Aragon wants 13th c. frescoes back from Catalonia

The autonomous government of Aragon has formally requested the return of 13th century frescoes removed from the monastery of Santa María de Sigena during the Spanish Civil War and now installed in the Museo Nacional de Arte de Cataluña in Barcelona. The also-autonomous government of Catalonia has not been receptive. Ferran Mascarell, Catalan Minister for Culture, said on Thursday that the government will do everything in its power to keep the frescoes where they are on the ground that if Catalans hadn’t conserved the frescoes, they would not exist today.

This is not a solid legal argument, as the Catalan government has good reason to know since it too has campaigned vigorously for the return of historically significant items from places where they were conserved. Most recently the Salamanca Papers, a vast number of documents, books, magazines, newspapers and more that Franco pillaged from universities, trade unions, political parties, private homes, publishers etc. in 1939, have begun to be repatriated after a decades-long struggle in the legislature and courts.

Aragon has wanted the frescoes back for a long time, but the government wasn’t the official owner of the monastery and thus had no legal rights to claim the frescoes. The Order of the Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem has owned the historic building for eight centuries, although their nuns left in 1835 after anti-clerical legislation promulgated by Queen Isabel II’s prime minister Juan Álvarez Mendizábal privatized monastic properties thus stripping the convent of its revenue. Some nuns filtered back over the years and since 1985, the Order of St. John has allowed the sisters of Bethlehem and the Assumption of the Virgin and of Saint Bruno to carry on the tradition of monastic prayer at Santa María de Sigena.

The Order of St. John couldn’t just hand over the monastery without getting permission from the Vatican. Finally earlier this year the Vatican granted the Order permission to cede the rights to Aragon, so now the Aragonese government is the proud owner of a 13th century monastery in the Spanish Pyrenees. That gives them the right to take Catalonia to court should they refuse to hand over the frescoes. Since Catalonia only possesses the works because they were sent there in 1936 for conservation, not because their ownership was officially transferred, any legal battle is likely to favor the repatriation. The frescoes were removed by order of government during the Civil War, and are therefore spoils of war just like the Salamanca Papers. The monastery was declared a national monument in 1923, which also puts the frescoes’ removal in contravention of pre-existing Spanish law.

Santa María de Sigena was built between 1183 and 1208 by order of Queen Sancha of Castile. Intended to house nuns from the cream of Spanish aristocracy, the monastery was built in rich Romanesque style and was elaborately decorated. No expense was spared. The frescoes on the arches and vaults of the chapter house — plant and animal motifs accompanying scenes from the Old and New Testament and 70-80 portraits of the ancestors of Jesus starting with Abraham — were painted by the best English artists using precious materials like gold and lapis lazuli. This approach was employed nowhere else in Spain at this time. Historians believe the frescoes were painted by English artists who also worked on the Guardian Angels Chapel in Winchester Cathedral, the chapel of St. Anselm in Canterbury Cathedral and on mosaics in Norman-ruled Sicily in the mid-12th century. Queen Sancha was buried in the convent church after her death, as were her daughters Dolça and Leonor and her son King Pedro II of Aragon.

Its royal burials and architectural and artistic beauties couldn’t save it from a hideous fate during the Civil War. In fact, they probably condemned it. Santa María de Sigena was burned in 1936 by Republicans forces who were no fans of the monarchy or the Church. The royal tombs were desecrated Vultures followed to pick at the carcass and looters helped themselves to everything they could take, including the art on the walls, the wooden paneling, the devotional objects, the furniture. The chapter house frescoes were horribly damaged by the fire, some destroyed completely, some missing large pieces, all drained of their once-brilliant color.

To save what was left, in 1960 the paintings were removed and sent to the National Museum in Barcelona. There they were conserved, ultimately finding permanent placement affixed to arches and vaults designed to replicate the convent chapter house’s structure. The museum has an impressive collection of Romanesque frescoes removed from the walls of other churches and monasteries. You can take a tour of the museum’s Romanesque rooms on Google Art Project. (That link isn’t taking me directly to the proper location, for some reason. If you find yourself on the first floor, click the dropdown and choose the ground floor, then click on the light grey rectangle above and just to the right of the large oval room in the middle.) Compare what’s left with the black and white pictures taken right before the fire by photographer Ricardo del Arco.

