Archive for April, 2011

Main street of Herculaneum reopened

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

The Decumanus Maximus, the main street bisecting the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum, has been closed to the general public for over 20 years while it received much-needed maintenance. Now Herculaneum’s largest thoroughfare has finally been reopened so visitors can enjoy a stroll down its impressively preserved length.

“Most of Herculaneum as experienced by tourists consists of little narrow streets where people could virtually lean across from balcony to balcony and touch hands,” [archaeologist Andrew] Wallace-Hadrill said. “But the Decumanus Maximus is a big public space. It’s impressive.”

Herculaneum is west of Vesuvius, on the other side of the volcano from its more famous cousin, Pompeii. It was a smaller, wealthier town and it appears that most of its residents were able to evacuate before the pyroclastic surges from the August 24th eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. buried the city in what would eventually cool down into 50 to 60 feet of volcanic tuff rock. The thick coating would seal the town airtight and allow for the incredibly rare survival of organic materials like wood and food.

That massive cap of rock would also make treasure-hunting and destructive early excavation more of a challenge, so even after it was rediscovered by workers digging a well in 1709, most of it remained unexposed to the elements. The part that was excavated, however, was in atrocious condition as recently as 2001. Most of it was closed to tourism due to safety reasons. Much like the problems Pompeii is facing today, Herculaneum was in need of constant restoration and maintenance, much of it not the glamorous kind of work that gets the kind of funding it needs.

In 2001 the Herculaneum Conservation Project (HCP) stepped up to the plate. Funded by David W. Packard, president of the Packard Humanities Institute, the HCP works with the State Superintendence for Archaeological Heritage of Naples and Pompeii with help from the British School at Rome to do all the grunt work necessary to keep the ancient site in stable condition.

The project has consolidated the escarpment that towers over the town, stabilised all but a handful of the ancient buildings, repaired most of the existing roofing and reinstated the original Roman drainage system, providing an outlet for water that once accumulated on the site and threatened to destroy it.

The contrast with developments at Pompeii, where part of a 2,000 year-old house fell down last year, could scarcely be starker.

According to project director Wallace-Hadrill, the focus on regular, unglamorous maintenance, cooperation with the state ministry and implementing “low-cost, sustainable, practical solutions” has not only been extremely effective at stabilizing the site, but has also revealed splashy finds like a richly decorated ceiling, all the Roman craftsmanship still intact.

Decumanus Maximus at Herculaneum

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Owner of Hackney Double Eagles claims the hoard

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Coins from the Hackney Hoard and the find jarLast fall, Dr. Andrew Scott Reid, the coroner for Inner North London, opened a treasure inquest over the hoard of 80 gold American $20 coins known as Double Eagles found buried in a Hackney backyard. Since the find was less than 300 years old, the coroner gave any potential owners until this spring to come forward, in which case the coins would be returned to them. If no valid ownership claims appeared, then the find would become property of the Crown and the finders would get paid fair market value by whichever museum wanted to keep the hoard.

Because of the publicity given to the find when the inquest was opened and the coins went on display at the British Museum, a member of the public pointed the coroner’s office to an article in The Times dated March 13, 1952 which described a very similar find of American gold Double Eagles at the same property in Hackney. The coroner declared that those coins were not treasure because the owner was known, a Mr. Martin Sulzbacher, who had lived on that property over a decade earlier. As was the law at the time, Mr. Sulzbacher did not get his coins back, but he was reimbursed for their value.

Thanks to that huge tip, the coroner’s office, the British Museum and the Museum of London were able to do further research and discovered the amazing story behind these beautiful gold coins.

Martin Sulzbacher was a German Jew who fled Nazi persecution and emigrated to London in 1938. He sold all his belongings to get the hell out of Germany, but was able to smuggle out his collection of Double Eagles. He put them in a bank vault where they would be safe. By 1940 he owned and was living in the Hackney property with his wife and four children, his brother, two sisters and their parents.

When war broke out, Sulzbacher was interned as an enemy alien refugee. His wife and children were sent to the Women’s Internment Camp in the Isle of Man, while he was sent to Canada on the “Arandora Star” which was torpedoed on the way and sank. He was fished out of the water hours later only to be sent to an internment prison in Australia. A year later, at the end of 1941, he was sent to the Isle of Man where he joined his family and eventually they were all released.

