Archive for the ‘Modern(ish)’ Category

Possible Civil War witch bottle found in Virginia

Friday, January 24th, 2020

A glass bottle found at a Civil War-era site in York County, Virginia, may be a rare American example of a witch bottle. A team from the William & Mary Center for Archaeological Research (WMCAR) found the bottle in a 2016 excavation of the site of Redoubt 9, now a median between a couple of exits off Interstate 64 near near Busch Gardens, but during the Civil War part of a line of 14 forts that formed the Williamsburg Line.

An outpost of Fort Magruder, Redoubt 9 was occupied by Union and Confederate forces at different times. When the Williamsburg Line was attacked by the Army of the Potomac in May of 1862, Redoubt 9 was being manned by the 6th South Carolina. They retreated and the Union troops commanded by General Winfield Scott Hancock took all the forts on the line and kept them until the end of the war.

The location of Redoubt 9 was lost over time and highway construction in the 1960s did some damage to the archaeological site. Luckily  most of it was under the median, so Redoubt 9 missed the full-scale destruction wrought on either side of it during the digging and paving of the eastbound and westbound lands.

The site was rediscovered as a Civil War battlefield in 2007 by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), but it wasn’t excavated and confirmed as Redoubt 9 until VDOT wanted to expand the lanes and engaged WMCAR to survey the site in 2016. The dig was surprisingly thorough considering it had to be conducted on a highway median as traffic roared away on both sides of them. They unearthed bullets, 10 fired and 11 unfired, a shrapnel fragment and two bullet cartridges; too thin a result to do any battle mapping. They also found objects attesting to the occupation of the site — buttons, bayonet scabbards, dishes, an empty champagne bottle, a brick-lined hearth, and next to the hearth, a glass beer bottle with a broken neck containing some rusty nails.

The bottle was manufactured by Charles Grove of Colombia, Pennsylvania between the 1840s and 1860s. The 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry occupied Redoubt 9 off and on from May 1862 to August 1863, whenever it looked like battle might be engaged along the Williamsburg Line. They would have been tasked with making any necessary repairs on the fortifications, so at first archaeologists thought the troops had just used an old bottle to hold nails when they reinforced the redoubt.

Upon further examination, WMCAR researchers now think it might be more than just an impromptu nail holder. Originally an East Anglian folk ritual that was brought to North America by colonists, a witch bottle was made by putting nails or other pointy hardware and anatomical contributions (urine, hair and nail clippings, navel lint) into a bottle and embedding in the wall or burying it under the floor near a hearth or doorway. The bodily detritus lured the witch, the tradition held, and the nails pinned her down. The heat from the hearth increased the power of the bottle’s counter-magic, forcing the witches to break the spell linking them to their victims and even killing the evil-doer.

“It’s a good example of how a singular artifact can speak volumes,” [WMCAR director Joe] Jones said. “It’s really a time capsule representing the experience of Civil War troops, a window directly back into what these guys were going through occupying this fortification at this period in time.” […]

Centuries later, there’s no way of knowing for sure if the artifact is a charm against evil spirits or just a bottle full of nails. Jones explained that most witch bottles contain relics of those who buried them. The afflicted would add nail clippings, locks of hair and even urine to witch bottles. The bottle recovered at Redoubt 9 was broken at the top, so Jones said it’s practically impossible to know who made it or what their real intentions were.

“Perhaps the nails in the bottle were put there not by enlisted men using the bottle as an expedient container, but instead by an officer who felt especially threatened occupying hostile territory,” Jones said. “Given the perceived threat of Confederate attack and general hostility of local residents, he had good reason to pull all the stops and rely on folk traditions from his community in Pennsylvania to help protect his temporary home away from home.”

And not just Pennsylvania. The descendants of European colonists from Maine to Georgia kept the late Medieval tradition alive. But perhaps because they can seem like random containers of old trash, witch bottles are very rarely reported. Almost 200 documented witch bottles have been found Britain, but the number on the record in the United States can be counted on the fingers of two hands.