Meanwhile, back in Aragon, the monastery got some long overdue attention. In 1974 the cloister was rebuilt. Between 1988 and 2009, the government of Aragon undertook an extensive program of restoration costing 3,350,447.71 euros ($4,425,271.34). Now that the structure is stable, Aragon wants to return the frescoes to their original location in the chapter house.

First Earl of Sandwich’s recipe for iced chocolate

Dr. Kate Loveman, English lecturer at the University of Leicester, has found some early English chocolate recipes in the journal of Edward Mountagu, the first Earl of Sandwich, great-great grandfather of John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, credited with inventing the fine foodstuff that bears the family title on far thinner evidence than recipes written in his own hand. The most complete recipe is for a frozen chocolate product — a 17th century frappé, if you will — and in an age when freezing was still a subject of extensive scientific study rather than the subject of cookbooks, Sandwich’s frappé may be the earliest English recipe on record for an iced chocolate treat.

Loveman specializes in 17th century English literature, especially the diarists. She was reading the papers of Samuel Pepys who repeatedly mentions drinking chocolate at London coffee houses which served coffee, chocolate and tea, all recent introductions courtesy of the Age of Exploration that were viewed with suspicion for their dubious medical properties/dangers and enthusiasm for their dubious medical properties/tastiness. On April 24th, 1661, the day after the coronation of King Charles II, Pepys writes:

Waked in the morning with my head in a sad taking through the last night’s drink, which I am very sorry for; so rose and went out with Mr. Creed to drink our morning draft, which he did give me in chocolate to settle my stomach.

Chocolate as a hangover cure, sure, why not? This was less than 10 years after chocolate was first brought to England in 1652 and it was already being presented as an aphrodisiac and fertility aid, a link to sensuality that still dominates chocolate advertising to this day. It was also supposed to aid in digestion and to provide healthy nutrients to make “such as drink it often, Fat, and Corpulent, faire and Amiable.” (The fat and corpulent bit was seen as a feature not a bug.)

The Earl of Sandwich was one of Pepys’ patrons. He is often mentioned in the journal, so Loveman decided to follow up by reading the unpublished manuscript of Montagu’s journal. She found a 30-page section dedicated to chocolate written in 1668 after the Earl returned from serving as England’s ambassador to Spain.

Chocolate had been introduced to Europe through Spain when Spanish ships began to transport cacao from Central and South America in the first half of the 16th century. Initially it did not make a great impression. Cocoa is very bitter indeed without sugar, but the addition of spices like cinnamon and later with cane sugar made it palatable enough for the habit to be acquired. By the early 17th century, chocolate was a popular elite beverage in Spain, served at Court along with sweets, pastries and snow. They also drank it in public, a social custom known as a Xocolatada or Chocolatada. (See La Xocolatada, a Catalan ceramic tile piece from 1710 illustrating the Spanish custom of chocolate made and consumed as a communal, but still elite, tradition.)

From Spain, chocolate spread to France where its trade became a state monopoly and only the aristocracy were allowed to indulge. Louis XIII’s wife Queen Anne of Austria, daughter of King Philip III of Spain, was an avowed chocolate lover. When she married Louis in 1615, she ensconced the fashion for chocolate in the highest echelons of French society.

England came to the chocolate game a few decades later, first through translations of a 1631 book about chocolate written by Spanish doctor Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma which were published in the 1640s and in 1652. The title page of the 1652 translation notes that the chocolate described in the volume could be purchased “at reasonable rates” from bookseller John Dakins in Holborn. Booksellers often sold medicines and nostrums at this time, which is how chocolate got on the menu.

The first free-standing advertisement for chocolate published in The Publick Adviser in June 1657:

In Bishopsgate Street in Queen’s Head Alley, at a Frenchman’s house, is an excellent West Indian drink called chocolate, to be sold, where you may have it ready at any time, and also unmade, at reasonable rates.

The Earl of Sandwich’s 30 pages leans heavily on Spanish expertise. He includes Colmenero de Ledesma’s instructions on how to prepare chocolate, plus 10 pages from a spy in Madrid who reported on the Spanish manufacturing process. First the nuts were dried and ground, then sugar and spices (chile peppers, cinnamon and aniseed were the favorites) were ground separately and then cooked together. This produced a thick paste that would keep for a long time once hardened. The Spanish would add hot water to the paste and whip it, adding more water and sugar to taste. The result was a thick, sludgy beverage that even with the sugar was still bitter (it takes an enormous amount of sugar to de-bitterize chocolate, as anyone who has tried to make hot chocolate straight from cocoa powder has learned the hard way).

