Archive for the ‘Modern(ish)’ Category

Ginger Churchill goes to hell on Austrian church ceiling

Sunday, January 3rd, 2016

On the ceiling of the Three Kings’ church in Hittisau, western Austria, is a large scale painting of The Last Judgement. That is not unusual. What is unusual is that one of the figures depicted going to hell is Winston Churchill in a red wig.

The Roman Catholic parish church of Hittisau was built in 1842, funded by a bequest from priest Josef Schnell who stipulated in his will that construction on the new church would have to begin within five years of his death or no dice. Schnell died in 1838, so they just made it in under the wire. The Three Kings’ church was completed in 1845. In 1850, artist Josef Bucher made three altarpieces to adorn the high altar, but other than that the interior decoration was quite spare.

When Father Josef Maisburger was assigned to the parish church in 1934, he wanted to gussy it up a little. In 1936 he contacted well-known Munich artist Waldemar Kolmsperger the Younger to explore the idea of painting a mural on the ceiling. Waldemar Kolmsperger the Younger followed in the footsteps of his father Waldemar Kolmsperger the Elder (1852-1945) whose Neo-Baroque extravaganzas earned him the title of the “last Baroque painter.” The younger Kolmsperger specialized in church decoration, a signature of the elder, and worked in a style reminiscent of the Baroque flourishes that had made his father famous. A professor of the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, the son of a famous artist and a leading church painter in his own time, Kolmsperger the Younger didn’t come cheap. His final price was too high for a small village church budget, so Maisburger packed his dreams away for a rainy day.

That rainy day came in 1940. Now Austria and Germany were the same country, and it was a country at war. New church mural commissions were few and far between and this time when Maisburger reached out to Kolmsperger, his fee had dropped enough to make him affordable for the Three King’s church. The linked article says Kolmsperger was motivated to accept this small-potatoes gig in a tiny village in rural Austria in part because he feared conscription, but he was born in 1881 and I seriously doubt 60-year-old men were in fear of the draft, not in 1940 at any rate. It was at the end of the war when old men and young boys were dragged into service.

As the Battle of Britian raged in the late summer and fall of 1940, Waldemar Kolmsperger began work on the Apotheosis of Christ in Heaven and Hell. He worked behind a white sheet so people didn’t see the painting until after it was completed in 1941. When the work was finally revealed to the public, the people of Hittisau were horrified to find that Kolmsperger had not only flipped the entire village the bird, but he had pulled a Dante and put a living political figure in hell.

Hans Weiss said: “The fresco did not include on one side heaven and hell on the other, apparently the artist disliked the area so much, he decided to paint two hells.

“Secondly, there was quite noticeably a picture of Winston Churchill right at the heart of the hill where Judgement Day was being carried out, showing him carrying a huge bag of money which represented his ill-gotten gains for his treacherous behaviour, and containing the writing “100,000 pounds”.

“Despite the protests of locals the artist refused to change it, and there was a huge row that went right up to the bishop. Locals were convinced that once bomber command found out about the insult, they would deliberately target the church in order to eradicate it.

“The Bishop apparently agreed and he eventually ordered the artist to disguise Churchill by giving him a red wig, and to change the word pounds to gold.”

So Kolmsperger grudgingly made the changes, plopping a ginger Moe wig on Churchill’s head so instead of looking like a bomb-baiting Winston Churchill, he looked like a bomb-baiting Winston Churchill in a ginger Moe wig. He wasn’t happy about it, though, and apparently plotted revenge. His plan was to add a few of the locals to the hellscape, and since he’d already put a couple of topless ladies in the mural who were eerily similar to women from the village who Kolmsperger was suspected of having bedded, nobody put it past him. The villagers are said to have chased him out of town before he could make his final alteration.

18th c. bridge collapses in northern England floods

Friday, January 1st, 2016

Northern England has suffered massive flooding over the past weeks. Thousands of people have been evacuated from small towns and big cities like York and Manchester. One of the small towns, Tadcaster, 10 miles southwest of York, has lost a large section of a historic stone bridge to the flood waters. Bystanders captured dramatic footage of the moment of collapse.

The bridge was closed to foot and vehicular traffic after the River Wharfe began to flood on December 26th due to fears that the rising waters had caused structural damage. Obviously that was a wise precaution because on December 29th the bridge started coming down. The collapse of the bridge formed a dangerous wave — you can see it in the video — and authorities asked all residents in the area to evacuation immediately. Also, gas pipes threaded along the bridge were exposed in the collapse. Witnesses and journalists watching the events smelled a strong smell of gas right after the stones fell down, so an area of 150 feet around the bridge was cordoned off to deal securely with the gas leak. Residents were allowed to return to their homes the next day.

