Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Travel Channel: Mysteries at the Museum, Vol. 9

Linda Banche here. Tune in Tuesday, December 28 at 9PM E/P, as The Travel Channel presents Volume 9 of Mysteries at the Museum. What does one of the first electronic musical instruments have to do with a spy scandal, and how large was the USS Cyclops, a colossal ship that has passed into legend? More below.

Mysteries at the Museum: Volume 9

Franklin Institute: The Franklin Institute holds one of the first electronic instruments, but this warbling wonder is more than just a footnote in musical history. How did this play a part in triggering one of the biggest spy scandals of the century?

Washington State History Museum: On display at the Washington State History Museum is a 600 lb hunk of concrete with a disastrous past. More than a piece of junkyard scrap, this is a remnant from one of the most catastrophic engineering failures in U.S. history: the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. How did this state of the art bridge fail so spectacularly?

Strong Museum of Play: At the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, poised amongst history’s greatest toys, is a small plastic egg filled with some beloved bouncing goo: Silly Putty. Did you know that this sensational children’s novelty originated from a war shortage?

Detroit Science Center: On display at the Detroit Science Center is a truly macabre exhibit: 36 men, women and children that died two centuries ago are mysteriously preserved. But they aren’t the carefully prepared mummies of Egyptian royalty. These bodies were preserved by something else – and for decades science has struggled to figure out how… until now.

Johnston Ridge Observatory: At the Johnston Observatory in Gifford Pinchot National Forrest, the splintered remains of what was once a mighty 100 foot Hemlock tree stands as a visceral reminder. Like millions of other trees, it was napped like a toothpick by a blast 1600 times more powerful than an atom bomb. What’s capable of such a tremendous explosion?

Mariner’s Museum: At the Mariners’ Museum in Newport ,Virginia, thousands of artifacts chronicle man’s relationship with the sea. But one artifact, an ordinary supply box, speaks of the sea’s tremendous and mysterious powers. The box belonged to the USS Cyclops, a colossal ship that has since passed into legend. What happened to this notorious ship, and does this box hold any answers?

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

'Twas The Night Before Christmas

When I was a kid, I loved A Visit from St. Nicholas, also know as 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. I had a picture book of the poem and I read it so often I memorized it. Clement Clarke Moore wrote the poem in 1823, and almost 200 years later, its appeal hasn't diminished.

As the years have gone by, I've forgotten most of it. So, I went and looked it up. The magic is still there.

And, for your enjoyment, here it is, in its entirety. Merry Christmas.

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
The stockings were hung by the chimney with careNot a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On Cupid! On, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
Up to the house-top the coursers they flew So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes -- how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Thank you all,

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Origin of the Yule Log

The Yule Log, like many Christmas traditions, originated as a pagan ritual and was later adopted by Christian religions.

The burning a Yule Log likely started thousands of years ago, most likely in Northern Europe as a winter festival. One account claims it began as a Norse “Feast of the Dead” where people honored Odon, also called Jolnir, who was both the god of Death, and of Intoxication and ecstacy. Each region apparently had its own custom. One Scandinavian Solstice festival was known as Jule which was pronounced Yule. Families would tromp out into the forest, cut down a huge tree and drag it home, often singing songs to petition the god or gods to bless them and their crops with fertility. They sometimes sprinkled it with beer or wine of cider, adorned it with holly or evergreens or flowers, and then set afire. If it was too big for the hearth, they let it hang out into the room! Most cultures seemed to view the Yule log as providing a magical protection over those who burned it.

Some traditions tried to keep the fire burning all year. Others, for 12 days, which may have been the start of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Also, keeping a piece of the log and using it to light next year’s Yule log appears to have been a fairly universal tradition.

Each area of Europe had their own take on a Yule log, and today is no exception. In France, they make an edible Yule Log, douse it with liquor and set it afire. Others use a small log and use it as a table centerpiece.

Society seems to crave tradition, which, I think, is a good thing. It’s fun to pass traditions on to the next genera-tion. It sort of helps bind families together. I suspect each region or country will continue to honor similar cultural and religious rituals.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Travel Channel: Mysteries at the Museum, Vol. 8

Linda Banche here. On Tuesday, December 21 at 9PM E/P, The Travel Channel presents Volume 8 of Mysteries at the Museum. More mysteries await, including the telegram that was unable to save the Titanic and the truth about Big Foot.

