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.

 

 

 

My Grandfather in World War II: Stanley Zobel

In July I wrote a post about my great-uncle Floyd Zobel’s service during World War II and promised I would do the same for his brother, my Grandpa Butch, Stanley Marvin Zobel (1920-1996). Unfortunately, Butch didn’t leave any interviews or journals about his time in the U.S. Navy during the war, so I’ll tell you what I know (or think I know) from family stories and the few official papers I’ve seen.

Butch enlisted September 10, 1942, as a 22 year-old married man with one child and another on the way (my mom). He attended Naval Training Schools in Illinois, Virginia, Ohio and Florida before his departure for foreign service on August 1, 1943. For Butch, foreign service was a PC461, a ship known as a submarine chaser.

Grandpa Butch at his enlistment. Such a baby face! Photo of newspaper clipping in family files.

Grandpa Butch at his enlistment. Such a baby face! Photo of newspaper clipping in family files.

In March of 1944 the ship was off the coast of Italy. There was an air raid and the sailors quickly reported to their duty stations. Butch was a Machine Mate 1st Class, and headed to the engine room where a boiler exploded. Now, there’s a story that the men were washing clothes when the air raid started, but I’m not sure if that is mentioned to explain why they were away from their stations, or if it had something to do with the explosion.

I didn’t find any information that mentioned the explosion, possibly because it was not the result of enemy action. But I am also confused about which ship he was on.

I have a copy of a picture from a reunion Butch attended sometime after the war, and there is a cake with the number USS PC-1235 on it. So I searched for information and discovered that particular patrol boat was commissioned July 28, 1943 and decommissioned October 26, 1945. The dates match his foreign service and his crew would have been the first on board.

But it’s not that easy. On www.Ancestry.com there is a copy of Butch’s Application to State of Iowa for World War II Service Compensation. (If my cousin Emily Hope is the one who attached that, thanks Emily!) On this form, his ship is listed as USS PC-1232. I thought that might be a typo, but it’s listed that way in two separate places on the form.

Stanley Zobel with his great-granddaughter (my daughter) Jessica in 1990. Photo by Cathy Hanson

Stanley Zobel with his great-granddaughter (my daughter) Jessica in 1990. Photo by Cathy Hanson

But that almost doesn’t matter for this post, because I couldn’t find out much about that ship either. The USS PC-1232 was commissioned August 18, 1943 and decommissioned August 15, 1946. It also participated in the invasion of Normandy, but no mention of a boiler explosion three months before the invasion.

So I don’t have any official information about the explosion. What I know is that my grandfather was badly injured. I believe his injuries were caused by steam rather than fire. I know his upper body was burned and that he spent months in hospitals in Naples, Italy and Tunisia in North Africa before returning to the U.S. to a hospital in Charleston, South Carolina. He was injured badly enough that he was in the hospital for months.

Butch was also completely blind for 40 days due to his injuries. The family story is that hospital personnel tried to convince him to learn Braille, but he stubbornly, and rightly, believed that he would be able to see again. I was always told that he was legally blind the rest of his life, but that really doesn’t explain what he was doing driving around for all those years after the explosion.

Butch was officially returned from foreign service on May 20, 1944 and discharged from the military on September 30, 1944. After the war he returned to his family in Iowa and worked with AMVETS for a while, with one of his duties being writing articles. In the early 50s, he moved his growing family to a farm he purchased in Minnesota. There he farmed and ran a business until his death in February 1996. He is buried, along with my grandmother, Hazel Lorraine Johnson Zobel, at the Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Grandma and Grandpa Zobel (Hazel and Stanley) at their farm in 1994. Photo by Cathy Hanson

Grandma and Grandpa Zobel (Hazel and Stanley) at their farm in 1994. Photo by Cathy Hanson

I don’t remember ever speaking to my grandfather about his service. I’m not sure why I never asked him. As a military brat living on Air Force bases around the globe, I didn’t grow up with him in my daily life. When I did see him, we did fun things instead of serious stuff. I don’t know if he was like many veterans and didn’t like to talk about his service. He had three brothers who also served in World War II, so maybe he was able to talk to them.