Meanwhile, back in Hackney, Sulzbacher’s brother became concerned that the gold coins would not be safe where they were because there was a genuine possibility that Germany might invade England and raid bank vaults as they had in Amsterdam. He removed the coins and buried them in the back yard. He told a friend and neighbor that he had done that, and the neighbor suggested he tell him where exactly the coins were buried in case something happened. The brother pointed out that there were five family members living in the house who knew where to find the coins once the coast was clear, so he really didn’t feel it was necessary to share the location with the neighbor.

Then, on September 24th, 1940, the house took a direct hit from a German bomber during the Blitz and everyone inside was killed. When Martin Sulzbacher returned to London, he went to the bank and found to his horror that the coins were all gone. The neighbor then told him about his brother’s having buried the coins and Martin dug up the entire yard looking for them, but to no avail. It wasn’t until 1952 that a construction crew found part of the treasure and Sulzbacher was able to reclaim some of his lost buried coins.

Hackney Double EaglesMartin Sulzbacher went on to run a bookshop in Golders Green and died in 1981. His son Max, one of the four children who was interned on the Isle of Man, is still living as are his siblings. He is 81 now, a retired accountant who moved from England to Jerusalem three years ago, and as of yesterday, he is the official owner of 80 gold Double Eagles dating from between 1854 and 1913, because according to the terms of the 1996 Treasure Act, gold and silver objects younger than 300 years old do not belong to the Crown if the owner or his heirs are known. This is actually the first time since 1996 that a legitimate owner has made a successful claim to an item that would otherwise have been classified as Treasure and thus property of the Crown.

The estimated value of the coins is £80,000 ($150,000). Max will give one of them to the Hackney Museum for a permanent display and he will give a reward to the finders. The rest of the hoard he will sell at auction. The proceeds of the sale will be used to restore the graves of his family members who were killed in the Hackney house during the Blitz and buried in a cemetery in Enfield. He says the tombstones were poor quality to begin with due to wartime austerity, and they’ve all but crumbled over the decades. Now the surviving children will have the means to pay for new headstones and restore the plots of their grandparents, uncle and two aunts.

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Lost ashes of psychology pioneer Adler to return to Austria

Monday, April 18th, 2011

Alfred AdlerAlfred Adler, one of the founders of the psychoanalytic movement along with Sigmund Freud, had a heart attack in 1937 while he was in Scotland giving a series of lectures at the University of Aberdeen and died. His family asked that he be cremated and the Warriston Crematorium in Edinburgh did the honors. (The only cremation facilities in the country back then were in Edinburgh and Glasgow, so he couldn’t be cremated in Aberdeen.)

The funeral was held in Aberdeen first, and although the family were in attendance along with the university’s finest, they lost track of the body when the casket was sent south for cremation. When nobody picked them up, the ashes remained in Warriston’s wood-panelled gallery, unnoticed and unremarked, until 2007.

In 2007, the Society for Individual Psychology, the institute founded by Adler in his native Vienna in 1912 after his split with Freud, asked the honorary Austrian consul to Scotland, John Clifford, to try to find Adler’s ashes. He started the search in Aberdeen, where he found there were no local crematoria. He moved on to Edinburgh searching the records of Seafield Crematorium to no avail, then moving on to Warriston. There he found Alfred Adler listed in the records and one of the staff brought him right to the ashes.

So there was really no mix up or loss of the urn. It’s just that nobody in his family, scholars, colleagues or anybody but the Warriston people knew where the ashes were being kept.

Now arrangements have finally been made for an official hand-over of the ashes. Tomorrow, April 19th, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, George Grubb, with Mr. Clifford and members of the Society for Individual Psychology in attendance, will give Alfred Adler’s ashes to the Austrian ambassador. The ashes will then be re-interred in a grave of honor at the Central Cemetery of Vienna.

Adler was born in Vienna in 1870. He and Sigmund Freud co-founded the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society in 1911. However, their association did not last. Freud called Adler’s idea too contrary and presented all member of the VPS with an ultimatum: drop Adler or be expelled from the society. Adler took his ball and founded the Society for Free Psychoanalysis, renamed in 1913 the Society for Individual Psychology.

There Adler would develop his most famous concept, the inferiority complex, and would advocate a co-operative, democratic approach to child-rearing and the importance of the equality of the sexes, very much unlike Freud. He thought feelings of superiority and inferiority often displayed themselves in gendered terms, and compensating for these feelings then led to psychological and sociological problems. Also unlike Freud, Adler believed psychological theories could be utilized pragmatically by anyone who was interested, not just by professionals behind the desk.

