Black Bartow County

Earlier this summer I visited the Bartow History Museum, located in Bartow County’s first postbellum courthouse on East Church Street in Cartersville, right beside the Western & Atlantic train tracks and now overshadowed by a bridge built to span the tracks. Its exhibits are well done. Currently, on the main floor, is a photo gallery of different musical groups from the county, and a feature exhibition about the county’s notable women, in honor of the ratification of the nineteenth amendment one hundred years ago this month. Upstairs, in the Dellinger Family Exhibition Gallery, is a permanent display taking the visitor through the history of the area, starting with the Mississippian Indians who built the Etowah Mounds, through Cherokee removal, white settlement, the Civil War, local industry, commerce, and agriculture, the county’s participation in the World Wars, and the current scene. As I say, it is very well done – except that I couldn’t help but notice that the whole thing gives short shrift to Bartow’s African-American community. 

Slavery is briefly mentioned on a single panel in the antebellum section…

…and on the way in, in a photo montage entitled “A Sense of Place,” one finds a group photograph of some members of the “Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church, Mission Road, 1954,” clearly an African-American congregation. And that’s pretty much it.*

I think that Bartow’s Black history deserves more attention than this. Although plantation slavery was not as common in north Georgia as it was in the Black Belt, as the panel above states, by 1840 there were some 2000 slaves in the county, out of a total population of 9340. I have discovered that slaves were occasionally sold on the courthouse steps in Cassville, the original county seat.** What was it like for these people? What happened to them when Sherman came though on the Atlanta Campaign, armed with the Emancipation Proclamation? How did they deal with this newfound freedom – and with the imposition of Jim Crow once Reconstruction was called off? How did Bartow County experience the Civil Rights movement, and what is the situation of Bartow’s Black population today? These are all stories that ought to be told.

Fortunately, they are getting some attention in other ways. The Etowah Valley Historical Society sponsors an African-American History Initiative, which was responsible for the sculpture Pathways to Freedom, on display in front of Cartersville City Hall. And the Cartersville-Bartow Convention and Visitors’ Bureau (in alliance with the Cartersville Downtown Development Authority) has helped create an African American Heritage Trail in the county. An abridged description of the trail may be found on the Bureau’s website, and the full version may be found in a pamphlet available at the Bartow History Museum and elsewhere (and downloadable as a pdf). A shout-out to Reinhardt’s Pam Wilson for her contributions to this. 

The pamphlet is quite well done (by my friend Lara Jeanneret of Lara J Designs, as it happens, whose work I highly recommend). It features an introduction and historical timeline, and details some nineteen historically significant sites throughout Bartow County, eleven of which are in Cartersville. Some of these I have already seen and blogged about this summer, such as the Pathways to Freedom sculpture, the covered bridge in Euharlee (built by Washington King, son of freedman Horace King), the Black Pioneers’ Cemetery in Euharlee (rediscovered and saved from development in 2002), and the gravesite of Michelle Obama’s three-greats grandmother Melvinia Shields in Kingston. Some of the pamphlet’s other sites are somewhat amorphous, like “2. The Clothing Trades” (active on East Church Street in Cartersville) or “7. African American Real Estate Developers” (active on West Main Street). But others are more concrete, and in my last act of local exploration this summer I determined to see some of them. One was quite by accident: I was eating lunch in Ross’s Diner when I read, in the “3. Segregation” section of the Heritage Trail pamphlet:

Both of Cartersville’s historic courthouses had segregated balconies where African Americans were required to sit. The Grand Theatre had a separate entrance for black movie patrons, which led to a segregated seating section. At both Ross’s Diner and 4-Way Lunch, one can still see the separate entrances designated for African American diners, who also were required to sit at segregated counters at the rear of the buildings adjacent to the kitchen areas.

I asked the manager if this was true, and she admitted it was, and directed me outside and to the rear of the building, as if I was going to use the toilet.

Ross’s Diner, front entrance on Wall Street.

Ross’s Diner, rear entrance off the side alley.

The room that one enters from this door is easy to imagine as a secondary dining area; it is now storage, with the main kitchen to the right. The toilet is in a closet off this room. (I assume that Ross’s Diner didn’t always offer toilet facilities, or else the “white” toilets, wherever they may have been, were decommissioned at some point. The races couldn’t possibly have shared toilets.)

After Ross’s, I walked north on Erwin Street to see “9. Vinnie’s Cabin,” which is located behind a fine nineteenth century house, currently occupied by Strands Hair Salon. 

