Showing posts with label real heroes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label real heroes. Show all posts

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Celebrating Independence Day

Thursday, July 3, 2014
View at source here
Isabella and Loretta report:

Tomorrow the U.S. celebrates Independence Day,  and the Two Nerdy History Girls are taking a few days off to celebrate, too, with family and friends.

If you crave a dose of historical nerdiness in the meantime, I recommend the Library of Congress’s Today in History page for the Fourth of July.  It includes a letter from John Adams to his wife Abigail Adams, describing a spontaneous celebration.  Further down the page you’ll find a short, entertaining account of celebrations on the American frontier.

And since we in the U.S. can expect to hear “The Star Spangled Banner” quite a bit over the next couple of days, you might want to check out this New York Times article about our National Anthem.

Happy Independence Day!

Image courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Friday, April 4, 2014

Casual Friday: Portrait of King George VI

Friday, April 4, 2014
View at Library of Congress
Loretta reports:

Not many of us know much about King George VI, the father of Queen Elizabeth II.  Some of us might be picturing Colin Firth in The King’s Speech.

This (nearly an hour but well worth it) documentary shows us the big picture, and helps us understand why King George VI and his queen were held in such great affection.  It also offers many glimpses of a queen in training.

Image: King George VI, courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Iron Lung Story

Monday, March 17, 2014
Loretta reports:

We’ve blogged about historical medical practices before (here, here, here, here, and elsewhere (under the label “medical matters”).

But this device, which I encountered at the Southwest Florida Museum of History, falls well within the realm of at least some of our readers’ memories.

Not everybody these days remembers what life was like before the first polio vaccine was available:  the warnings to keep away from crowded areas, the fears of going to beaches and pools, and the stark terror of depending on an iron lung for survival.  In 1952, nearly 58,000 Americans contracted polio.

Anyone whose childhood touched on a  part of the pre-polio vaccine era will recognize this device, and for some, it’s the stuff of nightmares.  But it saved lives.  We may think of polio as a crippling disease, but the virus could kill by paralyzing muscles needed for breathing.

The iron lung is the solution Philip Drinker and Louis Agassiz Shaw devised in 1927, and which John Emerson improved in 1931.

“The patient was enclosed in the iron lung up to his neck.  A bellows-like apparatus created and released a vacuum causing the lung to work and induce breathing.”  This means that “air was …forced in with such pressure as to actually force all air out of the lungs …think of someone sitting on your chest!  When that pressure was released …or the person on your chest got off …your lungs would suck in air.” An electric motor powered the device, But it could be worked with a hand crank if electricity failed.

The Fort Myers, Florida, Fireman’s Club held a series of fish fries to raise the $2,250  needed to buy this iron lung in 1950.  When it arrived in Fort Myers, it was placed on a float and displayed in the Edison Pageant of Light Parade.”  It arrived in time for the last of the big polio epidemics of the 1950s. 

The sight of children and adults wearing leg braces like these is less common, but it’s part of a not-so-distant past.

Quoted text is from information provided at the Southwest Florida Museum of History.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday Video: Lord Uxbridge's Gilt-Bronze Carriage Clock, 1811

Friday, January 17, 2014

Isabella reporting,

Sometimes it's the unexpected things that bring the past into sharpest focus. I saw this elegant carriage clock on display last month at the Frick Collection in New York, and was immediately drawn into both its design, and its story. The clock was made by the father & son team of Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823) and Antoine-Louis Breguet (1776-1858), and was purchased by General Henry William Paget, Earl of Uxbridge, later 1st Marquess of Anglesey (1768-1854) in 1813. Lord Uxbridge was a prominent British military leader, best remembered for leading a definitive cavalry charge against French troops at the Battle of Waterloo – and, of course, for one of the more striking portraits of the era, below.

As this short video about the clock shows, a Breguet timepiece like this carriage clock was not only an indispensable accessory for wealthy travelers (its features include an alarm clock!) but also a symbol of rank, wealth, and efficiency: all the generals on both sides of the Napoleonic wars carried Breguet watches. Technology aside, it's a breathtakingly beautiful work of art.