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Stolen Goya, El Greco paintings found after 14 years

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

Officers with the Spanish Civil Guard have recovered two paintings, “La Anunciación” by El Greco and “La Aparición de la Virgen del Pilar” by Francisco de Goya, which were stolen 14 years ago.

They were found in a villa in the Alicante region after a tip-off to police last autumn that the paintings were about to be sold. The investigation had gone cold by this point, but police were still looking and since they had alerted the Art Loss Register and Interpol when the paintings were first stolen, the thieves had found it difficult to sell such highly identifiable masterpieces. The information in the tip proved to be accurate and the police were able to track down the paintings in the private home and arrest the homeowners, who it seems were already known to the police.

Both paintings appear to be entirely undamaged, which is a relief because as counter-intuitive as it seems, oftentimes thieves have no idea how to properly care for their big score, especially when they end up having to keep the pieces for years and decades longer than they expected.

Painted by two masters of Spanish art — although El Greco was actually from Crete, hence the name — both works are considered important parts of Spain’s cultural heritage. “The Annunciation” was painted by Doménikus Theotokópoulos, aka El Greco, in 1570 during his Venetian period (he would move to Toledo in 1577 and be welcomed as a great artist). Aragonese painter Francisco Goya created “The Apparition of the Virgin of Pilar” between 1775 and 1780. It was commissioned to decorate the altar of the church of San Pedro in Urrea de Gaén, Teruel.

They belonged to wealthy collector Julio Muñoz Ramonet, known to have made his fortune as a smuggler during the Franco years, who regularly lent them to museums for special exhibits. It was during an international tour that the paintings disappeared.

Ramonet died in 1991, and he left both the paintings to the city of Barcelona in his will, along with the rest of the contents of his two Barcelona mansions. The only conditions Ramonet placed on the legacy were that the city would provide for the proper preservation and maintenance of his art works and antique furniture. To ensure compliance with this condition, the city established the Julio Muñoz Ramonet foundation in 1995.

His heirs disputed the will, however, and have appealed a recent ruling in favor of the city, so right now the question of who actually owns these paintings is up in the air.

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That belongs in a museum!

Saturday, April 16th, 2011

In a confluence of movie magic, archaeological research and technological innovation that has been way too long in coming, Lucasfilm, the Penn Museum and the National Geographic Society have created a new travelling exhibit that showcases both the fictional wonderland of Indiana Jones and the factual reality of how archaeology is practiced.

Since the first thing they tell you in any archaeology class is “DON’T DO THIS IF YOU WANT TO BE LIKE INDIANA JONES,” and yet, Indiana Jones has ignited a passion for archaeology in the breast of many a young dreamer, it seems only fair that a museum exhibit be put together that offers both the irresistible allure of the great adventurer and corrects the many misconceptions about archaeology (not to mention actual crimes like theft and destruction of ancient sites) that Indy’s adventures have promoted.

Enter Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology. It puts on display a huge collection of props, models and art from the Lucasfilm Indiana Jones archives, along with the real deal: ancient artifacts from the Penn Museum and National Geographic Society archives. All visitors will receive handheld multimedia guides, an interactive tool that will allow visitors to customize their experience according to their interests. There’s also a quest game element that will give children both in age and at heart the chance to explore the exhibit as if they were Indiana Joneses themselves.

The exhibit is divided into four sections. The first, Quest for Treasure, displays some of the shiny things Indiana Jones has discovered at risk to life and limb, like the Chachapoyan Fertility Idol who is not deceived by any bags of sand you might try to put in his place, next to the shiny things real archaeologists have discovered with trowels and little tiny brushes, like an embossed gold plaque from Panama dating to 500-900 A.D. (courtesy the Penn Museum).

The guide explains how the film’s designers used different archaeological inspirations to create the Headpiece of the Staff of Ra, and while making it very clear that there is no genuine artifact that combines Phoenician script, a menorah-looking thing, and Ra’s falcon symbol, it points out the similarity between the Headpiece’s ultimate look and a pair of elaborate earrings found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb. Archaeologist Michel Fortin then explains that to archaeologists, “treasure” doesn’t mean precious metals and gemstones, but is instead defined by the historical significance of a piece, how much information it can give us about the past.

