Eurovision Song Contest

When Donald Trump alluded on Saturday to some horrible event that had happened in Sweden the previous day, you can imagine the tweets in response. One response came from @sweden, the official Twitter account for the country. They stated that the only thing that happened on Friday was the competition to choose the Swedish entrant for the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest.

This is not a big deal in the United States, but I remember when we lived in England in the late 1970s, this was must-watch television. So here’s some stuff you may or may not know about this competition.

  • This annual competition began in 1956, partly because Europeans felt the need for something fun that would pull them together after the devastation of World War II.
  • The winner that was most successful after their win was ABBA, from Sweden. They won in 1974 for “Waterloo”. You can see their winning Eurovision performance here. That’s some happy music!
  • The competition is not open to all European countries, but to all members of the European Broadcasting Union. This has changed over the last 60 years as some countries are created or are swallowed up by larger countries.
  • The first Eurovision Song Contest included only seven countries. In 2016, 42 countries competed.
  • For all my Lakenheath friends from England, you probably already know that Katrina and the Waves won for the United Kingdom in 1997, singing “Love Shine a Light“. For those of you not from Lakenheath, you probably know this band, who attended Lakenheath American High School, for the song “Walking on Sunshine“.
  • The first Eurovision was held in Lugano, Switzerland, and after that, the country that wins the competition becomes the host for the contest the next year. This can be used as an opportunity to promote their country as a tourist destination, but there have been times when the host country has declined due to the expense. In those cases, another host (usually the BBC in the United Kingdom) steps up to take over. In May of this year the competition will be held in Kyiv, Ukraine.
  • There are lots of rules about everything from the number of artists allowed onstage to language requirements. But many of the rules change through the years, so you have to give them credit for flexibility due to growth and change.
  • Voting for the winners has also changed. At the moment, the voting is split 50/50 between juries and voting by the public, either by phone or online. The problem with the public aspect is one of scale. Like our electoral college, where my California vote counts less than the vote of someone from Wyoming, the public vote from small countries outweighs the vote from much larger countries.
  • Women have dominated, being a part of 50 of the 64 winning acts through 2016.
  • Sometimes politics rears its ugly head. Certain blocs of countries may vote together and some countries may vote for or against another country based on whatever is happening at the time. Annoyed with your neighbor? Hurt them with music.
  • Ireland has won the most contests, with seven.

Have you ever watched this contest? Can you listen to “Walking on Sunshine” without dancing even a little bit?

Protesting the Salt Tax

I’ve been thinking lately about protests, for obvious reasons. There are many types of protests and demonstrations. The concept is not specific to any culture or desired result, but exists globally. It’s also not specific to a particular era and you can find examples throughout history.

During the time when the sun never set on the British Empire, India was under British rule from 1858 until 1947. But India wanted self-rule and they found a leader for this nationalist movement in Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948).

Gandhi and other Indians took a strategic and long-term route to breaking from the British. This wasn’t about one demonstration or protest, but there is just one that I want to share.

The British controlled, among other things, the production and distribution of salt. It was illegal for the Indian population to produce or manufacture their own salt. They were required to purchase more expensive and heavily taxed salt from the British government. This salt tax affected Indians of all classes, but was especially a burden on the poor.

Because the salt tax affected everyone, it was the perfect protest to gather support among Indians. In 1930, Gandhi began a march to the Indian Ocean to commit an act of non-violent civil disobedience. In less than a month, he and his followers walked about 240 miles. Each night when they stopped, they drew crowds and spoke about what they were doing, and why it was important.

Gandhi at Dandi, South Gujarat, picking salt on the beach at the end of the Salt March, 5 April 1930. Behind him is his second son Manilal Gandhi and Mithuben Petit. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Finally they reached the coast and picked up some salt, which was an illegal act. Although no one was arrested that day, the illegal acts continued. Eventually, Gandhi and others were arrested, but that wasn’t enough to stop this protest. In time, as the protests continued, about 60,000 Indians were arrested and jailed for illegally producing salt.

As you can imagine, taking care of 60,000 new prisoners was a bit of a hassle for the British jailers. It also didn’t help the British that the march and subsequent acts of civil disobedience drew international press attention. It was clear that, just as the Boston Tea Party was not about tea, this was not just about salt.

Gandhi meets with Charlie Chaplin at the home of Dr. Kaitial in Canning Town, London, September 22, 1931. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The thing about protests is that there are two sides and the actions of both sides are often illuminating about deeper issues. Both the protesters and those being protested against want something, and how they each act determines the results of the protest.

