Murdoch Mysteries

I was pleased to note a historically accurate Canadian red ensign flag in Season 11, Episode 16 of the Canadian television series Murdoch Mysteries, in contrast to an earlier appearance. The plot of this episode (“Game of Kings”) revolves around an international chess tournament taking place in Toronto in 1905. The players’ nationalities are represented by little tabletop flags. 

Constable George Crabtree has gone undercover as a Canadian entrant. His flag shows the original four-provinces shield devised for the Dominion of Canada in 1868, featuring the arms of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. It is true that Canada had nine provinces by 1905 (Alberta and Saskatchewan had been admitted on September 1 of that year, and Crabtree makes a reference to this in Episode 13 when, thinking he’s dying, exclaims “I’ll never see Egypt or any of those new provinces we have now!”). A nine-quartered shield for Canada was devised in the wake of this, but the original shield was still in widespread use until 1921. 

An American competitor is represented by a US flag with 45 stars on the canton (count them!), for the number of states in the union at the time – Utah having been admitted in 1896. Oklahoma (1908), Arizona (1912) and New Mexico (1912) would soon raise the total to 48.

Poland did not exist as an independent country in 1905, but a Polish player has entered the tournament and is represented by the flag of the Polish National Government 1863-64, which had been proclaimed following the January Uprising (although the bottom stripe, according to Wikipedia, should be blue).

Wikipedia.

The coat of arms is for “a proposed Polish–Lithuanian–Ruthenian Commonwealth which never came into being. It consists of the Polish White Eagle, the Lithuanian Pahonia and the Ruthenian Archangel Michael.”

Wikipedia.

Other Polish references in this episode include the Szczerbiec (the traditional Polish coronation sword) and the Husaria (Polish knights who wore decorative wings while mounted). 

The Apotheosis of St. Louis

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

As a medieval historian, I always cringe when medieval people are judged by modern standards. Their world was very different from our own. Yet the virtue and piety of St. Louis IX of France have always seemed to transcend his age. The crimes leveled against him in this petition are at best misleading. Although praiseworthy today, religious toleration was regarded as dangerous in the Middle Ages. Yet Louis IX (unlike other medieval rulers) still obeyed the Catholic Church’s admonition that Jews were not to be harmed. Like St. Paul, Louis hoped for the conversion of the Jews. Indeed, more than once he served as a godfather for the baptism of a converted Jew. From a modern perspective, Louis’s part in the burning of the Talmud in Paris in 1240 is indefensible and certainly constitutes persecution. The theologians at the University of Paris—the best minds of their age—judged that the Talmud contained heresy and blasphemous references to Jesus. From Louis’s medieval (not modern) perspective, it was a threat to his kingdom and a hindrance to the conversion of the Jews. That does not excuse it. Louis followed the advice of churchmen, yet as St. John Paul II eloquently expressed it, those churchmen made grave errors. The pope sought pardon for “the sins committed by not a few (Catholics) against the people of the Covenant.” He continued, “We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood.”…

Left unmentioned by Louis’s modern detractors is his lifelong devotion to issues of social justice in a world that cared little for such ideas. At his own expense, he continually paid to feed and clothe hundreds of Paris’s poor. Every evening he shared the royal table with local homeless and usually insisted that he wash their feet before they left. He established several hospitals for the poor and homes for battered women and ex-prostitutes. He personally visited lepers and washed their sores. After his humiliation in Egypt, Louis refused to don the rich regalia of the French crown, dressing simply and living humbly for the rest of his life. He was the sort of person, like Mother Teresa or John Paul II, whose reputation for piety and virtue was so great that contemporaries had no doubt he would one day be a saint. He was canonized in a record 27 years.

Read the whole thing. My own photo of the statue

Hail, Lafayette!

A story for an election year, by Ronald Bailey on History Net (hat tip: Wanda Cronauer). Who would play such a role in 2020?

The spirit of 1776 had faded as America expanded westward. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 papered over festering sectional rivalries by balancing Missouri’s admission to the union as a slave state with Maine’s admission as a free state. But by setting a geographical boundary on slavery, the compromise also effectively defined a line on which the nation might split apart. Lafayette’s old friend Thomas Jefferson likened it to “a fire bell in the night [that] filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed, indeed, for the moment. But this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence.”