The next section, Dig into the Past, explores the importance of context for an object. Since Indy plays more than a little fast and loose with archaeological context (he’s basically a looter), this part focuses on his understanding of the history of the pieces he’s looking for, and Michel Fortin explains that importance of placing an artifact in its proper archaeological context. You learn something very different from a piece that you find in a home versus one you find in a temple, for example. The Lucasfilm collection in this section includes the Sankara stones, while the genuine archaeological artifacts come from Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, and Tepe Hissar, among other places.

The third section is called Investigate, and it covers how Indy and real archaeologists put together many small clues to come to an understanding of a discovery. Protip: X never, ever marks the spot. (Unless it does.) Fortin explains that the bulk of investigation work doesn’t happen following trails to the Holy Grail, but rather once researchers bring artifacts they’ve found on an archaeological site back to the lab. There chemical analysis fills in blanks — dates, materials, etc. — and other elements, like inscriptions and designs, are explored in detail, translated, interpreted.

In the last section, Solve the Mystery, Indiana unravels the mystery of the crystal skull and archaeologists explain that the very definition of their discipline is to discover facts about our past by interpreting the material remains the ancients have left behind. Through artifacts archaeologists explain the unexplained.

The exhibit opens at the Montreal Science Centre on April 28th and continues there through September 18, 2011. More sites will be added to the schedule soon. Keep an eye on this page to find out when it will be coming somewhere near you.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkdcHArwczY&w=430]

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Golden phallus found in Norfolk

Friday, April 15th, 2011

A gold pendant in the shape of a phallus has been declared officially treasure by Norfolk coroner William Armstrong at a treasure trove inquest at Lynn County Court on Monday. It was found by metal detectorist Kevin Hillier on January 30th. He reported the wee gold pen0r as possible treasure to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and now the inquest has confirmed its status. (Any found gold and silver objects over 300 years old must be reported to the authorities under the Treasure Act.)

According to Erica Darch, a Finds Liaison Officer from Norfolk, the pendant is:

“hollow, formed from sheet metal soldered together lengthways, rounded at the terminal with a small aperture left open at either end. A loop formed from triple ribbed sheet is soldered into position at the top, with separately applied solid globular testicles to either side. Separately applied wire with irregular transverse grooves on the underside (perhaps to act as keying for the solder) defines the edge of the foreskin.”

There is no native English tradition of phallus-worship, so this piece most likely belonged to a Roman soldier. Other phallus amulets have been found in areas with a Roman military presence, but most of them are bronze. A gold one is a rare find.

Phallic pendants in ancient Rome were talismans used to ward off the evil eye. The phallic deity was called Fascinus (from “fascinare” meaning “to cast a spell” which is the root of our word “fascinate”) and the charms and amulets shaped like penises and testes were worn to invoke his protection against evil spells. This kind of sorcery was thought to be caused primarily by envy, aka “invidia,” and was targeted against other people’s greatest fruitfulness: the fertility of animal, crop and person. Phallus pendants were thus often given to babies and children to avert curses intended to blight their growth, and a large phallic image was carried to crossroads in the countryside outside of Rome, then through the city proper during the March Liber Pater festival to protect newly-planted crops.

The phallus also had an official role in Roman state religion. The Vestal Virgins tended the fascinus populi Romani, the sacred phallic image that ensured the safety of the city, along with the sacred fire of Vesta. The sacred phallus was the masculine counterpart of the female generative power represented by Vesta’s hearth. The Vestals were also responsible for attaching a phallus to the bottom of a triumphing general’s chariot to ward off any invidiousness directed his way.

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Four more looted Tut pieces recovered in Cairo

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Zahi Hawass (center) and staffers holding recovered King Tut statue (right) and fan (left)Four objects looted from the Tutankhamun collection at the Cairo Museum on January 28 during the political unrest that toppled the Mubarak regime have been recovered, Zahi Hawass announced in a press conference on Tuesday. They were found by an employee of the Ministry of State for Antiquities Affairs in a bag in an Egyptian metro station, which I suppose is an improvement from being dumped in the trash.

MSAA public relations employee Salah Abdel Salam saw an unmarked black bag sitting unattended on a chair in Cairo’s Shubra Metro station during his daily commute. He didn’t think it was an explosive, so he (recklessly) looked inside and found a gold statue of King Tutankhamun looking back at him. He promptly picked up the bag and brought it with him to work.