The main house, believed to have been the first one built in Cartersville, was the “townhome” property of Elijah Murphy Field and Cornelia Maxey Harrison Field,*** whose main residence was on a large plantation on Pumpkinvine Creek, worked by slaves. Obviously their townhome would have needed some staff as well, and cabins out back, one of which still stands, would have been where these people lived. The abolition of slavery did not mean that such social relations entirely disappeared, however, and the cabin takes its name from Vinnie Salter Johnson, a Black woman who was born into slavery in 1855 but who was subsequently employed as a cook by the Field family. She lived with her son in what used to be the slave cabin until she made enough money to be able to rent her own home on nearby Bartow St. I do not know at what point the cabin ceased to be occupied by any Field family employees, or why it survived to the present, but I am glad that it did. It is good to retain such mementoes of the past, as uncomfortable as they might make us now. 

An even more important reminder of the old days (and, perhaps, a more positive one) is “12. The Summer Hill Heritage Foundation” on Aubrey Street. Summer Hill is a historically Black neighborhood, and Summer Hill School was the Black school for Cartersville. The school dates from 1889 and taught students from first through sixth grade; a new wooden structure was built for it in 1922, which was replaced by an even larger brick structure in 1956, by which time Summer Hill School offered high school instruction and fielded sports teams. With the fall of segregation in 1968, the school was closed, but the building (as a community center) and sports facilities (a gym, tennis courts, a baseball diamond, and a swimming pool) remain in use. Apparently there is a small museum in the complex, but unfortunately the whole place was closed on account of the plague. 

The disused concrete bleachers of Blue Devil Stadium, hand-built by parents in the community. 

“He who thinks can conquer” statue on the grounds. 

A little further up the street, one encounters “13. Masonic Lodge,” a disused building that at one point functioned as the meeting place for a so-called Prince Hall Lodge. In 1775, Prince Hall and fourteen other free Black men, having been rejected for membership in a colonial Masonic lodge, were initiated by British soldiers into the Grand Lodge of Ireland, and later received recognition as African Lodge No. 1. (Such consideration, it seems, did not convince Hall to support the British during the Revolutionary War.) Out of this act eventually grew an independent branch of Freemasonry for African-American men that spread throughout the North, and then into the South following the Civil War. Like other fraternal organizations, Prince Hall lodges offered fellowship for members and allowed the pooling of resources for charitable work, and were thus an important pillar of the African-American community. Cartersville’s Prince Hall Lodge, designated Mount Zion Lodge #6, was founded in 1896. The pamphlet claims that it is “one of the oldest continually active African American lodges in the state,” although I can find no evidence on the Internet that it still exists, and it clearly does not use this building anymore. In its day it ran the Benevolent Brotherhood Society, into which community members made contributions and could draw on in times of emergency. 

Freemasonry is not as popular as it once was although the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Georgia does seem to be a going concern – with or without the Cartersville chapter. 

But perhaps the most significant African-American site in all of Bartow County is “17. Noble Hill-Wheeler Memorial Center” in Cassville. Noble Hill School (also called Cassville Colored School) was constructed in 1923 with help from the Rosenwald Fund. I had never heard of this before, but it was quite important in its day. Like the industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who built all those libraries, Julius Rosenwald, president of the Sears, Roebuck and Co., in partnership with Booker T. Washington, used his wealth for the greater good by helping to fund the construction of schools, many of them for Black children in the segregated South. Rosenwald grants were always matching grants, and it should be noted that only 33% of the cost of the Noble Hill school building came from the Fund; 47% was raised by the local community, with the remainder coming from the Bartow Board of Education. The building featured two rooms, one for first through third grade, the other for fourth through seventh grade – and large windows to take advantage of the natural light, as it was not wired for electricity. The school closed in 1955 when many of Bartow County’s Black schools were amalgamated to form Bartow Elementary School (I do not know where this building was located, or what has become of it since the end of segregation). 

From a display at Noble Hill-Wheeler Memorial Center.

After standing empty for a number of years, the Rosenwald building was resurrected in the 1980s as the site of the Noble Hill-Wheeler Memorial Center, a museum dedicated to the former school and to African-American history in Bartow County. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

Webster Wheeler. noblehillwheeler.org

The “Wheeler” in the institution’s title is the surname of the family most closely associated with Noble Hill: Webster Wheeler (1871-1943) was the school’s main builder; Bethel Wheeler was Webster’s son and assistant; Bertha Wheeler was Bethel’s wife who owned the building and donated it for use as a museum; and Susie Weems Wheeler (1917-2007) was the wife of Webster’s son Daniel, who was an early graduate of the school and who served as the driving force behind the establishment of the museum. 

Dr. Susie Wheeler. “Women of Bartow County” exhibit, Bartow History Museum, 2020.