Whether Butch was on the USS PC-1235 or the USS PC-1232 doesn’t really affect my life or this post. I’m sure the answers are available through the U.S. Navy, but I found it interesting that considering all the research and records available regarding World War II, I couldn’t easily find this information online. I would like to know if anyone else was injured, or if he was the only casualty.

While all this information is interesting, it doesn’t change anything. The grandpa I remember could see well enough to run a farm and then own a business running a backhoe. He could still play with his grandkids and sometimes his great-grandkids. It seems that he lived a perfectly normal life.

He was Grandpa.

Please help me out here. If the family stories I remember are completely mistaken, or if you have information that I am missing, please feel free to share in the comments below. I love to learn new stuff!

I have one other request for action on your part. Please check out the website at www.wargen.org. This group is aware that we are rapidly losing the last of the 16 million American veterans that fought in World War II more than 70 years ago. Like Butch, many of them have not widely shared their stories. If you are interested, please sign up to help them collect these stories before it’s too late.

The Madaba Map: Byzantine Art As A Primary Source

I’ve written before about the importance of using primary sources versus secondary sources in historical research. Basically, a primary source is created at the time of the event, while a secondary source is created later and interprets the primary source.

In this previous post, I used the example of soccer ticket stubs from the 1970s being used as primary source material. People generally think of primary sources as written documentation, but I want to present to you a piece of art, created for unknown reasons, that has been a useful source for historical and archaeological research.

In the late nineteenth century, a group of Christian settlers in Jordan moved to the town of Madaba, which had been abandoned, and began to rebuild. In 1884 they were building a Greek Orthodox church, the Church of Saint George, on the remains of an earlier church and discovered a mosaic floor. They kept the floor, but didn’t really do anything with it. It wasn’t until 1896 that this mosaic floor was first seen by a scholar.

Byzantine floor mosaic map at St. George Church, Madaba, Jordan. Photo by Deror AVi via Wikimedia Commons

Byzantine floor mosaic map at St. George Church, Madaba, Jordan. Photo by Deror AVi via Wikimedia Commons

Mosaics are durable, attested to by the number of ancient and medieval mosaics that remain around the world and throughout most cultures. But it’s not indestructible and this map is obviously not complete. Its raggedy edges and strange shape attest to the fact that much of the original mosaic was destroyed. Now known as the Madaba Map, this mosaic floor has a long history.

The mosaic is a map of the Middle East, labeled in Greek. It is the oldest surviving map of the Holy Land, especially Jerusalem. Estimates put the number of stones and other pieces used to create the mosaic at about two million. It includes the Dead Sea and clearly shows significant structures in Jerusalem. The scale of Jerusalem is out-sized on the map, but that proportion is probably due to its historical and spiritual influence at the time.

Close up of the Madaba Map. Photo by JoTB via Wikimedia Commons

Close up of the Madaba Map. Photo by JoTB via Wikimedia Commons

Based on the buildings and roads depicted in the map, its creation has been dated to sometime between 542 and 570 CE, during the Byzantine era. About 200 years later, in 745, Madaba was largely destroyed by an earthquake, and the ruined town was abandoned. Subsequently the mosaic was further damaged by fire, moisture and activities in the church.

We don’t know the original purpose of the map, although there is speculation by historians. In my view, that’s one of the most difficult aspects of the study of history. We know the fact of the map’s existence, and we know how the map was physically created, but we don’t know why. No records exist (or have been found) that explain the motivation. But even without knowing the motivation, the map is a valuable historical resource, giving insight into life in the sixth century.

And this map, this primary historical source, is valuable in another, more physical, way. The Madaba Map shows the locations of structures and roads that no longer exist, making it an archaeological treasure trove.

800px-20100924_madaba56a

In 1967 the Nea Church, whose existence was known from ancient writings, was excavated. The Madaba Map included the church, and unlike the writings, showed its exact location.