In this case, the result was the 1931 Gandhi-Irwin Pact. Gandhi and Lord Irwin, the Viceroy of India, agreed that Gandhi would stop his salt protests and the British authorities would release all who had been imprisoned for salt offenses and would also allow Indians to produce their own salt for domestic use.

Depending upon your personality, you could call this either a win-win or lose-lose situation. The British lost some tax revenue and the protesters didn’t get their ultimate goal of self-rule, at least not that day. That didn’t happen for another sixteen years. But this protest, the sense of unity shared by the Indian people working toward a common goal, was one of the building blocks that led to that final result.

Breaking News: The Georgian Papers Programme

Currently our news cycles are stuffed full of BREAKING NEWS. I love that there can be breaking news in history, even if it isn’t urgent enough to require ALL CAPS. This particular news will probably have a wide-ranging and long-lasting effect on historical research and will fill historians and enthusiasts with anticipation about what they might find.

In April of 2015, Queen Elizabeth II launched the Georgian Papers Programme, releasing more than 350,000 pieces of paper from the years 1714-1837, which will be digitized for availability to anyone interested. This time period includes the reigns of several monarchs, but because George III was king for almost 60 years, much of the material is directly from him.

The digitized papers will be searchable, making them an incredible primary research resource in many different subject areas. George III (1738-1820) was king during the French Revolution, the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, so you can imagine the information just on those issues. The papers include letters between the king and queen, an assortment of other letters, essays, bills, notes, menus and even a draft letter of abdication which was never completed.

King George III (in coronation robes), painted by Allan Ramsay (1713-1784). Photo via Wikimedia Commons

If you ask many Americans about George III, they will mention that he was crazy or that he was a tyrant. After all, he had to be bad enough that the American Colonies would fight to leave and become our own country.

King George III at Windsor Castle, painted by Peter Edward Stroehling. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

But labels are easy and negate the fact that we are all human beings with varying opinions and flaws. The harder truth is that George III did have some form of mental illness, although historians and others are still debating the exact parameters of that illness, and that one man’s tyrant is another man’s protector.

George III was greatly interested in science in all forms and was generally intellectually curious. He was a husband who reportedly never took a mistress despite the norms for men of his status during his time. He was father to 15 children. Probably mad, possibly a tyrant, but like most of us, he was also much more than that.

George III and Queen Charlotte with their thirteen children, painted by John Murphy. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

So why is this release of papers important? Why are historians so excited by this?

  • Primary resources allow us to learn about people in their own words. If we want to know why George III did one thing rather than another, we may find that information in one of these letters.
  • Because these resources will be searchable, information about any subject relating to the eighteenth and early-nineteenth century may be found here. Interested in gardening, medicine, astronomy or spies? Any of those may be found in these papers.
  • Opinions about George III have varied over the years depending on the writer and the time when they were writing. This collection of papers allows today’s writers to get past speculation and to interpret a primary resource.
  • Ultimately, more data usually leads to better analysis. This is a lot of data about a lot of subjects. I imagine this incredible resource will lead to many new journal articles.

The digitization is expected to be completed in 2020. If you want a sneak preview, check out this special from BBC Two “George III – The Genius of the Mad King“.


Signs For The Future

I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts the difficulty in studying history when original sources do not exist. Documents and art that were destroyed in war or by natural disaster cannot be recreated. But how will the resources we are now creating hold up for future historians?

Years ago I read a time-travel novel about a character from a couple of hundred years in the future. In that fictional future, digital sources did not survive, but instead degraded and became useless within a couple of decades. Paper survived, but there was a big cultural blank spot in regards to music, radio, movies and television.

Social media wasn’t addressed because that book was written before it became such a big thing. Even if the sheer volume of social media posts remain, will future historians be able to correctly understand our cultural shorthand? I wouldn’t even venture a guess as to how much of my Twitter feed could be understood without a day-to-day immersion in these events.

Will future historians be able to access all the digital noise that exists right now? Will they feel it’s worth the effort to wade through the billions (trillions? kazillions?) of words and images available? If we considered the needs of future historians, what would we save?

I saw an article today in The Chronicle of Higher Education called “In Discarded Women’s March Signs, Professors Saw a Chance to Save History” by Fernanda Zamudio-Suarez. After the Women’s March for America in Boston on Saturday, January 21, 2017, a variety of signs were left by a fence for disposal. A design professor at Northeastern University, Nathan Felde, saw them and was struck by the idea that they needed to be saved.