Susie Wheeler had an accomplished career. She received a bachelor’s degree from Fort Valley State College and eventually an Ed.D. from Atlanta (now Clark Atlanta) University. She taught in Bartow County and later acted as a Jeanes supervisor, that is, a superintendent of Black schools, for Bartow, Gordon, and Polk Counties. She finished her career as curriculum director for the (now integrated) Bartow County Board of Education, and received the Governor’s Award in the Humanities in 2007. She was also a world traveler and 62-year member of Delta Sigma Theta

Noble Hill-Wheeler Memorial Center is also closed on account of the virus, but I was fortunate to be given a private tour by museum curator Valerie Coleman. Some items on display:

This quilt, which received an honorable mention at the Atlanta Quilt Festival, records people who were important to Noble Hill, including Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington on the bottom left, and Webster, Bertha, Bethel, and Susie Wheeler above them. The color picture at the top (underneath the “g” and the “H”) is of another notable local figure: Robert Benham (b. 1946) a native of Cartersville and the first African-American justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia (1989-2020, with a term as Chief Justice 1995-2001). Justice Benham did not attend Noble Hill, but did graduate from Summer Hill in 1963, and was recruited by Susie Wheeler as a trustee of the Noble Hill-Wheeler Memorial Center. In this capacity he arranged for a session of the Supreme Court of Georgia at the Center in 1992!

Justice Robert Benham and other members of the Supreme Court of Georgia at Noble Hill-Wheeler Memorial Center, 1992.

Dr. W.R. Moore.

The Center also possesses the medical books, photos, and certificates of Dr. William Riley Moore (1881-1954), the first African-American doctor in Cartersville. Dr. Moore came to town from Florida (from the city of Bartow, as it happens) in 1910 and established a practice for himself above Gassett’s Grocery (site 5 on the Heritage Trail) in the African-American business district on West Main Street. He later moved his office to Summer Hill and practiced there until his death in 1954. He delivered almost all the Black babies born in Cartersville (and a few white ones too, although this is not something that he could publicly acknowledge). He was also an important community leader and was instrumental in establishing the Faith Cabin Library in Cartersville for the use of African-Americans. Both he and his landlord John Gassett are buried in the Black section of Oak Hill Cemetery (which, surprisingly, is not a site on the Heritage Trail).

Photo: C.P. McAbee.

My final stop on the Heritage Trail was “16. St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church,” also in Cassville. Like the Prince Hall Masons, the AME Church has its origins in the social prejudices of northern whites against Black people. Tired of the restrictions placed on him, the Black Methodist minister Richard Allen founded the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Philadelphia in 1794, catering to the free Black population of that city. Other ministers followed his example, and in 1816 he organized the AME Church as an independent denomination, with himself as first bishop. The AME Church spread throughout the South following the Civil War, ministering to freedmen. An AME congregation was organized in Cassville in the late 1860s; the local Presbyterians bequeathed to it their church building, as they were all relocating to Cartersville, the new county seat.† 

Unfortunately this historic congregation has essentially died out, and the church building is disused and not in the best repair (the photo of the interior was provided by my friend Christopher McAbee, who has done research on St. James). There are other active AME congregations in Bartow County, however, and other Black churches (mostly Baptist). It would be nice if some appropriate use could be found for this building – and for the Summer Hill Masonic Hall, for that matter.

But, some will wonder, why do we need to focus on “African-American History” at all? Why all the fuss about people who possess some arbitrary physical attribute that ought to be as trivial as having freckles or being left-handed? This is a natural attitude for people who grew up in mostly-white communities but who have been programmed against racism by everything in their culture. If “we’re all the same underneath,” as they’ve been taught from birth, then why do we pay so much attention to what’s on the surface? Why do we celebrate Black achievements so vociferously, in a way that we don’t for other discrete categories of human?

The answer, of course, is that for the longest time white people believed that we weren’t all the same underneath. My theory is that Early Modern Europeans always had a slightly guilty conscience about slavery – so they invented racism in order to justify it, and thereby made it worse. Slavery is bad, they thought, but it’s not as bad to enslave morally inferior people, clearly marked by their dark skin – in fact, it might even be good for them! Thus, predictably, just because one gets rid of the slavery, doesn’t mean that one gets rid of the racism. Even white Americans in places that had abolished Black slavery in the eighteenth century, and who invaded the Confederacy in order to end the practice, saw no reason to accept free Blacks as social equals. The “races” generally did not mix, and if there was ever a question of the distribution of resources, it was white people who got the lion’s share, if not the whole thing. (If Black people did not like this dispensation, they could always go “back” to Africa. Whites were never enjoined to go “back” to Europe.)

And if this is how Northerners thought, how much more so did Southerners, who in an act of aggression displacement blamed their former slaves for the devastation wrought upon the South by the North, and once they regained control of their states instituted a panoply of laws known by the collective name of “Jim Crow.” Such laws were largely animated by the principle of segregation, the notion that Black people and white people should occupy completely different social spaces, with this division enforced in various formal and informal ways. As this blog post has indicated, during the Jim Crow era in Georgia, Black people and white people had separate: 

• neighborhoods and commercial areas
• schools
• colleges and universities
• churches
• fraternal organizations
• (areas in) cemeteries
• seating areas in restaurants, theaters, and courtrooms
• professional service providers 

One can think of any number of other areas where segregation was applied:

sports leagues
• recreational facilities like swimming pools and even state parks (e.g. “10. George Washington Carver State Park for Negroes” on Lake Allatoona)
• hotels
• prisons
• public toilets and drinking fountains

And so on. In fairness, sometimes such things were found far beyond the states of the former Confederacy. (But I’ve always distrusted the cliché that “in the North, it doesn’t matter how big you get as long as you don’t get too close, but in the South, it doesn’t matter how close you get as long as you don’t get too big.” What was segregation if not an attempt at keeping people from getting too close?)