In 2010, a 1,500 year-old street depicted in the map was found about 15 feet beneath the city. This one could have been found sooner, but Israeli archaeological law states that when there is new construction in a historical area, the site must be opened for archaeological excavation. They just had to wait for new construction.

So, primary sources. One of the best things about history.

Friendship Train, Merci Train, and Four Bronze Statues

When World War II ended in Europe in May 1945, years of war had left Europe in ruins, populated in large part by widows and orphans. Economies had collapsed, infrastructure was destroyed, and money was devalued to the point of being worthless. People were displaced, homeless and starving. Violence had become normalized.

Although the United States was heavily involved in the war and suffered devastating losses, the fight was not on our soil. So in 1947, when journalist Drew Pearson suggested the Friendship Train to collect food and other supplies to send to France and Italy, Americans were more than happy to help.

Journalist Drew Pearson in the White House Garden with President Lyndon Johnson, April 1964. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Journalist Drew Pearson in the White House Garden with President Lyndon Johnson, April 1964. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The train traveled from Los Angeles to New York City, making many stops along the way. Cities and states not on the route found ways to get their contributions to the train. Communities held friendly competitions to see who could contribute the most.

In the end, the donations came from individuals, communities, organizations, and businesses. Donations included food, clothing, fuel and medicine. Supplies filled 270 train cars with an estimated value of $40 million. Also donated were the trains, the ships, and the labor required to move the actual goods along the journey. Laborers volunteered to work on Thanksgiving to ensure that this gesture of good will arrived in time for Christmas. It did.

This happened before the Marshall Plan began in April 1948. And while the Marshall Plan was aid from one government to another to rebuild (and to prevent the spread of communism), the Friendship Train was all about the people, both the givers and the recipients.

Then, a little more than a year later, the United States received a gift from France. In February 1949, we received 49 train cars full of gifts. This included one train car for each state (there were only 48 states at that time) and one to be split between the District of Columbia and the Territory of Hawaii.

Photograph of boxcar from French "Merci train," a gift from France to the United States in grateful recognition of U.S. aid to France after World War II, during a ceremony. Photo from the Harry S. Truman Library via Wikimedia Commons

Photograph of boxcar from French “Merci train,” a gift from France to the United States in grateful recognition of U.S. aid to France after World War II, during a ceremony. Photo from the Harry S. Truman Library via Wikimedia Commons

The boxcars were the type that had transported thousands of American GIs, in both World War I and World War II. They were known as “40 et 8” because they could transport either 40 soldiers or 8 horses. Although the gifts were not always distributed to individual Americans or communities, many of those gifts, including the actual boxcars, can be found in local museums or municipal parks around the United States.

We also received a return gift from Italy. They sent the money needed to complete four bronze statues that were unfinished for political and financial reasons. Two statues were placed at the end of the Arlington Memorial Bridge, while the other two are near the Lincoln Memorial. The Italians also sent a short film titled “Thanks, America!” and asked that it be copied and played in theaters around the country.

Looking southwest "Valor" (left) and "Sacrifice", the two statues that make up the work The Arts of War. The Arts of War are statues which adorn either side of the northeastern end of Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington, D.C., in the United States. They were designed by sculptor Leo Friedlander, and erected in 1951. Photo by Tim Evanson via Wikimedia Commons

Looking southwest “Valor” (left) and “Sacrifice”, the two statues that make up the work The Arts of War. The Arts of War are statues which adorn either side of the northeastern end of Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington, D.C., in the United States. They were designed by sculptor Leo Friedlander, and erected in 1951. Photo by Tim Evanson via Wikimedia Commons

This is a great story of humanity, but there is more to this story.

The journalist who suggested this grand undertaking, Drew Pearson (1897-1969), wrote the syndicated newspaper column, Washington Merry-Go-Round, which was started in 1932. At least one source called him a “muckraking journalist” and President Roosevelt called him a “chronic liar”. There’s a story that he was sued by General Douglas MacArthur, but that MacArthur dropped the suit after Pearson threatened to publish love letters written by the general to a woman not his wife.

My overall impression was that Pearson was almost more politician than journalist. He gathered information and used it as leverage, withholding as much as he shared. But he challenged Senator Joseph McCarthy, so he couldn’t have been all bad.