Women’s March for America, Boston, MA, January 21, 2017. Photo: Brad Fagan via Wikimedia Commons

Felde rented a van and a 40-square-foot storage unit and filled the unit with more than 1,000 handmade, heartfelt signs that capture a variety of ideas important to those who created those signs and marched that day. With the help of Northeastern University’s library, these signs, representing a moment in our history, will be archived physically and digitally. Some of those signs will probably need some explanation in the future.

Women’s March for America, Boston, MA, January 21, 2017. Photo: Brad Fagan via Wikimedia Commons

We live in interesting times. Not only do I want to see how this project looks at completion, but I also would love to know what historians one hundred or two hundred years from now will think about these archived bits of our culture.

My Ideal Dinner Party: Alexander von Humboldt

” The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.” -Alexander von Humboldt

Have you ever considered your answer to the classic question about who you would invite, alive or dead, to your ideal dinner party? I made my decision about one of my guests this week after researching Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859). I decided to research this scientist after I learned from the academic journal “Hispanic American Historical Review” that Humboldt’s American travel journals have been fully digitized.

Humboldt was a naturalist and explorer, born in Berlin, which was part of the Kingdom of Prussia at that time. Although he traveled in Europe, Siberia and Central Asia, his most famous trip was to the Americas from 1799-1804. There he traveled through rain forests and climbed mountains, all while scientifically studying…everything.

Portrait of Alexander von Humboldt, 1806, by artist Friedrich Georg Weitsch (1758-1828). Photo: via Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of Alexander von Humboldt, 1806, by artist Friedrich Georg Weitsch (1758-1828). Photo: via Wikimedia Commons

Scientists didn’t specialize then as they do now. During his lifetime he studied botany, geology, geography, biology, anatomy, climate, ocean currents and astronomy. I’m sure I’m missing something in that list, but that curiosity about everything is why he would be a great dinner guest.

Chiranthodendron pentadactylon, by Alexander von Humboldt, via Wikimedia Commons

Chiranthodendron pentadactylon, by Alexander von Humboldt, via Wikimedia Commons

While in the Americas he collected specimens, mapped rivers and mountains, and left drawings of plants and animals he encountered. He even met with President Thomas Jefferson. When he returned to Europe, Humboldt published a 34-volume account of his American travels, including his Personal Narratives.

Anatomie des Axolotl Ambystoma mexicanum by Alexander von Humboldt via Wikimedia Commons

Anatomie des Axolotl Ambystoma mexicanum by Alexander von Humboldt via Wikimedia Commons

During his long career he was an inspiration to other scientists, like Charles Darwin, but also to naturalist writers and poets, like Henry David Thoreau. Humboldt was a celebrity, famous and revered in his own time. You’ve probably been to or heard of something that has been named for him. That list includes rivers, mountain ranges, bays, waterfalls, towns, parks, counties, plants, animals, a glacier, an asteroid, an ocean current, and an area on the moon.

Portrait of Alexander von Humboldt, Verlag von L. Haase & Co. in Berlin, circa 1857, via Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of Alexander von Humboldt,
Verlag von L. Haase & Co. in Berlin, circa 1857, via Wikimedia Commons

What I find interesting now, in light of all that has changed in the past 200 years of scientific study, is an idea that could make him an hero to modern environmentalists. The foundation of Humboldt’s scientific studies was the idea that everything is interconnected. He saw deforestation in Venezuela and realized that there was a cause and effect relationship between humans and nature. He saw that the effects of deforestation impacted plants, animals and people. He believed that human actions would impact climate for future generations. Because all of nature is connected.

I would love to be able to share some dinner conversation with Humboldt. I just have to wait for other scientists to figure out that whole time travel thing.

Let’s Take a Music Break

Lots going on today in American politics, so I thought we could all use a music break. Here are some suggestions from my impressionable youth, but listen to whatever works for you.

Today in 1945, Rod Stewart was born.

Rod Stewart, “Maggie May”

Today in 1953, Pat Benatar was born.

Pat Benatar, “All Fired Up”

And one year ago today, David Bowie died. But his music lives on…

David Bowie, “Space Oddity”

Go sing and dance, folks. You’ll feel so much better.

