Arts and Sciences
Archaeologists excavating underneath an apartment building in the Aztacapozalco neighborhood of Mexico City have unearthed an unusual group burial of 12 dogs dating to the Late Post Classic period of Aztec history (1350 to 1520 A.D.). Although dog burials are not in and of themselves uncommon in Aztec culture, these are unusual because they stand alone. Previous canine remains have been found in conjunction with human remains, or coupled with an important structure as sacrificial offerings. So far, archaeologists have found no human burials or building connected to any of the dogs.
In the Aztec religion, dogs played important roles is rituals and mythology of the underworld. Dogs acted as guardians and escorts for their masters’ souls as they traveled to the underworld. The deity Xolotl, often depicted as dog-headed, created a dog specifically to aid the dead in their voyage. It was the Xoloitzcuintli, also known as the Mexican hairless dog, that Xolotl gave to humanity instructing them to guard the dogs during life in exchange for the dogs guiding them through the nine levels of Mictlan, the main underworld destination. Dogs also played a less sanctified role in Aztec culture: as a dietary protein supplement.
The remains were found between 4.2 feet and 5.5 feet under street level in a pit 6.5 feet square. They are in good condition, skeletons almost entirely intact and articulated. They don’t appear to have been laid to rest in any particular pattern or orientation, but they were buried all at one time on their sides. No artifacts were found in this pit. Ceramics discovered in other trenches around the dog burial provide a contextual date. Their black geometric designs on orange pottery identify the pottery as Aztec III style, household goods that were ubiquitous in Late Post Classic Mexico.
Michael E. Smith, an anthropology professor at Arizona State University who was not involved in the project, said the discovery is important because it is the first such find.
“This is not the first time a burial of a dog has been found, but it is the first find where many dogs were carefully buried together, in a setting that is like a cemetery,” Smith said.
[Archaeologist Rocio] Morales Sanchez said they will need to dig deeper to see if there are other items that could help them find out why the animals were buried in that area.
Smith said it will be important to see the results of the analysis of the bones.
“That work will tell us about the breed of these dogs, and it may tell us how they were killed,” he said. “The full significance of the finds is rarely obvious at time of excavation; the analysis will give the full story.”
Osteological examination suggests these were common dogs, ie mutts, rather than one of the native pure breeds like the small Techichi and the hairless Xoloitzcuintle. The Techichi have unmissable short legs that none of the 12 dogs have and the Xoloitzcuintle lose their premolars in adulthood. The buried dogs were all adults at the time of death with full sets of teeth.
There’s some excellent footage of the excavation in this Spanish language video:
The rarest stamp in the world, the 1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta, is going up for auction in a dedicated evening sale at Sotheby’s New York office on June 17th. The pre-sale estimate is $10 million to $20 million, either of which would blow away the previous record for a single stamp set by the Swedish Treskilling Yellow when it sold in Zurich for $2.3 million in 1996.
Printed in black ink on magenta colored paper, this simple stamp was an emergency issue. British Guiana, on the northern coast of South America, had been a British colony since the Napoleonic Wars. Originally three separate colonies — Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice — it was united as a single colony in 1833. It was almost 20 years before British Guiana began to receive regular shipments of English postage stamps manufactured by Waterlow & Sons. When one of those shipments was unavoidably delayed in 1856, postmaster E.T.E. Dalton commissioned the printers of the Royal Gazette newspaper in Georgetown to run off a contingency supply of stamps: one-cent magentas, four-cent magentas and four-cent blues.
The one-cent magenta is an octagonal stamp one by 1.25 inches in dimension. It is printed with the image of a three-masted ship in the middle with the colony’s Latin motto “Damus Petimus Que Vicissim” (We give and expect in return) above and below the ship. Postmaster Dalton was apparently unimpressed with the issue, believing them susceptible to forgery. To thwart any attempts to forge the stamps, Dalton had post office workers initial every stamp. The one-cent magenta going up for auction was initialed E.D.W. by the postal clerk E.D. Wight.
Very few of the small emergency run of stamps from a remote colony survived. There are a few examples of the four-cent stamps left, but only one of the one-cent. This sole survivor was rescued for history by a 12-year-old boy. L. Vernon Vaughan, son of a Scottish family living in British Guiana, discovered the stamp in 1873 amidst a group of family papers. He was an amateur stamp collector already, and although he didn’t recognize the stamp’s rarity, he did recognize that it was a stamp he didn’t have in his collection yet. He cut the stamp out and put in his album.
Shortly thereafter, Vaughan sold the stamp to another local collector, Neil McKinnon, for a few shillings. In 1878, McKinnon sent the stamp to Glasgow, Scotland for inspection by experts. From there he sold it to a Liverpool dealer Thomas Ridpath who recognized what a rare and precious piece it was. Ridpath sold it for £150 to Count Philippe la Renotière von Ferrary, a stamp collector of near legendary status who at one point owned both the One-Cent Magenta and the Treskilling Yellow.
Ferrary’s left his vast philatelic collection to the Postmuseum in Berlin after his death in 1917. After World War I ended, the collection was seized by France as part of German war reparations and sold off piecemeal, very much against Ferrary’s wishes (he had wanted his magnificent collection to stay together forever and even willed the museum an endowment to care for the stamps in perpetuity). The British Guiana One-Cent Magenta was sold at auction in 1922 to textile magnate Arthur Hind for a then world record price of $35,000.
That set the course for every other auction of the One-Cent Magenta. The next time it came up for auction was 1970, when it sold to a consortium for a record $280,000. Ten years later it sold at auction for yet another record: $935,000. The buyer was John du Pont, ornithologist, naturalist, amateur sports enthusiast, heir to the du Pont chemical fortune and an avid stamp collector. The last time it was on public display was 1986, when du Pont allowed it to be exhibited at the Ameripex ’86 International Stamp Show in Chicago.
Ten years after that, John du Pont shot his friend, 1984 Olympics champion wrestler Dave Schultz, and killed him. He was found “guilty but mentally ill” of third degree murder. He was sentenced to 13 to 30 years at a minimum security prison in Pennsylvania. In 2010, he died still incarcerated. It’s his estate that is now selling the stamp.
The British Guiana One-Cent Magenta will be traveling to London and Hong Kong this spring, its first public exhibition in 28 years. Then it will return to New York for its special night in June.
The range when feathered coffins were in regular use is known as the Second Intermediate Period (1800 -1550 B.C.), a turbulent time when the Canaanite Hyksos invaders ruled the eastern Nile Delta and the central monarchy was too weak to assert its control over local governments. According to the Spanish National Research Council’s (CSIC) excavation team leader José Manuel Galán, “This style of coffin is rare because it was in use for only a short period of time when Egypt was not unified. Thus, very few have been found in its original place and have been well documented in the archaeological context.”
This is the 13th season of excavations in the north section of Dra Abul-Naga where Djehuty, overseer of the treasury of Queen Hatshepsut (ca 1470 B.C.), was buried. This year’s work began in January. The team found three burial shafts, the first two of which had been broken into in antiquity. The third burial shaft was dug four meters (13 feet) into the bedrock ending in a chamber that was found still sealed with uneven mud bricks. When excavators removed the bricks, they discovered the rishi coffin inside.
The coffin is two meters (6’6″) long, 50 centimeters (20″) wide and 42 centimeters (16.5″) high. It was discovered intact with the paint colors still brilliant. The feathers drawn on the lid represent Maat, the Egyptian creation goddess of truth, order and law, who weighed the soul of the dead against an ostrich feather to determine whether they would reach the afterlife. The sarcophagus is painted to look like the body is being wrapped in paid of wings, like Maat, who is sometimes depicted with feathered arms, is holding the deceased from behind in a protective embrace.
A funerary inscription stretches from the chest of coffin lid to the foot. It prompts offerings to a man named Neb, presumably the inhabitant of the coffin. His full name and exact titles have yet to be deciphered, but he was a high ranking official of the 17th Dynasty. The mummy is still encased within the sarcophagus and appears to be in good condition.
This finding, along with others conducted in the same area, confirm that Dra Abu el-Naga was where were buried the members of the royal family and their courtiers Dynasty XVII, 1600 B.C. A little known period and at the same time, key to understanding the origin of the Egyptian empire, and the structure and functioning of the administration in the new capital city of Thebes.
For more about the Djehuty Project, including excavation diaries for each season and photo galleries (almost all of which is in Spanish), check out the website.
The course of our Richard III nerdathon last Saturday did not run smooth, I’m afraid to say. I’ll just tear off the band-aid and state up front that the recording of the colloquium is as messed up as the live stream was. Right now, it doesn’t look like there is much of anything salvageable. St. Louis University’s Jonathan Sawday was kind enough to confirm the sad news in the comments. He apologized too, because he is a scholar and a gentleman, not because whatever went wrong was his fault.
We shall have to feed our Richard III habit with something else, like, say, that a team led by University of Leicester geneticist Dr. Turi King will attempt to sequence the full genome of Richard III and of Michael Ibsen, his relative down the female line from Richard’s sister Anne of York. All they may have in common is in their mitochondrial DNA, but there’s always a chance they share other genetic links.