The clock is part of a stunning small show, Precision and Splendor: Clocks and Watches at The Frick Collection, on view through February 2, 2014. If you've braved the lines for the current blockbuster show of Dutch masterpieces (yes, I did see The Girl with the Pearl Earring and The Goldfinch, too), it's worth leaving time to see this clocks and watches as well.

Below: Field Marshall Henry William Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey, by John Hoppner & Sawrey Gilpin, 1798. National Trust Collection, Plas Newydd, Anglesey.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Newpaper for the Doughboys: The Stars and Stripes 1918-1919

Monday, November 11, 2013
More info here

Loretta reports:

Today is Veterans Day in the U.S. (a video here) and Remembrance Day elsewhere.  As Downton Abbey aficionados and others will know, the signing of an armistice on 11 November 1918 marked the end of the Great War.  11 November became the commemoration day, known for many years as Armistice Day.

Looking for a social history angle (we Nerdy History Girls generally leave politics and war to others) I ended up at one of my favorite sites, the Library of Congress, where I came upon the newspaper created for the U.S. Army during WWI.  Intended to unify the U.S. forces, which were spread over Europe and mixed with troops of other countries, The Stars and Stripes ran from 8 February 1918 to 13 June 1919.

I discovered that soldiers created a significant amount of its material, and the original staff included enlisted men Alexander Woollcott (later of of The New Yorker and Algonquin Round Table fame) and Harold W. Ross, (a co-founder of The New Yorker).

If you’d like to see what the soldiers were reading, you can take a closer look at individual issues on this list.  Downloading the PDF-Entire Issue offers the easiest viewing of whole pages, but you will probably want to zoom in quite a bit.
More info here

Here’s what a U.S. soldier found in its first issue. It includes illustrations by Charles Dana Gibson, along with satire and satirical prints and a fascinating array of advertisements for U.S., British, and French companies and products.

Posters courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Monday, May 27, 2013

What is Memorial Day, really?

Monday, May 27, 2013
Honor the Brave
Loretta reports:

In 1971 the U.S. moved Memorial Day to create a long weekend.  This one kicks off summer for those of us living in the colder parts of the country.  (In my part of New England, for instance, tomato planting may begin.) Originally observances took place on 30 May, on what was called Decoration Day.  Since the sales and barbecues can obscure the real story, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to offer some photos and information about the holiday's origins and meaning.

The photo below right is titled Celebration of the first official Decoration Day at Arlington Cemetery, 1868 May 30.  One of the tiny heads in the photo belongs to then-U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant.  While the date may change, the president still shows up, and Arlington National Cemetery is still the focal point of observances.

You can read more about the holiday and its history here at the Library of Congress. And here at the Smithsonian blog.

Last year, I offered some photos of the American Cemetery in Florence, Italy in two blogs, here and here.

This panoramic photo (please scroll horizontally for the full effect) shows another American Cemetery.  This one is at Suresnes, near Paris.  The photo was taken at the Memorial Day ceremony on 30 May 1920.  I found it very moving.

Images courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.

Monday, April 29, 2013

What is a duke?

Monday, April 29, 2013
Duke of Wellington
Loretta reports:

Dukes are popular.  We authors of historical romances create hundreds of them, contrary to historical fact.  In the 1816 Debrett's, from which I've clipped the summary about this rank of the peerage, I count only 18 English dukes.  This includes the brand-new Duke of Wellington.

You can learn about the privileges of being a member of the peerage here.


Debrett's Peerage 1816 Vol 1.

Please click on images to enlarge.  If the text is still hard to read, you can click here to read online.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

"Remember the Ladies," writes Abigail Adams

Thursday, March 28, 2013
Loretta reports:

It was about this time of year, when New England was showing faint signs of spring, that Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, John Adams, a long letter that included the following words. I post the excerpt without comment, leaving commentary to you.
Braintree, 31 March, 1776….

I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.

That your sex are naturally tyrannical is a truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute; but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of master for the more tender and endearing one of friend. Why, then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity? Men of sense in all ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your sex; regard us then as beings placed by Providence under your protection, and in imitation of the Supreme Being make use of that power only for our happiness.

Familiar Letters of John Adams and His Wife Abigail Adams, During the Revolution: With a Memoir of Mrs. Adams, edited by Charles Francis Adams, 1875.

