Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Jean-Henri Fabre: the man who loved bugs

Jean-Henri Fabre
Jean-Henri Fabre loved to study bugs as a boy. He grew up poor in the south of France, gained a teaching certificate at age 19, and went on to become a physicist, chemist and botonist. But, he always came back to the insects. Small wonder that he became a noted entomologist. Indeed, he is considered the father of modern entomology.

Fabre was a stickler for detail and he made careful notes about his observations. But he had a gift that many other scientists lack. Fabre knew how to tell a good story. Because of that, he was a popular teacher. His writings about instects are engaging because he imbues his subjects with nearly human qualities without sacrificing scientific accuracy.

Over several years, Fabre produced a series of books called Souvenirs entomologiques, first published in 1879. There were ten series in all, the last published in 1909. In the early 20th century, famed translator, Alexander Teixeira de Mattos, undertook translation of the text into English. In 1921, Dodd, Mead and Company, published Fabre's Book of Insects, retold, from de Mattos' translation, by writer Maud Margaret Key Stawell. A copy of Fabre's Book of Insects is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

The illustrator of this remarkable volume deserves a special mention. He is Edward J. Detmold, an English artist who, along with this twin brother, Charles, became interested in natural history at a young age. Their artistic talent became evident early and they exhibited watercolors at the Royal Academy in London. They illustrated Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.

Edward's brother committed suicide at age 24, and Edward was devastated. He continued to work, and in 1909, illustrated The Fables of Aesop. There is no evidence that Edward ever met Jean-Henri Fabre but they would have had a lot in common. Edward's love of natural history is evident in his illustrations for this book. Without being at all cartoonish, they give the bugs in this volume the personalities observed so carefully by Jean-Henri Fabre.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Black Hawk, Keokuk and the legends

Moses Keokuk
In 1878, when Chief Thunderwater was 13 years old and not yet a chief, his uncle gave him an extraordinary book, titled The Life and Adventures of Black Hawk:  With Sketches of Keokuk, the Sac and Fox Indians, and the Late Black Hawk War.
Chief Thunderwater
(Oghema Niagara)

Chief Thunderwater’s uncle was a very important man, a chief of the Sac (Sauk) and Fox tribe, named Moses Keokuk. Moses’ father (Chief Thunderwater’s grandfather) was an important man, too, and he had a large section in the book.

Moses inscribed the book to Chief Thunderwater, who was also known as Oghema Niagara. “For Oghema,” he wrote, “form (sic) Moses Keokuk to keep much time,” and dated it 1878. The book is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA. When he received the book, Oghema was traveling and performing, along with his family, in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

It was far different than the life his grandfather – or even his parents – had led. Indeed, Oghema’s father, Jee-Wan-Ga, was a hunter and healer. He earned a living selling furs and herbal remedies to the white men. Oghema’s mother, Aw-Pau-Che-Kaw-Paw -Qua, was one of Keokuk’s many daughters. Keokuk had eight wives.

Keokuk and his son (Moses) Keokuk
The tribe had lived mostly in an area west of Lake Michigan that became Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri. The tribe fought on the side of the British in the War of 1812, and many held little regard for the Americans. Black Hawk wasn’t a chief but he had achieved a position of leadership through his deeds of courage.

Black Hawk had a rival who also came up the hard way: Keokuk, who was an ambitious man. He became the tribal guest-keeper and he saw the opportunity to use his position in the tribe to gain more power and prestige.

In 1830, while Black Hawk and his warriors were away on a hunting trip, Keokuk and others entered into a treaty with American officials that ceded Indian lands to the United States in exchange for cash and other considerations. Keokuk became a principal negotiator in that agreement. Included in the land deal was the ancestral home and birthplace of Black Hawk near what is now Rock Island, Illinois.

When Black Hawk returned, he was livid. He contended that Keokuk had no authority to make such a treaty. Inevitably, there ensued an armed conflict that became known as the Black Hawk War. It lasted for five months in 1832. Several future luminaries participated in the war, including Abraham Lincoln (in his only military service), Jefferson Davis, Winfield Scott and Zachary Taylor.

Black Hawk
The final battle, called the Battle of Bad Axe, turned into a massacre, with women and children slaughtered by American soldiers as they tried to flee across the Mississippi River. Black Hawk initially escaped, but was later captured under a flag of truce and imprisoned for a year.