There’s a chance all of us share some genetic connection to Richard III, and we’ll get the chance to check it out for ourselves once the sequencing is done. Richard’s full genome will be posted online for scholars to study and the rest of us to geek way out over. He will be the first identified historical figure to have his genome sequenced.
Analysis of Richard III’s genome will allow insight into his genetic make-up, including susceptibility to certain diseases, hair and eye colour, and as the genetic basis of other diseases becomes known, these too can be examined for. It is also expected to shed light on his genetic ancestry and relationship to modern human populations. In addition, next generation sequencing technologies will allow the researchers to detect DNA from other organisms such as pathogens. Whole genome sequencing from Otzi the Iceman found the first known human infection with Lyme disease, for example.
Turi King is particularly interested in looking for DNA evidence of a predisposition to scoliosis. Since there are no surviving contemporary portraits of Richard III — the oldest were painted 40 or 50 years after his death — whatever information they can find regarding his appearance and physical traits will be an interesting confirmation or denial of the dead king’s posthumous press.
The sequencing project is being funded to the tune of £100,000 ($165,000) by the Wellcome Trust, the Leverhulme Trust and Alec Jeffreys, the genetics professor at the University of Leicester who developed genetic fingerprinting. It will done at the University of Leicester and in collaboration with Professor Michael Hofreiter at the University of Potsdam.
Although the question of where to reinter the remains has become a thorny one thanks to the legal challenge brought by the Plantagenet Alliance, a group of distant relatives of Richard’s who believe he should be buried in York rather than in Leicester, the king’s remains and all the samples taken from him will have to be buried sooner or later. Once they’re gone, there will be no going back to get a second look. Have a fully sequenced genome will provide new information well into the future. As scientists identify more genes and determine which are responsible for any given feature, researchers will be able to return to the recorded genome to find them there.
Here’s Turi King giving a brief introduction to the genome sequencing project:
Here’s Leicester’s pitch to keep Richard’s body in the city where he was buried:
The next movement on the burial issue will be a judicial review at the High Court in London March 13th.
After smashing attendance records at The Great Gathering, the reunion of all six surviving A4 Class Pacific steam locomotives held at the National Railway Museum in York last July, Bittern, Dominion of South Africa, Dominion of Canada, Sir Nigel Gresley, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Mallard, holder of the world land speed record for steam locomotives, will come together one last time for The Great Goodbye at the National Railway Museum in Shildon.
2013 was a banner year for the A4s. Mallard reached the record speed of 125.88 miles per hour on July 3rd, 1938. To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the locomotive’s still unmatched accomplishment, the four A4s in museums in the UK were restored and refurbished. The two remaining were shipped back from Montreal, Canada, and Green Bay, Wisconsin, in an immensely complex operation, giving train lovers a chance to see the six A4s refurbished to original condition and all together for the first time.
The six were on display together at The Great Gathering in York from July 3rd to July 17th before splitting up for events around the country. They regrouped at York on October 26th for The Autumn Great Gathering where, among other events, students from York College bathed the A4s in beautiful colored lights for the Locos in a Different Light display. There are some beautiful pictures of the A4s looking even more like works of art than they do just being themselves in this Flickr album.
Also not to be missed are this National Railway Museum blog entry about the Heritage Painting team that restored Mallard — I love the picture of it in its somber matte black war time livery — and this entry summarizing the highlights of Mallard‘s 75 years.
The year of the A4s is coming to a close now, sadly. The Great Goodbye opens Saturday, February 15th and lasts just a week, closing on Sunday, February 23th. Exhibit hours are 9:30AM and 5:00PM and admission is free. If it’s anything like the other Great Gathering events, crowds will flock to see the locomotives so expect lines. All the special photography events and four of seven curator talks are already sold out, but there are still tickets available for the formal Gala Dinner on February 21st (book online here).
There are no firm dates yet because it will depend on weather conditions, a very tricky proposition right now in England which is suffering from horrendous floods, but some time this Spring or Summer, Dominion of Canada will return to the Canadian Railway Museum, in Saint-Constant, a suburb of Montreal, and Dwight D. Eisenhower will return to the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay. The chances of them ever crossing the Atlantic again are slim to none.
University of California, Davis, paleontologists have found the oldest fossil to capture a vertebrate live birth. The specimen contains the fossil of Chaohusaurus, a Mesozoic marine reptile that is one of the oldest ichthyosaur species, and her three babies in the process of being born. It is 248 million years old, about 10 million years older than any other such fossils. The particular moment captured also strongly suggests that, contra the traditional view, live births in Mesozoic aquatic reptiles first evolved on land rather than in the sea.
The fossil was discovered in the lab attached to another fossil, a predatory fish called Saurichthys, that had been excavated from a quarry in south Majiashan, Chaohu, Anhui, eastern China. The two were separated by layers of mudstones; they were not alive at the same time. Because nobody realized mother and her babies were there when Saurichthys was collected, the mother is missing her skull, the front of her body and the end of her tail. Paleontologists were able to estimate her length and dimensions comparing her to more complete specimens that have the same size vertebrae and pelvic bones. Her body was about a meter (3’3″) long and her skull about 12 centimeters (4.7″) long.
Fortunately, most of the birthing action was captured and the bones are very well preserved. There are three offspring in the fossil frame: one neonate, its body largely underneath the mother’s, one embryo inside the mother’s body cavity and one literally in the middle of being born, with the head outside of the pelvic girdle and the body still inside. Very rarely for an embryonic fossil discovery, the two embryos have clearly articulated skulls, and the one mid-birth even has 23 upper teeth and 16 lower teeth preserved.
“The reason for this animal dying is likely difficulty in labor,” said Ryosuke Motani, lead study author and a paleobiologist at the University of California, Davis. Motani believes the first baby was born dead, and the mother may have died of a labor complication from the second, which is stuck half-in, half-out of her body. “Obviously, the mother had some complications,” he said.
The embryonic skulls are pointing towards the mother’s tail and it’s highly unlikely that all the embryos were in breach position. That means Chaohusaurus were born head first, a feature of live births on land since having the head come out first in water would result in high rates of suffocation. This is why marine mammals today are born tail first.
That’s not to say that this particular family tragedy occurred on land. All evidence, including the fish fossil it was found with, suggests it was a marine birth. What it means is that live birth evolved from land-lubbing ancestors of Chaohusaurus rather than having evolved after the reptiles moved into the sea full time. By the Middle Triassic, ichthyosaurs like Mixosaurus had embryonic skulls that faced the mother’s head, which means they were born tail first, an adaptation that must have developed in the water.
Being in the middle of this evolutionary process may have made birth a particularly dangerous proposition for Chaohusaurus, leading to high infant mortality and attendant danger for the mother. That’s speculative, however, until more fossil evidence is found to support it. Perhaps we’ll be lucky and there will be additional information on the question found in one of the more than 80 new ichthyosaur fossils found in the south Majiashan fossil quarry.
The paper on this fascinating and poignant discovery can be freely read online in the journal PLOS ONE.
University of Oslo runologist K. Jonas Nordby has cracked an obscure runic code called jötunvillur. Nordby studied the 80 or so coded runic inscriptions that have been discovered in Northern Europe. Out of those 80, nine were written in jötunvillur code which dates to the 12th or 13th century. One of the nine turned out to be a miniature Rosetta stone. Carved on stick found at the old Hanseatic wharf in Bergen, southwest Norway, the inscription features the name of two men, Sigurd and Lavrans, written in both standard runes and jötunvillur.
Each rune has a name. For instance, the rune for “u” is named “urr,” and the rune “m” is named “maðr.” By studying the Sigurd and Lavrans stick, Nordby discovered that the jötunvillur code worked by replacing the rune sign with the last sound in the rune’s name. As you can tell from the two examples, however, many runes end with the same sound, so jötunvillur is very difficult to read unless you have a handy straight rune original right next to it. You have to guess and re-guess to try to make sense of the code, which is why despite the code mechanism now being exposed, the other eight examples of it still haven’t been translated, although Nordby thinks two of them might also be inscribed with proper names: Thorstein on one and Einar on the other.
Because of how difficult it is to read and the prevalence of names, Nordby believes jötunvillur wasn’t used to send secret messages, but rather as an educational tool to teach people the runic alphabet. It was meant to be written, not read, an exercise to help people learn the rune names. There were no schools that taught runes; it was a system passed down from person to person, and what better way to teach it than to make it fun, a game or a code to crack.
Henrik Williams, a professor at Uppsala University’s Department of Scandinavian Languages and a Swedish expert on runes, says that Nordby’s discovery is important.
“Above all, it helps us understand that there were more codes than we were aware of. Each runic inscription we interpret raises our hopes of soon being able to read more. This is pure detective work and each new method improves our chances,” says Williams.
He agrees that the codes could have been used as a tool for learning runes. But he is uncertain how big a role this would have played in the learning process. In any case, Williams thinks the codes were used for much more than communication.
