Monday, June 30, 2014

Joseph Hooker, leading British botanist

It is the birthday of great 19th century British botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817), who was Charles Darwin’s closest friend, and was a sounding board as Darwin developed his theory of evolution. Hooker served as director of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, and helped establish it as a leading center for botanical research. With voyages to Antarctica, the Himalayas, India, Palestine, Morocco, and the western United States, Hooker built his own reputation as a botanical authority. He trained Walter Hood Fitch, who became a renowned botanical artist and illustrated many of Hooker’s works. Hooker’s best known work is the seven-volume Flora of British India (1872-1897). He also published the three-volume Flora Antarctica: the botany of the Antarctic voyage (1844-1859), Himalayan Journals (1855), and Handbook of the British flora (1858), a project started by acclaimed botanist George Bentham and completed by Hooker. The book is known in botanical circles as “Bentham & Hooker.”

Saturday, June 28, 2014

A.E. Hotchner: pals to Hemingway, Newman

Hotchner (right) with Ernest and Mary Hemingway at a bullfight in 1957.
It is the birthday of writer A.E. Hotchner (1920), who is best known for his 1966 biography of Ernest Hemingway, Papa Hemingway. The two writers met in 1948 and became close friends. Hotchner adapted some of Hemingway’s works for theater and television. Hotchner also wrote Papa Hemingway: The Ecstacy and Sorrow (1983) and Hemingway and His World (1989). With his friend and neighbor Paul Newman, Hotchner founded Newman’s Own, Inc. in 1982. Profits from the food products line go to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for children and other charities. With Newman, Hotchner wrote Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good: the Madcap Business Adventure of the Truly Oddest Couple (2003). Hotchner also wrote Paul and Me: 53 Years of Adventures and Misadventures with My Pal Paul Newman (2010). Steven Soderbergh made a film, King of the Hill (1993), based on Hotchner’s memoir of the same name about growing up in St. Louis. Hotchner lives in Connecticut.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Cartoonist Paul Conrad won three Pulitzers

It is the birthday of Los Angeles Times political cartoonist Paul F.. Conrad (1924), who won three  Pulitzer Prizes for his work. His work covered five decades, including the Vietnam War, and Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal. He considered it an honor to be placed on Nixon’s infamous Enemies List.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Gen. Doubleday didn't invent baseball

It is the birthday Union General Abner Doubleday (1819), who is credited with firing the first shot in the Civil War at Fort Sumter, and also registering a patent for the cable car railway that still operates in San Francisco. He may be more widely remembered, however, for something historians say he didn’t do: invent baseball. The story of Doubleday’s invention of baseball persisted for generations, perpetuated by a 1905 baseball commission’s report that came to that conclusion. Recent scholarship, though, calls that story a myth and presents evidence that the principal source for it was highly unreliable. Nevertheless, the Baseball Hall of Fame is located in Doubleday’s boyhood home of Cooperstown, New York, and a baseball stadium and a minor league team are named for him. Doubleday did publish two important Civil War volumes: Reminiscences of Forts Sumter and Moultrie (1876), and Chancellorsville and Gettysburg (1882).

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Happy birthday, British Lord Mountbatten

Photo by  Allan Warren
It is the birthday of British statesman Lord Mountbatten (1900), who served as Supreme Allied Commander of South East Asia during World War II and oversaw the recapture of Burma. He was head of the British Armed Forces in the 1960s and chairman of the NATO Military Committee. He was a favorite of Prime Minister Winston Churchill and a friend of Noel Coward. He was instrumental in the establishment of India and Pakistan as independent nations. He also strongly influenced the upbringing of Prince Charles, who was his grand-nephew. Mountbatten was assassinated in 1979  by IRA extremists who blew up his fishing boat when he was on vacation in Ireland.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

