Redoshi

That slaves were illegally smuggled from West Africa to the antebellum South, between the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves of 1807 and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, is remarkable (and outrageous, of course). The last such documented shipment arrived in Mobile, Ala., in 1860, aboard the ship Clothilda. Hannah Durkin, a researcher at Newcastle University, has now determined that one of the 110 slaves aboard, a twelve-year-old girl named Redoshi (who was renamed Sally Smith) was the last survivor of the illegal slave trade between Africa and the United States, dying in 1937. The National Post has more.

Maken Engelond Gret Ayeyn

The great Paul Strohm in Lapham’s Quarterly (hat tip: Arts and Letters Daily) discusses late-fourteenth and early-fifteenth century English trade, in particular the perennial conflict between the ideas of free trade and protectionism. A sample:

Giano’s killing was one episode in the larger story of international trade and its accompanying rivalries in the later European Middle Ages. The so-called Dark Ages were never as dark as their name would imply; hucksters, peddlers, chapmen, and other minor players had always plied Europe’s roads and dealt their goods. But it was in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that high-volume international trading seriously resumed, with trade in wool one of its major drivers. In those centuries, the Port of London alone handled almost a thousand arriving and departing trading vessels a year, and numerous other English ports (including the newly active ports of Dover and Southampton) were claiming a role. Half this activity was devoted to wool, and it generated immense wealth for the realm, conferring fortunes on a small and monopolistic group of men. These successful profiteers were not the sheepherders and shearers of the provinces, nor the merchant sailors who braved the seas, but the entrepreneurial middlemen who collected revenues on exported wool. A close-knit group of at most several hundred men, they formed allegiances and confederations throughout the mercantile establishment that dominated the leading guilds and ran the city of London.

Read the whole thing, which concludes that the author of the protectionist Libel of English Policy (1438) may be considered a Brexiteer avant la lettre, “laying early foundations for varieties of economic nationalism now returning to contemporary vogue.”

Symbols of Medicine

A peeve of mine, which I record for posterity:

The proper symbol of medicine is called a Rod of Asclepius, and consists of a single snake wrapped around a central pole. It is not to be confused with the Caduceus, which consists of two snakes wrapped around a winged pole, and is associated with the god Hermes.

Rod of Asclepius and Caduceus. Pinterest.

The hero Askepios was the son of the god Apollo and either Coronis or Arsinoe, both mortals. Asklepios’s attributes are a snake and a staff, combined into a single symbol. The staff seems to have been simply the sign of an itinerant physician, while the snake can be seen in many ways:

sometimes the shedding of skin and renewal is emphasized as symbolizing rejuvenation, while other assessments center on the serpent as a symbol that unites and expresses the dual nature of the work of the physician, who deals with life and death, sickness and health. The ambiguity of the serpent as a symbol, and the contradictions it is thought to represent, reflect the ambiguity of the use of drugs, which can help or harm, as reflected in the meaning of the term pharmakon, which meant “drug”, “medicine”, and “poison” in ancient Greek. Products deriving from the bodies of snakes were known to have medicinal properties in ancient times, and in ancient Greece, at least some were aware that snake venom that might be fatal if it entered the bloodstream could often be imbibed. Snake venom appears to have been ‘prescribed’ in some cases as a form of therapy.

By an interesting coincidence a healing snake-and-pole device also appears in Numbers 21:

[The Israelites] traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

It’s interesting how snakes are generally symbols of evil in the Christian tradition, but ambiguous in Greek paganism. Here, however, is a Biblical example of a snake that does some good. (And I believe this passage has been used by Christians to justify their use of apotropaic images, in apparent violation of the second commandment.)

    

Medical bodies that are on the ball will identify themselves with a Rod of Asclepius. Left to right: the Emergency Services’ Star of Life, the coat of arms of Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College, and the logo of the American Medical Association, all from Wikipedia.

The Caduceus, by contrast, comes from the Greek kērukeion, and simply means herald’s staff. Since Hermes was the herald of the gods, he is often depicted with a staff of some sort, usually with something wound around it; this has been formalized as two snakes, and the wings match the wings on Hermes’s helmet and shoes. The Caduceus, therefore, represents items in Hermes’s wheelhouse, chiefly commerce.

   

Coat of arms of Jyväskylä, Finland and of Metropolitan Toronto (1954-98) featuring Caduceuses. From Wikipedia and the Online Register of Arms, Flags, and Badges of Canada.

Or rather, the Caduceus ought to represent commerce. By the same process that saw methodology replace method, or discipline replace field, a device with two snakes (and two wings!) was seen as somehow grander than a device with one. See the Wikipedia entry on the Caduceus as a symbol of medicine.

Wikipedia.

Apparently the US Army was the chief culprit here. Daniel P. Sulmasy said that “It is hard to trust a profession that cannot even get its symbols straight,” but others have noted the ironic appropriateness of the American medical profession representing itself with a symbol of commerce.

Cowboys and Mounties

CineMasterpieces.

One enduring embodiment of the American male is the cowboy. He is a rugged individual on the western frontier, living by skill of his hand and the sweat of his brow, voluntarily submitting to a cowboy code of honor and unafraid of defending his property with armed force if need be. Innumerable Western-themed movies and television shows have ensured that we all admire cowboys, or at least that we know one when we see one, dressed in some combination of the cowboy hat, bandana, leather vest, jeans, chaps, and boots, carrying a six-shooter or lasso, and riding his trusty horse. 