“We brought back four pieces first, then 12 pieces after that and five pieces after that and four now. What we are missing now are only 33 objects, are mainly from the late period and I’m very happy to announce that this came to us this morning are very beautiful artefacts from the collection of Tutankhamen,” Hawass said.

Recovered gold Tut statueThere is some damage, especially to the gold statue of King Tutankhamun standing in a boat throwing a harpoon. The statue is missing a piece of its crown and pieces of its legs. The boat remains in the museum (it was never stolen in the first place). The figurine will be reunited with the base, restored and put back on display.

Damaged facade of Tut fanAnother recovered artifact that will require some restoration is the top part of Tutankhamun’s fan. The decorative facade on one side of it is intact, while the other side has been broken into eleven pieces. Other parts of it remain missing.

Recovered Yuya and Tjuya ushabtiThe good news is one of ten missing ushabtis belonging to Yuya and Tjuya, Queen Tiye’s parents (Tiye was the mother of Amenhotep III, father of Akhenhaten, grandfather of Tutankhamun), was recovered in excellent condition. It does not need any restoration and will be returned to the museum exhibit immediately.

The final returned object is a gilded bronze trumpet and its wooden core. Both parts are in fine condition and ready to go back on display as well. This trumpet might have played a role in its own disappearance. According to legend, whenever someone blows into the trumpet, war breaks out. Zahi Hawass says that a museum staffer who was photographing and documenting the artifact had blown into it a week before revolution broke out. The same thing happened right before the 1967 Six-Day War and right before the 1991 Gulf War. Apparently not one of these blowers ever saw The Mummy. :no:

Tut gilded bronze trumpet and wooden core

Hawass declared at the press conference an amnesty of sorts for anyone returning looted artifacts. “If anyone is afraid of handing over such objects they can put it at the MSAA entrance gate or the Egyptian Museum’s door and we will take care of them,” he said. No civil or criminal charges will be filed, and in fact there may be rewards for returned antiquities.

Hawass also said that he has met with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of Army Forces, and they have agreed to establish a security department dedicated to the protection of antiquities and archaeological sites. A force of armed guards will be trained specifically in the safeguarding of ancient objects and sites and will be assigned to museums, open-air sites and storehouses to prevent any further looting.

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One of earliest printed books found in Sandy, Utah

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

The Sandy Museum in Sandy, Utah is a small local museum dedicated to displaying historical artifacts from Sandy’s settlement and founding in the late 19th century onwards. To raise funds, they invited people to bring their antiques to be appraised by professionals for a small donation, like a mini-Antiques Roadshow. Rare book dealer Ken Sanders was one of the volunteer appraisers and since he’s done this kind of thing before, he wasn’t expecting much.

Nuremberg Chronicles, cover in foreground, uncollated leaves in backgroundImagine his surprise when one of the locals (who at this point has chosen to remain anonymous) presented him with a 1493 edition of the Nuremberg Chronicles, an extremely rare book from the early era of European movable type known as “the cradle of printing.” An illustrated world history, the Nuremberg Chronicles was printed 38 years after the first Gutenberg Bibles and its view of history is structured in parallel to the history of man as described in the Bible.

It was published by Anton Koberger, godfather of woodcut master Albrecht Dürer. There are an astonishing 1,809 woodcut illustrations in the Chronicles, most of them created by the workshop of Michael Wolgemut, Nuremberg’s premier artist at that time. Young Albrecht Dürer had been an apprentice in the Wolgemut shop between 1486 and 1489, and since Koberger first commissioned the woodcuts in 1487-88, Dürer could very well have had a hand in some of the original drawings.

As was common for books at that time, some of the images are duplicated. They’d make an illustration of a town, then on one page label it Town X, while on another page label the same drawing as Town Y. There were also some reprints of illustrations made for earlier books and some reused stock engravings.

“Well it’s very important,” Sanders said. “It’s considered to be one of the world’s first illustrated books printed with movable type.”

The book was that era’s equivalent of a history and travel book. But for its day, it was exceptionally lavish in its illustrations. “It has some 1800 woodcut illustrations in it,” Sanders said. “Every page has an illustration, which is highly unusual for a book of that antiquity.”

The owner requested anonymity from Sanders and the museum. He told Sanders he inherited the book from an uncle in Pennsylvania.