Montagu collected all this information with a political aim, not just out of personal interest. Cromwell’s Navy had taken Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655, and there were lots of cacao plantations in Jamaica. As ambassador to Spain, Sandwich had signed a new commercial treaty with Spain cementing the status of Britain’s new West Indian territories. Now England had reliable access to the raw materials of chocolate-making, a rich potential market for the restored Crown. Upon his return to England, Montagu was appointed to the Privy Council’s committee for trade and foreign plantations, so his research was relevant to his job as well.

King Charles II was very much interested personally. He and Sandwich discussed chocolate together and one of the recipes in Montagu’s journal he got directly from the King. From Loveman’s paper, The Introduction of Chocolate into England: Retailers, Researchers, and Consumers, 1640–1730, published in the Journal of Social History:

Sandwich soon obtained a recipe for a chocolate “leaven cake” described as “the Kings receipt for which he gave 200 libre” — that is apparently, if barely credibly, £200. The recipe involved mixing three pounds of cacao nuts with oil of Jamaican pepper, oil of aniseed, oil of cinnamon, cardamom, and Guinea pepper to create tablets that could be stored. “To make the Chacolatte it selfe” then required adding cacao nuts, sugar, and a vanilla pod to “the Leaven.” Perfumed sugar, using musk, ambergris, and civet, could be added to taste

Mmm… Civet musk… That sounds like something out of the Futurist Cookbook. I dearly hope the King didn’t actually pay £200 for that.

The recipe for the frozen chocolate is considerably more appetizing, and it utilizes what was then the cutting edge research of Robert Boyle who had experimented with freezing and published New Experiments and Observations Touching Cold in 1665. It was Boyle who found that adding salt to snow was necessary in order to freeze liquids placed inside a vessel which would be in turn placed inside a container of salted snow.

Here’s the Earl of Sandwich’s recipe for Curdled Chocolate Ice:

Prepare the chocolatti [to make a drink] … and Then Putt the vessell that hath the Chocolatti in it, into a Jaraffa [i.e. a carafe] of snow stirred together with some salt, & shaike the snow together sometyme & it will putt the Chocolatti into tender Curdled Ice & soe eate ^it with spoons.

I’ll take that over the musk chocolate any day. The concept of frozen beverages didn’t catch on in England right away. Ices were popular already in Italy, but in England they were considered dangerous to the health. Sandwich made a point of noting of how to counteract this chilling effect: “one is oblidged for better security to Drinke Hott chocolatti in 1/4 of an houre after.” Then wait another hour before going in the water.

Dr. Loveman made the Curdled Ice herself and she said it was like a very thick frappucino minus the dairy.

Jack the Ripper’s Autumn of Terror on Twitter

At 3:40 AM on Friday, August 31st, 1888, the mutilated body of Mary Ann Nichols was discovered on Buck’s Row in the Whitechapel district of London’s East End. Four more women would be found with their throats slit and bodies butchered in increasingly horrific manner between then and November 9th, a period that became known as the Autumn of Terror. The London Metropolitan Police Service’s Whitechapel Murders investigation covered the murders of 11 women killed from April 3rd, 1888, to February 13th, 1891, but the murders of Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, Mary Jane Kelly that fall would go down in history as the canonical victims of Jack the Ripper.

In honor of the 125th anniversary of the discovery of Mary Ann Nichols’ body that kicked off the Autumn of Terror, The History Press will be bringing the Whitechapel of 1888 to Twitter so we can experience in real time on social media what London residents experienced with the Ripper-mad press. The four-month project, Whitechapel Real Time, kicked off on August 24th with tweets about life, death and society in the East End.

The sensationalized and often wildly inaccurate stories in the press are part of the Twitter story too, but all the information in the tweets has been researched thoroughly by historians to ensure its accuracy and to provide resources like period photographs, links to blog entries on the History Press website and genuine quotes from police, witnesses and neighbors. The people involved in the investigation of the Whitechapel murders have their own hashtags, as do reporters and locals commenting on events.

The idea is to break through the smog-and-oily-streets imagery that has come to symbolize the Whitechapel of 1888 and bring the time and place into focus by focusing on the people and issues that characterized it.

The mystery surrounding Jack the Ripper has been erroneously fuelled with images of darkened streets and figures in cloaks recounted by storytellers and portrayed in films and TV. The Whitechapel Real Time project seeks to peel back the myths and tell the ‘back story’ of the real people of Victorian London.