Mysteries at the Museum: Volume 8

Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, National Historic Site: Tucked away on the east side of Manhattan is Theodore Roosevelt’s childhood home. Inside are two particular artifacts on display that had a bigger impact on Roosevelt’s life than any other. Both of these artifacts share a strange feature, and saved the life of one of America’s greatest statesmen.

The Western Reserve Historical Society: The Western Reserve Historical Society carefully preserves Cleveland’s legacy, but one set of the museum’s artifacts remains shrouded in mystery. They are five postcards from the 1950’s that hold a distinctly taunting tone. Who wrote them and why? The story starts in the midst of one of the worst killing sprees in American history…

Museum of Science and Industry: Inside Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, there’s a vehicle that resembles a space hip or rocket, but it’s neither. In the 1960’s this amazing automobile helped a young California hot rod driver do something no one had ever done before- travel over 407 mph on land.

Titanic Historical Society: In Massachusetts there’s a museum that is dedicated to shedding new light on the ill-fated voyage of the world’s most famous ocean liner. Inside this official Titanic museum there is a single faded piece of paper. Do you know why this wireless telegram was unable to save the Titanic from her tragic fate?

Henry Ford Museum: On the outskirts of Detroit, the famed motor city, is the Henry Ford Museum. On display is a simple yellow city bus where visitors can see for themselves the very seat where Rosa Parks took a historical stand, by simply sitting down. But this story didn’t play out the way most of believe…

Big Foot Discovery Museum: Nestled in the heart of Northern California’s epic red wood forests is a museum dedicated to the region’s most famous alleged inhabitant, Big Foot. Can a recently discovered primate tooth put an end to the age old debate of whether or not Big Foot is real?

Enjoy! And Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Paper, Parchment, and Process

A few weeks ago, I posted an article about writing implements, and to follow up on that, today I’m talking about paper—old and new. Paper has been manufactured since the middle of the eighth century, when the Arabs learned the skill from the Chinese. During the ninth century, Greeks used it, and later, in the late eleventh century, the technique was practiced in Muslim Spain. Later, paper making came to Italy and the Mediterranean, where merchants and notaries kept records of transactions. Paper making spread northward, to England, and by the middle of the sixteenth century, the industry was a prominent part of European economies, although parchment (from animal skins) was still being used.

Paper was usually made from cotton or linen rags, except in the Orient, where they often used silk. The rags were soaked and pounded to a pulp, after which they went into a vat with a solution of water and size. A wooden frame strung with wires was dipped into the mixture and agitated until the fibers fused to form a sheet of paper. This was then placed between sheets of blotting paper and pressed. It could then be trimmed or left with a rough edge. Paper frames often incorporated wire devices (in the form of designs or monograms), which left an image (watermark). Is it any wonder paper was an expensive commodity, made in such a painstaking and time-consuming process?

Early paper was quite resilient, but after books began to be produced, wood was used for making paper, adding an acidity which causes pages to turn brown and eventually to crumble away, making preservation difficult. Now that we have acid-free paper, the pages of a book frequently outlast the bindings.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Travel Channel: Mysteries at the Museum, Vol. 7

Linda Banche here. On Tuesday, December 14 at 9PM E/P, The Travel Channel presents Volume 7 of Mysteries at the Museum. Visit six more museums uncovering mysteries involving the most famous German U-Boat of all time, a lunch counter that changed history, and more.

Mysteries at the Museum: Volume 7

Gerald R. Ford Museum:
At the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, a vintage tape recorder from the 1970s was used inside America’s most important Executive Office. What incriminating conversations did this machine record? And how would it ultimately help destroy an American President?

The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History: The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History houses a small antique vial which lies at the center of one of America’s strangest medical mysteries. The vial once held a drug known as Radithor, and some doctors touted it as the “greatest therapeutic force known to mankind”, but this revolutionary medicine was really a potion of death.

National Museum of American History: On display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, is a relic from a volatile era in American history. It appears to be an ordinary restaurant lunch counter accompanied by four fading vinyl chairs. How did this lunch counter becomes center stage in an event that would help overturn centuries of oppression, and change America forever?