The fundamental justification for segregation is that the “races” really are different from each other, really are like oil and water, and for everyone’s sake ought to be kept apart from each other. And the longer segregation went on, the more self-justifying it became. For not only did people look different, with social separation they had evolved different cultures, with different ways of speaking, different ways of interacting, different bodies of background knowledge, and so on. In this way are the races really more than “skin deep” in the United States – phenotype is generally a marker of culture as well. 

So what is wrong with segregation then? What’s wrong with you hanging out with your people, and I hanging out with mine? We self-segregate along such lines all the time, as any observation of the school cafeteria will indicate. What’s the big deal? Well, the answer is that there is a big difference between doing something because you want to, and doing something because you have to. Much more important, however, is the whole issue of power. White people were in command of all levels of government, and whether by law or social custom, segregation was their project, implemented for their (supposed) benefit. During Jim Crow the races were kept apart – with Black people firmly “beneath” white people in any number of ways. As is apparent by now, the separate facilities for Black people were always crappier than those for whites. It’s not white people who had to use the side entrance to Ross’s Diner and eat in the windowless back room, out of public view. It’s not the white schools that received cast-off textbooks from Black schools. Perhaps most important, it is not white people who had to fear vigilante justice from Black mobs, acting in the knowledge that no jury would convict them. On some abstract level “separate but equal” is a tenable proposition, but in reality it never worked that way. (If nothing else, Black people did not get to vote for Black representatives to a Black legislature, passing legislation binding only on Black people.) Thus did the United States Supreme Court rightly reject it in Brown vs. Board of Education (1954). 

And yet… for all its faults, segregation did allow Black people to be in control of their own institutions. Shelby Steele has written about this, personally recalling the camaraderie that existed among African-Americans in the face of institutionalized white racism. Was something important lost when Summer Hill closed its doors and its students sent to Cartersville High? Perhaps, and it is interesting to note how some segregation-era organizations live on. The Negro leagues might no longer be with us, but Black churches, fraternities, and HBCUs certainly are – and are clearly valued as such by their members. For if “African-American” is a culture, then African-Americans should be able to have their own spaces where their own culture prevails, even as segregation is legally and morally forbidden otherwise. And forbidden for a good reason – people might generally want to hang out with people “like them,” but it’s nice to have the option not to, and it is this compulsory aspect of segregation that is so depressing, a blanket statement that cross-racial amity is simply impossible. It’s also just inefficient: imagine having to spend all that effort policing this boundary, and having to provide two of everything. 

I applaud the Cartersville-Bartow Convention and Visitors’ Bureau for creating the Heritage Trail – and I’m pleased to note that the Georgia Downtown Association agrees with me. I have discovered that the Georgia Historical Society has actually replaced the Georgia Historical Commission as the body responsible for the erection of new historical markers, with the specific mandate of correcting some of the biases of the past. I certainly believe that many of the items in the Heritage Trail pamphlet deserve to be memorialized publicly in metal (not just with QR codes). Summer Hill School is surely as important as the precise locations of the troops of Johnston, Hardee, and Polk at 5 P.M. on May 19, 1864. 

* Although in fairness I should note that several African-American women, including Susie Wheeler and Louise Young Harris (pastor of Queen Chapel in Kingston), are included in the temporary Women of Bartow exhibit on the first floor.

** See the section on Cassville in Lisa Russell’s Lost Towns of North Georgia (2016).

*** According to the pamphlet, 118 N. Erwin St. was commandeered in 1864 for use as a post office by Mrs. Field’s cousin, Union Army Colonel Benjamin Harrison of Indiana. Such an action infuriated Mrs. Field and she refused to welcome Harrison into her home ever again… even after he became the 23rd president of the United States!

† The Presbyterian/AME church building was one of only a few to survive the burning of Cassville on November 5, 1864. 

The Western and Atlantic Railroad

Google maps. The purple dots delineate the course of the W&A. 

The Western & Atlantic Railroad, or simply the “State Road,” connecting “Terminus” (Atlanta) and “Ross’s Landing” (Chattanooga), was chartered in 1836 and completed by 1850. It has been referenced several times on this blog; much more information is available in Ken Wheeler’s forthcoming book Modern Cronies. The final piece in the W&A puzzle was the construction of a tunnel (largely by slave labor, it must be acknowledged) beneath Chetoogeta Mountain in Whitfield County, marked with a black star on the map. This project gave rise to the nearby settlement of Tunnelsville, later renamed Tunnel Hill. A wider, parallel tunnel was constructed in 1928, leaving the disused original tunnel to serve as a footpath through the mountain. Motion-sensing lights turn on as you walk through, and the ambient temperature is nice and cool, which is a relief on a hot day.

