Lakepoint Station

A school fundraiser this evening took us to Lakepoint Station, a Family Entertainment Center (“FEC”) at Lakepoint Sporting Community in Emerson, Georgia, a “premier sports vacation destination… home to several world-class venues” and “a must-visit location for travel sports since 2013.” I admit that this is not exactly my cup of tea (entirely too much attention is paid to SPORTS in this country), although I’m happy that it’s bringing money into the area. Lakepoint Station itself features video games, miniature golf, a hall of mirrors, a laser tag room, and a rock climbing wall; I think the idea behind it is that mom can take the younger siblings here while dad watches his eldest play in his Little League tournament. I will say that this historian appreciated the theme of Lakepoint Station, which was Bartow County’s history of mining and railroads. A structure out back takes the form of a large rock, which houses various attractions hosted by “Miner Joe,” and outside children can pan for gems in a long sluice. The miniature golf course has various railroad accoutrements, a decorative caboose sits on site, and the venue is right next to the functioning Western and Atlantic Railroad. Best of all, enlarged historic photos adorn the walls of the interior, so your kids may actually learn something!

Loonie

The National Post takes a stroll down memory lane. I’ve added some boldface for the parts that I found amusing and/or personally remember:

This month marks the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the Canadian one dollar coin now known as the “loonie.” In a celebratory statement, the Royal Canadian Mint boasted that their loonie had “found its way into our hearts” and was “welcomed” by 1987 Canadians.

That “into our hearts” part may be true, but over three decades we have forgotten just how hated the coin was at its birth. After all, the word “loonie” isn’t something that people typically append to something they love. Below, some of the darker secrets of our iconic 11-sided coin.

We had no choice
Many aspects of modern Canadian life were adopted grudgingly simply because the government told us to. We didn’t like learning the metric system, we weren’t too happy about official bilingualism and we certainly didn’t want a dollar coin. More than a year after the loonie’s introduction, polls were showing support for the coin as low as 39 per cent. “Nobody wants to carry coin. Do you know how heavy that would be on a tray? All the waitresses will have to start lifting weights,” Ontario waitress Lisa Vorkapich told the Windsor Star in 1987. Similarly, the U.S. had featured some version of a dollar coin since 1971 — but the American public has consistently refused to abandon their convenient and beloved $1 notes. In Canada, authorities decided that the best solution was to refuse to give Canadians a choice to hold onto their bills. As soon as loonies were in circulation, $1 notes were phased out and shredded as quickly as possible.

Using the loonie has secretly cost Canadians a hidden tax of about $200 million
The whole reason Canada replaced its $1 bill with a coin was as a cost saving measure. Coins last longer, went the reasoning, so it would save Canada the expense of having to reprint its $1 bills every few years. But this ignores a curious phenomenon with coins. Banknotes get spent almost immediately, whereas coins get stashed into jars and piggy banks, where they can remain out of circulation for months on end. To compensate for all these sock drawer loonies and keep enough dollars in circulation, Canada had to strike roughly two coins for every dollar bill it phased out. This worked out to about 300 million more loonies than there were dollar bills — which meant a revenue windfall for the Canadian government. A loonie is just a 30 cent metal disk after all, and since 1987 it has added up to about $200 million in extra revenue for the federal government.

“Loonie” was a term of derision
Outside Canada, it is still occasionally a source of giggles when people find out that we named our dollar with a synonym for “crazy” or “folly” (for context, the experience is similar to discovering that Vietnam calls its national currency the “đồng”). And for the dollar-coin-hating 1987 public, a ridiculous name was part of the point. “‘Loonie’ wasn’t the warm fuzzy word that it’s turned into now,” Bret Evans, editor of Canadian Coin News, told the National Post in 2012. It also helped that the word “loonie” rhymed with the name of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, allowing coin-haters to focus their derision on the “Mulroney Loonie.”

The coin’s original design — a canoe — was lost under extremely suspicious circumstances
To find a design for their new coin, the Royal Canadian Mint simply grabbed the motif from an existing one-dollar coin that had been minted in small quantities ever since the 1930s. Thus, the new coin would featured the time-tested image of a French-Canadian voyageur and an Aboriginal man piloting a canoe. But here’s where it gets weird: To save $43.50 on the cost of hiring an armoured truck, the Royal Canadian Mint entrusted a regular courier company to take the coin dies to Winnipeg. In an even bigger security oversight, the two dies were packaged together and even placed in a box clearly labeled “Royal Canadian Mint.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, the dies disappeared in transit. Presumably, they’re still out there somewhere.