E.I. du Pont built U.S. gunpowder plant

It is the birthday of French chemist E.I. Du Pont (1771), who established a gunpowder manufacturing plant in Delaware in 1804. E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company grew to be one of the largest chemical companies in the world. As a youth, du Pont had learned advance gunpowder processing in France. His family emigrated to the United States when their moderate political views put them in danger after the French revolution. Young du Pont didn’t expect to become a gunpowder manufacturer in America but he found the quality of American powder inferior and sought to improve it. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Edward VIII: He gave up the throne for love

Edward and Wallis on vacation in Yugoslavia in 1936.
It is the birthday of British King Edward VIII (1894), who abdicated the throne in 1936 to marry divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson. Edward became Duke of Windsor after the abdication and Wallis became Duchess of Windsor after their marriage. During World War II, the Duke was assigned a diplomatic role in France but because he was widely viewed as pro-Nazi, he was appointed Governor of the Bahamas, a position that Prime Minister Winston Churchill viewed as a place where the Duke could do the least harm politically. After World War II, the Duke and Duchess lived in Paris and traveled extensively as celebrities.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Happy birthday to J.S. Bach's ninth son

It is the birthday of German composer Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732), the ninth son of Johann Sebastian Bach. Of course, he composed music, too. Enjoy his Sinfonia in D.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Moses Waddel taught many future leaders

It is the birthday of antebellum educator Moses Waddel (1770), who is credited with saving from extinction the University of Georgia, and educating numerous Southern leaders at Willington Academy, which he founded in South Carolina in 1804. Georgia was said to have had seven students and three professors when he took it over, serving as its fifth president. He built the enrollment to 100 students and built three new buildings. His students at Willington included Andrew Jackson, John C. Calhoun, Judge Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford, U.S. Senator George McDuffie, and Georgia Governor George Gilmer. Waddel wrote a bestseller, Memoirs of the Life of Miss Caroline E. Smelt (1820), a highly moralistic account a pious girl who died at the age of 17.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sully's painting of Washington was too big

Passage of the Delaware (1819), inset: portrait of artist John Sully
It is the birthday of painter Thomas Sully (1783), who is remembered for his portraits of prominent Americans, including John Quincy Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and James K. Polk. He also painted Marquis de Lafayette and Queen Victoria. Although he was well known for his portraits, Sully also painted landscapes and historical scenes. Among the best known is Passage of the Delaware (1819), which depicts Gen. George Washington during the American Revolution. He originally created the Washington painting for the North Carolina state house but it was too large for the space (did no one think to measure?) so he sent the painting on tour and it was eventually purchased by Boston gallery owner John Doggett. It now hangs in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

George Mallory tried to climb Mount Everest

George Mallory, inset and hatless in the back row, on an Everest expedition.
It is the birthday of English adventurer George Mallory (1886), who died on an expedition to climb Mount Everest in June 1924 with his friend Andrew Irvine. Mallory and Irvine disappeared on the northeast ridge and their fate remained a mystery for 75 years until the discovery of Mallory’s body in 1999. Historians still debate whether the pair actually reached the summit. Mallory was widely credited with answering the query of why he chose to climb Mount Everest with the reply “Because it’s there,” though some scholars question whether he actually said it. In any case, the phrase seems to accurately reflect Mallory’s mindset. “What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy, “ he once said in an interview. “And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.”

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Celebrity photographer Carl Van Vechten

It is the birthday of 1920s celeb photographer Carl Van Vechten (1880), who made portraits of actors, singers, artists, and writers in the 1920s and 1930s, including some of the most prominent personalities in the Harlem Renaissance. Van Vechten was assistant music critic for The New York Times, and later served as its first modern dance critic. He also wrote seven novels, including Peter Whiffle: His Life and Works (1922), The Blind Bow-Boy (1923), The Tattooed Countess (1924), Red (1925), Firecrakers: A Realistic Novel (1925), Nigger Heaven (1926), and Parties (1930). He was a lifelong friend of Gertrude Stein and served as the literary executor of her estate.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Mary K. Goddard published early Declaration