The aim of this project will challenge contemporary stereotypes and provoke debate on key issues such as social segregation and press sensationalism. Using today’s social media to tell the story mirrors the way in which the news ‘spreads like wildfire’ across London and throughout the country in 1888.

So far what I like the most about the tweets are the OldBaily Recaps which are like a combination carnival barker and police blotter, and a reporter’s updates on an inquest of Louisa Minnie Fairservice, who died at just 3 1/2 apparently of enteric fever caused by a tainted “street-bought penny lick or ice-lolly.”

There has been some comment from the Twitter account of the murder of Martha Tabram earlier that month (August 7th, 1888). Martha was one of the 11 Whitechapel murder victims who some believe was an early Ripper killing. Most historians exclude her because although her murder was brutal — she was stabbed 39 times in the throat, chest, abdomen and genitals — stabbing doesn’t fit the Ripper modus operandi of slashed throats and disembowelment that would be established with the five canonical murders. When all of this was a developing story, however, any prostitute murdered in Whitechapel was linked by the press and the police.

Some of the tweets are a little obvious — particularly the comments about class made by hashtagged “Dockworker” and “WorkingLady” et al — but I’m hoping that’s just them getting their bearings. Keep your eye on Whitechapel Real Time once the Autumn of Terror kicks in for real on Saturday.

Lycurgus Cup inspires cool new sensor technology

Inspired by a marvel of ancient Roman art glass, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have designed a device that uses inexpensive light-sensitive plastics to do DNA, drug and protein analysis. The British Museum’s Lycurgus Cup is made out of dichroic glass, glass with added nanoparticles of gold and silver which alter the color of the glass depending on how the light hits it and where the observer stands. The cup looks green in reflected light (light shone directly on it) and red in transmitted light (light shone behind and through it).

The nanoscale Lycurgus cup arrays (nanoLCA) device takes a cheap piece of plastic about the size of a postage stamp imprinted with a billion little nanodents which are then sprayed with gold and silver nanoparticles, thus creating a billion little Lycurgus Cups. When substances are poured into the wells, they display a range of green to red colors which can be used to identify the substance. It’s exceptionally sensitive, more so than many fully realized sensors in action today, and the color change makes data that could once only be identified with precision spectrometers or fluorescence labeling easily visible to the naked eye or regular color photography.

“Our label-free colorimetric sensor eliminates the need of problematic fluorescence tagging of DNA/ protein molecules, and the hybridization of probe and target molecule is detected from the color change of the sensor,” stated Manas Gartia, first author of the article, “Colorimetrics: Colorimetric Plasmon Resonance Imaging Using Nano Lycurgus Cup Arrays.” “Our current sensor requires just a light source and a camera to complete the DNA sensing process. This opens the possibility for developing affordable, simple and sensitive mobile phone-based DNA microarray detector in near future. Due to its low cost, simplicity in design, and high sensitivity, we envisage the extensive use of the device for DNA microarrays, therapeutic antibody screening for drug discovery, and pathogen detection in resource poor setting.”

You can read the full article published in the journal Advanced Optical Materials here for free. Fair warning: it’s highly technical. Unless you have a solid chemistry and/or optics background, there will be copious Googling. Oh yes, there will be Googling.

If this technology pans out past the prototype stage, instead of complex, bulky, extremely expensive stationary equipment like spectrometers which require a hospital or well-appointed laboratory, scientists will be able to run a range of tests on the spot using a nanoLCA device in their cellphones. Samples of urine or saliva will be able to be tested for the presence of antibodies or pathogens. Samples of liquids will be able to be tested for explosives, chemical or biological agents at border crossings. Its versatility and portability would make it a jack of all trades, a sort of Lycurgus Cup tricorder.

I find it particularly delicious that so cheap and convenient a device is modeled after an antique artifact that was an incredibly rare, hugely expensive luxury even when it was new in the fourth century. Just over six inches in height and five inches in diameter, the Lycurgus Cup is unique. Not only is it the only complete Roman object made out of dichroic glass to survive, but it’s the only extant dichroic glass to have so extreme a color shift, from opaque jade-like green to a deep translucent ruby red. It’s also the only diatretum, or cage cup — a cup decorated by grinding away parts of a thick glass blank leaving a decorative relief connected to the new surface of the glass — existing today that has a figural design rather than a geometric one.