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Two Boys with a Bladder head for LA

Monday, January 20th, 2020

The J. Paul Getty Museum has acquired, and even more importantly received an export license for, Two Boys with a Bladder, a chiaroscuro masterpiece by 18th century British painter Joseph Wright of Derby.

The recently rediscovered painting depicts two young boys, boldly lit by a concealed candle, inflating a pig’s bladder. In the 18th century, animal bladders served as toys, either inflated and tossed like balloons or filled with dried peas and shaken like rattles. While bladders appeared frequently in 17th-century Dutch painting they were depicted less frequently in 18th-century Britain. It was a motif that Wright made his own; the elaborate costumes that the boys wear are of the artist’s own invention, in the style of British “fancy pictures.” The dramatic pictorial effect created by the concentrated candle light within a dark interior setting was in vogue in much of Europe in the late 16th and 17th centuries, but it was not until the 18th century that English artists picked up the theme, Wright being among the first to do so.

Wright is famed for his nocturnal scenes. His “Candlelight Pictures” used a single candle in the center of the canvas as the sole light source to create high-contrast scenes of people clustered around a subject (the Borghese Gladiator, an orrery, a kitten) in rapt attention. Wright deployed the dramatic chiaroscuro effect pioneered by Caravaggio in his religious themed paintings for the Enlightenment interests of science, philosophy, natural history in domestic settings. Joseph Wright made the Enlightenment literal with his inky black and warm, textured light illuminating the big and small wonders of the Age of Reason, and his works were immediately popular, reproduced as large-scale prints and widely sold.

Wright’s engaged the scientific approach in his method as well as his subjects. His niece explained his inventive technique for creating nocturnal scenes:

“His mechanical genius… enabled him to construct an apparatus for painting candlelight pieces and effects of fire-light. It consisted of a framework of wood resembling a large folding screen, which reached the top of the room, the two ends being placed against a wall, which formed two sides of the enclosure. Each fold was divided into compartments, forming a framework covered with black paper, and opening with hinges, so that when the object he was painting from was placed within the proper light, the artist could view it from various points from without.”

He made the canvas itself something of an scientific experiment, layering metal leaf underneath the focal lit area of the painting, in this case the bladder. This was a technique Wright invented to use the reflective properties of the metal to boost the shine of the faux candlelight through the layers of paint.

When another candlelight picture, An Academy by Lamplight, sold at Sotheby’s in 2017 for just under $10 million (a new record for a piece by Wright), the Arts Council recommended the government impose an export bar in the hope a British institution might raise the large sum needed to keep the painting in the country. None did and the work is now in a private collection somewhere. This time around, the Arts Council let it go without a fight.

“Two Boys with a Bladder is a remarkable discovery that sheds new light on Wright’s work at the most important moment of his career,” said Davide Gasparotto, senior curator of paintings at the Getty Museum. “It is a compelling example from his most important and successful genre, candlelight paintings. Moreover, Wright’s innovative experimentation with the use of metal foil embodies a sense of technical and scientific exploration that typifies the intellectual milieu of the midlands on the eve of the industrial revolution. It is a major addition to the Getty’s holdings of art from the English golden age.”

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Stolen painting found in gallery wall verified as missing Klimt

Saturday, January 18th, 2020

Portrait of a Lady, the painting by Gustav Klimt found last month in the garden wall of the modern art museum it had been stolen from 22 years earlier, has been authenticated. The Ricci Oddi Gallery of Modern Art in Piacenza announced Friday that art experts engaged by the city prosecutor’s office verified that the painting was the original completed by Klimt in 1917.

Since the gardener’s discovery on Dec. 10, the canvas had been kept in a vault of a local branch of Italy’s central bank while experts used infrared radiation and other non-invasive techniques to determine if it was the original “Portrait of a Lady.”