“It passed the smell test. Just, ‘yeah, this is real!'” Sanders said. “Outside of a museum or a library, I’d never seen one before. And I’d never got to touch one.”

How a book that was printed the year after Columbus stumbled on the Bahamas found its way to Sandy, Utah is a tantalizing mystery. The owner’s uncle was an estate attorney from Pennsylvania Dutch Country, an area of southeastern Pennsylvania that was settled beginning in the late 17th century by German immigrants (Dutch being an Americanization of Deutsch). It’s certainly plausible that one of those early immigrants might have carried the precious volume with him to the New World.

If it is authentic, its monetary value could reach the $100,000 mark. The binding has long since degraded, however, and the pages are out of order. It will have to be carefully collated and conserved before any sale price determinations are made.

Right now, there’s a tentative deal in place for Ken Sanders to sell the book if it proves authentic and the owner chooses to sell, but he hasn’t made up his mind about what he plans to do. The book needs professional care, that much is clear, and the owner has said that he isn’t interested in converting it into a financial windfall so much as ensuring it is properly tended to and available for public viewing. Let’s hope all the media attention doesn’t result in an offer he can’t refuse that’ll hide this beauty in a private collection.

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First shots of Civil War fired 150 years ago today

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Attack on Fort Sumter, Currier and Ives lithographOne hundred and fifty years ago today, at 4:30 in the morning, Captain James fired a shell from a ten-inch mortar across Charleston harbor at Fort Sumter. The garrison had been running desperately low on supplies, and since South Carolina had been the first state to formally secede from the Union months before (on Christmas Eve, 1860, in reaction to the election of Abraham Lincoln), Union troops weren’t going to be able to just waltz into Charleston and buy what they needed. Lincoln ordered a relief expedition and so informed the governor of South Carolina.

Confederate commander General P.G.T. Beauregard decided the fort had to be abandoned before the relief came. He demanded that the garrison surrender Fort Sumter or be fired upon. U.S. Army Major Robert Anderson, Fort Sumter’s commanding officer, offered to leave on April 15th, but only if relief didn’t arrive first and if he did not receive orders contradicting the plan. Beauregard did not accept and notified him in return that they would open fire an hour from that time and so they did. It was all very civilized and officer-and-a-gentlemanly. Anderson had been Beauregard’s artillery instructor at West Point 30 years earlier.

The Fort Sumter storm flag from 1861Confederate batteries fired for 34 hours straight. Fort Sumter returned fire at 7:00 A.M., but to no avail. The fort was surrendered and the garrison evacuated on April 13th. Major Anderson lowered the Union flag on April 14th, the day of his official surrender, and took it with him to New York. The flag would be used as a patriotic rallying symbol in the North for the duration of the war. It was auctioned off regularly to raise money for the war effort, with the expectation that everyone who “bought” it would immediately return it so it could be auctioned again. On April 14, 1865, Major General Anderson raised the flag over Fort Sumter again, in celebration of the end of the war. That same night, Abraham Lincoln went to the theater and never returned.

There were no Union nor Confederate fatalities in the first battle for Fort Sumter, although two Union soldiers and one Confederate died from their own misfires. The fort was not so lucky. It was ruined by the heavy shelling and ruined even harder two years later when the Union barraged Charleston from the water. It would be partially rebuilt by the US Army after the war and is now a national monument, along with the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center in Charleston, and Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island in the harbor.

The National Park Service is commemorating the sesquicentennial with a variety of events and services. Their website is packed with information, not just about Civil War parks and national monuments, but also about the war itself. They have made their entire National Park Civil War Series of books available online for free. If you were to buy the series in print, it would cost you $186, so I suggest you get downloadin’ now while the downloadin’ is good, then make a donation to the NPS and/or volunteer to help preserve our national monuments. (There are 54 national parks related to the Civil War maintained by the NPS. Click “by topic” and “Civil War” on this search page for links to all of them.)

Speaking of preserving history, the Civil War Trust is dedicated to the preservation of Civil War battlefields. To further their goal in the long term, they have put together an impressive group of educational resources so that future generations can grow up to be as properly obsessive about preserving these sites as they are. They have an entire Civil War Curriculum on their website, including freely downloadable lesson plans, exams and in-class presentations for elementary, middle and high school students. There’s a coloring book (pdf), crossword puzzles, links to primary sources, contemporary pictures, maps, and best of all, lessons based on visiting Civil War battlefields.