The first months of Lafayette’s tour coincided with a bitterly divisive presidential campaign, which brought James Monroe’s two-term Era of Good Feelings to an end. Monroe ran unopposed four years earlier, but now the host of candidates who threw their hats in the ring seemed unable to agree on anything but the apparent certainty that the union was on the verge of collapse.

America was in desperate need of a hero….

When Lafayette arrived in America, newspapers were filled with vitriol as the presidential campaign devolved into a contest pitting the interests of the North—represented by John Quincy Adams—and the South and West—represented mainly by Andrew Jackson. But soon Lafayette’s tour “paralyzed all the electoral ardour,” observed James Fenimore Cooper. “At the public dinners, instead of caustic toasts, intended to throw ridicule and odium on some potent adversary, none were heard but healths to the guest of the nation, around whom were amicably grouped the most violent of both parties. Finally, for nearly two months all the discord and excitement produced by this election, which, it was said, would engender the most disastrous consequences, were forgotten, and nothing was thought of but Lafayette and the heroes of the revolution.”

Lafayette himself, in a letter home, concluded that his trip had “contributed to tighten the union between the states and to soften political parties, by bringing them all together in common hospitality toward a ghost from another world.”

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. 

Agincourt and the Middle Finger

From Facebook:

I admit that I bring this story up when I talk about the Hundred Years’ War – only to debunk it. The version that I tell explains the specific British custom of elevating two fingers as a rude gesture.

Singer Robbie Williams insults the viewer. Wikipedia.

The idea being that you need two fingers to draw a bow, which makes more sense, and thus links up a national custom with a triumphant moment in national history! But frankly, I suspect that the French would have done a lot worse to any captured English archers than chopping off their fingers. People who killed their social betters from a distance weren’t very well liked, and would likely have paid with their lives – as did all the French prisoners, archers or otherwise, whom Henry V had executed at Agincourt, in what some historians consider a war crime. 

I’m even more suspicious of the alleged transformation of “p” to “f”. First of all, the word “pluck” begins with the blend “pl,” which would logically become “fl” – if the voiceless bilabial plosive “p” has actually transformed into the labiodentalfricative “f,” which is by no means certain. (There is an Indo-European connection between the p-sound and f-sound – see the distinction between the Latin pater and the Germanic Vater/father – but that split occurred a long time ago.) The f-word itself is Germanic with early-medieval roots; the earliest attested use in English in an unambiguous sexual context is in a document from 1310. 

And where does the distinction between one and two fingers come from? If the one-fingered salute comes from Agincourt, as the graphic suggests, then at what point did it get transformed into two fingers in England? If the two-fingered salute comes from Agincourt, then at what point was it reduced to one finger in North America? You would think that anything English predating 1607, such as the language, Protestantism, or the Common Law, would have been a part of America’s patrimony….

It seems to me that the single upturned middle finger clearly represents an erect penis and is the gestural equivalent of saying “f*ck you!” As such, it is probably ancient – Wikipedia certainly thinks so, although apparently it became popular in the United States in the late nineteenth century under the influence of Italian immigration, replacing other rude gestures like thumbing the nose or the fig sign. I suppose that the two-fingered salute could still come from medieval archery, even if it didn’t come specifically from the Battle of Agincourt, although the example that Wikipedia links to (the fourteenth-century Luttrell Psalter) is ambiguous. Maybe it means “five” and was a symbol of support for Henry V? 🙂 The fact that Winston Churchill sometimes made his V-for-victory gesture “rudely” suggests that it is of much more recent vintage. What it is supposed to represent I have no idea.

One final observation: any time some appeal begins with “here’s something that intelligent people will find edifying” you should be suspicious. It’s up there with “here’s something that they don’t want you to know.”

Tulsa Mass Graves

From PJMedia, a story about an obscure event that doesn’t deserve to be:

Possible Mass Graves Discovered From 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Massacre

It was the worst spasm of racial violence in the history of the United States. And it has been largely ignored in history.

The Greenwood district in Tulsa was the richest black neighborhood in the country, known at the time as “The Black Wall Street.” In 1921, a riot began over the Memorial Day weekend when a young black man was accused of assaulting a 17-year-old white girl. Angry whites gathered at the jail while some black men, hearing rumors of a lynching, also headed to the jail. At that point, history and myth merge and what happened to set off the crowd is unknown.