You can see the letter online at the Massachusetts Historical Society site.
Small image here.  Large image here.

You can also read here about her pearl necklace.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Heroic Commander Ross

Monday, January 21, 2013
Wildman, Commander James Clark Ross, 1834
Loretta reports:

I noticed this poem for a couple of reasons.  First, Louisa Sheridan, the author, is one of the Sheridan sisters mentioned obliquely (in relation to the Sheridan-Grant Scandal) in Scandal Wears Satin.  Second, I had an idea who Captain Ross was:  We 2NHG pinned him to our Pinterest page under Hot Heroic Inspiration. (I am assuming this is the correct fellow, since all the info fits.)

Among other things, the poem displays the era’s love of puns.  What Commander Ross displays, I leave you to determine.  If you click on the link under the portrait, you’ll reach his Wikipedia page, where you can enlarge his portrait considerably, and take in every tiny detail.  Please click on the poem to enlarge it to readable size.


 —The Comic Offering; Or Ladies' Melange of Literary Mirth, Editor
Louisa Henrietta Sheridan, 1835

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Lion's Daughter & the Albanians

Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Loretta reports:

This month we’ve released eBook editions of my out-of-print works.  The collection includes my very first full-length historical romance (as opposed to traditional Regency), The Lion’s Daughter.

It might be the only historical romance set (partly) in Albania, and the heroine may be the only half-Albanian historical romance heroine.  When the book came out, some people asked me if Albania was an imaginary country.

Barnes & Noble is promoting The Lion’s Daughter 11/16-12/14, in a fine example of good timing.  Today, 28 November, is the 100th anniversary of Albania’s Declaration of Independence from the Ottoman Empire.

It’s the Albanian version of the U.S. 4th of July.  The former's road of independence, though, has been as rocky as its landscape.  The century has included monarchies, invasions by various powers, a lengthy isolation under a Communist government, and, most recently, the growing pains of building a democracy.

The declaration itself is quite short:

In Vlora, on the 28th of November 1912.
Following the speech made by the President, Ismail Kemal Bey, in which he spoke of the great perils facing Albania today, the delegates have all decided unanimously that Albania, as of today, should be on her own, free and independent.

This is the English version.  If you’re curious about what it sounds like in Albanian, here’s a clip from a movie version of the event.

And a bit more here, as well as Wikipedia and elsewhere.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A resting place in Italy

Monday, May 28, 2012
Loretta reports:

In observance of Memorial Day, we continue Thursday's photo series on the Florence American Cemetery.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

In honor of those who served

Thursday, May 24, 2012
Loretta reports:

Memorial Day will be observed in the U.S. on Monday, and the parties & sales will run through the weekend.  But many of us will take a moment to reflect on what this day means. I had time and reason to reflect a short while ago, during a visit to Tuscany, when I went with my husband & friends to the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial.

The headstones, which are set in curved rows on the hillside, “represent 39 percent of the U.S. Fifth Army burials originally made between Rome and the Alps. Most died in the fighting that occurred after the capture of Rome in June 1944. Included among them are casualties of the heavy fighting in the Apennines Mountains shortly before the war's end. On May 2, 1945 the enemy troops in northern Italy surrendered.” 

You can learn more about this and other American Cemeteries at the American Battle Monuments Commission website.  For more about the cemetery in Florence, click here.

And now I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Belzoni & the Pharoah's Colossal Head

Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Loretta reports:

Giovanni Belzoni was one of the inspirations for the hero of my Egypt-set story, Mr. ImpossibleTransporting the colossal head was only one of Belzoni's many amazing adventures.