“They challenged the reader, demonstrated skills, and testify to a joy in reading and writing.”
The most commonly used was digit code which divided the alphabet into a matrix of three rows and six columns. The coded figures had a vertical bar with small diagonal ones on either side. The number of bars on the left side of the symbol indicated which row the rune was in; the number of bars on the right side identified the column. Most of the other codes use Caesar Cipher, a relatively simple system named after Julius Caesar who is said to have used it to communicate with his military officers. It just shifts the letters three of four places to the right.
There is a great deal of playfulness evinced in the rune codes that have been cracked. A challenge to decipher the code is a frequent message. They also played with the format itself, hiding runes in the beards of carved figures or in the decoration of an altar. Some appear to be riddles. They’re games, brain teasers, like medieval Scandinavian Sudoku more than magical incantations or secret communications.
They do that job well, too, as Henrik Williams’ reaction to the recently cracked code underscores:
“But personally I think jötunvillur is an idiotic code, because whoever made it chose a system that is so hard to interpret. It’s irritating not being able to read it.”
I know that irritation well. I bet he stabs the crossword with his pencil when he can’t complete it.
During construction of a new road on the grounds of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson last year, workers unearthed multiple graves containing deceased residents of the Mississippi State Insane Asylum, a state hospital built in 1855 and closed in 1935. Between November and March, crews digging out the subsoil to make sure it was solid enough to support the road unearthed 66 bodies in pine boxes. The coffins were about six feet long, as you would expect, but much thinner than normal human width because they were compressed by the weight of the soil. There were no grave markers identifying the burials.
Experts from the state archives and the Mississippi State University anthropology department removed and documented the remains. They will study the bones for two years, doing isotope analysis of the teeth to determine what kind of food they ate, and therefore where they lived, as children, before reburying them in a UMMC cemetery used for donated anatomical remains and previous archaeological discoveries.
The number of bodies found at the road site made the excavation and reburial possible while still allowing the road to be built. That is not the case with the most recent discoveries. Soil testing on locations slated to become a parking lot, the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge (an $11 million project) and the Children’s Justice Center have found evidence of 1,000 bodies and probably more than that. Since each reburial costs about $3,000, that would add a whopping $3 million to the budget, money they don’t have. It puts a lot of pressure on the UMMC to find new locations for these construction projects, but they’re doing the right thing and leaving Asylum Hill and its many dead free from development.
The Mississippi State Insane Asylum was a cutting edge facility when it opened in January 8th, 1855. It was the first state institution for the mentally ill in Mississippi. Before its construction, people deemed insane were kept locked up in the attics and basements of family homes, or chained in jails and prisons. It took almost a decade for the asylum to be built, after appropriation struggles in the legislature and a five-year yellow fever epidemic delayed construction.
It was designed by architect Joseph Willis who patterned it after the New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum, built in 1848 according to the Kirkbride Plan, an all-encompassing holistic approach to the treatment of mental illness conceived by Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride, a Quaker physician and a lifelong advocate for the curability and humane treatment of the mentally ill. The Mississippi State Insane Asylum was the sixth Kirkbride Plan asylum built in the United States, and the first in the South.
Kirkbride was a co-founder of the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane (AMSAII), the organization that in 1921 would become the American Psychiatric Association. He had an enormous influence on how mental illness was treated in second half of the 19th century, thanks largely to his book On the Construction, Organization, and General Arrangements of Hospitals for the Insane with Some Remarks on Insanity and Its Treatment, first published in 1854. You can read a digitzed copy of it on the U.S. National Library of Medicine website.
The Kirkbride Plan was an incredibly detailed approach to the construction of mental institutions that would best benefit their patients. He detailed the optimal standards for everything from the staggered design of wings to building materials to the landscaping of the grounds to ventilation and drainage systems. Kirkbride asylums were designed to be large, bright, airy buildings on estates of at least 100 acres to provide inmates with pleasure grounds and land to farm. Kirkbride promoted “moral treatment,” based on the idea that pleasant environs, outdoor work, social interaction, cleanliness and edification of the mind were more effective at curing mental illness than harsh confinement and medical treatments like bleeding and purging.
From On the Construction, Organization, and General Arrangements of Hospitals:
A hospital for the insane should have a cheerful and comfortable appearance, every thing repulsive and prison-like should be carefully avoided, and even the means of effecting the proper degree of security should be masked, as far as possible, by arrangements of a pleasant and attractive character.
And it can’t be crammed full of beds either. Again from Kirkbride’s book:
All the best authorities agree that the number of insane confined in one hospital, should not exceed two hundred and fifty, and it is very important that at no time should a larger number be admitted than the building is calculated to accommodate comfortably, as a crowded institution cannot fail to exercise an unfavorable influence on the welfare of its patients.
That 250 figure is the maximum number of patients he calculated could be visited daily by the chief medical officer. Anything more than that and the man in charge would have to delegate and that almost inevitably meant a steep decline in conditions. Those 250 residents would be divided into eight classes of mental illness. Each class would get its own ward, and since the sexes were segregated, there were 16 total wards with an average of 15 patients. Each ward should be outfitted with a parlor, a dining room with dumb waiter, a speaking tube leading to the kitchen, a corridor, single rooms for patients, larger rooms for patients who needed their own special attendants, small dormitories with a connected chamber for a group attendant, a clothes room, a bath room, a wash and sink room, a water closet, an infirmary, two works rooms, a museum and reading room, a school room, drying closets, a forced ventilation system along with a natural ventilation system that allowed “fresh cool breezes” to pass through the wards.
When the Mississippi asylum opened, it had a mere 150 inmates, well-within Kirkbride’s maximum. During the Civil War, in 1863 the asylum was taken over by the 46th Indiana Infantry Regiment who used the inmates’ pleasure grounds and vegetable gardens for fortifications, embankments and to supply their troops. Under Reconstruction, African-American patients were first admitted and in 1870 the inmate population doubled to 300. The death rate was contained at around 21 per year, and the state legislature compelled the asylum trustees to visit once a week.
With the end of Reconstruction in 1877, the legislature stopped giving a crap, funds dried up and the asylum went into a steep decline. When Dr. Thomas J. Mitchell was appointed superintendent in 1878, he found conditions “verging on what the original Bedlam must have been like.” It took a major fire and the death an inmate before the state appropriated funds to install electrical lights and connect the asylum to the city water system (as opposed to the pestilent and drought-prone ponds that were its sole source of water before then) in 1894.
Additions and repairs were made, but not sufficient to keep up with the increase in admissions. By 1920, the Mississippi State Insane Hospital (so renamed in 1900) had 1,670 inmates. By 1930, the number of residents had increased to 2,649. Obviously the Kirkbride Plan was no longer. Finally conditions were so atrocious that in 1935 the hospital was closed and the patients moved to the new state hospital in Whitfield where it remains to this day.
The old asylum was demolished and in 1954, the new University Medical Center was built. Evidence of burials from its asylum days has turned up on occasion, not always handled with the proper respect. In 1990, 20 headstones were reportedly thrown in a gully. A few years after that workers installing a laundry steam line found 44 unmarked graves. Considering how many thousands of poor wretches lived and died in that asylum over the years, the entire campus is a likely cemetery.
Mired in a winter that keeps insisting on snapping back to sub-freezing temperatures and traffic-clogging snow and ice, it warms the cockles of my frozen heart to see the first film footage of New York City during a monster snowstorm. It was filmed for the Edison Manufacturing Co. on February 17, 1902, by Edwin S. Porter, a groundbreaking director who pioneered techniques like dissolves, cross-cutting and close-ups. It records a view of Madison Square, back when Madison Square Garden was actually on Madison Square, buried under massive snowdrifts.
Those are the New York Fire Department’s horse-drawn engines trying to negotiate the snowy terrain. You can see the trolleys trying to keep on schedule, a myriad dedicated pedestrians, carts hauling large barrels of what I assume are spirituous beverages but really could be anything, the snow-covered statue of William Seward and the luxurious Fifth Avenue Hotel, once host to US Presidents and crowned heads of Europe but in decline by the time the film was shot. The always awesome Bowery Boys think the beams at the end of the film are a glimpse of the construction site of the iconic Flatiron Building which would be completed just a few months after the film in the summer of 1902.
I think my favorite part is the hansome cab that appears horse-first at 1:24. Patented by Joseph Hansom in England in 1834, by the end of the 19th century these small, fast, highly maneuverable carriages were ubiquitous in cities like London and New York. Cab is short for cabriolet, the type of carriage, and when automated taximeters were added to calculate fares, the hansomes became known as taxicabs. That low little one-horse carriage is the progenitor of the yellow cars that are ubiquitous in New York today. You can see in the film that the era of the hansome cab was already winding down in 1902. By the 1920s, motor vehicles had taken over.