A photo of the entrance to the original tunnel; you can barely see the light at the end of it. To the left, the date “1928” can be seen through the chainlink fence over the newer tunnel (the actual entrance being obscured by kudzu). 

A Georgia Historic Marker gives more detail. I’m glad to note that by the 1990s, the makers of these signs realized that you could fit more text on them if you just decreased its font size, and that they are more appealing when written in standard English. However, according to Bradley Putnam, a local historian with whom had the pleasure of speaking, the first number should be 1477 (not 1447) – he has measured the tunnel’s length himself. 

A museum on the premises gives more information about the W&A. The display in the foreground is of some rails recovered from a local creek in 2011. They are placed over a pile of ties to illustrate how one can do irreparable damage to a railroad if one is interested in doing so during time of war. The sign explains that the ties would be set on fire, and the heat would melt the rails and cause them to droop under their own weight – you can see that this has in fact happened to one of them. If circumstances permitted, for added destructiveness the heated rails could be twisted around a tree – thus acquiring the nickname “Sherman’s Neckties.”

Across the tracks, the old railroad depot still stands…

…and is, indeed, being rehabilitated for a new purpose. 

Further up the tracks in Ringgold, Georgia, stands another railway depot. It is marked with a blue star on the map above. 

This one took some damage during the Civli War and had to be restored, thus its present piebald appearance.

The historical marker tells more, although the building hasn’t been in continuous use as a railway depot necessarily. It is now an event venue available for weddings or other functions.

Wikipedia.

And, of course, one cannot talk about the W&A without mentioning the Great Locomotive Chase of April 12, 1862, “one of the most colorful exploits of the Civil War,” as the first sign says above. 

North of Ringgold the W&A runs parallel to Highway 151, and about two miles out of town (marked with a red star on the map), one encounters a monument at the place where Andrews’ Raiders abandoned their hijacked locomotive The General, having run out of fuel for it.

An artist’s interpretation of this event may be found on Wikipedia. The backwards-running Texas may be seen on the left. All the raiders were captured; spare a thought for the eight who were executed as spies and “unlawful combatants.” 

Hagia Sophia

Tom Madden in First Things (hat tip: Matt Phillips):

Hagia Sophia’s transformation into a museum in the 1930s was in large part due to an American socialite and fundraiser, Thomas Whittemore. With support from Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss of Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., Whittemore obtained permission from the Turkish government to uncover and restore the medieval mosaics of Hagia Sophia. Beautiful depictions of Christ, the Virgin, saints, and emperors arose gloriously from their centuries-old plaster prisons. Armed with cameras and a good head for publicity, Whittemore brought the sublime images of forgotten Constantinople to an astonished world. 

President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the father of modern Turkey, took a keen interest in these discoveries. Atatürk was determined to modernize Turkey, bringing it out of its medieval past. That meant, among other things, distancing the new Republic of Turkey from the old Ottoman Empire. He had already moved the capital from imperial Constantinople, and even changed the name of the city to Istanbul. He had also opened Topkapi Palace to tourists. Transforming the sultans’ old mosque into a museum fit perfectly into that program. In 1934 the Turkish Council of Ministers declared Hagia Sophia to be no longer a mosque, but “a unique architectural monument of art.” And so it remained, until last week.

Some have suggested that the decision to make Hagia Sophia a mosque fits with the statue toppling and cancel culture in the U.S. and Europe. But it is really just a political move. As his popularity among moderates and progressives has faltered, President Erdoğan has become increasingly reliant on rural Islamic conservatives to keep him in power. They have always cherished hopes of reverting Hagia Sophia to a mosque, as they believe Atatürk’s reforms betrayed Islam in a bid for Western acceptance. In the most recent elections, Erdoğan lost the majority in Istanbul. So this decision, loved in the countryside but hated by progressives in the big city, both rewards the president’s supporters and punishes his enemies.

Like all buildings of such age, the history of Hagia Sophia is complicated. For nine centuries it was a church, for nearly five centuries a mosque, and for almost one century a museum. It has been the site of unparalleled beauty and unspeakable horrors. The history of the West is bound up in that remarkable building. It should not be reduced to a pawn in a political campaign. Hagia Sophia should no more be a mosque than the Parthenon should be restored to the worship of Athena. These are shared historical monuments, where people of diverse backgrounds can see our common human experience. The world has plenty of churches and mosques. Let Hagia Sophia be Hagia Sophia.