Goddard broadside has two columns of type. The Dunlap version had only one. Inset: Mary Goddard.
It is the birthday of Baltimore publisher Mary Katherine Goddard (1783), who printed the first copy of the Declaration of Independence in 1777 with the typeset names of those who signed it. It is known as the Goddard broadside, and was the second version of the document to be printed. (The first, known as the Dunlap broadside and produced in 1776 by printer John Dunlap in Philadelphia, did not include the names of the signers.) Goddard published The Maryland Journal, a revolutionary publication started by her brother. For 14 years, she served as postmaster of Baltimore until the Postmaster General declared that the position had to be filled by a man. Despite local protests and a petition signed by 200 Baltimore men, Goddard was removed. Goddard got into a squabble with her brother and in 1784 the siblings published rival almanacs for the following year. For a dozen years late in life, Goddard operated a bookstore in Baltimore.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Uncle Tom's Cabin helped fuel Civil War

It is the birthday of abolitionist writer Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811), who is remembered for her best-selling novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), which depicted the life of slaves before the Civil War. Scholars say it galvanized the abolitionist movement and helped lay the groundwork for the war. It first appeared as a serial in the abolitionist newspaper National Era in June 1851. At first, Stowe wrote only a few episodes but the response was so great she wrote a total of 40 installments. Proceeds from the book enabled Stowe to buy a vacation cottage on the banks of the St. John’s River in Florida as a respite from her family home in Maine. Stowe wrote more than 30 books, including a homemaking advice book, The American Woman’s Home (1869), with her sister Catherine. Stowe also wrote Palmetto Leaves (1873), a book about Florida as a tourist destination.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dorothy Sayers created Lord Wimsey

It is the birthday of English detective writer Dorothy L. Sayers (1893), best known for introducing the literature world to Lord Peter Wimsey (1923), in her first novel, Whose Body. Sayers became president of the Detection Club, a 1930s group of British mystery writers, as she began writing full time. The theater mesmerized her. She wrote The Zeal of Thy House (1937), and six more plays by 1951. BBC requested that she write for broadcasting for their children’s hour, Sayers wrote The Man Born to be King (1941-1942). She also translated Dante’s The Divine Comedy into English. Sayers will always be remembered most for her devotion to theology, literature, and a love for the stage.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Cosimo I de' Medici began ruling dynasty

It is the birthday of Italian Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici (1519), who is credited with doubling the size of Florence and its Tuscan territories and his lavish support of the arts. His idea of uniting the public offices into a single building, the Uffizi (“Offices”), was well ahead of its time. Today the Uffizi Gallery is home to one of the most important art collections in the world. Cosimo became Duke at the age of 17 after his distant cousin was assassinated. With the help of emperor Charles V, he managed to stabilize a rocky political crisis and establish a ruling dynasty that lasted for 200 years. His son, Fracesco de’ Medici, succeeded him.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Julia Cameron photographed Victorian celebs

Portrait of Julia Cameron (1870) by her husband; inset: English actress Ellen Terry in a portrait titled Sadness (1864).
It is the birthday of pioneer British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron (1815), whose engaging portraits of Victorian celebrities like Charles Darwin and Alfred Lord Tennyson are considered valuable resources among art historians. Cameron met the rich and famous at salons on the Kensington Palace estate in London. She also lived on the Isle of Wight, where Tennyson was a neighbor and friend. Tennyson often brought famous friends over to visit. Cameron was known for her tightly cropped, soft focus images, a technique unusual for the time. Cameron also shot historical scenes and characters from literature. Tennyson asked her to create photographic illustrations for his massive narrative poem Idylls of the King (1859-1885).