Experts said the painting was in remarkably good condition. One of the few signs of damage was a scratch near the edge of the canvas that may have resulted “from a clumsy effort to remove the portrait from its frame,” said Anna Selleri, an art restorer from the National Gallery in Bologna.

X-rays revealed the earlier work — 1912’s Portrait of a Young Lady — that Klimt had painted over to create the current portrait, making this work his only known double portrait. X-rays also found that Klimt had largely reused the whitish skin of the earlier portrait’s face for the second portrait, keeping the head in the same position and location.

The mystery of who stole Portrait of a Lady in 1997 is no closer to being solved. Police can’t even tell at this point if the painting ever left the gallery grounds or if it’s been whiling away a couple of decades in a niche in the wall behind a metal door. Traces of organic material found on the canvas may lead investigators to new information.

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Edith Wharton’s copy of The Age of Innocence donated to her home

Friday, January 17th, 2020

The only surviving copy of The Age of Innocence known to have belonged to Edith Wharton herself has been donated to the Mount, Wharton’s former home and now a museum dedicated to her. Donated by book collector Dennis Kahn, the edition is a 1921 sixth printing of her most successful novel. It bears her signature and a bookplate from Sainte-Claire-du-Château in Hyères, a restored convent on the French Riviera where Wharton wrote The Age of Innocence between September 1919 and March 1920.

Wharton gave away books, including signed volumes for charities to sell, and her heirs scattered others. More than 1,000 nonfiction volumes that she owned were destroyed during a World War II bombing while stored in London. Another portion of her library, preserved at a castle in Kent, England, was cataloged and assembled by the British bookseller George Ramsden and acquired by the Mount in 2005.

Mr. Kahn’s gift bears the bookplate of a Wisconsin businessman and philanthropist, Norman D. Bassett, who died in 1980 at 89; Mr. Bassett had collected autographed books since he met Mark Twain as a teenager. Nynke Dorhout, the Mount’s librarian, said, “We are still researching the Bassett connection” to flesh out the provenance.

Published in 1920, The Age of Innocence was Wharton’s 12th novel. By then she was already an acclaimed author, but this was her greatest success to date. It was a popular and critical smash, garnering her the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1921. She was the first woman to receive the award, beating Sinclaire Lewis in a twist reversal of the committee’s decision.

This year is the centennial of its publication and the Mount, the home Edith Wharton designed and had built in 1902 in Lenox, Massachusetts, is planning numerous events to celebrate the occasion. The donation of the only known surviving English-language edition of her masterpiece to have belonged to the author will usher in the centennial year with an official unveiling on January 24th, Edith Wharton’s 158th birthday.

Only tenuously connected to the above but I’m taking the opportunity anyway: at the Mount are buried Wharton’s beloved long-haired Chihuahas Mimi and Miza. They were laid to rest on a hillside visible from the library and sitting room. I bring this up solely as a pretext to post this picture of Edith Wharton, stylish as hell in her mutton chop-sleeve seersucker suit, with Mimi and Miza on her lap looking witheringly into the camera, eyes so narrow they put the Frye “not sure if” meme to shame. The picture was taken in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1889-90.

Just for comparison’s sake, and because I can never get enough of Mimi and Miza’s baleful expressions, here they are three years earlier (1886) with Edith’s embezzling, unfaithful, mentally ill husband Edward and his terrier Jules.

Miza and Mimi are said to haunt the Mount. I can’t imagine a more chilling pair of ghosts.

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Remains of US pilot downed on D-Day identified

Monday, January 13th, 2020

The remains of U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. William J. McGowan, 23, of Benson, Minnesota, have been identified 75 years after he was  killed on June 6th, 1944, during the Allied invasion of Normandy. He flew a P-47 Thunderbolt  for the 391st Fighter Squadron, 366th Fighter Group, 9th U.S. Air Force.