Moon Shot Museums

Enjoyed a trip to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, this week. Huntsville played a role in manufacturing munitions during the Second World War, a role that continued afterwards as a site of rocket and missile development for the U.S. Army. This meant that the city became the American home of a great many German scientists and engineers nabbed in Operation Paperclip, including the most important one of all: Wernher von Braun. With the Space Race, Huntsville and von Braun became even more important, and the success of the Apollo missions has ensured their fame forever, memorialized in this museum. 

The main hall, designated the Davidson Center for Space Exploration, contains one of the few Saturn V launch vehicles still in existence,* displayed horizontally, elevated, and separated into its component sections. Underneath it, all sorts of artifacts, information, and interactive exhibits about just what the NASA needed to do to make space flight and  lunar exploration possible. It was all very complex, but technology, organization, and wealth got the job done. 

Some of the items on display include:

A capsule from Project Mercury (see Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff). 

A capsule from Project Gemini.

The Command Module for Apollo 16. 

A Lunar Roving Vehicle, including instructions on how to unload it from the Lunar Exploration Module and unfold it for use, something I always wondered about.

Space Race memorabilia. 

Admit it, you were always curious.

Von Braun himself is presented as a great genius – not only for his skills in rocketry, but also in negotiating with politicians, publicizing space exploration, and managing his team. Apparently he was very inspirational to work for. 

The museum does not completely ignore his past. Pictured is a V-2 rocket, developed by von Braun and his team for Nazi Germany – some 3000 of which were built by slave labor and fired at targets in England and the Low Countries, killing some 9000 people. This was the so-called Miracle Weapon that was going to turn the tide of the war and save Germany from invasion. It didn’t, but building such devices was very interesting to the former allies of World War II, especially as there came to be the possibility of arming them with nuclear warheads for added destructiveness. So rather than facing any sort of postwar de-Nazification or possible trial, von Braun and most of his team were scooped up and brought to the United States before the Soviets could get them, where they were put to very good use. Recall the joke: “Why did we win the Space Race? Our Germans were better than their Germans.” It does not appear that von Braun retained any Nazi sympathies during his American career, in the mode of Dr. Strangelove (if he ever had them in the first place, although he did attain the rank of Sturmbannführer in the SS). And it seems that most Americans were willing to play along, in thanks for services rendered – with the notable exception of Tom Lehrer, who called him “a man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience” and imagined him saying:

“Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
That’s not my department,” says Wernher von Braun.

So if you’re looking for a museum devoted to a less controversial figure, you should visit the Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio. We stopped in last summer on our way home from Canada, serendipitously on the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. Neil Armstrong, of course, was the first human to set foot on the Moon, and his hometown is very proud of him, although his museum doesn’t have nearly the collection that Huntsville does. He comes across as a clean-cut, straight-arrow midwesterner – exactly the sort of all-American hero to serve as great PR for the space program.  

Some items on display:

From Armstrong’s early days as a test pilot.

Armstrong’s space suit.

Saturn V model with tower.

Rocket engine. (It looks too small to be an F-1.)

From slightly later in NASA’s history: technology to allow astronauts to drink soda in a zero-gravity environment. (Apparently NASA was neutral during the Cola Wars.)

I kind of wish this plaque read “We got here first! Screw you, Commies!” which is what the whole thing was really about.

**********

* The Saturn V erected in the courtyard of the Huntsville museum is a full-scale model, constructed in 1999. It serves as a Huntsville landmark and provides the sort of publicity that von Braun would approve of, but it cost the Center $10 million of borrowed money and was instrumental in the firing of director Mike Wing after all of one year on the job. 

St. George at the Met

My friend Chris Berard sends me some images of St. George from the exhibit The Last Knight: The Art, Armor, and Ambition of Maximilian I at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Thanks Chris – a great Christmas present!

This one came to the High a few years ago. It shows Maximilian I as St. George.

Albrecht Dürer!

Another one!

Hans Burgkmair (1473–1531)

“South German, possibly 1460-70”

Merry Christmas to all readers of First Floor Tarpley!

Agincourt Museum

From History Extra (hat tip: Richard Utz):

True-to-scale battle numbers and 15th-century life: look inside the revamped Agincourt museum

As a renewed Agincourt museum is set to open near the site of the pivotal Hundred Years’ War battle between English and French armies, History Extra spoke to Professor Anne Curry about the historical facts that drive the new attraction.

It’s one of English history’s most celebrated victories, a battle in which Henry V’s invading force toppled a numerically superior French army near Agincourt. With the help of Shakespeare and company, this triumph of the Hundred Years’ War has come to represent an ultimate battle against the odds.

The scale of the military upset is just one of the myths that will be redressed for visitors to the revamped ‘Azincourt 1415’ which opens on 17 September at the Centre Historique Médiéval in Azincourt in north-east France.

Professor Anne Curry of the University of Southampton, whose work focuses on the records for the English and French armies in 1415 at the battle, explains how when the museum first opened in 2001 it held to an “old-fashioned interpretation” that Henry V’s forces were outnumbered by as many as five to one. Professor Curry has worked with the Centre on the new exhibition.