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Gustave Courbet wanted to paint reality

The Desperate Man (1843-1845), self-portrait by Gustave Courbet.
It is the birthday of French painter Gustave Courbet (1819), whose issues with the Romantic style of art, with its heroic themes and its natural settings, led to the Realism style in the 19th century. Courbet believed painters should depict scenes based on real life they had observed. In pursuit of his idea, he produced many self-portraits, including The Desperate Man (1843-1845). Scholars say his work A Burial at Omans (1849-1850), is one of his most important works. It depicts the funeral of his grand uncle, and is notable for including the actual people who attended the funeral. That was a distinct departure from the Romantic style that used actors to portray characters. Courbet’s ideas developed a substantial following. His work influenced later artists such as Edouard Manet, James McNeill Whistler, Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, and Edward Hopper.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Happy birthday, Cole Porter

It is the birthday of Broadway and movie composer Cole Porter (1891), whose hits such as “I Get a Kick Out of You”, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”, and “Night and Day” remain among America’s favorites. Porter’s work spanned five decades from the 1920s. Here’s Porter in a rare recording of his hit “You’re the Top.”

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Marion Post Walcott, woman photographer

It is the birthday of photographer Marion Post Wolcott (1910), whose photographs for the Farm Security Administration of rural families during the Depression helped establish the need for federal assistance for those hardest hit by the economic downturn. She also broke gender barriers working as a newspaper photojournalist. Her work is preserve at the Library of Congress. When Kodak provided rolls of its new Kodachrome film to the FSA, she photographed this scene at a juke joint in Belle Glade, Florida, in February 1941.

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day: June 6, 1944 – A reflection

Here is amazing archival footage of the invasion of Normandy 70 years ago today. Here is a documentary about the D-Day invasion of Omaha Beach. Here is an interesting article giving the timeline of D-Day as it happened.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Pancho Villa: Mexican Robin Hood?

It is the birthday of Mexican hero Pancho Villa (1878), who led revolutionaries in northern Mexico for a decade beginning in 1910. The result of the conflict was the Mexican Constitution of 1917, which established social rights for the country’s citizens. Villa, whose real name was José Doroto Arango Arámbula, robbed trains and raided haciendas to support the cause. He virtually ran the state of Chihuahua, which provided him with resources to conduct his war.

When he crossed the border and raided Columbus, New Mexico, in 1916, that got the attention of the United States government. General John J. Pershing chased him for nine months but never captured him. Then the United States got into World War I and Gen. Pershing was needed elsewhere. Villa retired in 1920 and received a large estate, which he set up as a colony for his former soldiers. Three years later, Villa got involved with politics again and was assassinated.

Here is a fascinating program, The Hunt for Pancho Villa, from The American Experience with vintage film footage. Pancho Villa is depicted is either a Mexican Robin Hood or a common criminal.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Gen. Rains developed Civil War land mines

It is the birthday of Brigadier General Gabriel J. Rains (1803), who is credited, along with his brother George, with creating land mines, booby traps, and torpedoes during the Civil War. A West Point graduate, he served in the Seminole Wars and was brevetted major after defeating the Seminoles near Fort King. He also served in the Mexican War and out west in the Indian Wars but when the Civil War came, he sided with the Confederacy and became a brigadier general. Rains had used explosive booby traps in 1940 during the Seminole War but historians say he developed the first modern mechanically fused land mines during the Battle of Yorktown in 1862.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Allen Ginsberg 'Howl'ed in San Francisco

It is the birthday of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg (1926), who wrote the epic poem Howl (1956), which he first read publicly on October 5, 1955 at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. After Ginsberg’s friend Lawrence Ferlinghetti publish it, the work caused an uproar for explicit depiction of sex acts but was eventually ruled not obscene in court. The poem includes stories about Ginsberg’s Beat friends Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Lucien Carr and others. Here is a recording of Ginsberg reading the first part of the Howl.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Thomas Hardy stirred up Victorian readers

It is the birthday of English poet and novelist Thomas Hardy (1840), whose most well known books, Far from the Madding Crowd (1874). The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895), examined the decline of rural Victorian English society. Hardy was heavily influenced by the work of Charles Dickens and his criticism English urban life. Tess and Jude received a lot of criticism, Tess for its apparent sympathetic portrait of a woman of ill repute, and Jude for its criticism of marriage and its open discussion of sexual themes. He wrote no more novels after that.

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