The Tadcaster Bridge, also known as the Wharfe Bridge, was built around 1700 in the same location as an earlier bridge built around 1200 of stones purloined from Tadcaster Castle. Its seven bays are made of Magnesian Limestone, a local stone that has been quarried in the area since Roman times (Tadcaster was called Calcaria back then, the Latin word for lime) and is still quarried today. It is Grade II listed as a structure of significant architectural or historic interest. The bridge is the main road connecting to halves of the town. Only one bridge remains now — a modern one for the A64 bypass — and it’s on the other side of town so locals have to go six miles, 12 roundtrip, out of their way to cross Tadcaster town center.

Environment Secretary Liz Truss visited the town and assured residents that getting the bridge up and running again was a “national priority.” It better be, because the A64 around Tadcaster is slated to be shut down for resurfacing in 10 days which would leave the town entirely bisected. (Pedestrians can use the Tadcaster Viaduct, a 19th century railway bridge just north of town.)

And that was just the aftermath of Storm Eva. Frank is on the way now.

Civil War-era cedar log “corduroy road” found in Virgina

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

A county construction crew in Fairfax County, Virginia, has unearthed a section of a rare Civil War-era cedar log highway. A crew from the Fairfax County Utilities Design and Construction Division (UDCD) was digging for a new road shoulder and sidewalk on Ox Road when workers found a layer of old macadam (a small stone aggregate road surface invented by John MacAdam in the 1820s). Beneath it was a line of cedar logs laid next to each other, a design known as a corduroy road because of its resemblance to the striated fabric. Ken Atkins, senior inspector for the UDCD and avid history buff, made sure the macadam stones were removed very carefully so as not to disturb the wood underneath.

Atkins stopped excavation and alerted UDCD engineer Mohamed Kadasi who called the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Cultural Resource Management and Protection Branch (CRMPB). They sent archaeologists to assess the site who confirmed that Mr. Atkins’ instincts were spot-on. His cautious, thoughtful approach saved a very rare surviving historic Civil War road surface. Logs were a common road surface at the time, especially during the war when the constant tramping of Union and Confederate soldiers turned dirt roads into sucking mud pits.

The CRMPB documented the site, taking photographs and planning a more thorough future recording of the historic road. When they were done for the day, Atkins covered the excavated trench with a steel plate to protect the cedar logs and keep members of the public from falling into the pit.

Then came the bureaucracy. While the county is using the land for public works, it actually belongs to the state of Virginia and is being worked under the aegis of an easement held by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). Therefore before a formal excavation of the cedar road could be done, the CRMPB needed a permit from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Usually that sort of thing can drag on for weeks, but everyone pulled together. Within 48 hours, the CRMPB had drawn up a work plan and submitted the permit application, the VDOT had agreed to the plan and signed the permit.

Armed with the permit, the CRMPB team used a total station, one of those surveyor’s tools that looks like a big yellow plastic camera on a tripod, to record the cedar log road in 3D. They also got a favor from the Fairfax County Geographic Information System (GIS) department which has been using high definition LiDAR data to create a detailed topographic map of the county. The CRMPB asked them to process the data from the area around the road find and it returned evidence of a Civil War circular fort that once protected the roadway.

CRMPB archaeologists recorded every log and its exact location, numbered them and then attached two tags with the assigned number to each end of the log. Then they cut through them. I know it sounds horrible and it is, but the UDCD had a drainage pipe to install, and the decision was made that it was better for historical accuracy and preservation to cut the logs but leave them in situ rather than pull them out. Once the pipe was in place, the trench was backfilled up to the cedar log road. The cut ends of the logs were put back in their original places and then the trench was backfilled again, this time up to the modern ground level.

While the road is now reburied and will likely remain so in perpetuity, thanks to the documentation and GIS data, the CRMPB hopes to digitally reconstruct the area as it was during the Civil War.

Jim Lewis, a member of the executive committee of the Bull Run Civil War Round Table, said a corduroy road from the Occoquan River to the Fairfax courthouse was a major pathway in the war.

The logs that the county workers found are almost certainly part of the first section of that road, from the courthouse to Fairfax Station, which was built in 1862, Lewis said. “Almost certainly” because Lewis pointed out that a specific dating process hasn’t been used to verify that the wood is from the Civil War and not from a later incarnation of Ox Road.

If the corduroy road does date to the Civil War, the historian said, it would have been traveled by Union Gen. Joseph Hooker, Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart and other famous generals.

The road would have been a link to get supplies from the railroad at Fairfax Station to the Fairfax courthouse, a significant Union supply depot, he said.

Most other corduroy roads have long rotted away, Lewis said, which makes the Fairfax discovery substantial.

“To find a corduroy road intact is spectacular,” he said.