Edison titled the film “New York City in a Blizzard,” but he was being dramatic. The storm didn’t actually rise to the blizzard level. Although this snowstorm produced crazy drifts up to five feet high, on the whole New York City wasn’t actually hit that hard. Winds of 40 miles an hour and deep snow caused traffic, train and shipping delays, but there were no major accidents which is impressive considering you can see the horses struggle to keep their footing in the film. Temperatures hovered around 30 degrees, keeping the snow relatively wet and conditions bearable. The blizzard of March 1888 saw temperatures drop to six degrees below zero, winds of 60 miles an hour and two feet of snowfall. Compared to that, the 1902 storm was a cakewalk. Connecticut and the rest of New England were hit much harder.
The year after he shot the snow storm, Edwin S. Porter would move very far beyond the shots of daily life and secure his place in film history by directing the seminal picture The Great Train Robbery.
When you think of Georges Seurat, you probably picture his pointillist masterpieces like A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte, but in his tragically short life (he died during a diphtheria epidemic when he was just 31 years old), Seurat produced far more drawings than he did paintings. Along with La Grande Jatte, he made six other large-scale paintings, 60 smaller paintings and oil sketches, some of the latter preparatory to the monumental pieces. There are about 500 surviving drawings, plus four sketchbooks from late teens and early 20s when he was in art school and just after he left. (You can see selections from those notebooks in this online exhibit MoMA created to accompany their 2007 show of Seurat’s drawings.) Stripped of the intense color and brushwork of his Pointillist pieces, Seurat’s drawings showcase his development as an artist, his understanding of light and dark, his use of lines, cross-hatching, paper and pencil textures to create images that can be both realistic and sometimes verging on abstract.
Georges Seurat was born to well-off parents in Paris in 1859. He began drawing at an early age; his first extant drawings were signed and dated 1874, when he was 14 years old. Recognizing his talent but unwilling to let him bypass a conventional education, in 1875 his parents sent him to the Ecole Municipale de Sculpture et Dessin, a small neighborhood art school run by sculptor Justin Lequien, while he finished high school. There the focus was on copying the classics, drawing from lithographs of old masters and plaster casts of ancient sculptures. He was entirely competent at it, but there was little sign in these highly formal early forays of the innovator Seurat would soon become.
His secondary schooling completed, in 1878 he passed the entrance exam of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and continued his instruction under Henri Lehman. Lehman’s pedagogical approach was similar to Lequien’s, focused on drawing live models, after antique sculptures, old masters and French Baroque and Neoclassical works. Drawings survive from Seurat’s school days that are copies after Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, Ghiberti, Perugino, Holbein, Poussin and Ingres, among others. He seemed poised to follow the well-worn path towards conventional success in the French art world of the late 19th century: pass exams, exhibit, win prizes, go to Rome to study the classics in person, return to snag commissions from the government and wealthy patrons.
Then he took a detour. Eighteen months in to his studies at the Ecole, he left to do a year of military service. In November of 1880, he was released but he didn’t go back to school. His formal education was over. Seurat rented a little studio apartment, drew informal sketches of the people and landscapes of Paris and environs, spending two years concentrating on black and white drawing. That’s not to say he rejected his schooling. He may have chafed under it and rebelled, but you can see the student of ancient sculpture in the still postures of La Grande Jatte, and the Renaissance copyist in his embrace of light and dark.
He would later describe this period to Belgian symbolist poet Emile Verhaeren: “Little by little he told me about his beginnings, his apprenticeship with Lehmann, his school years, the whole story of efforts soured by routine and outmoded practices. Then how he found himself, personally, through studying others, through lessons and rules, the way one discovers unknown stones beneath stratifications of land and soil.” That voyage of self-discovery, of integrating his schooling with his own vision and study of color theory, is key to our understanding of the Post-Impressionist pioneer he grew into.
One of the earliest drawings to show Seurat’s movement away from idealized antique forms into his own personal style is Mendiant Hindou (Indian Beggar), drawn ca. 1878, either the end of his studies at the Ecole Municipale de Sculpture et Dessin or the beginning of his time at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. It sold at a Sotheby’s auction on Thursday for $3,971,644 including buyer’s premium, far, far exceeding the pre-sale estimate of $130,512 – $195,768. Instead of disappearing into an anonymous private collection, this important transitional piece has found a new home in that most deep-pocketed of museums, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
The Getty has no Seurat paintings, but it does have three other significant drawings the artist made in the early 1880s.
Indian Beggar represents a critical turning point in Seurat’s approach to figure drawing, towards a more distinctive style that employs gradations of light and shadow to define the form and mood of his subjects.
In the drawing, the subject, an old man, sits with his face turned away from the viewer, shoulders slumped, with folds of skin rippling down his stomach. Delicate effects of light and shadow are achieved through soft, rubbed, and repeated strokes and cross-hatching.
The addition of Mendiant Hindou gives them an important capsule collection. and I hope will inspire them to display all four of the works together so visitors can see the progression of his work.
Okay, it’s not that early. I just couldn’t resist mooching from Shakespeare for obvious reasons. This is your official History Blog wakeup call: one hour from now the St. Louis University colloquium on the excavation and identification of the remains of King Richard III kicks off. Station yourself on the R3@SLU website to watch the event streaming. Geneticist Dr. Turi King and the dig’s fieldwork director Matthew Morris will be on hand to discuss the find along with history, humanities, forensic pathology and English professors from SLU.
The colloquium lasts six hours but they will break for nature and lunch, so you probably won’t have to use that Snapple bottle you haven’t recycled yet. Alternatively, you could just wait for the entire video to be uploaded to the site after the discussion is over. Dr. Jonathan Sawday from the St. Louis University English department and one of the organizers of the event, was kind enough to comment on the first post to assure us that the video will be available, and the site now confirms it will be found on the Schedule page.
Right now that page contains the actual schedule. Matthew Moris and Turi King will be on in the afternoon, but don’t skip the St. Louis University talks because it all looks like gold, Jerry. There’s something for everyone. As I am also a forensic pathology nerd, I am very much looking forward to Dr. Michael Graham discussion of Medico-legal Death Investigation: Now and Then.
I’ll be watching today, updating this post with any nerdy commentary as the proverbial spirit moves me. Join me in the comments, if the proverbial spirit moves you.
And we’re on! It’s cool to hear to the perspective of Leicesterians from Dr. Sawday.
Oh hey, I didn’t know Sir Walter Scott invented the term “War of the Roses.”
Archaeologist Thomas Finan: Leading a dig is “less of an Indiana Jones experience and more of an Eisenhower experience.” Nicely put.
Dammit, the stream has stopped for me. Okay it’s back. I missed a chunk of Dr. Finan’s presentation about his finds in the UK which I will catch up when the full video is uploaded.
Archaeologists see an unidentified skeleton as a sample of the wider population, a source of information about the population’s health, age, diet, physical attributes, etc. The individual’s cause of death is not often writ on the skeletal remains. If they’ve died of disease or old age or a sudden heart attack, say, you’re not going necessarily going to find evidence of that on the bones.
Now that the recovery of ancient DNA is possible, it opens the door to a whole new investigation into the remains as an individual rather than as a source of data for the wider population.
It’s pathology time! Ooh, interesting that China was doing forensic death investigations in the 13th century.
The coroner’s office was established in England in the 8th or 9th century. That is crazy. They didn’t include autopsies until much later, however, so even if Richard’s death had been investigated, his body would have been looked at but nothing more.
The US is still under the coroner system today. Frontline did a fantastic and terrifying expose’ of what a slapdash disaster death investigations can be in the United States. You can watch that program online on the PBS website and I highly, HIGHLY recommend it.
The choppiness is getting me down, y’all. I might have to wait for the finished video.
Stab wound with hilt mark and hesitation marks on the wrist. That slice with the lined up pinpoints indicate a serrated weapon was used, in this case a saw. Wound interpretation is fascinating.
Now there’s what I’m sure is a compelling round table conversation on how archaeologists, curators, etc. handle human remains in a respectful way but it’s like an audio version of a strobe light and I just can’t take it anymore. I’m giving up for now, but I’ll try again regularly.
Huh. They seem to have gone back to Dr. Finan’s presentation and it sounds and looks fine. I’ll take it!
Okay, it appears they used the break to replay the presentation that was so choppy. Now it’s back to the live colloquium with Dr. Anthony Hasler’s talk Richard’s World. There are still some moments when the stream has to catch up with itself, but that constant choppiness has cleared up.
Spoke too soon. The choppiness is back.
Okay it’s 1:20 EST and they’re replaying Anthony Hasler’s presentation during the lunch break. The replays all seem to be work well, which means the final video will be good quality.
…. Aaand choppiness again. I’m officially conceding defeat. I’ll try again after lunch.
It’s 2:34 EST and Matthew Morris is up. The stream still stutters. I’m going to go ahead and wait for the completed video.
Researchers have discovered footprints left during the Early Pleistocene between one million and 780,000 years ago on a beach in Happisburgh, Norfolk, on the east coast of England. These are the oldest hominid footprints ever found outside of Africa. They’re also the only Early Pleistocene human fossils ever found in the UK.