Resistance By Music and Carnations

For many people, mention of a resistance movement brings to mind the Polish, French and Danish resistance movements against the occupying German forces during World War II. Those events are fairly recent, often heroic, and get a lot of play in movies, so they are in our public consciousness.

As a descriptor, “resistance movement” is vague enough to encompass a variety of actions, although the idea of a movement requires some organization. Resistance can be armed or unarmed, violent or non-violent, against a government or against an occupying force, and can be aimed at objectives ranging from physical freedom to civil rights.

Mural em Grândola contendo a pauta de Grândola Vila Morena by Paulo Juntas. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Mural in Grândola to commemorate the Carnation Revolution. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

One of my favorite examples is the Carnation Revolution in Portugal. In 1926 there was a military coup overthrowing an unstable parliamentary government. As often happens with coups, the result was an authoritarian government. This one lasted over forty years, longer than any other authoritarian rule in Western Europe.

By 1974, the rulers controlled the press, persecuted religions other than Roman Catholicism, and had a secret police force to take care of any opposition. Women were not allowed to vote and had low literacy rates because they were denied education. Portugal’s NATO partners tolerated the entrenched right-wing dictatorship because they were anti-communist.

Portuguese citizens were being conscripted into military service and a big part of Portugal’s budget was being spent to fight colonial wars against African independence movements. Some of the military officers fighting these wars, which had dragged on for 13 years, finally had enough, both of their government and their wars. Like any military coup, they were aiming for regime change, but in this case they wanted to replace a dictatorship with a democracy and to negotiate with the African independence movements.

The coup turned out to be quick and almost bloodless. Four people were killed by the authoritarian regime’s police forces.

Monument to the Revolution of 25 April, Lisbon, Portugal. Photo by Francisco Santos via Wikimedia Commons

Monument to the Revolution of 25 April, Lisbon, Portugal. Photo by Francisco Santos via Wikimedia Commons

This was a military coup joined by civil resistance once the public realized what was happening. Although the coup leaders announced over the radio that they wanted the citizens to remain in their homes, those people wanted to be a part of this and poured into the streets. Carnations were in season and available in the market square, so once the coup was successful, the people started putting carnations into the soldiers’ rifle muzzles and on their uniforms.

My favorite part of this story? The leaders of the coup had two secret signals. When a certain song was played, the soldiers were to begin the coup. The song they used was Portugal’s 1974 entry in the Eurovision Song Contest, “E Depois do Adeus” by Paulo de Carvalho. (ABBA’s “Waterloo” won that year.) The second signal, to take over certain strategic positions, was announced with a song by Zeca Afonso, a musician banned from Portuguese radio as part of the government’s media censorship.

Music to take down a dictatorship. Now that’s some good resistance.

The 1854 London Cholera Epidemic, and My Brain on Research

The stories I share with you on this blog are usually about more than the story, at least for me.  I often find alternate ways to look at the story I’m researching, completely different  topics suggested by the research I’m doing, and also personal connections  to a particular story.

Today I want to share a story that I first heard years ago, but also let you know what it meant to me.

Cholera is a bacterial infection of the small intestine, which can be fatal. In the first half of the 19th century, tens of thousands of people in Great Britain died during cholera outbreaks. Unfortunately, most people believed that the cause of cholera was airborne.

Consider for a moment how any 19th century city would have smelled. There were humans and animals living crowded together, and with no sewer system, human and animal waste ended up in the streets and in the waterways. Human and animal waste was dumped into the River Thames, making it both their toilet and their source of drinking water. It’s hardly surprising that in the years before germ theory was discovered people believed the horrible stench could cause illness and death.

In 1854, there was a new cholera outbreak in Soho in London. Dr. John Snow, a physician of some renown, had suggested five years earlier that cholera could be transmitted by water rather than air. He now had the opportunity to test his hypothesis.

Dr. John Snow (1813-1858), British physician. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Dr. John Snow (1813-1858), British physician. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Armed with a detailed map of Soho, he marked all the deaths, and also all the public water pumps, on the map. It didn’t take long to notice that most of the fatalities were clustered around one particular water pump, on Broad Street (now called Broadwick Street). His data included some outliers, but through personal interviews he was able to tie those cases to that same pump.

This was proof enough for Dr. Snow, and he was able to get the handle removed from the pump so it could not be used. That doesn’t mean that suddenly this particular public health issue was solved and cholera was eradicated. However, between the pump being shut down and the fact that the majority of residents had already fled the area, this particular outbreak was stopped, but not before more than 600 people had died.