Austin Reed’s prison memoir published

Monday, December 28th, 2015

The earliest known prison memoir by an African American author will be available for sale next month. The original manuscript was discovered by a rare books dealer at an estate sale in Rochester, New York, a few years ago and acquired by Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library in 2009. Yale English professor Caleb Smith, Beinecke curators and genealogical researcher Christine McKay were able to identify the author as Austin Reed, a free African American from Rochester who had spent much of life in penal institutions.

Reed was six years old when his father died. In the wake of the loss, he began to get into trouble, ditching school and going out at all hours. His exasperated mother decided that it was better for him to live in the country, far from the temptations and evils of the city, where, she hoped, he might be turned from his self-destructive path. She indentured him to the Ladd family to work on their farm in Avon, New York. Alas, like a latter-day Oedipus, Reed’s mother only doomed him to the fate she had so fervently wished to avert. When the farmer tied the boy up “like a slave” and beat him badly, Reed and two other child servants set fire to his home in revenge.

Reed was convicted of arson in September of 1833 and was sentenced to serve 10 years at the New York House of Refuge, the first juvenile reformatory in the United States. He was 10 years old. The facility opened in 1825 in a former US arsenal in the Bowery. The freshman class consisted of six boys and three girls. A decade later when Reed was there it would house 1,600 children. It was dedicated to teaching its charges skills and professions with the laudable aim of rehabilitation, but the disciple was brutal and the workload extreme.

From the beginning Austin Reed was rebellious and fought against prison authorities. His juvie records are replete with comments from the wardens describing him as “a deep knowing impudent brazen faced boy” and “a most notorious liar.” He made multiple attempts to escape, at least one of which was successful if only for a short time. Still, the troubled boy found some support there, especially from superintendents Samuel Wood, an abolitionist who saw to it that Reed learned how to read and write. His successor Mr. Terry took a different approach, inflicting harsh punishments and whipping Reed within an inch of life.

He left the House of Refuge in 1839, only to quickly fall foul of the law again. Now an adult, he served the next 20 years in the notorious Auburn Prison, the oldest prison in the country still in use today. Auburn also had a stated aim of rehabilitation, but its methods were draconian: perpetual solitary confinement, violent whippings with cat-o-nine-tails, a form of waterboarding called the “shower bath,” being made to carry the “yoke,” a 40-pound bar of iron chained to the back of the prisoner’s neck and both hands.

Reed was in his mid-30s when he completed the book in 1858. He always intended his memoir to be published and read by a wide audience. He wrote it with an audience mind, often addressing the reader. His titles make it clear that he saw sharing his story as a means to expose the many cruelties he’d encountered in his lifetime of dealings with the criminal justice system. His original title, in the prolix run-on format so popular in the 19th century, was: The life and adventures of Rob Reed, his fifteen years imprisonment with the mysteries and miseries of Auburn Prison with the rules and regulations of the prison unmasked. The troubles and sorrows of the prisoner from the time he enters the prison untill he is discharged. In the notebook, that title is pasted over with a revised version: The Life and the adventures of a Haunted convict or the inmate of a gloomy prison with the mysteries and miseries of the New York House of Reffuge and Auburn Prison unmasked with the rules and regulations of Auburn Prison from 1840 up to the present time and the different modes of punishment.

Caleb Smith has whittled that revised title down to a more manageable The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict and now, 150 years after Austin Reed first set out to tell the world about the hardships he endured, his plans have finally come to fruition. The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict is published by Random House and can be pre-ordered at Amazon now for delivery on January 26th.

Alexander Hamilton powder horn for sale

Sunday, December 27th, 2015

A powder horn engraved with Alexander Hamilton’s name that most likely belonged to the Founding Father himself is going up for auction next month. The seller is dentist Dr. Warren Richman who bought it from a patient in 1990. He has spent decades documenting the artifact, trying to find conclusive evidence that it belonged to the man whose name is on it not once but twice. An arms appraiser, a forensic documents expert and Alexander Hamilton’s great great great great great grandson Douglas Hamilton all agree that it’s the real deal. They believe he carried gun powder in it when serving under General George Washington during the Revolutionary War and that the carving was done by Hamilton’s own hand.

Born in Charlestown, the capital of the island of Nevis in the British West Indies, the illegitimate son of Rachel Faucette Lavien, an unhappily married woman who had fled her husband, and James Hamilton, one of many lesser sons of British nobility who had left home to seek his fortune in the Americas, Alexander was abandoned by his father and two years later lost his mother to fever when he was 11 or 13 years old. (His year of birth is uncertain, either 1755 or 1757). Young Alexander was left with nothing but a couple of dozen books, so he went to work as a clerk for an American shipping company. The future Secretary of the Treasure, founder of the Bank of New York and engineer of a new country’s monetary system was so good at the business that he was left in charge of the firm for five months in 1771 while still a teenager.