McGowan was on a sweep and strafing mission near the city of Saint-Lô when his Thunderbolt was hit by anti-aircraft fire. The plane spun at low altitude, crashing into a field and exploding on impact. Witnesses reported to American Graves Registration Service investigators in 1947 that the crash had been a terrible one. The plane was deeply embedded into the ground and burst into flames so intense that the wreck burned for more than a day. Some of the wreckage from the plane was retrieved during that investigation, but no human remains were found. McGowan’s remains were declared unrecoverable on December 23rd, 1947.

A new investigation was undertaken by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) in 2010. A team surveyed the crash site near the village of Moon-sur-Elle, re-interviewed witnesses and determined that there was more to be found. They recommended further excavation. The excavation took a few years to come to fruition, but in the summer of 2018, a St. Mary’s University Forensic Aviation Archaeological Field School team excavated the wreck site and did indeed recover potential human remains.

They were sent to a DPAA laboratory for testing in the hope they could be identified as those of Lt. McGowan. Thanks to dental records, anthropological analysis and substantiating circumstantial and material evidence, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced last Wednesday that they had been able to positively identify the remains.

McGowan will be buried July 26 at the Normandy American Cemetery in France. […]

McGowan’s name is recorded on the Tablets of the Missing at the Normandy American Cemetery, an American Battle Monuments Commission site in Colleville-sur-Mer, France.

A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.

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Gold ingot from “La Noche Triste” (or thereabouts) identified

Friday, January 10th, 2020

Backstory: Hernán Cortés began his career of exploitation and brutality in the New World in 1504 when he was 18 years old. By the time he was 20, he contributions to the Spanish conquest of Hispaniola and Cuba had garnered him land and indigenous slaves to work it. Indian slaves farmed his land, ranched his cattle and dug in his mines. As his wealth grew, so did his political influence. He received important appointments (he was twice mayor of Santiago) and made friends in high places, including the Governor of New Spain, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar.

Enticed by tales of great masses of gold in the Aztec Empire, Cortés put himself forward to lead the third expedition into the Mexican interior in 1518, and Velázquez granted him the charter in October of that year. Then he changed his mind, revoked the charter and demanded Cortés disband his troops. Cortés ignored him and took off in February 1519. He went so far as to scuttle his own ships once they took Veracruz to eliminate the possibility of retreat.

Cortés reached Tenochtitlán on November 8th, 1519. Moctezuma II welcomed him, gave him much gold but this only whetted his appetite for the fabled treasures of the Aztec Empire. Even as their king made pacifying overtures to the invaders, the Mexica people of Tenochtitlán  were keen to kick the bums out. Cortés had made allies of several enemies of the Aztecs on his way towards the capital and they harbored no delusions about his intent in occupying the city.

To save his skin and keep the city from open revolt, Cortés took Moctezuma hostage, holding him under house arrest in the walled compound the Spanish had built in central Tenochtitlán and turning him into a full-on puppet who was repeatedly made to reassure his people that he had voluntarily arrested himself and that the gods told him to move in with the Spanish and experience the warm embrace of armed guards at all times.

The tenuous relations between the locals and the occupiers got even more hostile after Cortés left Tenochtitlán in June 1520 to fight Spanish troops sent by Velázquez to arrest him for insubordination. Cortés’ second in command, Pedro de Alvarado, stayed behind to keep the city and Moctezuma under Spanish control. He failed in a big way.

When Alvarado massacred Aztec nobles and priests, men, women and children, during the Feast of Toxcatl at the Templo Mayor on May 22nd, 1520, the city erupted. Moctezuma had specifically asked Alvarado for permission to hold the festival and he’d allowed it. Alvarado got information from two nobles and a priest that the Aztecs were planning an attack, so he struck preemptively and massacred unarmed people while they were dancing and singing. That’s what he told Cortés later, at any rate. Bartolome de las Casas said his real motivation was to steal all the gold the Aztecs would be wearing for the ceremony.

