Whitesboro, N.Y.

A followup to a post from 2015: the village of Whitesboro, N.Y., has modified its seal as of this past summer. The seal still illustrates the wrestling match between Hugh White and an Oneida chieftain, although it now shows the two as evenly matched; it does not show White actually winning. The landscape is also more interesting, and the clothing more historically accurate.

Wikipedia.

The United States of (All of) America

From Brilliant Maps: Making Sense of the World, One Map at a Time (hat tip: Tim Furnish): a map of what North America might have looked like if the Annexation Bill of 1866 had passed.

The bill would have authorized the President of the United States to, subject to the agreement of the governments of the British provinces:

publish by proclamation that, from the date thereof, the States of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Canada East, and Canada West, and the Territories of Selkirk, Saskatchewan, and Columbia, with limits and rights as by the act defined, are constituted and admitted as States and Territories of the United States of America.

Or to put it more simply, the bill would have annexed Canada, before Canada became a country.

I believe that annexing Canada, as a long-term policy goal of the United States, was only abandoned following the First World War. Throughout the nineteenth century, I understand, the USA saw British North America in the same way that the PRC views Taiwan, or the Republic of Ireland views Northern Ireland: as the rump state of the previous regime, and thus morally illegitimate.

Although I note that the bill does not mention Newfoundland, which had become crown colony in 1854 and was never part of Canada East; the map should probably reflect that.

Venice

In my Renaissance and Reformation course this week, we did a quick tour of the major Italian city-states. One of the most distinctive, of course, is Venice, on account of all the canals. You know its Venice when you see a gondolier, sporting a horizontally striped shirt and straw hat, standing at the rear of his boat and propelling it with a rowing oar. Two such images that came immediately to mind:

Detail, Ragu spaghetti sauce label.

This prompted a search on YouTube for Venetian scenes. The Casino Royale reboot (2006), with its famous sinking piazza, was the one most people know:

I had forgotten the chase scene in Moonraker (1979), perhaps the campiest James Bond film: among other contrivances, Roger Moore’s gondola is turns into a hovercraft.

This aging Gen-Xer then remembered that Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” video was set in Venice – and had forgotten that it features a lion wandering around (later in the video, a man in a Venetian-style lion mask acts as her seducer).

I was pleased to see this, because the symbol of Venice of course is a lion – specifically, the winged lion of St. Mark. From Wikipedia, here is the flag of the medieval Venetian Republic:

Well played, Madonna! (St. Mark has been the patron saint of Venice ever since the Venetians stole his relics from Alexandria in 828. His symbol was inspired by Ezekiel’s vision of the four winged creatures, which was eventually applied to the authors of the four gospels.)

A winged man, ox, eagle, and lion, symbolic of the evangelists Matthew, Luke, John, and Mark respectively. From Preachingsymbols.com.

The End of the Aztecs

From The Independent (hat tip: Tim Furnish):

Mystery over death of 15 million Aztecs may be solved after nearly 500 years, study suggests

DNA analysis of skeletons reveals traces of disease

Judith Vonberg 

Scientists believe they may have discovered the cause of an epidemic that struck Mexico’s Aztec population in 1545, killing up to 15 million people.

In a paper published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, they describe how DNA extracted from the teeth of 29 skeletons buried in a cemetery in southern Mexico revealed previously unidentified traces of the salmonella enterica bacterium.

The bacterium is known to cause enteric fever, of which typhoid is an example. According to the study, the symptoms tally with those mentioned in records from the time, which describe victims developing red spots on the skin, vomiting, and bleeding from various body orifices.

The epidemic was one of several to hit the indigenous population soon after the arrival of Europeans in the early 16th century.

“When the Europeans arrived in Mexico, they brought with them lots of different diseases,” Ashild Vagene, co-author of the study, told The Independent. “There were dozens of epidemics across the New World and Mexico was particularly hard hit.”

“What we’re talking about is the devastating decimation of indigenous populations by previously unknown diseases,” Dr Caroline Dodds Pennock, lecturer in International History at the University of Sheffield, told The Independent.

“Mortality rates were maybe 80 or 90 per cent by 1600,” she said. “Imagine nine out of every 10 people dying – it’s almost unimaginable.”