The Quarterly Review has afforded us, in several late numbers, a highly interesting and gratifying detail of the operations and discoveries, which have been conducted in Egypt, by several of our spirited and enterprising countrymen. . . Mr Salt* has been indefatigable in his exertions, and he has most fortunately found an assistant of Herculean strength of body, and of proportional energy of mind, in the person of Mr Belzoni. The head called a young Memnon,** now in the British Museum, which weighs eight or ten tons, and which is one of the very finest specimens of Egyptian sculpture now in existence, was a joint present of Mr Salt and Mr Burckhardt; and Mr Belzoni has the merit of having conducted the very difficult operation of bringing it down to the Nile. Mr Hamilton has conjectured that it may have belonged to the statue described by Philostratus as a Memnon of great beauty (Q. R. No. 36); but the remaining fragment of the hieroglyphical inscription agrees better with the name of another sovereign, apparently of the same family, who is represented in several other magnificent monuments at Thebes and elsewhere.
Encyclopaedia Britannica: Or, A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Miscellaneous Literature, Enlarged and Improved, Edition 6, 1824
For more, please see the Quarterly Review’s (Vol. 24)  review of Belzoni’s book, which includes excerpts.  You can read Belzoni's Narrative online here and my post about his wife here.
*British Consul
**Ramses II (scholars had not yet deciphered hieroglyphs)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My Lord Duke

Tuesday, March 20, 2012
First Duke of Wellington
Loretta reports:

When a commenter on my Footman post noted the writer’s puzzling use of the term “My Lord Duke,” I assumed this was a case of either ignorance or disrespect.  This was because I’d learned that a duke is addressed as “Duke” by persons of rank and “Your Grace” by members of the lower orders.  He’s never “Lord So-and-So” or “Your Lordship” or “My Lord.”

“My Lord Duke,” however, is another matter.

Neither Manners and Rules of Good Society nor Whitaker’s Peerage mentions the term, but further sleuthing quickly produced it.  Unlike lower grades of the peerage, according to my vintage (1978) copy of Debrett’s Correct Form,  in conversation, “a Duke is always so described,” i.e., he’s never referred to as Lord So-and-So.   But he can be “My Lord Duke," as in the following examples:

Formal    My Lord Duke
Social        Dear Duke
        Dear Duke of Hamilton may be used if the acquaintanceship is slight

But note:

Formal        Your Grace
Social            Duke
Employee status    Your Grace

Note, too, the difference between addressing royal and not-royal dukes in this excerpt from Blackie's Modern Cyclopedia Of Universal Information, Vol 1, 1890:
A royal duke should be addressed as Sir, not My Lord Duke; and referred to as Your Royal Highness . . .
Duke and Ducal Family.—His Grace the Duke of—- ;My Lord Duke, Your Grace. Her Grace the Duchess of —-;Madam, Your Grace.

Here’s one of many examples from the Despatches, Correspondence and Memoranda of Field Marshal Arthur Duke of Wellington, Volume 1, 1867:

Sir W. Congreve to Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington.
My Lord Duke,                                       13, Cecil Street, London, 9th Aug., 1822.
     Having had the honour of exhibiting to you the accuracy of direction to which the rockets are now brought, and the facility of manœuvring and bringing them into action, one point only remains for demonstration, which is not in itself so apparent to the observer as those above alluded to, and which I therefore think it my duty to take this mode of stating to your Grace.

Letter writing advice from The Christian's Accomptant, 1831, advises:

To His Grace the Duke of S—- ,
My Lord Duke, or May it please your Grace.

I hope that clears everything up.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Voices from WWI

Friday, November 11, 2011
Loretta reports:

At 11AM on 11/11/11, on the day originally called Armistice Day, many parts of the world will observe two minutes of silence in honor of the men and women of the armed services, past and present.

This short video brings us excerpts from letters written by men who fought in that Great War to end all wars, the war that gave us Armistice Day.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Motoring across the U.S. in 1903

Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Loretta reports:

I was interested in seeing Horatio’s Drive, a Ken Burns documentary on PBS, when it came out, but my TV viewing time being extremely limited, I simply didn’t get around to it until last week.  Which means this will be old news to some of you.  But not to all.

The early automobile was viewed as a rich man’s toy.  Many thought it was a passing fad.  There were enthusiasts, however, who saw the motor car as the future of transportation.  Horatio Nelson Jackson was one of them.

In 1903, Dr. Jackson bet some other gentlemen $50 that he could drive from San Francisco to New York City in less than 90 days.