When Cortés returned to Tenochtitlán after defeating Pánfilo de Narváez, the guy sent to arrest him, the Mexica had crowned a new king and were in active revolt against the Spanish. With the city raging in battle and flames, Moctezuma was ordered to appeal to his former subjects to end the fighting and let Cortés, 1000 or so Spanish troops and 2,000 allied Tlaxcalan warriors, leave the city. The appeal failed, and Moctezuma II was killed. The Spanish said the Mexica did it by stoning him to death or showering arrows at him from the street. (See panel 4 from the left of this biombo.) Nahuatl sources say the Spanish killed him from within the compound.

The next day, June 30th, Cortés decided Tenochtitlán was way too hot for him and decided to make a break for the safety of Tlaxcala. He melted down all the Aztec gold he could get his hands on into ingots for easier transport, and fled in the dark of night. Cortés’ soldier and chronicler Bernal Díaz del Castillo, wrote that Cortés ordered “eight lame or wounded horses and upwards of 80 Tlaxcalans” be assigned to carry the treasure “which had been run into large bars.” The rest of the soldiers, Castillo among them, grabbed as much treasure as they could load and hit the road at midnight.

As Cortés fled over the Tlacopan causeway, one of the many bridges and causeways that led in and out of the island city, the Mexica sounded the alarm and flocked to their canoes to attack the fleeing troops from the water. The Spanish troops so laden with stolen treasure they could barely move were slow-moving targets. The rearguard was slaughted; men fell off the causeway and drowned; the native allies were destroyed; the Spanish troops were reduced to paltry numbers and hardly anybody made it out of there without being wounded. Cortés himself was wounded, as was Alvarado. According to Castillo, when Alvarado reported to Cortés and the 50 or so men that had made it off the causeway onto terra firma that pretty much everyone else and their horses and artillery had been lost, “the tears ran from their eyes.

Cortés bitter, salty tears inspired the name of this debacle, La Noche Triste (the Sad Night). It’s a critical even in the history of the Spanish Conquest of Mexico, but all we know of it comes from historical accounts. Archaeological evidence of a single night is hard to come by. New analysis of a gold ingot discovered 40 years ago may not be connected conclusively to La Noche Triste, but it’s definitely in the very close neighborhood of it.

The bar was originally discovered in 1981 during a construction project some 16ft (5m) underground in downtown Mexico City – which was built on the ruins of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlán – where a canal that would have been used by the fleeing Spaniards was once located.

The bar weighs about 2kg (4.4lb) and is 26.2cm (10.3in) long, 5.4cm wide and 1.4cm thick.

A fluorescent X-ray chemical analysis was able to pinpoint its creation to 1519-20, according to Inah, which coincides with the time Cortés ordered gold objects stolen from an Aztec treasury to be melted down into bars for easier transport to Europe.

The find site on Avenida Hidalgo in the center of the city is along the route Cortés was known to have taken to the Tlacopan causeway and the dimensions of the bar correspond to Castillo’s description of them as “three fingers wide.”

“The gold bar is a unique historical testimony to a transcendent moment in world history,” said archaeologist Leonardo López Luján, who leads excavations at a nearby dig where the Aztecs’ holiest shrine once stood.

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World’s largest medical galleries open at London’s Science Museum

Monday, January 6th, 2020

London’s Science Museum is now home to the world’s largest medical galleries. Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries features interactive exhibits , films and audio recordings of patients and doctors, contemporary art installations and more than 3,000 medical artifacts assembled from the collections of Henry Wellcome and the Science Museum Group.

Among them are a panoply of memento mori pieces from different times and places, one of the first stethoscopes, a wooden tube made by French doctor René Laennec around 1820, the prototype MRI made in the early 1970s and a scale model of a hospital so awesome that it bears on its architecturally sound frame the entire responsibility for this post.

