Daughter gets WWII medals, letter from father she never knew

Twelve years ago, Donna Gregory was helping her then-husband go through his deceased grandparents’ home in Arnold, Missouri, when she came across a box in their bedroom closet labelled “War Department.” Inside she found a collection of documents, clippings and medals belonging to Army private first class John Farrell Eddington, including his Bronze Star, Purple Heart, draft card, dog tags, high school diploma and a letter from the War Department notifying the family that Private Eddington was killed in action in Italy on June 27, 1944. He was 25 years old.

In the box along with 16 letters he had written to his wife, Helen, there was one particularly moving letter Eddington had written to his infant daughter Peggy three weeks after she was born on February 5th, 1944. He was still training in Texas when he wrote the letter, but before he even got a chance to meet his beloved baby girl, John was deployed overseas. He died four months later, never having held little Peggy in his arms.

Touched and fascinated by the history and emotion inside the box, especially in the letter to baby Peggy, Donna Gregory took it home to St. Louis and researched the soldier off and on for the next dozen years. Gregory’s husband at the time had no idea who Eddington was or what connection he might have had to his grandparents. Eddington was born in Leadwood, Missouri, just 50 miles south of Arnold, but that tenuous geographical proximity is the only commonality we know of. Google and the library led her to some more details about John Eddington. She found that he was buried at the Jefferson Barracks in St Louis. Donna was able to trace Peggy to Nevada, but wasn’t able to find a current address.

A few months ago Donna picked up the search again, widening the parameters in the hope she could find John Eddington’s daughter before it was too late. She enlisted the help of friends and random Facebook people who read about the story and the crowdsourced effort worked. She found Peggy’s grandson, then she found her son, and then she found Peggy, now Peggy Eddington-Smith of Dayton, Nevada. Donna called Peggy and told her she had her father’s mementos and most poignantly, the letter he wrote her before he died.

Peggy was shocked. She knew almost nothing about her father other than that he had died in World War II. Her mother had been so devastated by John’s death that she couldn’t bear to speak of him. Helen never remarried because, as she put it the few times she spoke of him, she had once found the perfect man and would never again find the perfect man.

To present Peggy with her father’s things in proper style, Donna raised money to travel to Nevada. She also contacted the Nevada Patriot Guard to see if they could put her in touch with a World War II veteran in Dayton or environs so that he could be the one to place the Purple Heart in Peggy’s hands. The Patriot Guard found Navy veteran Quentin McColl, 93, to perform the duty and they organized a motorcycle escort to accompany Donna from Missouri to Nevada.

On Saturday, September 21st, Donna Gregory arrived at the Dayton Intermediate School gym. In a ceremony attended by Peggy Eddington-Smith, her family, members of Veterans of Foreign Wars who had fought in World War II, local dignitaries and residents, Peggy received her father’s Purple Heart, Bronze Star, personal documents, replicas of his dog tags, gold star flags and the letters. Donna read the very special letter John Eddington wrote to Peggy aloud before giving it to her.

The first page was written to Helen. John hoped she wouldn’t find it “silly” that he was writing to a baby who couldn’t read or understand his words. The next two pages were just pure sweetness from a doting Daddy. I was unable to find a transcript of the entire letter, sadly, but here are bits from various news stories:

My Darling Daughter,

You have never seen me or may never see me for some time. I’m sending you this so that you will always know that you have a very proud daddy somewhere in this world fighting for you and our country.

“I love you so much,” the letter said. “Your mother and daddy … are going to give you everything we can. We will always give you all the love we have.”

Eddington urged his daughter to “always treat your mother right. You have the sweetest mother on the Earth.” He closed the letter by writing, “I love you with all my heart and soul forever and forever. Your loving daddy.”

General sobbing ensued. Peggy, who had told reporters before the ceremony she wasn’t going to get “super-emotional,” abandoned that plan.

“The letter gave me more knowledge of who he was,” she told The Associated Press. “He poured out his heart to me, and a lot of men don’t put that kind of emotion in writing. I’m just overwhelmed by everything, trying to absorb everything.”

Then this happened:

Almost everyone in the crowd in the Dayton Intermediate School gym broke down when the VFW commander called roll for members who served in World War II.

Each old soldier shouted “Here sir.” Then he called for Pvt. John F. Eddington. There was silence. He called for Eddington again. A member replied that Private Eddington was killed in action.