Wikipedia.

A Canadian male, by contrast, will find himself well reflected by the Mountie, that is, a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. A Mountie’s distinctive uniform of red tunic, Sam Browne belt, beige stetson hat, and dark blue breeches with a gold stripe down each leg make him instantly recognizable. Like the cowboy, the Mountie operates in the west of his country, and often acts independently, with a reputation of great competence and integrity, but there the similarity stops, for the Mountie represents state authority, not private enterprise. To this day the RCMP acts as Canada’s FBI, and in most provinces as the provincial police as well. That we are familiar with Mounties can also be attributed to cinema – “Northerns,” that is, Westerns set in the Yukon and featuring Mounties as the main protagonists, were popular between the wars.

The famous Marlboro Man. From The Lyrical Elitist.

This difference between the cowboy and the Mountie is one of the alleged fundamental differences between the United States and Canada. The difference is also reflected in the founding documents of each country. America’s 1776 Declaration of Independence values “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” while the British North America Act of 1867 was passed to ensure “Peace, Order, and Good Government.” It does seem to me, as someone who has lived in both countries, that Americans are more comfortable with private initiative, and Canadians with government intervention, than the opposites.

A depiction of the RCMP’s Musical Ride on the reverse of the Canadian $50 note, in circulation 1975-89. From the website of the Bank of Canada Museum.

As mentioned, Mounties enjoy a pretty good reputation. The idea is that they really do “maintain the right” (their motto), and they “always get their man.” The cartoon character Dudley Do-Right, from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (1959-64), offers a lighthearted satire on this image, but his surname is fully in accord with it. That this idea was largely promulgated by Hollywood, and not by any Canadian organization, is even more remarkable. Canadians like to believe that Americans are only interested in themselves, and constantly rewrite history to make themselves the heroes of it. In this instance, though, they voluntarily burnished the image of the state police force of a foreign country, somewhat uncharacteristically.

This whole topic came to mind again recently, when I found our copy of Looking North: Royal Canadian Mounted Police Illustrations – The Potlatch Collection (2003) by Karal Ann Marling, an art history professor at the University of Minnesota. The Northwest Paper Company of Cloquet, Minnesota (i.e., nowhere in Canada!), sponsored an advertising campaign featuring the Mountie doing Mountie things, all in his bright red tunic to show off the superior quality of their product. The Mountie’s alleged qualities of integrity and courage also polished the company’s image.

The campaign, the brainchild of Chicago ad man Frank Cash, started in 1931, at a time when advertising agencies employed highly talented artists who could produce beautiful and realistic paintings on demand, and when the weekly newsmagazine (e.g. Life or The Saturday Evening Post) served as a far-reaching vehicle for them. Arnold Friburg, Hal Foster, and Paul Proehl were responsible for the three reproduced here.

As a born Canadian, I am proud that the Mounties enjoy such an upright reputation. Unfortunately, they haven’t always lived up to it, or so I discover from Wikipedia’s “List of controversies involving the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.” Some choice ones:

• On the night of May 6, 1972, the RCMP Security Service burned down a barn owned by Paul Rose‘s and Jacques Rose‘s mother in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Rochelle, Quebec. They suspected that separatists were planning to meet with members of the Black Panthers from the United States. The arson came after they failed to convince a judge to allow them to wiretap the alleged meeting place.

• There have been many Inuit accounts related to the alleged killings of sled dogs during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, as well as the impact of the federal government’s efforts during that time to relocate Inuit into modern settlements.

• The RCMP bombed an oilsite in Alberta October 14, 1999, on the instructions of the Alberta Energy Co. No injuries were caused or intended. The Crown lawyers, representing the government, accepted that the allegations were true. An Alberta farmer was blamed for the bombing.

• The Robert Dziekański Taser incident occurred when a Polish immigrant who arrived at the Vancouver International Airport on October 14, 2007, and waited 10 hours at the airport before being taken into police custody. He died after being tasered a total of five times by a group of four RCMP officers and then placed face down with several officers sitting on top of him.

• In October 2016, RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson apologized for what he referred to as “shameful conduct” by the organization. An internal investigation determined that up to 20,000 female officers and civilian employees since 1974 may have been the victims of harassment, discrimination, and/or sexual abuse.

On a more general level, “American historian Andrew Graybill has argued that the Mounted Police closely resemble the Texas Rangers in many ways. He argues that each protected the established order by confining and removing Indians, by tightly controlling the mixed blood peoples (the African Americans in Texas and the Métis in Canada), assisted the large-scale ranchers against the small-scale ranchers and farmers who fenced the land, and broke the power of labour unions that tried to organize the workers of industrial corporations.”

So, as ever, one must take care to examine both sides of an issue…

Addendum: A group of musically-inclined policemen from Windsor, Ontario calling themselves The Brothers-in-Law recorded a satirical song on the RCMP for their album Oh! Oh! Canada in 1965.

Addendum: How could I have forgotten RCMP Constable Benton Fraser, the main character of the television series Due South (1994-99)? This was a Canadian show, although set in Chicago. True to form, “Fraser is a strait-laced Canadian, and his faith in the honour and goodness of others tends to lead to interesting and humorous moments.”

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.

410px-Royal_Arms_of_England_(1603-1707).svg

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.