There’s more at the link. Of course, as with all coins these days, there now is a different design every year, in honor of something or other.

Ye Olde Shoppyng Liste

From Smithsonian.com, courtesy of Reinhardt alumna Wanda Pirtle Cronauer:

Seventeenth-Century Shopping List Discovered Under Floorboards of Historic English Home

Penned in 1633, the “beautifully written” list hints at household life 400 years ago

Among other necessary items, the list includes “greenfish,” a “fireshovel” and two dozen pewter spoons. (Image courtesy of the National Trust)

By Brigit Katz

SMITHSONIAN.COM
JANUARY 31, 2017

Pewter spoons, a frying pan and “greenfish”—these must-have items were scribbled on a shopping list 400 years ago. The scrap of paper was recently discovered under the floorboards of Knole, a historic country home in Kent, England.

As Oliver Porritt reports for Kent Live, Jim Parker, a volunteer working with the archaeology team at Knole, discovered the 1633 note during a multi-million dollar project to restore the house. The team also found two other 17th century letters nearby. One, like the shopping list, was located under the attic floorboards; another was stuffed into a ceiling void.

More, including a complete transcription, at the link. It is wonderful when such slices of social history appear after so many years. (I would happily save more of my ephemera as a service to humanity, although I don’t really have the space for it…)

The Guinness Harp

Guinness, the archetypical Irish beer (and wholly owned subsidiary of Megaglobocorp) has redesigned its harp logo, making it more three dimensional and metallic. Here it is from Brand New:

guinness_logo

And here is the harp’s evolution since 1862. Looks like Guinness wanted to reintroduce some detail.

guinness_harp_evolution

Now, the harp has been a symbol of Ireland since medieval times; King Henry VIII chose it as the main charge in Ireland’s coat of arms when he elevated Ireland to the status of a kingdom in 1541. King James I added it to the arms of the United Kingdom when he acceded in 1603, and it has remained there ever since.

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Wikipedia.

Most of Ireland, of course, is no longer under the control of the British monarch. The Free State, upon its creation in 1922, chose the harp as its state emblem. The specific rendition that they used was that of Brian Boru – somewhat like the Guinness logo. From Wikipedia, here is an image of the seal of the Irish Free State:

IFSGreatSeal

Wikipedia.

And from my own collection, the obverse of an Irish pound coin from 1990:

irishpunt

The flag of the president of Ireland even uses the same color scheme as the royal arms: a blue field, a gold harp, and silver strings.

Flag_President_of_Ireland.svg

Wikipedia.

You’ll notice that the Irish state harp faces to the left – unlike the Guinness harp, which faces to the right. Apparently, the reason for this is that the Brian Boru harp was trademarked by Guinness in 1876, and the Irish State had to distinguish their harp from the Guinness one! An article on Irish Central can tell you more. This resurfaced as an issue in 1983, according to the Irish Times:

The office of the attorney general recommended registering the harp facing in both directions with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to give maximum protection from image theft.

But the government feared Guinness could challenge the decision as it had been using a “right-facing” harp symbol “some fifty years or more before the founding of the state”…

Patent agents Tomkins & Co, employed by the government on the case, informed officials the following month, however, “we do not consider that mirror images of the harp symbol could be notified to WIPO” under existing rules. While the state might be able to register a right-facing harp “it is possible that such notification could debar the registration by Guinness of their trademark in territories where they do not currently trade but may wish to do so in the foreseeable future”.

The government took the agents’ advice and in 1984 registered with WIPO a “generic”, nine-stringed harp facing in just one direction – left.

And here I thought that it was not an issue between Ireland and some commercial concern, but between Ireland and the United Kingdom. By using the same direction (and color scheme) of the harp in the arms of the kingdom of Ireland, surely the Irish State was simply trying to claim Irish symbols for itself – as though to say, “We’ll take it from here, UK!” But I guess that the form of the harp matters too. You can understand why only the Brian Boru harp would be good enough for the Irish State – and certainly more appropriate than a topless female – leading to the aesthetic conflict with the Guinness Co.