They were revealed last May at low tide after rough seas had beaten the sand off the foreshore exposing laminated silts that were soft sediments a million years ago. A team of researchers from the British Museum, Natural History Museum and Queen Mary University of London were exploring the shore as part of the Happisburgh Project when they spotted a large group of circular and elongated hollows. They look very much like human footprint fossils from the Holocene era, so the team decided to examine them more closely.
There was little time to document and study the find in depth. The scouring of the sand cover left the silts exposed to wave erosion that could flatten out the hollows in a matter of weeks. Because the tide carried sand and sea water into the hollows and a near constant rain made it impossible to clear them sufficiently for traditional field measurements to be taken, the team used laser-scanning and multi-image photogrammetry (MIP) to capture high resolution 3D images of the surface. On their hands and knees in the hard rain, they cleared off sand and scooped out water, trying to empty the hollows enough that they could be photographed and scanned.
Their heroic efforts were successful. A total of 155 hollows were identified and at least partially measured. Analysis of the MIP images found that orientation could be determined on 49 of them and they were oriented north-south. On 29 of the prints, the arch and either the heel or the front of the foot was visible which made it possible to determine they were going south. Twelve of the hollows were clearly outlined enough to be thoroughly measured. These ranged in dimension from 30–50 mm (1.2″-2″) deep, 140–250 mm (5.5″-9.8″) long and 60–110 mm (2.4″-4.3″) wide, all within the range of juvenile to adult hominid foot sizes. One footprint even has visible toes. Extrapolating from the foot size, the people who left the prints are estimated to have been between .93 meters (3′) and 1.73 meters (5’8″) tall.
Dr Isabelle De Groote, an anthropologist at Liverpool John Moores University who studied the prints, said: “We have identified at least five individuals here.
Since no hominid bones have been found, we can’t be certain was species left the footprints. One possibility is that they were relatives of the species Homo antecessor, or Pioneer Man. Homo antecessor bones of similar age have been discovered at Atapuerca in northern Spain. They walked upright and were of the same general height range as the estimates from the footprints. Homo antecessor appears to have become extinct around 600,000 years ago.
It’s incredibly fortunate for us that this important find was made and documented in two weeks, because just as the experts feared, coastal erosion completely removed the prints by the end of May. They’re gone now, and who knows what other remains of major international significance are going with them.
You can read the paper on the find in the online journal Plos One. It’s eminently readable, not too jargon-intensive and quite short. I highly recommend it.
There has long been a debate among historians and Egyptologists over whether Amenhotep III and his son, the future Akhenaten shared a co-regency towards the end of the father’s reign, with some experts positing a power sharing arrangement lasting as long as 12 years or as short as two years. Much of the recent scholarship on the controversy has argued against the co-regency theory altogether. There has been no solid archaeological evidence to resolve the debate, but on Thursday Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim, Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities, announced that inscriptions found in the Luxor tomb of Vizier Amenhotep-Huy provide conclusive evidence that Amenhotep III shared power with Akhenaten for at least eight years in the waning days of the elder’s reign.
The inscriptions were carved onto architectural remains, collapsed walls and columns, in tomb number 28 in the El Asasif area of Luxor. Some of the inscriptions depict scenes of father and son together in the same space as one follows the other. There are also cartouches — the prenomen or throne name of a pharaoh surrounded by a protective oval — of both pharaohs next to each other. Traditionally, viziers’ tombs always bear the cartouche of the pharaoh they served under.
As if that weren’t bonanza enough, the inscriptions date to a very specific time: the first Heb-Sed of Amenhotep III. The Heb-Sed was a feast like a royal jubilee celebrated by a pharaoh 30 years into his reign and then every three years after that. Since Amenhotep ruled for approximately 38 years (1388–1351 B.C. or 1391–1353 B.C.). Records survive referring to his 38th regnal year and some historians believe he may have begun his 39th but died very soon into it. That means father and son were co-regents for at least eight years.
Amenhotep III has the most surviving statues of any pharaoh, 250 of them from the beginning of his reign all the way through to the end. The ones towards the end depict an ailing man. Forensic examination of his mummy found evidence of arthritis, obesity and a plethora of dental caries and abscesses which must have been excruciatingly painful. He was in his 50s at the time of his death, so it makes sense that after ruling over Egypt since he was a boy, he enlisted his son to help him when his myriad illnesses made the business of pharaohing increasingly difficult.
The vizier’s tomb was first unearthed in 1978. A multi-national team led by the Instituto de Estudios del Antiguo Egipto de Madrid have been excavating, recording and studying the architectural elements of the tomb since 2009. You can read more about on the website of the Vizier Amenhotep-Huy Project. It’s in Spanish, but if you can’t read it in the original it’s worth it to use an online translator to explore the excavation diaries for each season. There are some great videos of the digs too.
A stained glass window in the Chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France, designed by Swiss-born French architect Le Corbusier was smashed to smithereens in a break-in last month. On the night of January 17th, a person or persons broke through the stained glass window, hand-painted with a yellow flower, dark red clouds and the moon on a blue background, and stole a heavy concrete collection box from inside the church. The box contained no money; it was torn open and abandoned on the chapel grounds. The door leading to the library and gift shop also shows the tell-tale signs of attempted forced entry.
Le Corbusier painted all the simple, richly colored windows in the building, but the one destroyed was reportedly the only one bearing his signature. It’s very hard to see in pictures of the intact window because he signed the dark cloud underneath the moon, but if you look closely on the bottom edge of the cloud you can just make out some light vertical scratch-like things. That’s the signature which reads “L .. C 14 Mai 55,” the artist’s initials and the creation date, May 14th, 1955. You can see heart-breaking views of the broken window in this French news story:
Initial reports described the damage as irreparable, but all the glass fragments that could be found have been collected in two large bags and sent to master glassmaker Pierre-Alain Parot in Côte d’Or. Parot has restored some of the most exquisite stained glass windows in the world, including those in the Strasbourg Cathedral and is scheduled to begin work on the windows of Sainte Chapelle in Paris shortly. Despite his workshop’s undeniable skill, the job is a daunting one. When the thieves broke through, it busted into thousands of tiny pieces.
The good news is restorers have already found few pieces of the signature. They’ve begun by grouping like with like, much as you would put together a jigsaw puzzle. You can see the glassmakers at work in this news story (also in French):
The bad news is this is doubtless going to be a very costly, time-consuming rescue mission, and the decision about how far to go in the attempt is in the hands of the private owners of the chapel, the Association de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame du Haut. The master glassmaker and experts from the Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs (DRAC) will first have to determine just how much of the window they think is salvageable and then present their conclusions to the Association. At the very least, this process will give experts the chance to study paint and glass samples, identify microorganisms or environmental issues at risk of damaging the paint, and determine what approach would be the most effective in conserving the surviving windows.
This disaster has put the Association de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame du Haut’s record of securing and maintaining the chapel under the microscope. The Le Corbusier Foundation in Paris, an organization founded by the architect himself to ensure the conservation of his work, is displeased, to say the very least. The chapel is afflicted with moisture problems and serious damage to the concrete and masonry. While upkeep on the 60-year-old building is neglected, the Association chose to spend €10 million ($13,522,000) on a Renzo Piano-designed monastery built into the hillside next to the chapel. Boasting housing units for the Poor Clare sisters, an oratory for pilgrims, a large new visitor’s center, the new addition was completed in 2011.
The Association de l’Oeuvre de Notre-Dame du Haut which owns and runs the site has done little to preserve the Chapel itself which is quite literally falling apart, with the white pebbledash cracked and crumbling away and the bare concrete eroding at the edges. Given the huge sums paid for the Piano project and the income from roughly 80,000 tourist tickets a year, this is scandalous, as is the failure to guarantee security. The building urgently needs restoration.
The Association is therefore going to be under heavy scrutiny for their response to this violation.
The Chapel of Notre Dame du Haut was a center of religious pilgrimage long before it was a center of architectural pilgrimage. The hilltop was a sacred space at least as far back as the Romans. The first Christian chapel was built on the site in the 4th century. The second chapel was destroyed during World War II. When the Catholic Church decided to rebuild after the war, reformers enlisted Le Corbusier to create a modernist spiritual space, a clean break from the decadent associations of the past.
Because access to the hilltop was a challenge, the architect had to build the chapel without the mechanical tools of construction that had become part of his trademark approach. Thus the modern building was constructed using wooden forms, cast concrete, steel reinforcement all done by hand. The chapel curvilinear shapes, thick walls and swooping roof are unlike anything else Le Corbusier made. Many consider it his masterpiece. Indeed, it was finished in 1954 and declared a national Historical Monument just 13 years later.
In the summer of 1942, shortly before Anne Frank and her family moved into the secret annex on the Prinsengracht Canal that would be their entire world for two years, Anne approached her neighbor and playmate Toosje Kupers to ask her for a favor. Anne was concerned that her treasured marble collection would fall into the wrong hands, so she asked Toosje to keep them for safe until her return. She also gave Toosje a tea set and a book she had gotten for her 13th birthday for safe-keeping. The Kupers family also agreed to take in the Frank’s cat Moortje, although to perpetuate the ruse that they had quickly fled the country, they left the cat behind in their home and the Kupers pretended their decision to adopt her was spontaneous.