Stereoscopic photo of Fort Sumter, 1865Did you know that 70% of the pictures taken during the war were actually shot in 3D for viewing through a stereoscope device? The Civil War Trust also has an extensive collection of digitized stereoview photographs. You can order 3D glasses free of charge from the website. They also have many galleries of period and contemporary non-3D pictures of the battlefields they are working to preserve.

If you’re planning a trip to Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian has set up a website featuring all the current and upcoming events and exhibits on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. If you’re staying put but would like to learn out more about the Civil War, Smithsonian magazine has reposted articles from their archives about the Civil War in honor of the sesquicentennial.

There are some excellent new pieces as well. Fort Sumter: The Civil War Begins is a good place to start today. Then there’s The Women Who Fought in the Civil War, an interview with author Bonnie Tsui about the hundreds of women who disguised themselves as men to enlist and fight, How We’ve Commemorated the Civil War, a retrospective on how Americans have remembered the Civil War on past milestone anniversaries, and two articles on the first Union officer to die in the fighting, The Death of Colonel Ellsworth and How Col. Ellsworth’s Death Shocked the Union.

In the pictures worth a thousand words category, Smithsonian offers a slideshow of select Civil War artifacts in the Smithsonian museums, and an interactive timeline of the Civil War (click on the question mark icons for more information).

I can’t let a national commemoration pass without a nod to the history nerd paradise that is the Library of Congress. The Last Full Measure: Civil War Photographs from the Liljenquist Family Collection opens today at the Library of Congress. I blogged about the donation of this impressive collection of over 700 ambrotype and tintype portrait photographs of Civil War soldiers and civilians last fall. Now almost the entire collection has been digitized. A selection of about half of the pictures will be part of the exhibit.

You can also read Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project on the LoC website. The narratives can be browsed by narrator or by state, and the pictures are arranged by topic. There’s a thorough introduction very much worth reading to get an idea of the historical context of the project, its approach to recording of narratives and its limitations.

Preserving the history of slavery is also the mission of National Trust for Historic Preservation program officer Joseph McGill who spends the night in slave dwellings all over the South to publicize the need to preserve slave quarters as well as the big fancy plantation buildings. Since they were constructed out of flimsy materials to begin with, slave dwellings are even more endangered than their architecturally sound contemporaries.

The Most Serene Republic of San MarinoFinally, if you’ve kept reading this wall of text, here’s a little payoff. After Lincoln’s inauguration in March 1861, he received piles of congratulatory letters. One of them was from the Most Serene Republic of San Marino, the wee little statelet of 24 square miles in the middle of Italy that according to legend was founded in the 4th century A.D. as a monastic community by Marinus, a Christian stonecutter and Deacon. It has retained its sovereignty since then, making it the oldest sovereign nation in the world, and since its constitution (which codified a political system already in place since 1300 or so) was written in 1600, San Marino is also the oldest constitutional republic in the world.

Surrounded by an almost-unified Italy in 1861, San Marino was sweating a little when its Capitani Regenti (elected leaders) wrote to Lincoln. The letter expressed solidarity with the Union — six Southern states had already seceded by the time Lincoln was inaugurated — and conferring honorary citizenship on the American president. From the letter:

We have wished to write to you in our own hand and in English, although we have little knowledge and no practice in the language. It is a some while since the Republic of San Marino wishes to make alliance with the United States of America in that manner as it is possible between a great Potency and a very small country. As we think not extention of territories but conformity of opinions to procure friendly relations, so we are sure you will be glad to shake hands with a people who in its smallness and poverty can exhibit to you an antiquity from fourteen centuries of its free government.

Now we must inform you that to give to the United States of America a mark of high consideration and sincere fraternity the Sovereign Counsel on our motion decreed in its sitting of 25th October … that the citizenship of the Republic of San Marino was conferred for ever to the President pro tempore of the United States of America and we are very happy to send you the diploma of it.

We are acquainted from newspapers with political griefs, wich you are now suffering therefore we pray to God to grant you a peaceful solution of your questions. Nevertheless we hope our letter will not reach you disagreeable, and we shall expect anxiously an answer which proves us your kind acceptance.

Secretary of State William Henry Seward personally brought the letter to Lincoln’s attention. After some weeks, the President replied accepting the honorary citizenship and describing the key issue of the war in terms that presage his Gettysburg Address. From Lincoln’s reply:

Although your dominion is small, your State is nevertheless one of the most honored, in all history. It has by its experience demonstrated the truth, so full of encouragement to the friends of Humanity, that Government founded on Republican principles is capable of being so administered as to be secure and enduring.