Then the shots of a 21-gun salute rang out outside the gym, and taps was played in his memory.


Head of Aphrodite found during excavation of mosaic

The dramatic 1600-square-foot Roman mosaic discovered last year in the ancient town of Antiochia ad Cragum on the southern coast of Turkey continues to bear fruit. Archaeologists excavating the part of the mosaic that was left underground at the end of the last digging season found a life-sized marble head of Aphrodite face down in the soil. The head has been damaged — there are copious chips on the nose, right eye, cheek and chin — and no matching body was found.

This one beaten up head is of disproportionate historical importance because it’s the only piece of monumental sculpture unearthed in eights years of excavations.

The new discoveries add evidence that early residents of Antiochia – which was established at about the time of Emperor Nero in the middle of the first century and flourished during the height of the Roman Empire – adopted many of the trappings of Roman civilization, though they lived in relative isolation a thousand miles from Rome. In the past, scholars believed the region’s culture had been too insular to be heavily impacted by Rome.

Yet [University of Nebraska–Lincoln professor of art history Michael] Hoff and his team have found many signs that contradict that belief.

“We have niches where statues once were. We just didn’t have any statues,” Hoff said. “Finally, we have the head of a statue. It suggests something of how mainstream these people were who were living here, how much they were a part of the overall Greek and Roman traditions.”

Lime kilns have been found near the site which suggests the statuary that once inhabited the niches of Antiochia ad Cragum were burned to make the slaked lime used in concrete. The rise of Christianity in the area in the 4th century may have also played a part as pagan iconography, including statues and figural reliefs, was a particular target of destruction.

The head of Aphrodite wasn’t the only exceptional discovery this season. The team excavated the western half of the large mosaic surrounding the marble-lined swimming pool that was partially unearthed last year. They cleared the pool and found two stairways leading into it and benches along the inner sides. They also found that the elaborate mosaic floor was used as a base for a glass-blowing furnace in the middle of the fourth century, around the same time the lime kilns were in use. Because of these later finds, the date of the mosaic has been moved forward to the late second or early third century.

As if that weren’t enough for three month’s work, the archaeological team also discovered a second mosaic just south of the pool. They excavated a mound where toppled columns were visible above ground and found a square mosaic floor of geometric designs, fruits and flowers. The layout of the remains suggests this structure was a Roman temple which makes the floor even more unusual a find because mosaics floors are rare in Roman temples.

“Everything about it is telling us it’s a temple, but we don’t have much in the way of to whom it was dedicated,” he said. “We’re still analyzing the finds. But the architecture suggests heavily that it was a temple.”

While the larger bath plaza mosaic features large patterned areas, the temple mosaic uses smaller tesserae to compose geometric designs, as well as images of fruit and floral images amidst a chain guilloche of interlocking circles. The temple mosaic measures about 600 square feet.

Both mosaics will eventually be conserved and protected so visitors can enjoy their beauty in situ. For now, conservators repaired some of the damaged areas with a dedicated mortar then covered the mosaics with a conservation blanket and a heavy layer of sand to keep them safe from the elements and looters.

Museum buys Kelly Clarkson’s Jane Austen ring

The cabochon turquoise and gold ring that was bought at auction last July by singer Kelly Clarkson will not be departing English soil after all. A local museum has raised the funds to buy it from the singer and keep it in the country.

According to British law, objects of cultural patrimony 50 years old or older and above a certain monetary value must be reviewed by an expert committee before they are licensed for export. If the committee finds that the artifact is of national importance, it recommends that the Culture Ministry block export to give a local buyer time to raise the purchase price.

On the recommendation of the committee, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey blocked the export of the ring because as one of only three surviving pieces of jewelry known to have belonged to Jane Austen (the other two are a topaz cross and a turquoise bracelet), it’s an irreplaceable cultural object. He gave British buyers until September 30th to come up with the £152,450 ($244,000) Clarkson spent on the ring. She agreed that she would willingly sell it so that the bauble could remain in England.

Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire, the house where Austen wrote all six of her finished novels and lived for the last eight years of her life, was keen to secure the ring for the nation and for its permanent collection of Austeniana. The cross and bracelet that are the only other jewels confirmed as having belonged to Jane Austen are part of the Austen House Museum collection and the museum had in fact been one of the bidders for the ring at the auction. Unfortunately, the modest museum wasn’t able to stay in contention as the cost far exceeded the £30,000 pre-sale estimate. After the announcement of the temporary export block in August, Jane Austen’s House Museum launched a fundraiser to give them a second bite at the turquoise apple.

On Monday, just over a week before the September 30th deadline, the museum announced they’ve raised sufficient funds to purchase the ring from Ms. Clarkson. An anonymous donor got the fundraising campaign two-thirds of the way there by pledging £100,000 and Austen fans all over the world donated the remaining £52,450.

Mary Guyatt, curator, said “The Museum has been stunned by the generosity and light-footedness of all those who have supported our campaign to meet the costs of acquiring Jane Austen’s ring for our permanent collection. Visitors come from all around the world to see the house where she once lived and we will now take great pleasure in displaying this pretty ring for their appreciation.”

Kelly Clarkson, who had already accepted the museum’s purchase offer before the announcement was made, graciously responded to the news:

“The ring is a beautiful national treasure and I am happy to know that so many Jane Austen fans will get to see it at Jane Austen’s House Museum.”

The museum hopes Ms. Clarkson will go visit the ring she owned for a short but sweet time. It is scheduled to go on display at the museum come the new year.

Elite Etruscan grave found intact in Tarquinia

The intact tomb of an Etruscan aristocrat has been discovered in Tarquinia, a town about 50 miles north of Rome that was the first of the 12 principal cities of Etruria. The Tarquins who ruled Rome before the overthrow of the monarchy and establishment of the Republic came from Tarquinia (called Tarquinii in antiquity), and the newly discovered tomb is adjacent to a large royal tumulus known as the Queen Tomb.

At just six feet in diameter, the new discovery is small compared to the Queen Tomb’s 130-foot diameter, but a location just a few feet away from the Queen’s imposing mound was so prestigious it was saved for the exclusive use of the royal family. The gentleman found buried in the new tomb is probably a prince, therefore, and perhaps even related to a Tarquin since the tomb dates to around 600 B.C., a period during which Lucius Tarquinius Priscus was fifth king of Rome (from 616 to 579 B.C.).

As with the Sarmatian tomb found this summer in Filippovka, the fact that the tomb was not assaulted by grave robbers ancient and modern, but rather has survived for 2,600 years without interference makes it an extremely important archaeological find. Tarquinia has several necropoli with a total of 6,000 tumuli. Those mounds have been targets for looters since they were first carved out of the volcanic tufa rock, so just like the Russian archaeologists, the Italians were expecting to encounter burglarized tombs with some artifacts left behind, not an intact one. The last non-tampered-with tomb in Etruria was found 30 years ago, and it had entirely collapsed so there was little data for archaeologists to retrieved.

The grave goods found inside this tumulus aren’t as glamorous as those found in the Sarmatian tomb or some of the more famous Etruscan burials like the Regolini-Galassi tomb, but an undisturbed context of an ancient people we still know so little about is worth more than piles of gold to archaeologists. The team of archaeologists from the University of Torino and the Superintendence for Archaeological Goods of Southern Etruria were hopeful that they’d find the tomb untouched when they found the stone slab blocking the entrance to the tumulus still perfectly sealed.

After they removed the slab, the first thing they found were remains of a sacrificial offering on the ground by the entrance: a group of jars, vases and a bronze grater all used in funerary rites. The grater was used to grate flours and goat cheeses into a vessel of wine which would then be drunk or poured as a libation.

As the heavy stone slab was removed, [University of Turin Etruscanologist Alessandro] Mandolesi and his team were left breathless. In the small vaulted chamber, the complete skeleton of an individual was resting on a stone bed on the left. A spear lay along the body, while fibulae, or brooches, on the chest indicated that the individual, a man, was probably once dressed with a mantle.

At his feet stood a large bronze basin and a dish with food remains, while the stone table on the right might have contained the incinerated remains of another individual.

Decorated with a red strip, the upper part of the wall featured, along with several nails, a small hanging vase, which might have contained some ointment. A number of grave goods, which included large Greek Corinthian vases and precious ornaments, lay on the floor.