Alexander Hamilton had other unmistakable gifts as well. He wrote an account of a hurricane published in the Royal Danish American Gazette that so impressed community leaders they raised money to send him to the North American colonies to advance his education. Hamilton arrived in New Jersey in 1772 and, after a year of college preparatory studies, enrolled at King’s College (modern-day Columbia University) in New York City in the fall of 1773.

He quickly became involved in the hot political topic of the era and earned a reputation as a lucid and effective advocate for the patriot cause. When armed conflict broke out between the British Army and colonials at the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, Hamilton volunteered for the New York militia. This is the fulfillment of a long-hold wish expressed in a letter to his friend Edward Stevens when Hamilton was just 14 years old and clerking for food:

To confess my weakness, Ned, my ambition is so prevalent that I disdain the groveling conditions of a clerk to which my fortune condemns me. I would willingly risk my life, though not my character, to exalt my station. My folly makes me ashamed, yet Neddy, we know that such schemes can triumph when the schemer is resolute. Oh, how I wish there was a war!

That deep drive to rise up in the world, to make something of himself, to fight in a war which affords men of talent and bravery the chance at field promotions, medals and fame explains the alacrity with which he joined the Revolutionary cause. It also explains some of the engraving on the powder horn.

Alexander’s father James was the fourth son of Scottish nobleman Alexander Hamilton of Grange, and the younger Alexander proved keen to affirm that connection throughout his life. He wanted to have his never-legitimized heritage publicly recognized. He put the coat of arms and crest of the Grange branch of the Hamiltons on his personalized bookplates. He named his house in New York The Grange after the family seat.

The powder horn has multiple elements of the arms of the Hamiltons of Grange. There’s a unicorn — the symbol of Scotland also seen in several Hamilton crests — with a five-petaled flower on its hip. The more stylized, geometric version of a five-petaled flower, the cinquefoil, is on the Grange coat of arms. A roundel engraved on the horn has that formal version of the cinquefoil. It’s too faded to be sure, but it looks like it’s not just a plain cinquefoil, but a cinquefoil ermine (dotted with black shapes that represent the black-tipped tail of the winter stoat). The Hamilton of Grange arms use cinquefoil ermine.

Other engravings aren’t necessarily specific to the Hamilton family but are very much in keeping with Alexander’s yearning to make it big. There’s an engraving of a large house with a large enclosed property and several forking streams, symbolizing landed wealth. Another roundel holds a group of fasces, the tied bundle of wooden rods that in Ancient Rome represented magisterial authority.

The year engraved on it is 1773, the year Hamilton went to King’s College. Carving your name and symbols on a power horn in anticipation of a war that hasn’t started yet sounds like a studenty thing to do, especially a student who had openly yearned for war when he was barely into his teens.

One engraved phrase is odd, though. It reads: “First When When [sic] Came To Ohio.” The auction catalogue says it’s a “reference to American settlement,” which okay, but really? Why? Why wouldn’t it be “First When Came To New Jersey” or “First When Came To New York”? The extra word doesn’t bother me — he made other mistakes in the carving, like not leaving enough room for the final r on the large engraved “Alexander.” Ohio, not one of the 13 colonies, was a British territory until after the war. The first US settlers of Ohio were Revolutionary War veterans who founded the city of Marietta.

Authentic powder horn of Alexander Hamilton or no, it is estimated to sell for $25,000 – $35,000 and the starting bid is $10,000. The auction is on January 11th.

Santa Claus enters the fray on the side of the Union

Friday, December 25th, 2015

The great 19th century political cartoonist Thomas Nast is widely credited with having created the look of Santa Claus as we know him today. Inspired by Clement Moore’s description of the “jolly old elf” in his 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, aka The Night Before Christmas, Nast first depicted Santa in the January 3, 1863, issue of Harper’s Weekly. On the cover was a scene captioned “Santa Claus in Camp” in which Saint Nick brings toys and good cheer to Union soldiers. It seems that Santa, much like Nast himself who was a staunch Republican and abolitionist, had picked a side in the Civil War, and he wasn’t at all subtle about it.

Santa’s blue (of course) coat has white stars on it and his pants have red and white stripes, similar to garb donned by other patriotic icons drawn by Nast like Columbia and Uncle Sam. He has delivered parcels to the soldiers. One finds a sock inside, doubtless a welcome gift in the bleak midwinter after the devastating loss at Fredericksburg which saw more than 12,000 of his comrades killed, wounded or taken captive. A drummer boy in the foreground stares with wide-eyed surprise at the jack-in-the-box that leapt out of his present.