It’s microscopic particles of gold and silver included in the glass during the molten stage that create the dichroic effect. The glass-maker added 330 parts per million of silver and 40 ppm of gold, but just adding tiny amounts of precious metals to the glass would not create a dichroic effect. The key intermediate step is when the silver and gold form into submicroscopic crystals called colloids which precipitate in the glass forming an alloy. These crystals scatter reflected light fairly evenly. In transmitted light, the crystals scatter blue more effectively than red, thus making the glass look red to the viewer.

The artisanship this required boggles the mind. The glass makers could not have added such minute amounts of gold and silver just to the glass the cup was going to made out of. These particles are 70 nanometers wide. You can’t even see them with an optical microscope, never mind the human eyeball; you need a transmission electron microscope at least. Experts believe the craftsmen added the minimum possible of the metals and then diluted the glass-melt with more and more glass until they had the proportion right.

Once the glass makers finished making the base cup, then another set of geniuses stepped in: the glass cutters. They took the thick-walled blanks and cut away at the surface used a series of painfully small (six to 12 millimeters in diameter) rotary wheels topped with an abrasive slurry made by mixing sad, quartz, emery, maybe even diamond, with water or oil. They finished the fine details using files and abrasives. The result of this insane work is a high relief connected to the surface of the cup with slender “bridges.”

On the Lycurgus cup, these bridges are grape vines and other figural elements. It depicts an unusual mythological scene from the story of King Lycurgus of Thracia. Lycurgus banned the worship of Dionysos in his kingdom. When the wine god and his entourage showed up in Thracia, Lycurgus flew into a range. Driven by his violent temper, the king attacked the maenad Ambrosia. She cried out to Gaia for help and was transformed into a grape vine and wound herself around Lycurgus, trapping him. The cup shows Lycurgus thrashing in the vine while Dionysos dispatches a goat-legged Pan and a full-human satyr to torture the trapped king.

There are many versions of the Lycurgus story, but this particular one has no exact parallels in Roman art. The cup may have been used in Bacchic rituals which were still in practice in fourth century Rome. In addition to the story the cup tells, the color shift from green to red parallels the maturation of the grape. Historians have also posited that it might be a political reference to Constantine’s defeat of Licinius in 324 A.D. It was certainly a specific commission and a hugely expensive one at that, with everything from glass color to theme to decoration being top of the line and one of a kind.

Vopiscus described dichroic glass cups in “The Lives of Firmus, Saturninus, Proculus and Bonosus” from the Historia Augusta. He quotes a letter purportedly written by the emperor Hadrian to his brother-in-law Servianus, husband of Hadrian’s elder sister Aelia Domitia Paulina.

I am sending you over some cups, changing colour and variegated, presented to me by the priest of a temple and now dedicated particularly to you and my sister. I should like you to use them at banquets on feast-days.

The letter is probably a fake. Hadrian goes on a rant against Egyptians, accusing them, among many other charges, of saying mean things about his adopted son Lucius Verus as soon as he left the country, but Hadrian was in Egypt in 130 A.D. and he only adopted Verus in 136 A.D. It does, however, indicate that Vopiscus was aware of cups made of dichroic glass and that they were the kind of thing emperors would send to their family members to use in religious rituals.

Now there are a billion of them on an inch of plastic that might diagnose illnesses around the world for a negligible sum.

Pilot’s ring lost in WWII POW camp returned to son

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, David C. Cox dropped out of college and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He graduated flight school on July 26, 1942. To celebrate, his parents gave him a gold ring with decorated with a wee propeller and wings and engraved “Mother & Father to David C. Cox Greensboro, NC 10-4-18-42” (his birthday and the current year) on the inside. Cox went sent to England with the 305th Bomb Group, 364th Squadron, where he flew a B-17 in bombing missions over Germany and occupied France.

Cox flew more than a dozen missions, on one occasion winning the Distinguished Flying Cross when he helped bring his burning plane back after a raid killed half the 10-man crew. On July 28, 1943, he was not so fortunate. Cox’s plane was shot down over Kassel, Germany. He parachuted into a private garden where was captured and sent to Stalag Luft III, the Luftwaffe POW camp in Lower Silesia (now Poland) made famous by Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. He was imprisoned there for a year and a half before he and a few thousand other Allied officers were forced to march three days in the January snow and take a train for three more days until they reached Stalag VII-A, Germany’s largest POW camp near Moosburg, southern Bavaria.