Made in 1932 to publicize King Edward’s Hospital Fund for London, an organization founded by the future King Edward VII to raise money for London’s voluntary hospitals which provided free medical care to the poor, the miniature hospital was made to 1/16 scale and is meticulously detailed.

The board room has sycamore paneling. More than 13,000 tiles were made to line its floors and walls, some of them painted with cheerful scenes for the pediatric ward. Wee doctors, nurses and patients, all of them different, all of them realistically posed and accessorized. It even has a working elevator! To operate it, you had to drop a coin in the box and press the button. A sign enjoys admirers in emphatic caps and periods “PLEASE. TAKE. LIFT EITHER UP – OR DOWN. ONCE. ONLY. PLEASE. DO. NOT. USE. AS. A. TOY.” It is an absolute wonderland of miniaturization and medical history.

Queen Mary was so enchanted by it that she donated her lace handkerchiefs for use as bedspreads for the tiny patients. Alas, the royal hankies are no longer extant in the model. In January of 1933, the Prince of Wales, who three years later would become King Edward VIII for a minute before his infamous abdication, launched a national tour of the model. The miniature hospital traveled the country, raising money for the charity and teaching the public about the workings of a modern hospital. It was hugely popular. Thousands of people went to see it during the tour and contributed to the funding of London’s free hospitals.

Tiled room in hospital. Science Museum Group Collection © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum. Room in the miniature hospital, maybe a laundry facility to sterilize the linens? Science Museum Group Collection © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum.

Patient takes the elevator. Science Museum Group Collection © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum.

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Napoleon’s vision for a new imperial Rome

Saturday, January 4th, 2020

Napoleon’s forces occupied Rome twice. The first time was in February 1798 when General Louis Alexandre Berthier invaded the Papal States and Rome, for the first time since antiquity, was declared a republic, one of multiple “sister republics” established by Revolutionary France under the aegis of the Directory. The republic lasted barely a year (the Directory would follow it into the grave before 1799 was out) before the Kingdom of Naples invaded the city and reestablished the Papal States. On February 2nd, 1808, the French army under General Alexandre de Miollis (who also fought in the American Revolutionary War) took Rome again. He remained as governor of the former Papal States until Napoleon’s exile to Elba in 1814.

Between the first and second French occupation of Rome, Napoleon had gone from General to First Consul to Emperor and was at the apex of his career in conquest. On May 16th, 1809, he promulgated an imperial decree declaring the annexation of the Papal States to the French Empire. Rome was declared “a free and imperial city.” On Feburary 17th, 1810, Napoleon declared Rome the second city of the empire, subject to receive special privileges determined by the emperor himself. Any future imperial prince would receive the title and honors of “King of Rome.” A year later Napoleon’s wife Marie Louise of Austria gave birth to Napoléon-François-Joseph-Charles Bonaparte and the first King of Rome since Tarquin the Proud came into his title.

The February 17th decree also committed to maintaining Rome’s ancient monuments at the empire’s expense, and a special fund was created to support archaeological excavations, restorations and “embellishments of Rome.” The Forum was excavated and cleared, remains like what was then believed to be the Temple of Jupiter Tonans (the Thunderer) but is in fact the temple of the deified emperors Vespasian and Titus were liberated from the soil encasing 2/3rds of their height. Excavations at the Colosseum revealed for the first time its elaborate underground structures whose purpose was subject of great controversy and heated debate between architects, antiquarians, archaeologists and historians. Later homes and religious buildings squashed up against Trajan’s Column were Trajan’s Column to allow it to stand out. The Basilica Ulpia was rediscovered at the same time.

The Napoleonic administration wasn’t just about reviving Rome’s ancient splendors. There were plans for the emperor and the King of Rome to visit the city and they wanted to welcome them into a modern imperial capital with wide boulevards, green spaces and grand buildings. Prominent Roman architects like Giuseppe Valadier and Giuseppe Camporese and French ones like  Louis-Martin Berthault and Guy de Gisors were commissioned to design urban renewal projects — parks, bridges, new monuments, securing the banks of the Tiber to prevent flooding — and just outside of the city, new cemeteries to comply with the Napoleon’s 1804  edict prohibiting burials within city walls.