A variant of the original map drawn by Dr. John Snow (1813-1858), a British physician who is one of the founders of medical epidemiology, showing cases of cholera in the London epidemics of 1854, clustered around the locations of water pumps. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

A variant of the original map drawn by Dr. John Snow (1813-1858), a British physician who is one of the founders of medical epidemiology, showing cases of cholera in the London epidemics of 1854, clustered around the locations of water pumps. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

This is a simple story, but there was a lot more than that going on in my research and in my head.

  • I found a recommended book I really want to read that expands this story to include more than the very basic facts that are available all over the web. This is a story that lends itself to short-form storytelling, but there is also much more depth available if you’re interested. Check out The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic…and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson.
  • I’m a visual person, so I love it when maps are used to see patterns. While researching this story I’ve seen blog posts that focus on the map aspect of this story and about how Snow was a pioneer in plotting data points to solve a scientific problem. Apparently mathematicians and statisticians love his groundbreaking study.
  • This story happened 162 years ago, but the differences in living conditions between then and now are obvious. No flush toilets. No convenient water faucets in your home. No concept of germs or how to avoid or get rid of them in order to keep yourself safe and healthy.
  • This case is considered the foundation of epidemiology. Science has advanced so incredibly since that time. I hope that 162 years from now people will look back at our stories with the same sense of pride in how much they’ve learned. And possibly amazement at our disgusting standards of living.
  • “Gross” history is the best way to start teaching kids to like history.
  • There’s a personal aspect here, which always makes it easier for me to remember history stories. When my daughter and I were in London earlier this year, we stayed four nights about three blocks from the site of the Broad Street pump, which is near Carnaby Street. Even though I knew the story, I had no idea I was in the neighborhood where it happened, even though we wandered around for days. There used to be a replica pump in place for those of us interested in history, but it was removed recently to make way for new construction.
The view from our hostel in Soho. Still crazy crowded. Photo by Cathy Hanson

The view from our hostel in Soho. Still crazy crowded. Photo by Cathy Hanson

  • Even though we know the cause of something (like cholera) and even how to fix it (like cholera), that doesn’t necessarily mean that it gets fixed. People still die today from cholera. We’re not as advanced as we’d like to think.
  • And lastly, something that you’d think would be a no-brainer. DON’T FOUL YOUR WATER SUPPLY! Apparently this isn’t a no-brainer for everyone.

Aleppo Soap

I have a hard time conceptualizing the numbers of people that are suffering in Aleppo. And the various factions and countries and history and strategies and politics involved are, for many of us, difficult to understand.

So I wanted to find a point of connection other than basic humanity. Something more personal than what we see on the news between stories about U.S. politics. And I found Aleppo soap.

Aleppo, in Syria, is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, possibly for the last 8,000 years. Aleppo was part of the ancient trading route, known as the Silk Road. They also created what is believed to be the first soap ever made. That soap was introduced to Europe in the 11th century when participants in the Crusades brought the soap home with them.

Today, many artisans in Aleppo still use recipes that have been around for centuries. Aleppo soap is, and always has been, natural, organic, biodegradable and locally sourced.

True Aleppo soap is made with olive oil, sodium hydroxide and laurel oil. That’s it. The olive oil moisturizes, while the laurel oil is a cleanser with antibiotic, anti-fungal and anti-itch properties. It’s gentle enough to use on babies, or if you have sensitive skin, and is said to heal many skin issues.

Vat of Aleppo soap at the Al-Jebeili factory, Aleppo, Syria. Photo by Bernard Gagnon via Wikimedia Commons.

Vat of Aleppo soap at the Al-Jebeili factory, Aleppo, Syria. Photo by Bernard Gagnon via Wikimedia Commons.

To make Aleppo soap, they boil the olive oil and sodium hydroxide for three days, then add the laurel oil. They pour that green mixture over a factory floor covered with wax paper. As it solidifies, they use a rake-like device and cut the soap into cubes, which are individually stamped with the maker’s mark. Those cubes are then stacked in a subterranean chamber in a way that allows for maximum air exposure. The cubes are allowed to cure for at least six months, although the longer the cubes are cured, the harder and longer-lasting they become.

Aleppo soap at the Al-Jebeili factory, Aleppo, Syria. Photo by Bernard Gagnon via Wikimedia Commons.