As we know, Anne never did return. She and her family were betrayed and on August 4th, 1944, they were arrested. Anne and her sister Margot died of typhyus at Bergen-Belsen in March of 1945. Their mother Edith died in Auschwitz. Father Otto Frank was the only survivor. He made it out of Auschwitz alive and returned to Amsterdam to look for his wife and daughters. By the summer of 1945, Otto knew that his entire family was dead.
Toosje Kupers had kept her promise to Anne. The marbles, tea set and book were still safe. She offered to return Anne’s treasures to her father, but Otto Frank told her to keep them. And so she did, for decades, eventually forgetting that she still had them. Toosje rediscovered Anne’s things in her attic just last year when she was packing up to move. She contacted the Anne Frank House Museum and offered to donate the precious artifacts of Anne’s childhood to the museum.
The book and tea set have gone on display in the year since their rediscovery, but the museum has been saving the marbles for a special occasion. The colorful set is part of an exhibition called The Second World War in 100 Objects that was officially opened Tuesday by His Majesty King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands at the Kunsthal Rotterdam. The 100 objects come from 25 Dutch war and resistance museums and give members of the general public.
They include the spectacles worn as a disguise by Dutch resistance fighter Hannie Schaft; a folding motorcycle that literally fell out of the sky during the parachute drops of Operation Market Garden; a decoy paratrooper dummy (known as a “Rupert”) used by the British to deceive the German troops; the grave cross of American pilot James M. Hansen, who lies buried at the Netherlands American Cemetery at Margraten; and a sweater made from dog’s hair during the “hunger winter” of 1944-45.
The marbles fit right in as poignant symbols of how Anne Frank, despite the extraordinary circumstances of the last two years of her life and her great writing talent, was still just a little girl who collected colorful marbles and kept them in a tin box.
[Teresien da Silva, head of collections at the Anne Frank House museum,] said Frank was one of many Jewish children who gave away their toys before going into hiding or being deported.
“For children during that time, marbles were a treasure. They worked very hard to win them,” she said.
While the marbles are old, she said, they are in good condition.
Last year, a cartoon by illustrator Harry Grant Dart that appeared in the centerfold of the March 18th, 1908 issue of the political satire magazine Puck went viral. It’s a scene set in a fictional New York bar called Cleopatra’s Cafe, Mrs. P.J. Gilligan proprietrix, which is populated entirely by women. Captioned “Why Not Go the Limit?,” it’s meant to be a gasp-worthy image of a hellish future in which widows play cards over the police blotter, mothers neglect their children and women assiduously follow news transmitted over a ticker that is not a stock ticker, by the way, but a sporting ticker reporting the results of horse races and boxing matches on which these degenerates have doubtless placed bets. It strikes a different note to many a modern viewer, however. Its charming cocktails (I’ll have a Hot Maud and Eliza, thank you), fashionably dressed, liberated Edwardian ladies and its free lunch banquet of almonds and fudge make it look like a pretty great place to hang out.
Most of the explanations of this image I’ve read see it as an anti-suffrage piece, a vision of what could happen should the movement advocating for votes for women succeed. See this piece by The Appendix, for instance, which describes Dart’s illustration as “a parodic, misogynistic one that imagined a world where women could vote and, consequently, had taken the traditional place of men as drinking, smoking, gambling barflies.” The fact that every single woman in the scene is smoking is mentioned only as a personal quirk of Dart’s, a particular appalled fascination he harbored for women using tobacco products.
That’s actually the reverse of what is really going on at Cleopatra’s Cafe. The bar’s entire raison d’etre is the smoking. It has nothing to do with suffrage. The subheading under the caption is “For the benefit of those ladies who ask the right to smoke in public.” That isn’t code for a wider campaign of women’s rights, like women demanding the right to smoke in public along with the right to vote. The suffrage movement had no interest in addressing the question of women smoking because it wasn’t a political issue but rather a debate over social mores and bore no relevance to the struggle for voting rights.
Suffragettes were, in the main, society ladies — educated, moneyed, and importantly to them, respectable. The taboo against women smoking in public in turn of the century America associated the act with women of ill-repute (actresses, prostitutes, etc.), the kind of women who were distinctly not ladies or anyone a lady would wish to be around. Smoking telegraphed sexual availability, with co-ed smoking often described as “promiscuous.” In the mouth of a woman, it seemed, a cigar was not just a cigar.
This was not the case in Europe, where women smoking were a common sight by 1906 when New York Times correspondent Elizabeth Biddle reported from London how English ladies, even very proper young ladies who would never dream of going to a restaurant with a man without an appropriate female chaperone, felt entirely free to light one up in front of everyone. When Biddle’s visitor from the US saw two “thoroughly respectable looking” women wearing no make-up and dowdy clothes (in contrast to slatternly actresses and other morally questionable women easily identifiable by their caked on slap and vulgar, showy dresses) smoke in a restaurant, he begged her forgiveness for mistaking the restaurant for a reputable establishment and hustled her out the door.
The taboo was still strong in the United States, but the end was nigh. What the cartoon is lampooning is a brouhaha that exploded in New York at the end of 1907 and the beginning of 1908 regarding the erosion of that taboo. It all started on December 29th when Jean (called James in English) Martin, owner of the luxury French restaurant Café Martin at 26th Street and Fifth Avenue, announced that ladies would be allowed to smoke anywhere in the restaurant on New Year’s Eve.
“On New Year’s Eve all ladies who come to the Café Martin may smoke if they so desire. After this one night I may or I may not withdraw this privilege. Smoking by ladies is never objectionable. The smartest women in New York smoke, so why should puritanical proprietors rule against this mode of procedure any more than against the drinking of cocktails or highballs.
“For a time our head waiters have been blind. They have not seen women smoking. But why not be honest? One thing I want to emphasize. I mean by this announcement that ladies may smoke. Some women who smoke are quite as offensive to the eye as when they drink. A lady smoking a cigarette is not so objectionable as another kind of woman drinking a cup of tea.”
See that class mechanism at work trying to extricate the act of smoking from its association with women, not ladies, of the demimonde? Other restaurants like Rector’s quickly followed suit, and the shocking development made news all over the country. When New Year’s Eve came, reporters were on the ground to follow up on the pressing matter of which women were smoking and how much.
If all the women in the Café Martin had taken advantage of the proprietor’s permission to smoke if they wanted to on NYE, every one of the guests would have gone into 1908 in a haze so thick it could have been cut.
But the women, or a large majority of them, did not smoke. They seemed to have all sorts of a good time, but very few of them will have a chance to swear off the weed to-day. [...]
There were perhaps a dozen women smoking the café at one time, a little before 12 o’clock. They did it modestly, for the most part, and it was very evident that many were beginners, taking advantage of the edict just for the fun of it.
Others appeared to be used to cigarettes and to enjoy them thoroughly. The smoking, however, was only a small part of the fun, for there was plenty to eat and to drink, songs to be sung, and jokes to be played, and every one was a good fellow, worth wishing a Happy New Year to.
So a few women (ladies?) smoked, the first ball dropped in Times Square and a good time was had by all. No biggie, right? Wrong. The backlash was swift and merciless. Within a week, a city ordinance was proposed prohibiting women from smoking in public places, public places in this case meaning establishments like restaurants, hotels, theaters, dance halls and what have you, not streets or parks. On January 21st, 1908, the New York City Board of Aldermen unanimously passed it. The Sullivan Ordinance, named after Tammany boss and the One Alderman to Rule Them All “Little Tim” Sullivan, enjoined all operators of such hostelries from allowing women to smoke on their premises. Violators would be sentenced to pay a fine of $5-$25 dollars and/or to serve up to 10 days in jail.
It is a mystery never fully explained why Little Tim, who himself owned several establishments of less than stellar repute in his homebase of the Bowery and whose cousin and partner in bossdom Big Tim Sullivan adulterously impregnated at least six actresses from his dance halls and who would die of syphilis five years after the ordinance passed, suddenly found his monocle a’poppin’ over the very thought of ladies smoking in public. One possible explanation is that Little Tim saw it as a populist measure, a means to ensure fine uptown ladies didn’t get to smoke without opprobrium just like the not-so-fine downtown ladies in his purview didn’t get to.
Or perhaps his reasoning was more petty than that. Alderman Brown, who abstained from the voting, made sure the Times knew that he did “not believe the report that a certain well-known politician went to a restaurant some weeks ago, asked to have a table reserved, was told that all the tables were taken, and thereupon asked: ‘Do you know who I am?’ and on giving his name was told that it didn’t make any difference who he was, he could not have a table.” He absolutely did not believe that story one whit, and certainly not that said politician “told the proprietor of the restaurant that he would ‘hear from him’ or that this ordinance is the answer.”
Whatever the reason, the restaurants got the message. The Café Martin posted a sign on the front door informing women that they would not be allowed to smoke in the restaurant. The previous policy of willful blindness went back into effect, with waiters looking the other way when respectable ladies accompanied by men had a little puff of their husbands’ cigarettes behind their fans.