None of these plans came to fruition before the fall of Napoleon in 1814. Sketches, plans and watercolors are all that remains of the emperor’s new Rome. Very few of them have been studied. Most of them have never been published. Now more than 50 works from the collections of Rome’s Napoleonic Museum and the Museum of Rome at Palazzo Braschi have gone on display at the Napoleonic Museum.

Waiting for the Emperor: Monuments Archaeology and Urbanism in the Rome of Napoleon 1809-1814, looks at city as it was in the age of Napoleon, the exhuberant celebrations in the city for the birth of the King of Rome, archaeological digs and monumental projects (statues, arches of triumph, bridges) to create a modern imperial Rome inspired by the ancient one.

I’m intrigued by this might-have-been Napoleonic plan for the Tiber.

After a massive flood on December 28th, 1870, when the river’s water rose more than 56 feet (17.22 meters) above the banks, made the new capital of a fully unified Italy a stinky, soggy muckhole just in time for the visit of the first king of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II, the government built stone embankments 59 feet (18 meters) high. They largely solved the flooding problem, but they drastically altered the city’s relationship with its river, instantly transmuting it from the beating heart of the community to a forbidding, disconnected environment, and not a little scary.

The exhibition runs through May 31st, 2020.

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Headless torso identified as 1916 axe-murderer

Friday, January 3rd, 2020

A torso and scattered remains found in an Idaho cave in 1979 has been identified as Joseph Henry Loveless, bootlegger, counterfeiter and murderer who escaped from jail in 1916 and was never seen again.

As reported in the May 12, 1916, edition of The Idaho Republican, the butchered remains of Mrs. Charles Smith were discovered the morning of May 6th, “the head hacked to pieces with an axe” in a tent outside Dubois. The bloody weapon was found by her side. Her husband was immediately suspected.

He something of a drifter, doing odd jobs around the Dubois railroads. In the press he was described as about 40 years old, 5’10”, weighing about 180 lbs. The only distinguishing feature mentioned was actually the lack of one: he apparently had no eyebrows.

He was captured on May 7th and held in St. Anthony, Idaho, charged with murder. He claimed that her former husband had killed her and that he was heading north for whiskey that his wife would then sell in Dubois. He told other tall tales as well, and pinpointing his real name and the nature of their relationship proved troublesome. After the Charles Smith alias fell by the wayside, he was variously identified as Walter Cairins and Water Curran. Then the woman he’d said was his wife was identified as Mrs. Agnes Loveless, wife of Henry Loveless, and therefore his common-law wife at best.

Finally his identity was conclusively determined by his son. He was Joseph Henry Loveless, born to Mormon settlers in Utah in 1870. He would become a career criminal, making a living counterfeiting money and running liquor through Idaho’s dry counties. He was also suspected of having murdered rancher Joseph C. Smith in Pebble, Idaho, for money the year before his wife’s murder.

Loveless had been arrested numerous times, and kept a saw in his shoe to break out of jails. In fact, when his son identified him to the authorities, he warned them that his father would escape jail. He broke out of St. Anthony jail on May 18th, and that was the last anyone heard of him.

In 1979, a family looking for arrowheads in a cave found a torso wrapped in burlap. In 1991, more body parts — a hand, an arm, two legs –were found in the same cave. The arm and legs were also wrapped in the same burlap.

Over the years, attempts by law enforcement and researchers to identify the remains came up short. All they were able to conclude was that the man had been white with reddish-brown hair and around 40 years old.

Then in 2019, the sheriff’s office asked for help from the DNA Doe Project, a nonprofit that uses the latest DNA technology to identify remains.