Eventually, Keokuk became the designated chief of the tribe. The war over, the United States government set about in earnest to move Native Americans west of the Mississippi River to Indian Territory.

About six years later, Benjamin Drake, a newspaper editor and historian from Cincinnati, published this book about Black Hawk, Keokuk, the Sac and Fox tribe and the Black Hawk War. The book apparently did very well, selling many copies and going into several printings. The copy in the Lighthouse collection is the seventh edition, published in 1842.

Moses Keokuk, son of Keokuk, became leader of the Sac and Fox tribe upon his father’s death in 1848. Like his father, Moses was a pragmatic sort who negotiated the best possible situation for his people under the circumstances. He was actually quite inclined toward an Euroamerican lifestyle. He lived in a house in the Indian Territory and he became a Baptist minister in 1877. He encouraged his people to become Christians. His exhortations apparently didn’t influence his nephew, however.

Oghema Niagara grew up to become Chief Thunderwater, who lived in Cleveland for many years and became active in Indian political affairs both in the United States and Canada, where he rankled federal officials by pushing for better health care and education for Native Americans. He encouraged Native Americans to adhere to the old beliefs, eschewing Christianity.

He supported himself for a time creating and selling herbal remedies learned from his father under labels like Thunderwater’s Mohawk Oil and Jee-Wan-Ga Tea.

Joc-O-Sot (Courtesy of
Chief Thunderwater became known as an outspoken advocate of Indian rights. He successfully stopped an attempt by developers to move the Erie Street Cemetery in Cleveland, burial ground of Joc-O-Sot, another chief who had fought with Black Hawk. Thunderwater told city officials the land was sacred ground and that if it was disturbed great calamity would befall the city. With the help of the Early Settlers Association, the city was persuaded to halt the project to remove the cemetery, which is right across from Jacobs Field, home of the Cleveland Indians baseball team.

Inside Thunderwater’s book is a small cemetery card with the location of Joc-O-Sot’s grave, and thereby hangs another tale. In his years after being a warrior, Joc-O-Sot toured with a traveling theatrical troupe, as Oghema Niagara and his family had done. In June 1844, Queen Victoria received him in an audience and commissioned a portrait of him.

While he was in England, Joc-O-Sot became ill, and as quickly as he could, he returned to Cleveland. He planned to return to his Sauk roots in Minnesota to die but didn’t make it, and was instead buried in the Erie Street Cemetery.

Legend has it that Joc-O-Sot’s spirit, outraged that he wasn’t buried in his birthplace, still haunts the Erie Street Cemetery. Adherents to that idea point to Joc-O-Sot’s shattered tombstone as evidence that the spirit was unhappy. Others claim lightning smashed the tombstone.

Chief Thunderwater is buried right next to Joc-O-Sot. For years, Thunderwater family members have conducted an ritual corn ceremony by the graves to honor them, giving rise to yet another legend. Every year three stalks of maize grow next to the graves. Some say the gods send the corn to nourish Joc-O-Sot until he makes the final journey to his tribal lands. Others say a Sauk woman, perhaps Thunderwater's relative, visits to placate his restless spirit.

It is said that sometimes Joc-O-Sot’s spirit haunts Jacobs Field across the road, never good news for already superstitious baseball players. When there’s a Joc-O-Sot sighting, fans do what they can to placate him, leaving shot glasses, feathers or other trinkets at the gravesite. At this writing, Cleveland was in 13.5 games back in the AL Central Divison, but still in second place behind Detroit, so maybe Joc-O-Sot is quiet for the moment.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

C. Perry Snell, Snell Isle's visionary

C. Perry Snell
In the 1920s, dreamers and schemers descended on the Sunshine State bent on making a fortune in the burgeoning real estate market. In the earliest days of the Florida Land Boom, it seemed that one had but to imagine great wealth for it to be so. Parcels were bought and sold, sometimes within hours, at huge profits.

The real estate bubble didn’t last long—a scant five years or so—and when the end came some would-be real estate tycoons were stuck with land bought at inflated prices and no money. But there were developers who, though they had prospered during the boom, were cautious and had not been caught up in the buying frenzy.