That is the man behind the Friendship Train. One story is that he was traveling in Europe after the war and noticed that the Russians had sent a few train cars filled with grain to the destitute Europeans, who were very vocal in their gratitude. Whether his idea of the Friendship Train was to prevent the spread of communism that could arise from their good deeds, or if he just wanted that gratitude for his own country is unclear.

What is clear is that on the Friendship Train Pearson included supplies and tools to make signs so that everyone knew the gifts they were receiving came from the U.S. He also wanted the recipients to be aware that the gifts were from individual Americans, not from the U.S. government. To that end, each gift included a tag that had the name and address of the donor, an American flag, and the statement “All races and creeds make up the vast melting pot of America, and in a democratic and Christian spirit of good will toward men, we the American people, have worked together to bring this food to your doorsteps, hoping that it will tide you over until your own fields are rich and abundant with crops.”

Whether or not the original idea was for the purest of reasons, a lot of really good people made really good things happen. Individuals matter, so feel free to let your humanity shine.

Carter’s Gift

Slavery existed in the British colonies of North America long before the Revolutionary War and the events that created the United States of America. Most Americans are aware that our founding fathers owned slaves. Historians try to be fair and judge historical figures based on the culture of their time and have given many reasons why our revolutionary icons were unable to free their slaves even if they had so desired.

I recently read about a man in Virginia who freed all of his slaves in the late eighteenth century. He released more slaves than anyone else ever would, more than were owned by Washington and Jefferson combined.

Robert Carter III (1728 – 1804), a slave owner in Virginia, was a contemporary of our founding fathers, living through the same times of rapid change and revolutionary ideas. He was given his first slave by his grandfather when he was three months old. Both his grandfather and his father died in 1732, and when Carter reached his majority at age 21 he inherited 100 slaves and 65,000 acres.

Robert Carter III of Nomini Hall, painted by Thomas Hudson (1701–1779). Photo from the Virginia Historical Society via Wikimedia Commons

Robert Carter III of Nomini Hall, painted by Thomas Hudson (1701–1779). Photo from the Virginia Historical Society via Wikimedia Commons

In 1754 Carter married Frances Tasker, whose father had been the governor of Maryland. They had 17 children, 12 of whom reached adulthood. He also received more slaves from his father-in-law. Carter was less cruel to his slaves than many owners and evidence suggests he was crueler to his children than his slaves. Well, except for the whole freedom thing.

Carter was also a spiritual seeker, and he studied various religions to find where he felt he belonged. He found a temporary spiritual home and was baptized into the Baptist Church when he was about 50 years old. Between the teachings of the church and the revolutionary ideas about men being equal, Carter decided to do something about an institution, slavery, that he believed was immoral.

On September 5, 1791 Carter filed a Deed of Gift with the District Court, a plan that would emancipate every single one of his slaves. For many, the main concern with emancipation was what to do with the slaves once they were free. They did not want emancipation without relocation, but didn’t know where they should be relocated. Carter’s initial plan was for these manumissions to be done gradually, freeing 15 slaves every January 1. Carter knew that freeing his slaves could cause problems with other slave owners and wanted to minimize the effects that concerned them.

Long-time home of Robert Carter III, Nomoni Hall, Westmoreland County, VA. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Long-time home of Robert Carter III, Nomoni Hall, Westmoreland County, VA. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

His Deed of Gift listed 452 slaves, but in the end, the final number emancipated is difficult to nail down. Because the slaves were freed gradually, over a 35 year period, more children were born into slavery whose names were not included on the original list. The emancipation of Carter’s slaves continued after his death in 1804 through his surrogates, which definitely did not include his children and in-laws, who were always against Carter’s plan and even tried legal actions before and after Carter’s death, to stop the manumissions.

Ultimately Carter freed his slaves because he believed that human slavery was immoral. That was not the dominant view at the time, but he certainly wasn’t the only one who believed that. There were abolitionists aplenty both in Britain and in the United States. There were also many owners who emancipated individual slaves in their wills. Even George Washington called for his slaves to be freed after his wife’s death. Fearing that the slaves may try to rush her death, Martha freed them about a year after George died.