“There had been a tendency to use printed works of the 16th century rather than returning to the sources that for the period itself, such as financial records of the Crown on both sides of the channel, or royal orders,” says Curry. Such sources can show us that Henry V set out with 12,000 paid soldiers, yet when counting the losses documented through sick lists and also the garrison left to defend the French port of Harfleur, the actual number of men available to Henry V for battle is closer to 8,500. French forces would have numbered around 12,000.

More at the link

Sutton Hoo

From the East Anglian Daily Times:

Sutton Hoo unveils new £4 million transformation

The National Trust has finally revealed its largest ever investment at the world famous Sutton Hoo royal burial ground – and the public will today be able to enjoy an improved visitor experience.

Thanks to the £4 million renovation of the historic site, visitors will be more intimately connected with the story of one of the most significant archaeological finds in British history.

Since the discovery of the ship burial in 1939, the story has unfolded with every dig made but unfortunately was overlooked at the time due to the impending conflict of the Second World War.

Now archaeologists and historians, alongside Mike Hopwood, visitor experience project manager, Ian Barnes the National Trust head of archaeology and Nick Collinson the general manager of Sutton Hoo, want the story of King Raedwald’s final resting place in East Anglia to finally be heard and given the attention it deserves.

Tens of thousands of people visit the site alongside the River Deben every year and the trust is hoping that the renovations will inspire even more interest in the fascinating tale of royal sophistication, privilege and status.

More at the link, including plenty of images.

Joanna Southcott

This advertisement appeared in The Illustrated London News in 1968 (hat tip: Ron Good). Who is Joanna Southcott, and what might be in her box? The indispensable Wikipedia tells us that:

Joanna Southcott (or Southcote) (April 1750 – 27 December 1814) was a self-described religious prophetess. She was born in the English hamlet of Taleford, baptised at Ottery St Mary, and raised in the village of Gittisham, all in Devon, England.

Originally of the Church of England, in about 1792 she joined the Wesleyans in Exeter. Becoming persuaded that she possessed supernatural gifts, she wrote and dictated prophecies in rhyme, and then announced herself as the Woman of the Apocalypse spoken of in a prophetic passage of the Revelation (12:1–6).

Coming to London at the request of William Sharp, the engraver, Southcott began selling paper “seals of the Lord” at prices varying from twelve shillings to a guinea. The seals were supposed to ensure the holders’ places among the 144,000 people who would be elected to eternal life.

At the age of 64, Southcott affirmed that she was pregnant and would be delivered of the new Messiah, the Shiloh of Genesis (49:10). The date of 19 October 1814 was that fixed for the birth, but Shiloh failed to appear, and it was given out that she was in a trance.

Southcott died not long after. The official date of death was given as 27 December 1814, but it is likely that she died the previous day, as her followers retained her body for some time in the belief that she would be raised from the dead. They agreed to its burial only after it began to decay.

Her followers are said to have numbered over 100,000 at the time of her death. As for her box:

Southcott left a sealed wooden box of prophecies, usually known as Joanna Southcott’s Box, with the instruction that it be opened only at a time of national crisis, and then only in the presence of all 24 bishops of the Church of England (there were only 24 at the time), who were to spend a fixed period of time beforehand studying Southcott’s prophecies. Attempts were made to persuade the episcopate to open it during the Crimean War and again during the First World War. In 1927, the psychic researcher Harry Price claimed that he had come into possession of the box and arranged to have it opened in the presence of one reluctant prelate, the suffragan Bishop of Grantham. It was found to contain only a few oddments and unimportant papers, among them a lottery ticket and a horse-pistol. Price’s claims to have had the true box have been disputed by historians and by followers of Southcott.

Southcottians claimed that the box opened in 1927 was not the authentic one and continued to press for the true box to be opened. An advertising campaign on billboards and in British national newspapers such as the Sunday Express was run in the 1960s and 1970s by one prominent group of Southcottians, the Panacea Society in Bedford (formed 1920), to try to persuade the twenty-four bishops to have the box opened. According to the Society, the true box is in their possession at a secret location for safekeeping, with its whereabouts to be disclosed only when a bishops’ meeting has been arranged. Southcott prophesied that the Day of Judgement would come in the year 2004, and her followers stated that if the contents of the box had not been studied beforehand, the world would have had to meet it unprepared.

The Panacea Society was founded by a “clergyman’s widow, Mabel Barltrop, who declared herself the ‘daughter of God’, took the name Octavia and believed herself to be the Shiloh of Southcott’s prophecies. She and twelve apostles founded the Society, originally called the Community of the Holy Ghost.” It really was a community – some seventy members lived at its building on Albany Street in Bedford in the 1930s. According to BBC Travel, it was:

Dominated by single women in their 40s, 50s and 60s, [who] sent squares of linen that they claimed would heal any affliction to more than 120,000 believers worldwide….