They were moved to keep ahead of the encroaching Soviet army. Allied prisoners from other POW camps under threat from the Soviets were also sent to Stalag VII-A. It had been built in 1939 to hold 10,000 Polish prisoners. By January of 1945 when David Cox arrived, there were 80,000 Allied prisoners. Conditions, needless to say, were atrocious. Barracks were painfully overcrowded and the Red Cross rations that had sustained the POWs had dwindled to nothing. The prisoners made do with insect-infested bread and thin soup. Starving, they would trade anything they had for a morsel of food. Cox, who had kept the gold ring through so much hardship, finally traded it for two chocolate bars an Italian POW had managed to scrounge up.

On April 29th, 1945, by Combat Command A of the 14th Armored Division liberated Stalag VII-A. They didn’t even know the camp was there until a few hours before the battle began when a delegation of one SS officer, one Red Cross representative and two Allied officer POWs approached the command post offering surrender terms. The army’s tactical goal of capturing a bridge across the Isar river could not be achieved if they accepted the surrender, so instead the 14th Armored Division forewent an artillery assault to avoid harming the POWs. The Germans destroyed the bridge before the Americans could capture it, so technically they failed in their mission, but they defeated the German defenders at Moosburg anyway and liberated the camp.

They were shocked to find 110,000 prisoners in Stalag VII-A, 30,000 of them Americans. The liberation of so many POWs at once quickly overshadowed the issue of the bridge, and Moosburg became a point of pride. General George S. Patton, commander of Third Army, visited the camp in person.

Once liberated, David Cox was promoted to 1st lieutenant and sent home to North Carolina where his wife Hilda, his parents and siblings were waiting for him. He and Hilda would go on to have three children. David didn’t talk much about his war experience, but one story he told often was how he had had to give up his beloved ring. He had an exact duplicate made shortly after his return and he wore it religiously until shortly before his death in 1994. He bequeathed the replica ring to his son David C. Cox, Jr., who wore it until the band snapped.

Last year, Americans Mark and Mindy Turner moved to the Bavarian village of Hohenberg where Mark got a job as an air traffic controller at the US Army garrison in nearby Ansbach. Earlier this month, the Turners went to dinner at the house of their neighbors Martin and Regina Kiss. After a tour of Martin’s art studio, Martin showed the Turners a special treasure of his: a gold ring with a wee propeller on top and a dedication to a certain David C. Cox engraved on the inside.

He then told them the story of how he had acquired the ring. The Kiss family hails from an ethnically Hungarian area in what is today northern Serbia. Kiss’ grandparents ran a pub. When a Soviet soldier stopped there on his way home after the war, he traded the gold ring in exchange for food and lodging. Grandmama Kiss gave the ring to Martin in 1971. By then it had become something of a good luck amulet for the family, and Martin was moving to Germany so his grandmother wanted him to have the ring to bring him good fortune in his new life and to give him something to sell if he was ever in extreme need. He wore it as a pinkie ring for a while, but then put it in a corked bottle for safekeeping.

Martin Kiss had always been curious about the owner of the ring. He asked the Turners if they could help find him, and thanks to that detailed inscription and the wonders of Google, Mark Turner found a reference to David C. Cox’s war experience and how he had had to trade his gold ring for two chocolate bars in a thesis written by Norwood McDowell, husband of one of Cox’s granddaughters. Mark emailed McDowell a picture of Martin Kiss’ ring. McDowell forwarded it to David Cox, Jr., and he confirmed that that was his father’s precious long-lost ring.

Martin Kiss insisted on returning the ring, no questions asked, no remuneration, not even shipping costs, accepted. His grandfather had been a POW in Soviet camps, so he knew what the ring would mean to the family. On Friday, August 16th, David C. Cox’s ring was in his son’s hands for the first time.

“I thought about him the moment I opened the box,” Cox, who is 67, says of his father and the return of that ring, “and I thought how wonderful it would be if he were the one doing it rather than me. I’m sorry he can’t be here for it … He would have been overwhelmed like we are. He would have loved it.”

Cox also wonders about where that ring was over the years. “What did he do with it?,” he asks about the Italian POW. “How long did he keep it? … For it to go through all of those twists and turns and never leave within two hours of where the prison camp was … is a phenomenal story to me.”

Also phenomenal is the condition of the original ring. Despite having been in a plane fire, shot out of the sky, through two awful POW camps and at least four sets of hands since it was made, it’s in far better condition than the replica.