Within four months, the mystery was solved. The DNA Doe Project obtained a detailed DNA sequence from a lab in Texas, built a genealogical tree and located a living grandson of Loveless whose DNA matched perfectly.

“It’s blown everyone’s minds,” forensic genealogist Lee Bingham Redgrave said at a news conference Tuesday. “The really cool thing, though, is that his ‘wanted’ poster from his last escape is described as wearing the same clothing that he was found in, so that leads us to put his death date at likely 1916.”

His head is still missing, which may be a clue to the motivation for his murder. He had chopped his wife’s head off, and shortly thereafter someone chopped off his. A little frontier justice, perhaps?

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U-M library acquires rare Native American photo collection

Thursday, January 2nd, 2020

The University of Michigan’s William L. Clements Library has acquired a collection of more than 1,000 rare Native American photographs. The photographs represent 80 indigenous groups and include stereographic images, cartes de visites and government-sponsored portraits. Many of them have never been published before, and even the ones that have are exceptional versions. A picture of Geronimo with members of family shortly before their surrender to the US Army in 1886, for example, was printed straight from the original negative.

The collection was acquired from Richard Pohrt ,Jr., an art dealer whose father, Michigan-born Richard Pohrt had begun collecting Native American artifacts while still a teenager, eventually amassing one of the largest known private collections which he exhibited in his own small museum in Cross Village, Michigan. As a young man, the senior Pohrt had worked for years on the Fort Belknap reservation and struck up friendships with local people who gifted him with artifacts and oral histories that Pohrt documented assiduously. His son followed in his footsteps and has been collecting Native American objects and photographs for 40 years. The photographs newly acquired by the Clements Library are also exceptionally well-labelled, a rarity in Native American history.

Most of them date to between 1860 and 1920, a period of enormous dislocation and devastation to the country’s indigenous peoples as the 1848 California Gold Rush launched an influx of settlers in the west that only picked up speed after the Civil War. Native Americans were forced onto reservations and fought against the US military for decades in a sequence of wars of rebellions that came to a final end only with the Apache Wars in 1924.

According to Clayton Lewis, curator of graphics material at the Clements, this era also coincides with many of the darkest phases of Native American history, especially in the West.

“The violence, impoverishment, disempowerment and forced cultural assimilation related to United States Indian removal policies and the establishment of reservations and boarding schools are among the major themes represented by these photographs,” he said. “However, the cultural complexity of the communities, the quality of the material culture, the dignity and resilience of leaders, and aspects of rituals and everyday life are also well documented in the Pohrt Collection.” […]

Lewis says that while they are excited about the new acquisition, they are also aware of many of the issues related to the access and display of the culturally sensitive images, which is why they have consulted with several Native American scholars and cultural representatives, as well as the U-M’s Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act representative.

“This collection is already so extraordinarily rich because of all of the information that comes with it—names, times, dates and places where the photos were taken—as well as Richard’s expertise in Native American art and material culture,” he said. “The advisers that we’ve been working with are providing even more information and guidance about their context, which will make it a one-of-a-kind resource for both scholars and for Native American people looking to reconnect with their past.”

Reconnecting with their past has even greater significance for Native Americans, not only because so many of their traditions were deliberately eradicated, but because Federal recognition laws require that tribes prove they have been a continuous community without gaps. That’s a damned high bar for the US government to set considering it worked tirelessly since literally the first days of its existence to strip Native Americans of their ancestral lands, cultural identities, familial and tribal bonds. So when Eric Hemenway, director of archives and records for the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians who is working with the Clements Library researchers on interpretation and documentation of the photographs, found a picture of his ancestor Viola Assinaway, it wasn’t just a meaningful and moving encounter with his family history, but visual evidence of his tribe’s continuous existence and his place in it.

The collection will be digitized to give scholars and the general public access to these rare documents. Culturally sensitive images, such as photographs of sacred ceremonies, will not be published online, although some will likely be made available in person at the library.

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