But it’s the toy Santa is holding that is most remarkable. Here’s Harper’s explanation of it:

Santa Claus is entertaining the soldiers by showing them Jeff Davis’ future. He is tying a cord pretty tightly round his neck, and Jeff seems to be kicking very much at such a fate.

Inside the same issue was a more sentimental approach to enlisting Santa in the Union cause. Nast’s two-page cartoon entitled “Christmas Eve” frames two Christmas scenes: a mother looking out the window praying while her two children sleep, and a lonely soldier by a campfire, presumably her husband, looking at a picture of his wife and children. Below them are vignettes of war and fresh graves. Above them Santa Claus brings consolation in the form of presents to the family home and to the front.

By Christmas of 1865, Santa’s wartime support of the Union had softened from stringing up effigy Jefferson Davis with his own hands to presiding over a Christmas pageant starring Ulysses S. Grant as the giant killer from Jack and the Beanstalk. Sure, the decapitated heads of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee, John Bell Hood and Richard Ewell are at Grant’s feet, but it’s just metaphoric playacting and anyway Santa’s involvement is restricted to a wink and an avuncular smile, possibly a touch on the gloating side.

After the war, Nast continued to draw Santa Claus for seasonal issues of the magazine. It was Thomas Nast who introduced the idea that Santa Claus has a toy workshop in the North Pole, although in his vision Santa did all his own labour. “Santa Claus and His Works” was printed in the December 29, 1866, issue of Harper’s. Santa’s address is noted in the border encircling the central vignettes as “Santa Claussville, N.P.” His January 1, 1881, panel of Santa Claus was hugely popular and endlessly reproduced. It became the predominant view of Santa Claus until Coca-Cola commissioned Haddon Sundblom to make them a jolly soda-shilling Santa in 1931.

Suffering from financial troubles, in 1889 Nast published a collection of his Santa cartoons from Harper’s Weekly in a book called Christmas Drawings for the Human Race because “they appeal to the sympathy of no particular religious denomination or political party, but to the universal delight in the happiest of holidays, consecrated by the loftiest associations and endeared by the tenderest domestic traditions.” Santa hanging puppet Jeff Davis is in there, but the overwhelming majority of the drawings are tender post-war confections of children (his own kids were his models) and toys and sleighs on roofs. The day of the partisan Santa was over.

Beethoven composition found in Connecticut home

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

An autograph sketchbook page of a composition by Ludwig van Beethoven discovered in a Greenwich, Connecticut, home has sold at auction for $120,000 including buyer’s premium. The sketchleaf was previously unknown to Beethoven scholars and is a rare intact page to survive the dismemberment and sale of Beethoven’s sketchbooks after his death.

It was found hanging on a wall of a Greenwich woman by Brendan Ryan, an appraiser for Butterscotch Auction Gallery. A music major, composer and Beethoven fan, Ryan immediately recognized Beethoven’s handwriting. To confirm its authenticity and identify the composition, Ryan enlisted his former music history professor and mentor Dr. Carmelo Comberiati of Manhattanville College who had studied Beethoven manuscripts as a Fulbright scholar in Vienna. Comberiati identified the music as the first movement chorus, “Ruhend von seinen Thaten,” of Opus 117 or König Stephan, incidental music commissioned by Emperor Francis I of Austria for a stage production on the occasion of the opening of the new Pest Theater in Hungary. (King Stephen I was the founder of Hungary; hence the subject matter).

Beethoven received the commission in the summer of 1811 while he was taking the waters in the Bohemian spa town of Teplitz. He had fallen ill in the spring, plagued with migraines and a high fever, and went to Teplitz on his doctor’s advice. He was there for six weeks. It took him just two of those weeks to compose the music for König Stephan.

Beethoven’s composition process is beautifully illustrated in the chaotic activity on the page. He first wrote down all his ideas and then streamlined them into the finished work.

An expert on historical musical manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania, Professor Jeffrey Kallberg, said it was an important and exciting discovery.

“Beethoven manuscripts turn up on the auction market with some regularity, but usually they’re known manuscripts. What makes this particularly interesting is this hadn’t garnered any notice — it’s been in this private collection,” said Kallberg, who viewed the piece on-line from his office in Philadelphia. “It’s a new manuscript, or a page from a manuscript, so that’s pretty exciting.”

It also captures quintessential Beethoven.

“He was famous for his sketching, and he sketched copiously. And it’s the archetypical looking Beethoven sketch — he had God-awful handwriting, he was working fast, it has the look of a messy genius.”

