A New Fad Sweeps the Country in 1870s

We all know about popular fads: the hula hoops of the fifties, the pet rocks of the seventies, and body-piercing jewelry of the present time. The young people generally embrace fads with open arms while older generations wring their hands and wonder what the younger generation is coming to. However, we generally do not think about fads in the times of our ancestors. A quick bit of historical study shows that our ancestors were just as enthusiastic about new ideas and fashions as are any of their descendants. Some of these fads had far-reaching effects on future generations. In fact, some of us might not be here today had it not been for one of these fads.

One item that we take for granted today is the bicycle. Yet this two-wheeled device was all the rage when first introduced in the late 1870s. To be sure, two-wheel conveyances had been invented much earlier but were rarely seen. In 1790, Frenchman Chevalier de Sivrac conceived the idea of a crude form of a bicycle, consisting of a wooden beam with wheels attached below each end. It had no pedals; the rider pushed along the ground with his feet. It had no steering capability. Even worse, it had no seat. The rider simply sat on the beam. Apparently de Sivrac built only one of these, and it was soon relegated to a storage shed. Later models improved on the earlier design with a cushioned seat of some sort. In 1813, Baron Charles de Drais of Saurbrun, Germany, introduced a bicycle that was similar to Sivrac’s model but with a swivel head to aid steering.

President of Turkey says Muslims Discovered America

I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this claim but it is interesting. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday that the Americas were discovered by Muslims in the 12th century, nearly three centuries before Christopher Columbus set foot there.

“Contacts between Latin America and Islam date back to the 12th century. Muslims discovered America in 1178, not Christopher Columbus,” the conservative president said in a televised speech during an Istanbul summit of Muslim leaders from Latin America. “Muslim sailors arrived in America from 1178. Columbus mentioned the existence of a mosque on a hill on the Cuban coast.”

World War II Marine Corps Combat Recordings are Available Online

Marine Corps Combat Recordings provide an amazing and vivid accounting of the war in the South Pacific during World War II. Actual recording began late in 1943 and continued through the occupation of Japan in 1945. The recordings are some of the most historically significant collections in the Recorded Sound Section of the Library of Congress.

Click on the above image to view a larger version

Preservation of an Early Fugitive Slave Chapel that was part of the Underground Railway

London, Ontario’s 166-year-old fugitive slave chapel has made its way home, in much the same way the first black families found refuge prior to the end of the U.S. Civil War: With perseverance amid tribulation, and hope for a greater glory.

The chapel was moved from Thames St. to a lot beside its daughter church, Beth Emanuel British Methodist Episcopal (BME) Church on Grey St, a slow-crawling 140 minutes through London’s downtown traffic.

The Slave Chapel was built in 1848 on Thames St., and became home to the African Methodist Episcopal congregation. It soon became London’s centre for fugitive slaves from the U.S.

Shoah Visual History Foundation Offers Video Testimonies by Holocaust Survivors

Steven Spielberg has won almost every honor Hollywood can bestow for his movies, including “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Saving Private Ryan.” It was 1993’s “Schindler’s List,” however, that gave the director the opportunity to create a very different legacy — “something I was put on this earth to do,” Mr. Spielberg said.

“Schindler’s List” is based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who saved more than 1,000 Jews from the Nazi death camps during World War II. It won seven Academy Awards, including best picture and best director. While filming “Schindler’s List” in Poland, Mr. Spielberg was visited by Holocaust survivors eager to have their stories told, and some survivors appeared at the end of the film. Mr. Spielberg fulfilled a promise to give them a voice by establishing the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation in 1994 to film and preserve first-person survivor testimonies and encourage their use in education.

Steven Spielberg established the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation to gather video testimonies from survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust. While most of those who gave testimony were Jewish survivors, the Foundation also interviewed homosexual survivors, Jehovah’s Witness survivors, liberators and liberation witnesses, political prisoners, rescuers and aid providers, Roma and Sinti (Gypsy) survivors, survivors of Eugenics policies, and war crimes trials participants. The archive was later expanded to include testimonies by survivors of the 1937-38 Nanjing, China, Massacre and of the 1994 Rwandan Tutsi genocide.