The Museum of Science and Industry: Inside Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry there’s a giant World War Two Submarine. It’s a German “U-Boat”, known by its infamous number, 5-0-5. But during the war U-505 mysteriously vanished. How did U-505 end up in Chicago, and how did its sudden disappearance from battle nearly 70 years ago help bring Germany’s invincible U-Boat fleet to its knees?

New Jersey State Police Museum: Secured inside the NJ State Police Museum, sealed in plastic, is a faded piece of paper. It’s inscribed in dark ink, in sloppy handwriting, and it’s stamped with a curious insignia. At first glance, this seventy eight year old document looks inconsequential, but it sparked one of the biggest manhunts in American history. Was the person who wrote this note ever brought to justice?

Ruidoso River Museum: At the River Museum there’s an artifact from one of the most famous western tales ever told. It’s a Colt Thunderer revolver. The polished, ornately etched pistol was presented to one of New Mexico’s most famous Sheriffs, Pat Garrett… as a reward for killing America’s most legendary outlaw, Billy the Kid. But did Pat Garrett really kill the ‘Kid’?


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mistletoe--A Plant For All Seasons

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without mistletoe. In the dark, cold days of a northern winter, the evergreen mistletoe, with its glossy green leaves and white berries, promises spring will return.

But mistletoe has other faces. In ancient Britain, the Druids considered mistletoe a sexual symbol. The white berries' juice resembles semen and the Druids deemed the plant itself an aphrodisiac. By extension, mistletoe became associated with love and marriage.

The tradition of kissing may come from the Nordic legend of the death of the sun god, Balder. Loki, the god of mischief, killed Balder with a sprig of mistletoe. The tears of Balder's mother, Frigga, returned Balder to life. In gratitude, Frigga kissed everyone under the mistletoe, transforming the plant's reputation from death to life. Or new life, as in fertility.

A lesser known aspect of mistletoe labels it the plant of peace. Enemies meeting under the mistletoe laid down their arms and declared a day of truce. This time provided them an opportunity to talk out their differences instead of resorting to violence. In Mistletoe Everywhere (buy link here), my Regency Christmas comedy, I use mistletoe's role as the plant of peace to bring my two estranged lovers back together.

Promise of spring, fertility symbol and plant of peace--truly a plant for all seasons. Which face of mistletoe do you prefer?

Thank you all,

Monday, December 6, 2010

British Navy during Regency England

In Regency England, and even longer ago, boys joined the navy very young. A boy born to privilege generally became an officer, while a poor boy would not ever reach officer status. It doesn't seem fair, of course, but an officer had to be able to read and write, something generally unavailable to the poor.

For years, there was a custom of boys joining the navy while infants, and not even stepping foot aboard a ship until they were 11 or 12 and then achieving officer status quickly because they'd been serving for several years already. This practice was later abolished. After 1794 no more babes in arms could be carried on the roster. The boy had to be present to receive his pay in person. However, others actually served aboard a ship as young as nine. In 1794, the minimum age was raised to 13.

Boys generally began as an officers' servant or able seaman, and were supposed to serve at least three years "learning the ropes." Some as young as 7 had the role of "powder monkey" where they worked on a cannon crew. Because of their size and agility, they could more easily climb around on the cannons and fill them during battle. This was not a position for a boy expected to become an officer. Any way, after those three years as an officer's servant or seaman, they became a midshipman or master's mate (a slightly better-paying and more responsible position). A boy from the gentry or aristocracy would be a midshipman when he joined up. They usually served another three years in that apprentice rank before taking the examination for lieutenant. (The lieutenant's examination, interestingly enough, was introduced to the navy in 1677 by the diarist Samuel Pepys.)

What I've read indicates that where you started depended on the age at which you joined and whether you went to the naval school before being assigned to a ship. You did not buy commissions in the navy. Competence was too important to let anyone into a position of authority until they had proved they could handle the job -- the entire ship could be put in jeopardy by an idiot. So if a boy joined at the earliest age (12) and if signed onto a specific ship, he would start as a cabin boy, or Captain's gentlemen, doing jobs for the officers while he studied to pass the necessary tests to become a midshipman. Or a boy could could go to the naval school at Greenwich to do the necessary studying, ultimately being assigned as a midshipman to a specific ship when he passed the tests. The main difference between the two routes was who the family knew and whether the ship's captain (because it's the captain who makes these types of decisions) will accept someone as a cabin boy.