You have kindly adverted to the trial through which this Republic is now passing. It is one of deep import. It involves the question whether a Representative republic, extended and aggrandized so much as to be safe against foreign enemies can save itself from the dangers of domestic faction. I have faith in a good result.

Abraham Lincoln’s letter is now one of San Marino’s most treasured historical artifacts. It is on display in the National Museum. In 1937, San Marino issued an Abraham Lincoln stamp, quoting the “most honored” line. They also dedicated a bronze sculpture to him, and the letter was read aloud at the ceremony inaugurating the bust. It was the first time in history Lincoln appeared on a foreign stamp. In 1959, they issued another set of Abraham Lincoln stamps, this time in honor of the sesquicentennial of his birth. Abramo Lincoln looms large in little San Marino.

1938 San Marino Lincoln stamp, scarlet San Marino bust of Lincoln San Marino Abramo Lincoln stamp, 1959

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Talk like a Flapper (and support local booksellers)!

Monday, April 11th, 2011

This is why patronizing your local used bookstore is so vitally important, because nobody’s digging through piles of weird old mildewy tomes in the Amazon warehouse and squealing with delight when they come across a stack of Flapper magazines (not for old fogies) from the 1920s. Okay, I may be projecting a little there. I don’t know if Jim Lewin of the Bookflaps blog and The York Emporium used bookstore actually squealed when he found the near-mint lifestyle magazines of the fast-car, bathtub-gin, Charleston-dancing party girls of the Jazz Age, but he probably did on the inside at least.

The magazine’s mission is downright feminist:

“What the FLAPPER stands for: short skirts, rolled sox, bobbed hair, powder and rouge, no corsets, one-piece bathing suits, deportation of reformers, non-enforcement of Blue Laws, no censorship of movies, stage or the press, vacations with full pay, no chaperons, attractive clothes, the inalienable right to make dates, good times, [and] honor between both sexes.”

Rock on, sisters! (Please to observe the Flapper cover girl above right making the appropriate “rock on” gesture long before Ronnie James Dio was a twinkle in his father’s eye.)

One of the issues contained a glossary of Flapper slang that is so truly exquisite, I intend to make every effort to memorize it all and speak only in Flapperese from now on.

The July 1922 edition of Flapper contained “A Flapper’s Dictionary.” According to the uncredited author, “A Flapper is one with a jitney body and a limousine mind. The Shifter is a new species who flaunts as his banner, “Something for nothing and then very little.”

“The flapper movement is not a craze, but something that will stay,” the author maintained. “Many of the phrases now employed by members of this order will eventually find a way into common usage and be accepted as good English.”

That turned out to be an unfulfilled prophecy, I’m sad to say, although a few of the phrases have indeed become part of our lexicon. Bee’s knees, cat’s pajamas, blaah, dogs (meaning feet), and ducky (describing something good) are all still in common parlance. “A jitney body and a limousine mind” do not appear in the dictionary, but if we take the vehicular metaphors at face value, it’s actually quite racy. A jitney was a small bus that charged only a nickel for passage, while of course a limousine is a big fancy expensive car. I guess that makes a flapper a cheap ride with an expensive wit.

Here are a few choice entries from the dictionary that are in desperate need of revival:

Brush Ape—Anyone from the sticks; a country Jake.
Dingle Dangler—One who insists on telephoning.
Noodle Juice—Tea.
Nosebaggery—Restaurant.
Strike Breaker—A young woman who goes with her friend’s “Steady” while there is a coolness.
Trotzky (sic)—Old lady with a moustache and chin whiskers.
Wurp—Killjoy or drawback.

I found a few scans of articles from Flapper magazine on Old Magazine Articles’s excellent website, but the dictionary is not among them. A highly amusing pro-knee manifesto (pdf) is, however, and yet again, it concludes with what looks to me like quite a raunchy bit of innuendo.

See what I mean? The knees get calloused after the first hundred what, exactly? Also lol @ something new under the sunburn.

If you wish to immerse yourself further in the world of biscuits and sheiks, you simply must check out Carrie, a ’20s comic strip by Wood Cowan that follows the adventures of stylin’ flapper girls and the men they use for their entertainment.

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