Identifying Subjects of Photos of Virginians and North Carolinians 1890 to 1922

For the last four years, New York researcher and photographer Sarah Stacke has been trying to identify people in anonymous portraits taken of Southerners at the dawn of a new century. The images include both White and Black Americans. Given the locations and dates, we can assume that many of the Black Americans were former slaves. Sarah Stacke would like to identify all of the subjects before their names become lost to history. Can you help?

The pictures were taken by little known photographer, Hugh Mangum. He traveled across Virginia and North Carolina from 1890 to 1922. Rare for the time, Mangum photographed both blacks and whites, sometimes sitting them right after the next. Mangum died of influenza at the age of 44 and left little record of his clients.

New Project Hopes to Find Out How Many Irishmen Died in the First World War

The Irish War Memorial Records, which list the names of 49,400 men who died in the first World War, are to be updated. The Government is to combine with Google and the In Flanders Fields museum in Ypres to update the records, which were first created in 1922. They hope the project will give a more accurate picture of how many Irishmen died in the war.

The records represent an attempt to catalogue all those who died, but they include non-Irish soldiers who died in Irish regiments and exclude many Irishmen who died in non-Irish regiments. There are also many double entries and errors. The records were digitised and released last year. They are available at imr.inflandersfields.be, but many of the individual records after nearly 100 years are flawed or incomplete.

You can read the details in an article by Ronan McGreevy and also watch a video in the Irish Times web site at http://goo.gl/OgJmZu.

The Confederates Who Moved to Brazil

Many citizens of the Confederacy disappeared from public records at the end of the Civil War or soon thereafter. Of course, record keeping was spotty at best in the turmoil that followed the defeat of the Confederacy. If you can’t find your relatives during that time, you might be tempted to say, “Oh well, he (or she) probably died in the war.” Don’t be so sure.

Americana is a small city about 100 miles from São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city. The town was settled by disgruntled American Confederates after their side lost the Civil War. Descendants of the original settlers still live there today, and most of them still speak English with a strong southern drawl.

After the Civil War, many families from the old South were left landless and destitute. They probably hated living under a conquering army of Yankees. Brazilian emperor Dom Pedro II realized this group of disenchanted Americans could be a solution to one of his problems: how to develop the sparsely-settled areas of his country. He was especially interested in developing the cultivation of cotton, a crop well-known to the former Confederates. He provided incentives to people who knew how to raise cotton, offering land at twenty-two cents an acre with four years credit and passage to Brazil for thirty Yankee dollars. Each family was encouraged to bring a tent, light-weight furniture, farming supplies and seeds, and provisions to last six months.

California State Library Digitizes 3-D Images from 1800s

The California State Library is digitizing about 10,000 old sepia-toned 3-D photos – most from the 1800s. Officially known as stereoscopic photos, they were a popular turn-of-the-century parlor activity, shared like postcards and viewed through hand-held viewers that turned the side-by-side double photos into a single 3-D image.

Taken by both professional and amateur photographers, the photos subjects ranged from majestic outdoor settings like Yosemite’s Half Dome to news-style photos of major events such as the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. They also captured everyday portraits of Americans at work and play, from Gold Rush miners to tourists visiting “Toyland” at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.

Boston’s Old State House Time Capsule Made a Few Accurate Predictions — And Some Very Wrong Ones

A letter to posterity written more than 100 years ago and found in a time capsule hidden inside Boston’s Old State House golden lion statue made a few accurate predictions — and some very wrong ones. An archivist for the Bostonian Society, Elizabeth Roscio, opened one of the letters on Tuesday that was found in the 113-year-old time capsule, from George A. Litchfield, the business manager of the Boston Traveler. Litchfield’s 1901 letter describes an era of what he considered advanced technology, and some visions of the future that included adventures in flight, exploration, and communication.