Templars

Crusade historian Christopher Tyerman once wrote that:

The Templars occupy a prominent place in the pantheon of Alternative History of the ‘what they have tried to conceal from us’ genre, championed by obsessive, swivel-eyed anoraks and conspiracy theorists allied to cool money sharks bent on the commercial exploitation of public credulity.

Now I wouldn’t put it quite that way, but it’s true: like the Bermuda Triangle, the lost continent of Atlantis, and the Nazca Lines, the Templars do tend to attract a good deal of Speculation. The Templars, or more formally “The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon,” were founded as a religious order in 1119 in the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem. Like the crusading movement itself, they represented “a fusion of Christian and military practice” – that is, the members took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but instead of praying eight times a day and copying out manuscripts like monks, they practiced horsemanship, guarded pilgrims to the Holy Land, and fought Muslims as they needed to, like knights. (This is definitely a novelty – prior to the late eleventh century the Church did not like knighthood much, but after numerous unsuccessful attempts at regulating it, the Church threw in the towel, and gave it their blessing – but only if the knights exercised their craft far from Europe, and against non-Christians. Thus were they allowed to organize themselves into religious orders.) What attracts everyone’s attention is the Templars’ sordid end: in 1312, King Philip IV of France accused them of heresy, tortured confessions out of the leadership, and prevailed on Pope Clement V to dissolve the order, after which many of them were burned at the stake. But some of the Templars, it is alleged, escaped and “went underground,” later to emerge as the Freemasons. Some of them even sailed to the New World before Columbus, which is why the fifteenth-century Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, built by supposed crypto-Templar William Sinclair, features carvings of new world corn. One author claims they buried treasure in the Oak Island Money Pit off Nova Scotia. A student of mine once lent me a book suggesting that the Shroud of Turin actually depicts an image, not of Jesus, but of the martyred Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay. A character in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code asserts that the Templars, while in the Holy Land, had uncovered evidence that the Papacy was a con job, and that the leadership of the true Church belonged to the descendants of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene – which is why the Pope was so keen to eradicate them.

And so on.

I tell my students that history is interesting enough without concocting such theories. The real history of the Templars touches on several late-medieval themes – among them the rising power of the king of France (at the expense of the papacy), and the desire to find a scapegoat for the loss of the Holy Land (Acre, the last Christian stronghold there, had fallen in 1291). But what it touches on the most is the money one could make as a result of the medieval commercial revolution – and the envy this provoked in others. The Templars were not just active in the Holy Land – they had chapters throughout Western Christendom (their churches were usually round, and you can visit one in London). Templars got into long-distance banking – and made a fortune, so much so that their formal title of “Poor Knights,” and their seal showing two knights riding a single horse, became ironic.

Seal_of_Templars

Wikipedia.

A BBC article, which my friend Chris Berard points me to, explores this history in greater detail. Author Tim Harford claims that they “invented modern banking.”

The Templars dedicated themselves to the defence of Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem. The city had been captured by the first crusade in 1099 and pilgrims began to stream in, travelling thousands of miles across Europe.

Those pilgrims needed to somehow fund months of food and transport and accommodation, yet avoid carrying huge sums of cash around, because that would have made them a target for robbers.

Fortunately, the Templars had that covered. A pilgrim could leave his cash at Temple Church in London, and withdraw it in Jerusalem. Instead of carrying money, he would carry a letter of credit. The Knights Templar were the Western Union of the crusades.

We don’t actually know how the Templars made this system work and protected themselves against fraud. Was there a secret code verifying the document and the traveller’s identity?

They did more than this, however:

Templars were much closer to a private bank – albeit one owned by the Pope, allied to kings and princes across Europe, and run by a partnership of monks sworn to poverty.

The Knights Templar did much more than transferring money across long distances.

As William Goetzmann describes in his book Money Changes Everything, they provided a range of recognisably modern financial services.

If you wanted to buy a nice island off the west coast of France – as King Henry III of England did in the 1200s with the island of Oleron, north-west of Bordeaux – the Templars could broker the deal.

Henry III paid £200 a year for five years to the Temple in London, then when his men took possession of the island, the Templars made sure that the seller got paid.

And in the 1200s, the Crown Jewels were kept at the Temple as security on a loan, the Templars operating as a very high-end pawn broker.