A boy's rise in rank depended largely on how much influence his family had (and an earl's family could have plenty). Horatio Nelson attained his first command before his twentieth birthday. He was not the only such young officer to rise that quickly. Sir William Parker, for example, joined the navy in 1793 at the age of eleven, and by 1801 became captain of his own ship, the Amazon. But his exact rank also depending on his seniority and the "rate" of ship on which he serves; there were six rates, and a first rate ship ship was entitled to six lieutenants, with the number decreasing as the ship's rate declined. On a third-rate frigate, for example, there would be three lieutenants: a First Lieutenant, a Second Lieutenant, and a Third Lieutenant, with the First Lieutenant theoretically on the verge of attaining his own command.

When they had served 6 years and were at least 20 years old ( though this was fudged often) they could take the test for lieutenant. However, they did not become a lieutenant until they had a ship. There were men in their forties with decades of service who were still midshipmen though they had passed the test for lieutenant.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Travel Channel: Mysteries at the Museum, Vol. 6

Linda Banche here. On Tuesday, December 7 at 9PM E/P, The Travel Channel presents Volume 6 of Mysteries at the Museum. Visit six more museums uncovering mysteries involving aviation, dinosaurs, the biggest art heist in US history, and more.

Mysteries at the Museum: Volume 6

Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum: Inside a giant airplane hangar at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, there’s a flying machine whose size and reputation dwarfs all others, but this one of a kind aircraft never flew a single mission. In fact, many believed it couldn’t fly at all. So why was the “Spruce Goose” even built?

The Field Museum of Natural History: The star attraction at Chicago, Field Museum is a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton named “Sue”. It is the largest most complete T-Rex skeleton ever found, and this makes Sue the key piece of evidence in unraveling a mystery that has baffled scientists since the very first T-Rex fossil was discovered in 1902… What was life like for the world’s largest prehistoric predator?

William McKinley Presidential Museum: The William McKinley Presidential Museum houses a nightshirt once worn by McKinley that bears a a tear down the back. How did this tear come to be? The answers lie within the mystery of President McKinley’s final moments – a tragic demise that changed the history of the Presidency.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of Art: Hanging amid fantastic works of art by Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Matisse and numerous others at this museum, are four empty picture frames. These frames hang as symbolic reminder of a shocking crime, and a 20 year old hunt to find out who was behind the biggest art heist in US history.

Johnstown Flood Museum: At a Pennsylvanian museum that’s dedicated to preserving the city’s rich cultural heritage, a 19th century brass pocket watch actually holds one of the Nations’ most unforgettable stories. It all begins with the time frozen on the watch’s face- a time that changed America forever.

Strong National Museum of Play: Not far from the shores of Lake Ontario in Rochester, New York, a museum is dedicated solely to the study of play, and one item here was actually an accidental byproduct of America’s involvement in a global war. Can you guess what childhood favorite this could be?

Find out the answers to these questions and more by tuning-in to Mysteries at the Museum Tuesday at 9 E/P on Travel Channel. Enjoy the show, and secrets that will be revealed.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The haunted Willard Library

Evansville Indiana is the home of the Willard Library, unlike many historic buildings that are converted to libraries or museums in order to preserve history, this library was never anything else.

The library was made possible through a grant by Willard Carpenter. He was so determined the library would never be used for any other purpose that he wrote in the by laws "It will be a public library for the use of the people of all classes, races, and sexes, free of charge. Forever."

He was so firm in his belief of how the library should be used that he went on to say, If the building ever ceases to be used as a library, it should be torn down and no brick should be left one on top of the other.

The beautiful Victorian building stands today, original wood floors, crackle happily as patrons peruse the aisles of modern book cases. The windows are a work of art in themselves with beautiful wood engravings framing the glass and accenting the walls. Stained glass portraits grace the top of the windows while paintings adorn the walls.