Pages from this sketchbook come in a variety of sizes and types because Beethoven made the sketchbook himself by sewing together whatever paper he had lying around with a needle and twine. They are identifiable as part of the same book because they all have the same three stitch holes on the side which is how scholars are able to connect the individual leaves that were sold off and scattered after his death. Four other complete pages from the sketchbook are now in the collection of Beethoven-Haus in Bonn (one, two, three, four). Other known pages survive only as fragments that were cut up by dealers and sold to tourists and fans.

This particular page made its way across the Atlantic Ocean in 1886 when William Künzel of Leipzig, Germany, sold it to Fred M. Steele, a prominent Chicago lawyer and autograph collector. The Steele autograph collection was auctioned off after the death his widow Ella in 1918, but it seems the sketchleaf was sold before that, in around 1915, to the seller’s ancestors in Greenwich. It’s been in the family for a hundred years. The new owner is a leading German antiques dealer, so it looks like the sketchleaf will be heading home.

Hitler really did only have one ball

Saturday, December 19th, 2015

The popular World War II song deriding the testicular constitution of top Nazi officials appears to have hit at least one nail on the head: Hitler really did only have one ball. The song, believed to have been written by a clever propagandist for the British Council in 1939, sung to the tune of the Colonel Bogey March originally put Goering in the first line with the one ball, but soon the two switched places in the verses and the song became a runaway success as a marching song for Allied troops and among school children on bus trips ever since.

The new evidence comes from a recently surfaced medical certificate issued in 1924 by Dr. Josef Brinsteiner, the staff physician of Landsberg Prison in Bavaria where Hitler spent a few happy months after being convicted of treason. On the night of November 8th, 1923, Hitler, his Nazi Party cronies and 600 Sturmabteilung (SA) militia staged an armed takeover of a political rally in a Munich beer hall and attempted to overthrow the government of Bavaria with the overthrow of the Weimar government in Berlin as the ultimate target. Hitler was inspired by Mussolini’s 1922 March on Rome which had successfully installed Fascist rule in Italy, but the putsch was disorganized and came to a swift end when the Bavarian police fired on the marchers at the Munich Odeonsplatz on November 9th. Sixteen people, including four policemen, died.

Hitler was arrested on November 11th and tried three months later for high treason. He was convicted by sympathetic judges and sentenced to five years of the mildest type of imprisonment (no hard labour, long visiting hours, comfy cell) in Landsberg Prison, with the possibility of parole after six months. He was busted smuggling uncensored letters out of the prison, so his parole was slightly delayed. Hitler ended up serving 264 days of that sentence, a productive and apparently fun-filled nine months during which he dictated Mein Kampf to his fellow convict and future Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess.

The doctor’s report was part of a bundle of about 500 records from Landsberg Prison that were sold at auction on July 2nd, 2010, in Fürth, Bavaria. The seller’s father had acquired them in the 1970s at a flea market in Nuremberg. It seems they were stolen from Landsberg by the then-head of the prison in the 1960s. After his death, his estate was sold off at the flea market. There are no doubts as to documents’ authenticity.

They describe an imprisonment virtually indistinguishable from a vacation at a nice B&B with bars on the windows. Every time Hitler had a visitor, the prison kept a record of the visit on a card. There are 330 cards, which means Hitler had quite the busy social schedule for the 264 days he spent at Landsberg. His close friend and supporter Ernst Hanfstaengl (who was half American, btw, and eventually turned coat and informed on his former bestie to Roosevelt) described his visits to Hitler in Landsberg as looking like he had “walked into a delicatessen. There was fruit and there were flowers, wine and other alcoholic beverages, ham, sausage, cake, boxes of chocolates and much more.”

The estimate sale price for the Landsberg records was 25,000 euros ($27,000) but sale was blocked and the papers seized by the Bavarian government after they were quickly classified as nationally valuable archives. They’ve been in the State Archives in Munich ever since, and now Peter Fleischmann, the Head of the Nuremberg State Archives, has published an annotated edition of the papers after five years of study.

Dr. Brinsteiner examined prisoner No. 45 (Hitler, Adolf) on November 12th, 1923, the day after his arrest. He noted in the “Record book for protective custody” that Hitler suffered from “right-sided cryptorchidism,” meaning his right testicle had never descended. Other than that, he was “healthy, strong” and weighed 78 kilograms. There’s no reason to think the good doctor was lying as he, like much of the rest of the prison staff, was a nationalist and Nazi sympathizer.

Hitler’s testicles have been the subject of much speculation over the years. As early as 1943 Dr. Eduard Bloch, Hitler’s Jewish childhood physician who fled to America in 1940, was asked by the US military about the Führer nads. He assured them they were “completely normal.” In 1968, a Russian journalist published a book that included the report of an autopsy done on Hitler’s body by Soviet doctors in the bunker after the fall of Berlin. They claimed his left testicle had not only not descended, but was nowhere to be found up in there. That autopsy report had other errors, however, and the Soviets first insisted that Hitler had escaped with his life so the source is less than reliable.

