a tremor" in the Morse tapped out by Jack Phillips.
"Come quick. Engine room nearly full," was sent from the Titanic only a few short minutes before the ship finally sank.
When the Titanic fell silent, the chasing ships carried on calling out for news, co-ordinating the rescue of the survivors.
And the wireless became the only way for survivors to contact their families.
"Meet me dock with two hundred dollars, underwear, cap, big coat - am well but slightly frozen," messaged one survivor from the Carpathia rescue ship.
"Completely destitute, no clothes," said one another. Words cost money - and a masterpiece of brevity reported: "Safe, Bert."
Message by Jack Phillips One of the messages sent by Jack Phillips says the ship is 'sinking fast'
These poignant, first-hand reactions to the disaster had been gathered in an archive by John Booth, a Titanic historian and expert on old prints. But many were sold off at auction in the early 1990s.
Jack Phillips did not survive the sinking. But his heroism, staying at his post after being released from his duty by the captain, became an enduring part of the Titanic story.
Not least because one of the most influential templates for all future Titanic stories came from Harold Bride, his junior wireless operator.
Bride survived on an upturned lifeboat and then sold his story to the New York Times.
His story was a global media sensation, setting the tone of heroic self sacrifice, with the first accounts of the band playing while the ship sank, with tales of selflessness and cowardice.
And he commemorated the role of Jack Phillips, unflinching, even when he knew better than anyone else that there was no chance of a rescue ship arriving in time.
"I will never live to forget the work of Phillips during the last awful 15 minutes," said Bride.
"I suddenly felt a great reverence to see him standing there sticking to his work while everybody else was raging about."