The cause of the 1545-1550 epidemic has been debated for more than a century. Measles, pneumonic plague and influenza have all been suggested as possibilities, but historians have never reached a consensus.

More at the link.

The Black Death

From the BBC:

Rats were not to blame for the spread of plague during the Black Death, according to a study.

The rodents and their fleas were thought to have spread a series of outbreaks in 14th-19th Century Europe.

But a team from the universities of Oslo and Ferrara now says the first, the Black Death, can be “largely ascribed to human fleas and body lice”.

The study, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, uses records of its pattern and scale.

The Black Death claimed an estimated 25 million lives, more than a third of Europe’s population, between 1347 and 1351.

More at the link.

Mississippi

Pleased to note that the state of Mississippi might be on the verge of reviving the Magnolia flag (scroll down to 4), its flag during the Civil War and unofficial flag until 1894.

Wikipedia.

From Business Insider:

Mississippi could become the first US state to have 2 official flags because of a dispute over the Confederacy

Brennan Weiss, Jan. 13, 2018

A Mississippi lawmaker is proposing a solution that he hopes will finally bring an end to one of the state’s most divisive issues, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Earlier this month, Republican Rep. Greg Snowden filed a bill that would allow two flag designs to officially represent the state. If the measure passes, Mississippi would be the only US state with two flags.

Mississippi’s current flag, which features the symbol for the Confederacy, would be left untouched. A proposed second flag would bring back an old design used on the state’s official flag from 1861 until the end of the Civil War in 1865.

That design features a magnolia tree in the center of the flag and a white star against a blue background in the top-left corner, replacing the controversial Confederate emblem currently in its place.

“We feel that it is most appropriate to adopt the historical Magnolia Flag as an additional design of the official state flag that may be flown with equal status and dignity to represent our state as we are beginning our third century as a member of the United States,” the bill says.

Snowden argued that his solution will appease both sides of the flag debate. While some Mississippians consider the current flag to be a historical tribute to their ancestors who fought and died in the Civil War, others believe it glorifies slavery and the systematic oppression of black people.

The two-flag proposal would allow people to choose which flag they want to represent them. Snowden’s bill says that both flags could be flown together or individually.

I think this is great. The Confederacy is indeed a part of “our heritage,” but it does not deserve to be memorialized so prominently, and at the expense of everything else that’s also part of our heritage. The Magnolia flag is historic, and a nice design, and as I said before, is even more appropriate to Mississippi than the current flag: eleven states were in the Confederacy, but there’s only one Magnolia State. But that Rep. Snowden’s proposal does not seek to completely displace the current flag is a nice compromise.

(As noted before on First Floor Tarpley, the country of Bolivia also recognizes two official flags: a traditional European-derived horizontal tricolor, and a square, checkered flag called the Wiphala, in honor of Bolivia’s native Andeans.)

Clay Moss provides a more detailed history of the Magnolia flag.

And Third Prize is You’re Fired!

After the movie Glengarry Glen Ross (link NSFW), I can’t hear the words “steak knives” without smiling. So I was amused to discover this interesting article on Popular Mechanics:

The Secret History of Steak Knives

Sharp knives disappeared from the dining room table, only to return, centuries later, in steak knife form. Kings, cardinals, and factories are involved.

By Ernie Smith
Sep 28, 2017

Obviously, knives, with their sharp blades for cutting through things, have been around forever—they’re a key ingredient of any horror film, slasher flick, or murder mystery that’s ever been created.

But here’s a question that I don’t think a lot of people have pondered, mainly because they aren’t expected to, like I am: Why do steaks get their own dedicated knives, and why do we shove them into giant blocks of wood for storage? And what about butter knives? What’s up with them?

It turns out that it’s a story with a lot of edges—some sharp, some dull.

Before there was the steak knife, there was the table knife, or the butter knife. As blade designs go, it’s pretty weak-sauce, and intentionally so.

The reason for this goes back nearly 400 years, and involves an annoyed French clergyman. Cardinal Armand Jean du Plessis, the Duke of Richelieu and Fronsac—or Cardinal Richelieu for short—became annoyed by table manners of those eating with pointed knives, which were used as a way of picking teeth.

He had his knife edges rounded, the legend goes, in an effort to discourage bad behavior by his guests.