Today in History: The War of the Worlds Broadcast, October 30, 1938

Seventy-six years ago today, on October 30, 1938, the CBS radio network broadcast a radio play of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. the broadcast caused widespread panic, with citizens taking to the streets and scores of injuries resulting. Many listeners apparently thought it was a factual news broadcast.

In fact, the story wasn’t new. The War of the World was first published as a serialized novel n Pearson’s Magazine in the UK and Cosmopolitan magazine in the US. in 1897 and told the story of an alien invasion of England. The Mercury Theatre’s on air production changed the location to New Jersey and employed a series of news bulletins to heighten the realism of the story.

Apple 1 Computer Sells for Record US$905,000

Click on the above image to view a larger version

In the October 8, 2014, newsletter I wrote, “Here is a Chance to Own a Piece of Computer History: an Original Apple 1 Computer.” I wrote about a History of Science auction at Bonhams New York here an original Apple 1 computer was to be sold. Auction officials expected to attract bids between US$300,000 and $500,000. They were wrong.

The computer sold for US$905,000, becoming the most expensive Apple computer ever sold.

Details may be found at http://www.gizmag.com/apple-1-computer-sold/34422.

Mapping Boston’s Entire History

Ed McCarthy grew up in Boston and is now a history geek. McCarthy wondered why it should be so difficult to get a geographic understanding of where Boston’s many historic sites once stood. There had to be a way to combine a literary and visual vehicle to the past. McCarthy needed a map. More specifically, he needed to create a map.

The result is a series of maps that depict different sections of Boston, over a time span of nearly 400 years. When viewed on an individual basis, any one of McCarthy’s maps delivers a block-by-block recreation of a given section of the city in a specific era—where, for example, the British burial ground was located in American Revolution-era Boston. But when viewed as a comprehensive work, as McCarthy intends them to be upon completion, his maps effectively chart the development of Boston over nearly four centuries. It’s an incredibly informative collection, the work of someone who clearly cares very deeply about his city.

The project is even more impressive when you learn that Ed McCarthy is not a professional cartographer. He also is not a programmer. In fact, he is a veteran EMT and ambulance driver in Boston. Yet his maps are impressive.

Our Ancestors Believed that Birds Migrated to the Moon

An article by Matt Simon in Wired Magazine’s web site illustrates the beliefs of many of our ancestors. For instance:

17th century English minister and scientist Charles Morton wrote a surprisingly well-reasoned, though obviously totally inaccurate, treatise claiming birds migrate to the moon and back every year. Some species seem to disappear entirely, the only logical conclusion is that they set off into space. “Now, whither should these creatures go, unless it were to the moon?” he asked.

Aristotle reckoned that some birds hibernate while others simply transform into different species when winter comes around.

In the 16th century, the great cartographer and writer Olaus Magnus championed the theory that swallows disappear in the winter not because they travel to tropical climes to pick up coconuts, but because they bury themselves in the clay at the bottom of rivers.

NOAA Team Discovers Two Vessels from WW-II Convoy Battle off North Carolina

A bit more of history has been uncovered: German U-boat 576 and freighter Bluefields were found within 240 yards of each other, approximately 30 miles off the coast of North Carolina. The following was written by the NOAA Monitor National Marine Sanctuary:

October 21, 2014

A team of researchers led by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries have discovered two significant vessels from World War II’s Battle of the Atlantic. The German U-boat 576 and the freighter Bluefields were found approximately 30 miles off the coast of North Carolina. Lost for more than 70 years, the discovery of the two vessels, in an area known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, is a rare window into a historic military battle and the underwater battlefield landscape of WWII.

“This is not just the discovery of a single shipwreck,” said Joe Hoyt, a NOAA sanctuary scientist and chief scientist for the expedition. “We have discovered an important battle site that is part of the Battle of the Atlantic. These two ships rest only a few hundred yards apart and together help us interpret and share their forgotten stories.”