The response to the ordinance was not entirely positive. The women at the Gotham Club’s 1908 musicale protested vociferously against the practice of women smoking in public, but the men didn’t seem to be very riled up about it, and one of the women in secret admitted to a Times reporter that she actually did smoke but it wouldn’t do to approve of it publicly. A letter to the editor of the New York Times from an indignant woman called out Sullivan for his grandstanding and hypocrisy.
The anti-smoking law just passed affects a comparatively few women, but the principle underlying it is humiliating to every self-respecting woman, and is an insult to all.
Here we have a Bowery politician in his native atmosphere, the Bowery saloon and all it represents, vice in all forms unveiled, originating arbitrary laws for one-half of New York’s citizens, as if they were slaves or incompetents, without for one moment thinking it necessary to consult their wishes or opinions on the matter, just as if these citizens were not for the most part better educated, more moral, more law-abiding, and more self-respecting that the said Mr. Sullivan.
Iceburn! Such a monster iceburn. Because seriously, both Tim Sullivans were just drenched in corruption. So much so, in fact, that our old friend Puck magazine, which was of conservative Democratic leanings and was profoundly anti-Irish and anti-Tammany, in a 1905 centerfold placed them among the invading Tammany Hall politicans in the role of Lars Porsena’s army while a heroic William T. Jerome, District Attorney for the State of New York, stands alone as a valiant Horatius defending the bridge to “Honest Government.” (See Livy’s History of Rome, Book II, Chapter X for the story of Horatius’ solo defense of the Sublician Bridge in the face of Etruscan invaders.)
Even the Times, generally not in favor of women smoking on its editorial page, thought it was as ridiculous as when Peter Stuyvesant tried to force women to wear only “broad flounces” (apparently a type of petticoat ruffle in this context, although broad flounces were part of women’s dresses as well) and only dance “shuffle and turn” steps. The prohibition alone, went the logic, could be sufficient to cause women to rebel and smoke like chimneys where previously they had not.
Then there was an arrest. On January 23rd, 1908, at 1:20 AM, one Katie Mulcahey was witnessed by a beat cop striking a match against a house on Bowery and Division Street and lighting a cigarette. She was taken to night court where she refused to give her address and told the judge she’d never heard of the law and wouldn’t care if she had. She was fined $5 which she did not have and so was taken to jail.
This absurdity was a function of all the chatter about the ordinance, because it didn’t actually follow the law which did not prohibit smoking on the street and held the owners of establishments culpable for women smoking, not the women themselves. The misapplied and misbegotten ordinance didn’t have long to live anyway. On February 2nd, while Little Tim Sullivan was in Hot Springs, Virginia, trying to treat the kidney disease that would kill him in a year, Mayor of New York George B. McClellan, Jr., son of the Civil War general of the same name, vetoed the ordinance as illegal.
A month later, Puck grumpily published Harry Grant Dart’s vision of a bar full of ladies smoking, gambling and eating fudge. This is what it’ll come to, is the message, if you allow these ladies to indulge publicly in the vice of tobacco. They would soon get a chance to find out. Within a few years, establishments allowing women to smoke were the norm. In 1911, Andre Bustanoby, co-owner with his brother Jacques of the elegant Café des Beaux Arts, put it succinctly:
“We think our clientele know better than we do what is proper and what is not. They are adults. They have traveled all over the world. We give all liberty to those coming here and none of them has ever taken advantage of us. They have as much common sense as we have. We do not see we have any right to ask one of our friends to stop smoking if she thinks she ought to smoke. A law against smoking in public by women would be a foolish law.”
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, one of London’s most iconic and oldest pubs, has had a couple of run-ins with fire. The original pub at 145 Fleet Street was built in 1538. It burned down during the Great London Fire of 1666 and was rebuilt in 1667. That same 1667 reconstruction still stands but it was put to heated test in 1962 when fire broke out on the upper storey. Thankfully the damage was not catastrophic. In fact, in one way at least, it was a boon. A set of old tiles was discovered in the debris with explicit depictions of impressively varied sexual encounters.
Because they were too awesome to be seen by the general public, the tiles were hustled away to the Museum of London for study, not display. Experts found they were plaster of Paris relief tiles with sooting on the back that suggests they were used as fireplace surrounds. There was also scorching on the front of some from unintentional fires like the one that exposed them. Some were in good condition with just a few scratches; some were missing significant portions of the scene with only a disembodied foot on a pillow remaining; some were broken into several pieces. From the dress of the figures, particularly their blunt-toed shoes, curators determined the tiles were made after 1740.
Among the more notable scenes depicted are one of a woman whipping a man’s naked buttocks with a bundle of twigs while another woman kneels in front of him, one of a woman in a basket on a rope, lowering herself onto a man on his back underneath her, one of a woman bent over holding a pillow while a man penetrates her from behind, one of a woman straddling a man seated on a chair. In the ribald 18th century, these kinds of materials were relatively common, if you had the money to acquire them. Moulded plaster reliefs were not expensive to produce, but the erotic subject matter would have jacked up (snicker) the price considerably. Very few of these erotic artifacts from this time have survived.
It’s not clear why the pub was so spicily decorated upstairs. One possibility is that Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese had a little side business as a brothel going on. They could also have adorned a gentleman’s club room. The 18th century saw a proliferation of libertine private societies like The Hellfire Club which met to celebrate wine, women and song.
The collection was put in storage at the museum and hasn’t seen the light of say since. There aren’t even images on their entries in the online ceramics catalog, unlike with the thousands of other far less interesting tiles. Small pictures of one complete tile (a fairly staid one) and a few inscrutable fragments are available as prints for sale (the first eight results here), and that’s it.
That will change come Valentine’s Day, when the complete set will be put on public display for the first time at an evening exhibition for adults only alluringly titled Late London: City of Seduction. It’s a one night only event, and, in my nerdy opinion, a far more productive couples activity than boring old dinner reservations. Chocolate at Hampton Court Palace during the day, then absinthe tasting and sex tile viewings at night. Now that’s how you show a date a good time.
Having said that, I think it’s lame in this day and age that the tiles aren’t on regular display. I thought we were past needing secret rooms in museums for ancient Roman phalluses and erotic art to be hidden away where only men of wealth and hilariously theoretical good character were allowed to see them. Surely we’re past hiding them in storage all together and only allowing the public to enjoy them when there’s a nice Valentine’s Day profit to be made in ticket sales.
Museum of London curator Jackie Keily says in this article that “for obvious reasons these tiles are not normally out on public display.” Why is it obvious? If you’re concerned about children being exposed to sexually graphic historical material (I personally am not, but I get that it raises issues for some), you can keep the artifacts in an adults-only space. Otherwise, what’s the big deal? I say let the Georgian freak flag fly.
On Valentine’s Day, Hampton Court Palace will open its royal Chocolate Kitchen to the public for the first time. The chocolate kitchen was active in the 18th century under three Georgian kings, William III, George I and George II, all of whom were big chocolate fans. Chocolate played a particularly dramatic role in the life and Elvis-like death of George II. Chocolate was George II’s last meal. He had a cup of hot chocolate for breakfast at 6:00 AM on October 25th, 1760, then took to his convenience (ie, his pooping chair). His valet heard a crash and ran in to find the king unconscious on the floor. The king died shortly thereafter of an aortic aneurysm.
Chocolate had been popular in England since the 17th century when it became widespread in beverage form. George I’s personal chocolatier, Thomas Tosier, was particularly famous as was his wife Grace who capitalized on her husband’s connections and ran a successful chocolate house in Greenwich. Tosier’s domain was two rooms in the vast kitchens of Hampton Court: the Chocolate Kitchen and the Chocolate Room. The former was where the chocolate confections were made. It’s a small space compared to the giant multi-spit fireplaces of the Tudor kitchens, but it has a stove, a modest fireplace, counter and shelves. The Chocolate Room was for storage. Cocoa beans, a vast array of spices, sugar, other ingredients used in chocolate production (oil of Jamaican pepper, oil of aniseed, oil of cinnamon, cardamom, Guinea pepper, musk, ambergris, and civet musk were all included in a recipe King Charles II gave to the Earl of Sandwich in the mid-1600s) were kept in the room, along with silver, gold and porcelain vessels and cups for service.
The precise location of the Chocolate Kitchen was lost in the mists of time after George III, who hated Hampton Court and refused to stay there, and subsequent monarchs abandoned the palace to benign neglect. Researchers have recently rediscovered the spaces in the palace’s Fountain Court. Both rooms had been used as a storage and were crammed with assorted clutter. That turned out to be a boon for historic preservation. The kitchen was found virtually intact, complete with its original stove, furniture and equipment. It is the only surviving royal chocolate kitchen in the United Kingdom.