Aleppo soap at the Al-Jebeili factory, Aleppo, Syria. Photo by Bernard Gagnon via Wikimedia Commons.

The green color comes from the laurel oil and you can tell a lot about your particular bar of soap by the color. The amount of laurel oil can vary from 2-40%, with the price of the soap increasing as the percentage rises. The soap changes color as it dries, but that color depends upon the percentage of laurel oil. Less laurel oil makes for a more yellow bar, and a bar that is brown has a higher percentage. In all cases, the inside will still be green because it has not been exposed to the air.

Aleppo soap. Photo by  yeowatzup from Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany via Wikimedia Commons.

Aleppo soap. Photo by yeowatzup from Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany via Wikimedia Commons.

Now, after about a thousand years, we may soon see the end of true Aleppo soap. Many of the established soap makers have had to leave Aleppo for their safety. For any that remain, there are other problems. Although the olive groves remain, they don’t always have the labor available to pick the olives and process the oil. They now have to get their laurel oil from Turkey rather than locally. Prices for everything involved in the process have skyrocketed, as have prices for everything involved in basic survival. Stores in Aleppo have closed and many of the distribution routes to export their product have been cut off. Even if the artisans have relocated to Damascus or Beirut, is it still Aleppo soap if it’s not made in Aleppo with the local products?

There is also the problem of fake Aleppo soap. Some people call their product Aleppo soap even though they have added chemicals and have mass produced the soap. If a bar of soap only costs a couple of bucks, it’s probably not real. Also, unlike most soaps, the real stuff floats in water. This lack of standards could sink the industry before Aleppo has a chance to heal and restart their businesses.

You can find articles on the internet that will let you know how you can help the relief efforts in Aleppo. One organization is the Karam Foundation. You can donate money at that site, and it also has a store called Scents of Syria where you can purchase Aleppo soap.

So yes, Syria is a disaster at the moment, and I’m certainly not going to claim to know how to fix it. I just hope that this has helped to personalize the situation for you a little. When you hear about the people of Aleppo, I want you to be able to see them as individuals. Of course they are not all soap artists, but maybe this will help you to realize that they are also not just numbers and statistics.

Woodlawn Cemetery As A Training Ground

Sometimes I find something in my reading that just makes me smile. With all the…noise going on right now, it’s always good to know that some people and institutions are plugging away, helping other people.

Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York City, opened in 1863 with its first burial in January of 1865. Spanning more than 400 acres, over 300,000 people have been laid to rest within its borders. Among those are stars of music, the arts and business. As such, many of the monuments and mausoleums were designed by famous artisans and architects of their day. Today, more than 150 years later, Woodlawn Cemetery includes over 1,300 mausoleums and more than 150,000 stone monuments, made from a variety of stones including granite, marble, limestone and slate.

The mausoleum of Herman Armour in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY. Photo by Anthony22 via Wikimedia Commons

The mausoleum of Herman Armour in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY. Photo by Anthony22 via Wikimedia Commons

Although Woodlawn is still an active cemetery, time and weather have their effects on older stone monuments. As with all old cemeteries, families move away or die out and the expensive upkeep for the monuments is left to the cemeteries.

The monument of Arabella Huntington in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY. Photo by Anthony22 via Wikimedia Commons

The monument of Arabella Huntington in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY. Photo by Anthony22 via Wikimedia Commons

In 2015 the Woodlawn Conservancy (which has an incredible website) partnered with the World Monuments Fund and collaborated with the International Masonry Institute and other organizations. They started a two-year project, internships for at-risk youth ages 18-24. The interns learn how to safely analyze, clean, repair and restore monuments through classroom lessons, hands-on experience and visits to stone quarries.

The mausoleum of Jules Bache in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY. Photo by Anthony22 via Wikimedia Commons

The mausoleum of Jules Bache in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY. Photo by Anthony22 via Wikimedia Commons

They not only learn a new skill, but have the opportunity to work on architecture from many different eras. In many cases, these are kids who may not otherwise have seen the value of history. They’re not just learning about stone, but about life.

The grave of Horace Clark in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY. Photo by Anthony22 via Wikimedia Commons

The grave of Horace Clark in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY. Photo by Anthony22 via Wikimedia Commons

Of those who successfully complete the program, a limited number are offered apprenticeships, but all now have skills and contacts with the International Masonry Institute. From what I understand, masons and other craftspeople who understand the preservation arts are in high demand.

History and art presented to a new audience. See, happy stuff.