These women were unable or unwilling to keep up with a period of intense social change, according to museum manager Gemma Papineau. “They had the mentality of scared people trying to protect themselves,” she said. “They built high walls around their campus, locked themselves inside it and made sure that everyone living with them believed exactly the same as them.”

The Panaceans were mostly conservative, right-wing, Christian ‘spinsters’, raised in the Victorian era and excluded from positions of authority within the church and in their lives. Part of the reason they fell in love with Joanna Southcott’s story, perhaps, was because of the power it granted to an ageing, childless, single woman. They went so far as to configure the Christian Trinity as a square, with Octavia as the Daughter of God. Just as Eve had first brought sin into the world, they believed, it was up to a woman to erase it – and provide mankind’s ultimate redemption.

Alas, the number of members dwindled over the years and the last one died in 2012. With that, the society’s assets were transferred to the Panacea Charitable Trust, which exists to promote research into millenarian movements and to help relieve poverty in the Bedford area. It also operates the Panacea Museum, which is devoted to the society.

What about the box? If you’re really interested, a replica box is on display at the museum, and a book by Frances Brown can tell you more:

If the name of Joanna Southcott strikes a chord today, it is usually in connection with her famous Box of Sealed Prophecies. But, if asked what that Box is, some will assure you that it contains the secrets of the second coming, while others say that it holds nothing more significant than a woman’s lacy night cap and a pistol. As to where the Box is now, some repeat that it was opened in 1927 in Westminster Hall and that it is now housed in the Harry Price Library in London. Others have suggested that its contents are in the British Library, while the Box itself languishes in a cellar of the British Museum. Still others maintain that the Box no longer exists – if, indeed, it ever did.

The truth is far simpler yet in some ways more mysterious. The Box does exist. The author has seen and examined it. There has been an unbroken chain of custodians from Joanna’s day to this, and the present guardians of the Box take their responsibilities every bit as seriously as their predecessors. Moreover, all the evidence suggests that Joanna Southcott’s Box has not been opened for at least a hundred and fifty years and that it contains prophecies which have been kept with their seals intact ever since her death.

This book, by establishing the provenance of the Box, dispels the falsehoods that have blurred its history. Joanna Southcott’s Box of Sealed Prophecies is locked, nailed and corded, its contents still awaiting examination.

Both Joanna Southcott and the Panacea Society sound very interesting and well worth further research. (Were they really a bunch of conservative spinsters, afraid of social change? The unconventionality of their faith would suggest otherwise.) Southcott herself reminds me of Hildegard of Bingen, Brigitte of Sweden, or Julian of Norwich – medieval women who received inspired messages, but of whom the Church had a great deal of suspicion. A website dedicated to reprinting Southcott’s writings may be found at joannasouthcott.com; judge for yourself if she was heretical. 

Ayasofya Camii

Thomas D. Williams on Breitbart:

Erdogan Floats Reverting Hagia Sophia to a Mosque

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan floated the idea of turning Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia back into a mosque in an interview Sunday.

“It is not an abnormal proposal. It is not something impossible, it could be done easily. We could even name it as the Hagia Sophia Mosque instead of a museum so that everybody can visit it without charge,” Mr. Erdoğan replied to the question whether the museum could be opened free of charge for Turkish citizens.

“Its status of museum could be stripped off. Actually that status was given by a step taken with the mentality of the [Republican People’s Party] CHP. We can take that step taken by the CHP mentality back,” he added.

Built as a Christian church in 537 AD, Hagia Sophia served as the seat of the Greek Orthodox Church after the Great Schism of 1054 and became a mosque in 1453 after the Muslim conquest of Constantinople — modern-day Istanbul. The building was later converted into a museum in 1935 as part of the secularization project of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985.

Erdoğan began allowing the recitation of verses from the Qur’an in the Hagia Sophia in 2015, at which time, the government of Greece protested, saying that Islamic prayers in the basilica were “not compatible with modern, democratic, and secular societies.”

“Hagia Sophia is a UNESCO world heritage site. The attempt to convert it into a mosque—through reading of the Koran, holding of prayers, and a number of other actions—is an affront to the international community, which needs to be duly mobilized and to react,” the Greek Foreign Ministry said.

Earlier this month, several hundred Muslim demonstrators protested the New Zealand mosque shootings outside Hagia Sophia, calling for the edifice to be reconverted into a mosque. The demand came in response to a taunt by the Christchurch gunman in his “manifesto,” in which he reportedly said “Hagia Sophia will be free of minarets.”

Speaking of minarets, I noticed last year that Hagia Sophia’s minarets don’t really match.

Wikipedia.

OK, the two on the left do, but the two on the right are differently shaped, and the one in the foreground is even a different color. Apparently it wasn’t always a four-minaret mosque, and the number was increased over the years, in different styles.