The vases and ornaments on the floor may have once been hanging on the wall like the little aryballos — a vessel for oils and unguents — which was so amazingly still hanging from its nail when the archaeologists opened the tomb. The heavier pieces are thought to have fallen due to structural failings of the tomb and/or seismic activity. Among the vases were seals which might help identify the deceased and fragments of what may have been armour.

The team is still cataloguing the artifacts. Once everything has been inventoried, a panoply of tests will follow. The organic remains of the food offerings will be analyzed. One of the artifacts, a small cylindrical bronze chest, will be opened to see what’s inside. (Archaeologists expect it to contain jewelry, if anything). The tomb itself will also be explored further, in the hope of discovering other organic elements from religious rituals and to conserve the paint which, while modest compared to the elaborate decoration of some of the 200 other tombs in Tarquinia with painted walls, might make the tomb of interest to tourists.

Lost Mary Pickford film found in barn, restored

Their First Misunderstanding, a 1911 Independent Moving Picture Co. (IMP) short starring Mary Pickford in her first fully credited film appearance, will make its second debut more than a century after its first at a special screening on October 11th at Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire. It’s a milestone in Mary Pickford’s rise to global superstardom and in the development of the very concept of a movie star. This is the first picture in which she was credited as Mary Pickford rather than “Little Mary.”

Pickford had been working since 1909 for D. W. Griffith’s Biograph Company, cranking out a nickelodeon a week. Although Biograph never listed its actors’ names in the credits, a standard practice in the early days of the industry, Mary was soon very popular with audiences. Movie theater owners tapped into her popularity and advertised her presence in a film describing her as “The Girl with the Golden Curls,” among other nicknames.

She was just 18 years old when she left Biograph to join pioneering film producer Carl Laemmle’s Independent Moving Pictures Company. Laemmle was instrumental in the birth of what would become the Hollywood star system, hiring away the most popular actors from companies where their work was uncredited and giving them marquee billing. He also perpetrated the first fake star death PR hoax in 1910 when he spread around the rumor that Florence Lawrence had been run over by a streetcar in New York City, only to later unveil with great fanfare that she was not dead, but rather shooting the upcoming IMP picture The Broken Oath, soon in theaters near you!

Laemmle poached Mary Pickford from Biograph just as he had Florence Lawrence: by guaranteeing her name billing. Mary also was allowed an impressive amount of control over her IMP pictures. She wrote the screenplay for Their First Misunderstanding and cast her newlywed husband Owen Moore as the newlywed husband in the film. The director is thought to have been the soon-to-be legendary Thomas Ince who also makes a brief appearance in the film.

Like many of the silent pictures from the 1910s and 20s, Their First Misunderstanding was lost, with no known copies in existence for decades. That changed in 2006 when contractor Peter Massie found seven reels of old nitrate film, empty film canisters and a 1934 Monarch silent film projector on the second floor of a barn in Nelson, New Hampshire. Massie was looking through the barn before tearing it down when he hit on this magical little jackpot. Being a film buff, he took the reels and projector home.

Massie contacted Larry Benaquist, founder of Keene State’s film program, to alert him to the finds. Benaquist thinks the films were in the barn because there were several summer camps in Nelson, including a boys camp near the barn in the 1920s. He believes the shorts were shown to the boys on movie night and then tossed in a corner and forgotten. It’s astonishing that the reels and the barn survived. Nitrate film is highly flammable and so are barns.

Last year Benaquist sent two of the nitrate reels which were stuck together to Colorlab, a Maryland company that specializes in restoring volatile nitrate film. They were able to separate the two and identify them: Their First Misunderstanding, and the 1910 Biograph film The Unchanging Sea which also stars Mary Pickford and of which there are plenty of extant copies.

The Library of Congress, which has largest collection of movies by Mary Pickford, funded the restoration, to the tune of an estimated $9,000. It is money well spent. Despite having been stuck to another film and left in the open in a barn for nigh on a century, almost the entire picture has been restored. There are a few spots with missing frames where the action skips, but it doesn’t impede understanding. The restored film is considered complete.

You’ll have to head to New Hampshire on October 11th with $5 in hand to view the entire film. Here’s a clip from the restored Their First Misunderstanding to tide you over. The picture quality is mind-blowing for any 100-year-old film, even more mind-blowing when you consider it was stuck in unhealthy gelatinous co-dependence with The Unchanging Sea for decades.