This was plain crazy, and I’ll tell you why.  He barely knew how to drive and he’d never owned a car.  The one thing you could rely on early autos for was breaking down.  Even going short distances, tires blew out, engines blew up, and parts fell off or broke.  Constantly.  And this happened on smooth roads—which existed only in metropolitan areas.  Dr. Jackson was proposing to drive across the country—where, in many places, the roads barely accommodated a horse and wagon--and where rivers and streams didn't always have bridges spanning them. There were no auto parts stores or gas stations.  Broken parts had to be repaired by one’s trusty mechanic, or rebuilt by the local blacksmith (ah, irony) or ordered from the factory and sent on by train.
Horatio's Drive DVD

Dr. Jackson bought a somewhat used Winton Touring Car and hired a mechanic to go with him.  Everything that could go wrong did, yet Jackson persevered.

The PBS site offers the story summary as well as a map and pictures.  You can also find a story summary on Wikipedia.  The actual car, and other artifacts, are at the Smithsonian, along with info about the trip.  But the film is well worth watching, for a sense of the man's vibrant, optimistic personality, as so wonderfully voiced in his letters to his wife.

Dr. Jackson brought along a camera, and his photos capture the world he, his driving partner Sewall Crocker, and the bulldog Bud traveled through . . . a world their journey changed irrevocably.

Top left from Motor, 1903
Below right from Amazon
Below left from Wikimedia commons

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Update: More Brave Faces in Old Photos

Saturday, December 11, 2010
Susan reporting:

Earlier this year, I shared the mid-19th c. photograph of an ancestor of mine whose identity is uncertain beyond being family. Now the Library of Congress has a similar, if much larger, puzzle, and they're asking for your assistance to solve at least part of it.

Recently the Lijenquist Family donated their collection of almost 700 ambrotype and tintype photographs to the Library of Congress in remembrance of the thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers who served in the American Civil War (1861-1865). The images are nearly all of soldiers, as well as a few of their families. These pictures offer an immediate connection to the past: the subjects stare directly from the pictures, carefully posed for posterity in what, for many of them, must have been both their first and last portraits.

But over the years, many of the names of these young soldiers have been forgotten and lost.  The Library of Congress has posted this album of the pictures on Flickr, hoping that viewers will be able to help offer names to match these brave faces. Can you help?

Above: Unidentified young soldier in Confederate uniform and Hardee hat with holstered revolver and artillery saber, Library of Congress

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Colonel Ponsonby's Waterloo ordeal

Sunday, October 17, 2010
Loretta reports:

Some years ago, in Miss Wonderful, I had a hero suffering from what’s now called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  This was a result of my sticking him in the middle of the Battle of Waterloo and subjecting him to something very like the ordeal that Colonel Frederick Cavendish Ponsonby, against all odds, survived.

Since, over the years, Colonel Ponsonby turned up more than once in my reading, I can’t say exactly when or in what book he first caught my attention.  In Richard Rush’s A Residence at the Court of London,  a gentleman “tall but limping” is identified thusly:   "Colonel Ponsonby; he was left for dead at Waterloo; the cavalry it was thought had trampled upon him.”  Elizabeth Longford’s Wellington: The Years of the Sword,  summed up in a few unforgettable lines what Ponsonby endured: “Frederick Ponsonby, desperately wounded first by French sabres and then by Polish lances, ridden over and tossed by the Prussians, robbed, used as a musket-rest by a tirailleur and as a place to die on by a mortally wounded soldier, but later found alive by a British infantryman who mounted guard over him till morning...”

I added a bit of another officer's experience to my hero’s, and made up my own account of how he survived injuries that should have killed him several times over (no antibiotics!!!—he'd been stabbed all over the place, & the doctors treated him by bleeding him some more!!!)—but the great kernel of truth is there, and the credit belongs to Colonel Ponsonby (later a General and Sir Frederick), one tough gentleman. 

Ye of the Nerdy History persuasion can easily imagine how thrilled I was recently to find, not a summary of his experience in a book by or about someone else, but his very own account—all thanks to the magic of Google books— in Ackermann’s Repository of arts, literature, fashions of 1817.     You can read the whole story here.

I think the just-the-facts, ma'am approach makes it all the more poignant, and conveys in a powerful way the experience of being in the middle of that battle.  What with the rumors flying about who was winning, who was losing, who was dead, who wasn’t, I wondered all the more how anybody knew what the devil was going on anywhere.
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