Harford goes on to say that Philip IV owed money to the Templars, and didn’t like how they operated beyond his control, and so contrived to dissolve them. But I can’t help but think there was even more at stake here. Lester Little’s Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy in Medieval Europe (1983) talks about how money made people very anxious in the Middle Ages, especially the “money from nothing” that one could get from currency exchange, lending at interest, or taking advantage of scarcity to sell at a premium. Charging more money than the “just price” for something was uncharitable and un-Christian, and if you made any extra-normal profits at all the only way to expiate your sin would be to give it all to the Church. (This helps to explain all those elaborate late medieval “wool churches” in East Anglia, and it also helps to explain the increased anti-Semitism of the High Middle Ages – Jews were increasingly shut out of various professions, leaving them in the role of the hated money lender.) It’s true that the Templars were themselves a church organization, but I suspect that just made it worse.

As unfair as their end was, however, it happened. “Templar” groups today are somewhat disreputable – at least, they have no institutional continuity with their medieval namesake. If you’re interested in joining a crusading order, try the Hospitallers, the Templars’ main rivals in the Middle Ages, who do enjoy continuity and who are thus much classier.

On This Day…

Ninety-eight years ago Boston witnessed an event similar to the London Beer Flood. From New England Today, notice of the Great Molasses Flood of 1919:

In January of 1919 Purity Distilling Company of Boston, maker of high-grade rum, was working three shifts a day in a vain attempt to outrun national Prohibition. The company’s huge iron tank along the water’s edge at 529 Commercial Street in the North End was filled with more than two million gallons of molasses. Pipes entering the tank were heated to aid the flow of the dense liquid. A solitary vent was the only outlet for the fermenting gases.

It was just after noon on January 15 when the great molasses tank exploded with a ground-shaking blast. Those nearby who survived the ensuing catastrophe reported strange noises coming from the tank just before it let go. “It was like someone was on the inside hammering to get out,” said one witness.

A massive tidal wave of molasses swept across Commercial Street, smashing into a house at 6 Copps Hill Terrace, demolishing the building and killing Mrs. Bridget Clougherty. The metal latticework of the Boston Elevated Railway Company’s Atlantic Avenue line, running above Commercial Street, was struck by a large chunk of the shattered tank. A section of the El collapsed. A quick-thinking motorman, seeing the rail disappear ahead of the train, dashed to the rear car and, with the steel wheels spinning, managed to get it headed in the opposite direction.

The Bay State Street Railway freight depot and several motorized boxcars were destroyed. On the waterfront, Boston Fireboat #31 was sunk at its dock with loss of life. A five-ton Mack truck was picked up by the wave of molasses and slammed into a building. The city paving department office and stable were erased within seconds, killing five men and a number of horses. Scores of buildings, vehicles and bystanders were swept away. In all, 11 people were killed and more than 50 injured by the initial explosion.

Click on the link for more, including numerous photographs. Residents of the area claim that on hot summer days you can still smell the aroma of molasses in the air. I’m pleased to note that unlike Meux’s Brewery, the Purity Distilling Company actually was found responsible for the accident, and had to pay compensation to the survivors.

Junk Drunk Jones

This afternoon I enjoyed shopping at Junk Drunk Jones, a store in Canton run by my former student Stephanie McGuire Jones. Check out the store’s blog and Facebook page. Stephanie was one of Reinhardt’s Ten Under Ten honorees last year. From the linked article:

Canton native Stefanie Jones developed a love for travel and collecting vintage items from her parents at a very early age, which led to her hometown business, Junk Drunk Jones, in downtown Canton.

After graduating from Reinhardt in 2008, she began an on-the-road and online antique store which has steadily evolved ever since. She created Junk Drunk Jones LLC. In March 2015, she purchased a 100-year-old building in historic downtown Canton.

After two months of renovations, Jones celebrated the grand opening of her first store front. Junk Drunk Jones specializes in authentic vintage collectibles and superior quality reproductions.

It is definitely worth a stop if you’re in Canton. I did not get any pictures of the wide range dry goods for sale, but I am pleased to have acquired a postcard of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche as it appeared before 1943:

kwgk

Here’s what it looks like today:

800px-geda%cc%88chtniskirche1

Wikipedia.

I.e. it was heavily damaged by the allied bombing of Berlin, and rather than restore it, architect Egon Eirmann kept it in its damaged state as a monument to the war, and constructed a separate modernist belfry (on the right on the photo) and nave (not shown), the main feature of which is a skin of blue stained glass. I remember discovering this by accident in Berlin once, and being impressed.

(The English equivalent of this, of course, is Coventry Cathedral.)