German U-Boat German U-576. Click on the image to view a larger version.

The German U-576 departs Saint-Nazaire, France, on the Atlantic coast, circa 1940-1942. The submarine was sunk in 1942 by aircraft fire after attacking and sinking the Nicaraguan freighter Bluefields and two other ships off North Carolina.

Update: Was Jack the Ripper REALLY Identified through DNA? No!

On September 8, 2014, I published an article at http://goo.gl/qiOXlb about recent claims that Jack the Ripper had finally been identified by the use of DNA. I thought the “evidence” was much too flimsy to be believed. Now a group of scientists has published a report that agrees: the identity of notorious killer is still a mystery 126 years after string of murders.

Scientists have said evidence which claimed to have unmasked Jack the Ripper is wrong because a decimal point may have been put in the wrong place during calculations to match the killer’s DNA with his descendants. In fact, they say, the sequence he found could be shared by the majority of the population and therefore cannot be matched to Kosminski – one of the suspects in the string of murders which took place on London’s streets more than 100 years ago – or the Ripper’s victim.

The U.S. Navy’s Oldest Ship is Being Restored

One of my favorite tourist attractions in Boston is Old Ironsides, drawing more than 500,000 visitors a year. Officially named the USS Constitution, the world’s oldest commissioned warship still afloat is a major attraction to anyone visiting Boston and for very good reasons. It gives visitors a great insight into the history of the United States and the hardships faced by the brave men who served on board. However, it will no longer be at the Navy Yard pier in Charlestown for a few years.

Built in Boston and launched in October 1797, the USS Constitution was among the first warships of the new nation. It was commissioned by the U.S. Navy following the Revolutionary War in order to protect American merchant ships off the northern coast of Africa. The three-mast frigate earned its nickname after winning battles during the War of 1812 against Great Britain.

Tine has taken its toll (again) and the USS Constitution was towed across Boston Harbor Friday to a drydock where it will undergo repairs. It is expected to be back in the water by 2017.

A Prediction That Didn’t Work Out

Predicting the future is always a questionable idea. Even the experts can get it wrong.

Television at the 1939 World’s Fair

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the world’s first television broadcast. RCA televised the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. Few people could afford TV sets at the time and many predicted that the new-fangled invention would never catch on.

The New York Times wrote, “The problem with television is that the people must sit and keep their eyes glued to a screen… the average American family hasn’t time for it.”

It strikes me that television indeed has become a success, despite the predictions from “experts.”

Multispectral Imaging Decodes a Burnt Magna Carta for First Time in 283 Years

Click on the above image to view a larger version.

More than 280 years after it was damaged in a fire, one of the original copies of the Magna Carta is legible again. There were four copies of the document created at the time. One, held by the British Library, was badly damaged in a fire in 1731. That copy can now be read on a computer screen after scientists used multispectral imaging to decipher the text of the “Burnt Magna Carta” without touching or further damaging the delicate parchment.

Multispectral imaging is a process that photographed the burnt parchment, using a variety of LED lights, spanning the spectrum from ultraviolet to infrared, outside the range of human vision. The various images each produces a few clues to the original ink. By combining the multiple images, text that is invisible to the naked eye is suddenly visible.

Here is a Chance to Own a Piece of Computer History: an Original Apple 1 Computer

Click on the above picture to view a larger version.

The upcoming History of Science auction at Bonhams New York could provide fine opportunities for investments in rare collectibles, including a 1976 Apple 1 motherboard. According to Bonhams, around 200 Apple 1 computers were built and were the first pre-assembled personal computers to hit the market. This particular model is believed to be part of a first batch of 50 and was sold for US$666.66 at the time. It is said to be in working order and, complete with vintage keyboard, Sanyo monitor and owner’s manual, is expected to attract bids between US$300,000 and $500,000.


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