C. Perry Snell, for instance, had been in St. Petersburg for a couple of decades before the hubbub began. He had successfully developed residential projects that eventually became known as Old Northeast. He owned land bought many years before that he had not yet developed.

About the time everything was going bust, C. Perry Snell was launching his most ambitious project—Snell Isle. It was to be a prestigious residential area on a parcel close to downtown St. Petersburg and overlooking Tampa Bay.

Oh, Perry Snell was a dreamer, to be sure, but not so much of a schemer. Snell’s projects had been solid, forward looking investments. He is credited with being among those who helped guide the city in creating the huge bayfront park lands that residents still enjoy today.

A brochure from the start of the project (and other related ephemera) is in the collection of rare and unusual items at Lighthouse Books, ABAA. The piece, printed with a full-color cover and some full-color pages inside, vividly depicts Snell’s grand vision, but a close examination also shows the risk Snell was taking with a raw piece of land, parts of which were often under water.  

Snell imagined an actual island created by cutting a canal from Coffeepot Bayou to Smacks Bayou. That canal, of course, was never completed and Snell Isle never really became an island. Still, Snell’s brochure must have stirred thoughts of European splendor:

“In imagination we step into a gondola anchored at the entrace of a lagoon, the entrance flanked by a castle-like building with parapets and a colorful and artistic Venetian landing. The slender, bright bark glides under low arched bridges and pursues its way through narrow canals and lagoons, gliding between rows of charming little Venetian shops flanking the sides of the canal or along a winding lagoon overlooking a parked golf course.”

Another part of the project that never came to fruition: the grand hotel with all the latest amenities that he envisioned for Bay Point. Today the tiny island off Snell Isle is festooned with 31 homes instead.

Nevertheless, much of Snell’s vision of making his namesake project, a premier residential neighborhood, was finally realized through this man's great determination to make his dream a reality.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Pitcher Spalding built sporting goods career

A.G. Spalding
Albert G. Spalding was already a star baseball pitcher for the Boston Red Stockings when baseball pioneer William Hulbert quietly approached him to switch to the Chicago White Stockings and to help form the organization that would become the National League.

Spalding signed to play with Chicago in 1876, and led his team to the NL’s first championship. He also started a sporting goods store with his brother and the following year started wearing a glove on his catching hand. It was just like the ones he and his brother happened to have for sale in their store.

That was the beginning of a sporting goods empire that continues today, for A.G. Spalding turned out to be a star entrepreneur as well as baseball champ. He promoted baseball and sporting goods on a trip with Major League players around the world. Under contract with the NL, he published the first official rules and regulations for baseball, which included a statement that only Spalding balls could be used for official games. Then he started publishing Spalding’s Official Baseball Guide, which wasn’t official at all but quickly became the most widely read baseball periodical.

Spalding’s success in sporting goods continued throughout his life. In 1911, long after his baseball career had ended, Spalding published America’s National Game, a history of the game that contributed to that success. Naturally, he offered the book for sale in his annual sport goods catalog. A copy of the 1914 catalog is in the collection of rare and unusual items at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

The catalog is a testament to the sprawling Spalding sport goods enterprise, featuring pages devoted to football, basketball, ice skating, sledding, weightlifting, Indian clubs, boxing, and, of course, baseball.

Here you’ll find footballs that seem oddly round by today’s standards, those black leather helmets you might remember seeing on Ronald Reagan and Pat O’Brien in Knute Rockne, All American, the megaphones that were required equipment for cheerleaders of the era, and much more.

Spalding didn’t miss the opportunity for ancillary products for sports fans. There is an array of sporting caps and pennants to choose from as well.

Spalding knew Americans weren’t going to confine themselves to the major sports of the day. He offered toboggans, dumb bells and exercise equipment for a country just beginning to become concerned with fitness.

Spalding was once so well known throughout the country that the Boston Herald was moved to write in 1900:

“Next to Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, the name of A.G. Spalding is the most famous in American literature. It has been blazing forth on the cover of guides to all sorts of sports, upon bats and gloves. . . for many years. Young America gets its knowledge of the past in the world of athletics from something that has "Al Spalding" on it in big black letters, and for that reason, as much as any other, he is one of the national figures of our times.”

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