In 2008, Polish priest and amateur historian Franciszek Pawlar claimed that he had heard from a German army medic that Hitler had lost a testicle from a shrapnel wound suffered at the Battle of the Somme. The Somme rumor had been floating around for years by then, one guy’s hearsay confirmation of it wasn’t exactly a slam dunk. The Landberg medical report, on the other hand, isn’t obscured by time, propaganda, mythology or gossip. It makes no comment on any resemblance to Himmler’s, the size of Goering’s and presence or absence of Goebbels’.

Site of first multi-year European settlement in the U.S. found

Friday, December 18th, 2015

Archaeologists from the University of West Florida have identified the site of the first multi-year settlement in the United States in Pensacola, Florida. The settlement of Santa Maria de Ochuse was established by Don Tristán de Luna y Arellano in August of 1559, six years before Pedro Menéndez founded the St. Augustine colony in and 48 years before the first permanent English colony was founded in Jamestown, Virginia. Luna set sail from Veracruz, Mexico, with 1,500 people — 550 Spanish soldiers, about 200 Aztecs, colonists and African slaves — in 11 ships. The would-be colony was devastated one month after its arrival by a hurricane that sank six ships carrying their much-needed supplies.

Without a significant Native American population in the area able or willing to provide them with food and with the next relief ship coming months later in December, the colonists had to eke out a meager existence as best they could. Documentary research suggests they moved inland to Alabama for six months only to return when what food they were able to accumulate was taken by local Native Americans, but archaeological evidence of the Luna expedition in Alabama has yet to be found. The colony was never able to thrive and only lasted two years. In 1561 the surviving colonists were picked up by Spanish ships and went back to Mexico.

Archaeologists are keeping mum on the exact location of the site to protect it from interference. All they’ll say is that it’s a downtown neighborhood within view of two Pensacola Bay shipwrecks thought to have been part of the Luna expedition. Local historian Tom Garner found the first evidence of the settlement — 16th century Spanish artifacts — on October 2nd of this year. He was driving through the neighborhood in an area that scholars have suspected for decades may have been the site of the Luna settlement when he noticed disturbed ground on a privately owned lot where a house had recently been bulldozed. He stopped to check the spot for any artifacts and immediately noticed a fragment from the rim of a Spanish colonial olive jar and several other pottery fragments. The style of the olive jar, known as middle style, was produced for a range of time including the mid-16th century. Garner alerted University of West Florida Archaeology Institute to his find and they contacted the property owners to arrange further exploration.

On October 23rd, Garner returned to the site and saw the jar rim was still there. He decided to collect all the artifacts he could find on the surface before they were damaged or removed. During this collection he found a fragment of Columbia Plain majolica pottery which cleanly dates to the mid-16th century. Again he alerted the UWF Archaeology Institute to the find and then returned to the site three times over the course of the next week. Garner’s surface collection returned dozens of artifacts, mostly pottery sherds, which he brought to the University of West Florida archaeology lab on October 30th.

The artifacts so impressed UWF archaeology professor Dr. John Worth that he and his team quickly arranged a formal excavation with the permission of property owners. They were given five days, November 6th through 10th, to excavate the half-acre plot before construction of a new house began. The team did 69 shovel tests of the site.

UWF archaeologists recovered numerous sherds of broken 16th century Spanish ceramics found undisturbed beneath the ground surface. They are believed to be pieces of assorted cookware and tableware, including liquid storage containers called olive jars. Small personal and household items were also among the findings – a lead fishing line weight, a copper lacing aglet and wrought iron nail and spike fragments. Additionally, the team recovered beads known to have been traded with Native Americans. These items are consistent with materials previously identified in the shipwrecks offshore in Pensacola Bay.

The discovery of the artifacts is additional evidence that the two Emanuel Point shipwrecks were in fact from Luna’s expedition, anchored offshore and destroyed in that devastating hurricane. The second shipwreck, discovered in 2006, is currently being excavated by UWF archaeologists.

“The shipwrecks have provided a tremendous insight into the nature of the machinery that brought Spain to the New World and how they operated this entire vast empire,” explained Worth. “In terms of understanding who they were after coming to the New World, this kind of archaeology at the terrestrial site will provide us that window.”

Archaeologists hope to continue to explore the neighborhood in the hopes of determining the full extent of the settlement. Its exact size is unknown. Worth believes it will cover multiple city blocks and since it’s in a residential neighborhood, further exploration relies on the permission and goodwill of the residents. UWF archaeologists had a meeting Wednesday with about 100 homeowners to explain the find and its historical significance. They were enthusiastically received and multiple residents have agreed to allow archaeologists access to their property.