So feel free to give more thought to the idea that our founding fathers were somehow unable to emancipate their slaves. You could say that Carter, since he didn’t hold a high government position, had nothing to lose by doing the right thing. But since he left his home in Virginia because of the backlash from family and neighbors to his Deed of Gift, he most certainly did have something to lose.

*Check out this site that is “chronicling the descendants of the 500+ slaves that were freed by Robert Carter III from his Nomini Hall estate”.

*Check out the book “The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Story of Robert Carter, the Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves” by Andrew Levy. Amazon

 

Unique and Creative Architecture

To me, one of the best things about travel is the architecture. I love to look at buildings, both in the United States and in other countries. Although I can recognize a flying buttress, I don’t really know much about it. Mostly I just know what I like. As an historian, architecture isn’t just beautiful. It gives clues about the culture that created it, and also the culture that either preserves or destroys it.

I remember the first time I saw photos of the work of the Catalan (Spain) architect, Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926). It was better than the fairy tale castle in Germany, and since then, Barcelona has been in the top 5 on the list of places I want to visit. Some things you just need to see up close and in person.

Portrait of Antoni Gaudí (1878) by Pablo Audouard Deglaire (1856 - 1919). Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of Antoni Gaudí (1878) by Pablo Audouard Deglaire (1856 – 1919). Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Most of you have probably heard of Gaudi and seen something that he created. He left a body of work that was unique and imaginative. He created not just buildings, but also parks and even lamp posts. His style was inspired by nature, utilizing more curves than straight lines.

Puerta de la Finca Miralles. Photo by Canaan via Wikimedia Commons.

Puerta de la Finca Miralles. Photo by Canaan via Wikimedia Commons.

But as for the man, most of us don’t know much about him except his work. As I’ve been reading about his life, he doesn’t fit the profile of our most famous artists.

He wasn’t from a wealthy or titled family. He was not involved in any scandals. His most outrageous behavior involved an arrest for his involvement in the cause of Catalan independence from Spain, a political battle that continues today. He was famous during his lifetime for his imagination and creativity, but he also had his critics, mostly those who don’t like change. But Gaudi always stayed true to his path and his vision.

Casa Mila. Photo by Olavfin via Wikimedia Commons.

Casa Mila. Photo by Olavfin via Wikimedia Commons.

Gaudi had rheumatism from a young age, which limited his activities as a child. He was a life-long vegetarian (before it was cool) in order to alleviate his illness. He spent most of his adult life living with and caring for his father and his niece. He never married, although it is rumored that he had fallen in love with a woman who did not return his affections.

My personal favorite, Casa Batllo. Photo by tato grasso via Wikimedia Commons.

My personal favorite, Casa Batllo. Photo by tato grasso via Wikimedia Commons.

Most importantly, Gaudi was a man of faith. He was a Catholic who, at least at the end of his life, went to church daily for prayer and confession. One of his most famous works, the Sagrada Familia, is a church that he devoted the last decade of his life to building. (It’s actually still not complete, although there is hope it will be done by 2026, the centennial of his death.)

Sagrada Familia interior. Photo by Charles Curling via Wikimedia Commons.

Sagrada Familia interior. Photo by Charles Curling via Wikimedia Commons.

Gaudi died as the result of a traffic accident. He was hit by a tram, and due to his humble attire, it was believed that he was a vagabond and he was not given immediate aid. By the time he was identified, it was too late to save him. He was interred in a crypt at Sagrada Familia.

One humble man who continues to make a huge impact on the world.

Park Guell. Photo by Canaan via Wikimedia Commons.

Park Guell. Photo by Canaan via Wikimedia Commons.

The famous mosaic salamander at Park Guell. Photo by Valérie et Agnès via Wikimedia Commons.

The famous mosaic salamander at Park Guell. Photo by Valérie et Agnès via Wikimedia Commons.

Astorga Palacio. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Astorga Palacio. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.