On December 13th, 2013, Hampton Court Palace launched a fund raiser to conserve the Chocolate Kitchen and deck out the Chocolate Room with the rarified ingredients and rich accouterments that graced it in its Georgian heyday. It was brief but successful and the Chocolate Kitchen will reopen on February 14th, one of a number of special exhibitions and events in 2014 commemorating the 300th anniversary of the accession of the Hanoverian Dynasty to the British throne.
The new display will explore the story of the royal responsibility of making chocolate for the King. The former Chocolate Room, which once housed dining luxuries, will be dressed with ceramics, copper cooking equipment, bespoke chocolate serving silverware, glassware and linens of the time. Elegant and refined Georgian table dressing and decorating will also be explored in the display, and in the private rooms Queen Caroline herself once dined in. [...]
Polly Putnam, curator, Hampton Court Palace, said: “This is a ‘below stairs’ story like no other. Chocolate was an expensive luxury. Having your own chocolate maker, chocolate kitchen and chocolate room filled with precious porcelain and silver – all this, just for chocolate – was the last word in elegance and decadence. It was really something that only kings and queens could afford, and is a real contrast with all the pies and meat we associate with the Tudor Kitchens at Hampton court.”
Visitors to Hampton Court Palace will be able to watch experts make chocolate the way it was done in the Georgian era. Live demonstrations will take place regularly over the year and the entire process, from production to service in the private rooms in which Queen Caroline, wife of King George II and a big chocolate fan, indulged her taste for the sweet cocoa beverage.
That may seem obvious, but given how often he was exhumed and reburied and parts of him given away as relics, it’s actually quite notable that the collection of bones in the Karlsschrein, the Shrine of Charlemagne, and other reliquaries in the Aachen Cathedral all appear to come from the same person who matches contemporary descriptions of the Frankish king.
Charlemagne died almost exactly 1200 years ago, on January 28th, 814, and was buried in the choir of the Palatine Chapel in Aachen Cathedral. (See Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne, written 15-20 years after his death for a description.) In 1000, Otto III, keen to present himself as the successor of the great man, had the burial vault opened. According to German chronicler and bishop Thietmar of Merseburg who was a contemporary of Otto’s, when the vault was opened they found Charlemagne’s uncorrupt body seated upon a marble throne wearing a crown with a scepter in his hand and the gospels open in his lap. Otto reportedly Helped himself to some of the relics and brought them to Rome.
Frederick I Barbarossa was the next to disinter Charlemagne. In 1165, he had the remains exhumed and displayed as holy relics at the Aachen Court festival. Again this was a means for Frederick to establish a connection with the revered leader and to position Aachen as a center of pilgrimage like St. Denis or Westminster. To curry favor with Frederick, Antipope Paschal III canonized Charlemagne that same year, although this, like all of Paschal’s acts, was never recognized by the Vatican. Barbarossa had Charlemagne’s remains reburied, this time in an elaborate third century A.D. Roman marble sarcophagus depicting the Rape of Persephone, which may seem incongruous as a topic for Christian burial, but like many ancient myths was re-interpreted as a symbol of Christ’s resurrection.
He didn’t stay there for long. In 1215, Frederick II had Charlemagne exhumed yet again. He commissioned local goldsmiths to make a rich gold casket to hold the bones. That’s the Karlsschrein originally in the placed in the center of the Palatine Chapel underneath a chandelier donated by Frederick Barbarossa in 1168.
Nearly 200 years passed before the next king inserted himself into Charlemagne’s eternal rest. In 1349, some of his bones were removed to individual reliquaries by Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. He had a gold reliquary made to contain a thigh bone, and the Bust of Charlemagne to contain the skullcap. Louis XI of France contributed to the trend in 1481 by commissioning the Arm Reliquary, a golden arm that contains the ulna and radius from Charlemagne’s right arm.
It was scientists who took over from the emperors and kings. In 1861, Charlemagne’s remains were exhumed again so they could be studied. His skeleton was reconstructed and a very generous estimate (1.92 meters, or 6’4″) made of his height. In 1988, scientists exhumed his remains one more time, this time in secret. This study covered the bones in the reliquaries as well, a total of 94 bones and bone fragments, and they spent years meticulously examining and testing the collection. On Wednesday, January 28th, the 1200th anniversary of Charlemagne’s death, the results of the research were announced.
One of the scientists studying the remains, Professor Frank Rühli, said: “Thanks to the results from 1988 up until today, we can say with great likelihood that we are dealing with the skeleton of Charlemagne.”
From studying the dimensions of the upper arm, thigh and shin bones, scientists have built up a picture of the man behind the skeleton, and it matches descriptions of Charlemagne.
At 1.84 metres (six feet), he was unusually tall for his time. The team also estimated his weight at around 78 kilograms, giving him a slim body mass index of around 23.
The average height for an adult male in the 9th century was 1.69 meters or 5’6″, which put Charlemagne in the 99th percentile. Einhard’s description of him fits the results of the study even in some of the smaller details, like the limp that struck him in his later years. Researchers found that the kneecap and heel bone had deposits consistent with an injury.
From Chapter 22 of the Life of Charlemagne:
Charles was large and strong, and of lofty stature, though not disproportionately tall (his height is well known to have been seven times the length of his foot); the upper part of his head was round, his eyes very large and animated, nose a little long, hair fair, and face laughing and merry. Thus his appearance was always stately and dignified, whether he was standing or sitting; although his neck was thick and somewhat short, and his belly rather prominent; but the symmetry of the rest of his body concealed these defects. His gait was firm, his whole carriage manly, and his voice clear, but not so strong as his size led one to expect. His health was excellent, except during the four years preceding his death, when he was subject to frequent fevers; at the last he even limped a little with one foot.
The first World Series Championship rings were given to the New York Giants in 1922 after they defeated the New York Yankees, who were actually their tenants at that time, paying extortionate rent to use the Giants’ Polo Grounds as their home field. The next year’s World Series would be a rematch with a very different outcome. For one thing, the Yankees weren’t their opponents’ tenants anymore. Yankee Stadium opened to a record crowd of 74,000 on April 19th, 1923, and when the New York teams went to the World Series, Babe Ruth inaugurated their new home with a home run in game one. He hit two more home runs in the remaining games of the series and finished the season with a phenomenal .368 batting average, the highest of his career and still to this day the highest batting average in Yankees history. The Yankees won in six, their first World Series win.
The Yankees received a pocket watch for their victory in the 1923 World Series, then a common gift. The Yankees would continue to receive watches until 1927 after which they switched to rings too, and in the next decade all the other teams followed suit. Now rings are de rigeur and watches are artifacts that only rarely appear on the market. It’s a 14 karat gold Gruen Verithin watch made in Cincinnati. It has an unusual pentagonal shape and is engraved on the back with a scene of a pitcher throwing a ball at a hitter while a catcher crouches behind him. Above them writ large is “YANKEES” and below the field is “World’s Champions 1923.”
Babe Ruth’s 1923 World Series watch was one of his most prized possessions, representing the dawn of Yankee dominance, his personal best batting average and the opening of the stadium that would become known as The House That Ruth Built. In 1946, Ruth was diagnosed with cancer at the base of his skull and in his neck. His doctors tried everything — experimental drugs, radiation — but despite a brief remission in 1947, the Babe’s health rapidly deterioration. During this time, his friend Charles Schwefel, manager of the Gramercy Park Hotel whose bar Ruth had been a regular at since the 1930s, was constantly by his side as the cancer took its inexorable toll in 1947 and 1948.
His doctors and family hid his cancer from Ruth, but he could see the writing on the wall. Sometime in those last two years of his life, Ruth asked Schwefel if he’d like to have anything from his collection as a memento. Schwefel asked for the 1923 watch. Ruth had his name engraved on the upper edge of the back of the watch, added a line to the engraving on the inside rear case “To My Pal Charles Schwefel,” and gave his pal the watch.
Schwefel only kept it for two years after which his wife gave it to Charles’ nephew Lewis Fern saying that it should have been his all along. Fern had caddied for Ruth for years, including on May 6th, 1937, when they saw the Hindenburg pass overhead on the way to its tragic fate while they were playing at St. Alban’s Golf Club in Queens. Lewis Fern kept the watch for almost four decades. In 1988, he sold it to an anonymous private collector (sigh) for $200,000. Said collector apparently has one of the greatest sports memorabilia collections in the world, but he keeps it hidden and unpublished. Once the watch was sold to him, it disappeared off the face of the earth and was considered lost.
Now it emerges again, for sale at Heritage Auctions’ Sports Platinum Night Auction in Manhattan on February 22nd. Online bidding has already begun with the current bid at $240,000. The pre-sale estimate is $750,000+, but for such an important artifact from baseball’s most legendary player and most dominant franchise, the sky is the limit.
“As the Babe’s personal award for the first World Championship in New York Yankees franchise history, I believe that this is the most important piece of New York Yankees memorabilia that exists,” said Chris Ivy, Director of Sports Collectibles at Heritage Auctions. “This championship watch, which was thought lost to time, will now take its rightful place as one of the crown jewels of sports memorabilia. Based on prices realized for similar historic championship hardware, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it far exceed our preliminary auction estimate.”