If sufficient numbers grant the UWF team access, Worth plans to do a few small-scale investigations in the spring before settling in for a more extensive excavation during the university’s 10-week archaeological field school this summer. If all goes well, he hopes to return every summer for the forseeable future.

Centenarian ham and peanut 3D scanned

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

A 112-year-old ham and 125-year old peanut in the collection of the the Isle of Wight Museum in Smithfield, Virginia, have been 3D scanned by Virginia Commonwealth University anthropology professor Dr. Bernard Means. Means specializes in scanning archaeological artifacts and recreating them with 3D printing for use in the classroom and to give the public something they can touch and explore while learning about the ancient objects. The result is the Virtual Curation Laboratory, a collection of more than 600 3D printed artifacts scanned from originals at Jamestown Rediscovery, Mount Vernon, Montpelier, the State Museum of Pennsylvania, the Virginia Museum of Natural History and many other institutions. Its primary focus is on Native American artifacts, but when the Isle of Wight Museum asked Dr. Means to scan their ham and peanut, he was glad to oblige.

“The ham and the peanut are clearly important to the people of Isle of Wight County, and Virginia as well, and the lab is pleased to help them tell the story,” Means said. “But, I can also use the ham scan and peanut scan to teach my students at VCU.”

In the spring semester, Means and his students will be working on a series of exhibits, and the ham and peanut scans will likely be featured among a larger presentation of the human use of animals and plants. Some of these items, he said, will go on display at the VCU Globe building in the spring.

Officials with the Isle of Wight County Museum may also talk with Means’ students remotely about their museum and why the ham and peanut are important cultural artifacts.

The ham is the crown jewel in the Isle of Wight Museum collection and has achieved national fame in the years since it was first cured and hung from a rafter in one of P.D. Gwaltney Jr.’s packing houses in 1902. P.D. Gwaltney, Jr., founded the pork processing company with his father P.D. Gwaltney, Sr., in 1880 and soon Gwaltney hams became a household name. Junior was instrumental in the passage of the 1926 act of the Virginia General Assembly which defined Smithfield hams as a product raised only in specific parts of Virginia and North Carolina and makes imposter hams liable to fines.

That one 1902 ham was overlooked as the company expanded and became increasingly successful. When it was finally rediscovered in 1922, P.D. Gwaltney, Jr., adopted it as a company mascot and pet. By 1924 Gwaltney had it in an iron safe which he opened daily to show off his prize superannuated ham to visitors and guests. He then had a brass collar inscribed “Gwaltney’s Pet Ham” and a leash made for the ham and took it on the road to conventions and county fairs an example of how effective and safe the Gwaltney curing process was. He insured it against fire and theft for $1,000, upping it to $5,000 in 1932. The ham has been featured in Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” cartoon three times — in 1929, 1932 and 2003 — and gets yearly birthday parties where “Hammy Birthday” is sung by an adoring populace. The museum also has a webcam appropriately named HamCam pointed at Gwaltney’s pet for those who can’t get their ancient ham fix in person.

The Isle of Wight Museum’s greatest star is billed as the world’s oldest cured ham (there’s a Chicago ham 10 years older than the Gwaltney ham hanging in a butcher’s shop window in Oxford, England) and is reputedly still edible. Edible and delectable are not synonymous, obviously. The fat in dry cured meat oxidizes before its tenth birthday taking much of the flavor with it. Then as it diffuses throughout the ham, it gives it a rancid odor and taste. Eventually it gets rock hard and darkens. The oldest commercially available hams are aged for eight years.

Still, theoretically if you discarded enough of the outer layers, there would be a ham nugget in there that could be ingested by humans without killing them, ie, it’s edible. Dr. Means noted that the ham has “a powerful scent that I cannot describe,” which I’m guessing was more on the powerful stench side of the scale than the powerful delicious side.

As for the peanut, it can’t compete with the ham for fame, but it’s older and is tied both to the Smithfield ham tradition and to the Gwaltney family’s personal history. Before getting into the pork business, P.D. Gwaltney, Sr., had been in the peanut business in Tidewater, Virginia. He built the first industrial peanut cleaning plants and was known as the Peanut King before Amedeo Obici took the crown with his Planters Peanut Company in the early 20th century. Processing peanuts and processing hams were connected businesses at the time. In fact, when the 1926 act was passed, one of the definitions of a Smithfield ham was that the hogs were peanut-fed. This requirement was eliminated in 1966.

The Isle of Wight Museum plans to add the 3D scans to its website, giving viewers a different view of the famed pork product than what they can see through the HamCam. It may even use the scans to create a 3D printed ham for visitors to interact with since the original is kept under glass for preservation purposes.




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