This broke tradition around knife use. See, knife blades were long the primary way that people ate food—unlike napkins, which weren’t always a given, they were always a key element of the meal. Often, medieval cultures would eat meals using a single knife—their own, which they brought with them to dinner—and their hands. The introduction of the fork into European culture changed the way we interacted with knives, just as it did with napkins.

Cardinal Richelieu was a powerful, influential man, and his knife-dulling approach gained enough currency that in 1669, 27 years after he died, King Louis XIV issued a decree making pointed knives illegal in France, whether inside the home or out in public. Suddenly, a lot of sharp knives got pretty dull.

Read the whole thing.

Lottie Moon

I have discovered that the Baptist missionary Lottie Moon, the subject of our Confederate Heritage Month post last April, has a Cartersville connection! From a monument on West Cherokee Avenue:

Although missionaries are not exactly fashionable these days, being seen as the propaganda arm of Western imperialism, this is not exactly true, and some of the stories of such women as Lottie Moon, Amy Carmichael, Mary Slessor, or Gladys Aylward are truly inspiring examples of courage, self-sacrifice, and the achievement of actual good, and not just through conversion to Christianity. Slessor, for instance, promoted women’s rights and rescued numerous unwanted children in Nigeria.

William McGonagall

I was pleased to discover, in Sunrise Books in Guelph, Ontario, the complete works of William Topaz McGonagall (1825-1902), of Dundee, Scotland, the author of some of the worst poems ever published in the English language. As a consequence of his “inappropriate rhythms, weak vocabulary, and ill-advised imagery” McGonagall attracted quite a number of fans in his day, who reveled in the unintentional humor of poems that rhymed, but were completely “deaf to metaphor and unable to scan correctly” (Wikipedia).

One Chris Hunt maintains McGonagall Online which is worth exploring. Here is an excerpt from McGonagall’s famous poem “The Tay Bridge Disaster“:

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

’Twas about seven o’clock at night,
And the wind it blew with all its might,
And the rain came pouring down,
And the dark clouds seem’d to frown,
And the Demon of the air seem’d to say-
“I’ll blow down the Bridge of Tay.”

When the train left Edinburgh
The passengers’ hearts were light and felt no sorrow,
But Boreas blew a terrific gale,
Which made their hearts for to quail,
And many of the passengers with fear did say-
“I hope God will send us safe across the Bridge of Tay.”

But when the train came near to Wormit Bay,
Boreas he did loud and angry bray,
And shook the central girders of the Bridge of Tay
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay,
I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.

Two Historical Sites

A road trip to Canada for the holidays allowed us to see a couple of things on our List.

1. Dundurn Castle, Hamilton, Ontario (completed in 1835). The home of Sir Allan Napier MacNab, Baronet, veteran of the War of 1812, lawyer, real estate investor, railway developer, colonel in the colonial militia and opponent of William Lyon Mackenzie during the rebellion of 1837, member of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada, and premier of the United Province of Canada 1854-56. As a colonial grandee he built himself a house (designated a “castle”) on the shore of Lake Ontario at Hamilton, where he entertained other such grandees. It’s now run as a museum by the city of Hamilton, and you get to see how rich people lived in the nineteenth century, including up-to-date conveniences like gas lighting, water closets, and bell pulls. Our guide Luke, in period costume, was a delight.

On the grounds is the Hamilton Military Museum, devoted largely to the War of 1812, which I regret to say I know little about. The War has especial relevance to the site of Dundurn Castle, since at the time the British built an ammunition dump there; this later was incorporated into the Castle as a subterranean wood storage area.

2. The Kirtland Temple, Kirtland, Ohio, dedicated 1836. Unfortunately it was closed when we stopped by, but it sure looked pretty amidst all the snow that had fallen the previous evening. This was the first temple built by the Mormons; like the majority of historic Nauvoo, Illinois, it is now in the hands of the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), although like at Nauvoo, the LDS Church has also established a presence in the town. A Community of Christ church sits across the street from the Temple, and a visitors’ center is not far away. These were also closed, but I look forward to coming back someday when they’re open; unlike with a regular LDS temple, non-church members are allowed inside.

The Mormons largely abandoned Kirtland in 1838 in the wake of the collapse of the Kirtland Safety Society.