UPDATE: Here is a photo of the old belfry and the new nave, taken recently by my friend Michael Dorner:

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Liberal Arts for the Win!

From the Atlantic, as though it isn’t totally obvious:

American undergraduates are flocking to business programs, and finding plenty of entry-level opportunities. But when businesses go hunting for CEOs or managers, “they will say, a couple of decades out, that I’m looking for a liberal arts grad,” said Judy Samuelson, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program….

[B]usiness majors seem to be graduating with some of the technical skills they’ll need to secure jobs, but without having made the gains in writing or critical-thinking skills they’ll require to succeed over the course of their careers, or to adapt as their technical skills become outdated and the nature of the opportunities they have shifts over time.

A 2014 study of the Collegiate Learning Assessment test—administered to some 13,000 undergraduates as they entered and exited university—found that business, health, and education majors substantially underperformed students in the humanities, sciences, social sciences, and engineering. The authors then adjusted their results to account for the academic abilities of students entering these majors—and found that business and education majors still showed substantially lower gains in writing, complex reasoning, and critical thinking by the time they’d graduated.

Read the whole thing.

Gunning for Guns

At the Cartersville Public Library on Saturday I noticed this book on the recent acquisition shelf:

IMG_2425_2

I was curious, because the title reminded me of Arming America by Michael Bellesiles (2000), which advanced a similar thesis: that American “gun culture” was the creation of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company in the years after the Civil War, that Americans were by no means enamored of guns before that. Once the wartime government contracts dried up, the company had to find new buyers, and in a genius marketing campaign rivaling DeBeers’s “A Diamond Is Forever,” convinced vast swaths of the American public that owning a gun was a patriotic duty.

This makes intuitive sense. Much work has been done on nationalism from the same perspective: many historians claim that it was an “invented tradition,” projected onto the past, that prior to the late nineteenth century people didn’t care much for their putative nations, or were even aware of them. (Although I don’t quite agree with this.) One also thinks about the transformation of the American university at the time, with the rise of fraternities, intercollegiate athletics, and other aspects of “school spirit.”

Where Haag differs from Bellesiles, from what I can gather after reading her introduction, is that she admits that guns were ubiquitous in the early republic, it’s just that they were tools, like shovels or rakes. They were not cult objects. (I thought of this when perusing the magazine rack at our local supermarket later that day: on sale were plenty of magazines devoted to guns of all kinds, but none devoted to garden tools.)

guns

Gun culture.

Bellesiles, by contrast, claimed that Americans did not own many guns at all prior to the Civil War, and that those they did have didn’t work very well, making Winchester’s marketing seem even more heroic (or fraudulent, if you want to put it that way).

Of course, Bellesiles’s scholarship was quite fraudulent itself, so much so that he got fired from Emory for it. This was a big deal back in 2002. I was keen to see what Haag had to say about Arming America, but neither the book, nor its author, appear in Haag’s bibliography. And there was no acknowledgement of the controversy in the introduction! The “Search Inside This Book” feature on Amazon reveals a single mention in the midst of a long endnote on page 407, which claimed that Bellesiles’s

count of gun ownership, which he concluded was quite low (19 percent), based on colonial probate records, was subsequently challenged and rejected for questionable sources and technique. Setting aside his gun inventory, this book agrees with one of Bellesiles’s conclusions, namely, that the alliance between the government and the gun industrialist in the antebellum years was crucial to the development of a commercial market.

That’s it? That’s all she has to say? Surely a significant portion of the introduction should have been given over to the problems with Arming America, and why The Gunning of America will be better. As it stands, it comes across as “nothing to see here, move along.” Or “If we ignore it, it will go away.” Or, as Dr. Wheeler puts it: “Down the memory hole!  Makes me almost believe in conspiracy theories!”

(All this, of course, is a separate issue from firearms policy today. Bellesiles and Haag are attempting to do the same thing with gun ownership that Hobsbawm and Ranger did with nationalism: if it’s constructed, then it can be dismantled. But even if America’s “gun culture” came about only in the 1860s, it still happened 150 years ago! Is this not enough time for it to have become an intrinsic part of the American psyche? On the other hand, even if Haag and Bellesiles are wrong, and Americans have loved their guns from before the passage of the Second Amendment, surely we reserve the right to change things anyway, since gun technology has itself changed quite a bit since 1787, and there are certain well-known problems with widespread gun ownership?)