Maps dating from the 1800's are preserved under glass tabletops. A directory of businesses open at the turn of the century are posted, phone numbers only had 4 digits back then.

Evansville was one of the fastest growing metro areas in the 1900's.

Young girls could get a job at the cigar factory as it was chaperoned. My grandmother worked there when she was 13. Her children visited this library as kids.

He was a man who felt learning was best when shared and the library was the perfect place for those who had the gumption to learn and reach out with the help of authors.

I'm not sure how many romance novels were available in the 1900's, but the books were there to be enjoyed by all.

In 1937 a janitor went to work at the library to stoke the stove so it would be warm when it opened. He allowed hobos to sleep in the coal room as it was closed off from the rest of the library, it was here he first saw the Grey Lady.

A woman in button hole shoes and a full skirt was in the room, when he asked if he could help her, she disappeared. He wound up quitting his job, but most employees who have seen the grey lady take it in stride.

Over the years, the Grey Lady has become an attraction in her own right. the library even holds a ghost tour every October for those who hope to catch a glimpse of her. She even has her own web cam and site.

Just in case you might think the employees are having fun and can't be taken seriously, you can ask the police about the time the alarm was triggered, when they went to investigate, an officer said he saw two figures in the upstairs window. NO one was found. the librarian told him he saw the ghost and he said "what ghost"

There is a beautiful staircase leading to the second floor when a kindergarten boy refused to climb down the stairs after his mother called him, he said he was afraid of the ghost. Mom went up the stairs to get him.Other signs of the grey lady are cold spots, books falling from shelves, chairs being moved, and a strong smell of perfume.

some say she wears a veil over her face and others say she doesn't.

When one employee was being interviewed she was asked about the Grey Lady. She told the reporter there hasn't been a sighting in a long time and she believed the ghost was gone. Just as she said this a book flew off the shelf in an arc and landed on the floor.

"I could be wrong" she calmly told the dumb founded reporter.

There is speculation about who the Grey Lady is. The Campbell's had a daughter who sued for possession of the library after her father's death. she lost, so some think it is her ghost who haunts the library. The employees I spoke to disagree. The ghost is peaceful, not angry. Though many have seen the Gray Lady, only the police officer claimed to see two figures in the window. Could it be Mr. Campbell and his wife, looking over the place and ensuring the promise of how the library is to be used is a kept one?

The Grey Lady likes the back room where the stove (heater) used to be and the children's wing which is in the basement. she also likes the top floor. Rumor has it, Campbell ran out of money and couldn't afford a bell for the bell tower. To this day, there is no bell. Since there is no bell to summon readers to the library, perhaps the Grey Lady is there to welcome patrons, all patrons, regardless of race, gender or social standing.

Historic Writing Tools

I’m fascinated by writing implements, especially older ones in museums. In researching exactly what tools Adam, the poet/musician in my historical novel, The Tapestry Shop, would have used to write his music, I discovered some little known details about old writing methods. Reed pens, like these in their holders at the Louvre, were used on papyrus. Perhaps even more interesting were the cases, which held ink and a tiny sand box to use for blotting the ink. These cases were elaborately decorated, like this to the right, a 13th century writing case with astrological signs and Arabic letters. A scribe stored papers in the empty space.
Later, quill pens came into use. These were made from a flight feather, preferably a primary wing-feather) of a large bird. The hollow shaft acts as an ink reservoir, and because of the flexibility of a quill, it is still preferred by some calligraphers because of its sharp stroke, although now, with paper made from wood pulp, a quill wears down very quickly. For right-handed writers, a feather from the left wing works better because the feathers curve to the right, away from the hand. The feathers, I was pleased to discover, are discarded naturally by the birds during the moulting season. The quills used by medieval scribes bore little resemblance to the feathered quills romanticized in film and sketches. Instead, scribes usually trimmed the barbs or stripped them completely, as they were a nuisance.
An interesting aside on the subject, from the Supreme Court Historical Society: Each day that the U.S. Supreme Court is in session, 20 goose-quill pens, neatly crossed, are placed at the four counsel tables. Because most lawyers appear before the Court only once, they gladly take the quills home as souvenirs. The tradition dates back to the earliest Supreme Court session