At one point, planes were employed to strafe the crowds of black women and children fleeing for their lives. Property damage was immense. More than 10,000 blacks were left homeless and an unknown number had been killed. Official statistics put the number of dead at 36 with about 800 seriously injured. Some believe the actual number of dead is in the hundreds.

The state established a commission in 1996 to investigate exactly what happened. At that time, the commission found evidence of three possible mass grave sites, but the evidence had been inconclusive.

A more recent survey using far more sophisticated technology may have given state authorities enough evidence to begin an archaeological dig at some of the sites.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: from Smithsonian Magazine (hat tip: Dan Franke):

A Long-Lost Manuscript Contains a Searing Eyewitness Account of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921

An Oklahoma lawyer details the attack by hundreds of whites on the thriving black neighborhood where hundreds died 95 years ago

The ten-page manuscript is typewritten, on yellowed legal paper, and folded in thirds. But the words, an eyewitness account of the May 31, 1921, racial massacre that destroyed what was known as Tulsa, Oklahoma’s “Black Wall Street,” are searing.

“I could see planes circling in mid-air. They grew in number and hummed, darted and dipped low. I could hear something like hail falling upon the top of my office building. Down East Archer, I saw the old Mid-Way hotel on fire, burning from its top, and then another and another and another building began to burn from their top,” wrote Buck Colbert Franklin (1879-1960). 

The Oklahoma lawyer, father of famed African-American historian John Hope Franklin (1915-2009), was describing the attack by hundreds of whites on the thriving black neighborhood known as Greenwood in the booming oil town. “Lurid flames roared and belched and licked their forked tongues into the air. Smoke ascended the sky in thick, black volumes and amid it all, the planes—now a dozen or more in number—still hummed and darted here and there with the agility of natural birds of the air.”

Franklin writes that he left his law office, locked the door, and descended to the foot of the steps.

“The side-walks were literally covered with burning turpentine balls. I knew all too well where they came from, and I knew all too well why every burning building first caught from the top,” he continues. “I paused and waited for an opportune time to escape. ‘Where oh where is our splendid fire department with its half dozen stations?’ I asked myself. ‘Is the city in conspiracy with the mob?’”

Franklin’s harrowing manuscript now resides among the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The previously unknown document was found last year, purchased from a private seller by a group of Tulsans and donated to the museum with the support of the Franklin family.

More at the link

Patriotic Country Music

Courtesy Wayne Glowka, notice of an interesting WWII-era country music song, Elton Britt, “There’s A Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere.” I discover it’s popular enough to have its own Wikipedia entry. Lyrics, from Lyricsfreak:

There’s a star spangled banner waving somewhere
In a distant land so many miles away
Only Uncle Sam’s great heroes get to go there
Where I wish that I could live someday.

I see Lincoln, Custer, Washington, and Perry,
Nathan Hale and Collin Kelly too,
There’s a star spangled banner waving somewhere
Waving over the land of heroes brave and true.

In this war with its mad schemes and destructions,
Of our country fair and our sweet liberty
By the mad dictators, leaders of corruption,
Can’t the U.S. use a mountain boy like me?

God gave me the right to be a free American,
For that precious right I’d gladly die,
There’s a star spangled banner waving somewhere
Fhat is where I want to live when I die.

Though I realize I’m crippled, that is true sir,
Please don’t judge my courage by my twisted leg,
Let me show my Uncle Sam what I can do, sir,
Let me help to bring the Axis down a peg.

If I do some great deed, I will be a hero,
And a hero brave is what I want to be,
There’s a star spangled banner waving somewhere,
In that heaven there should be a place for me.

I love the references not only to Valhalla, but to the story of Ephialtes too. (Presumably the author would not betray America, though, even if he was still passed over for military service.)

The Nineteenth

I missed this anniversary, two months ago now, but it deserves to be remembered. From CBS News:

19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote was passed 100 years ago today

The 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, guaranteeing American women the right to vote, celebrates a big birthday on Tuesday, as it was passed by both chambers of Congress 100 years ago on June 4, 1919. According to the National Archives, the House of Representatives first passed the amendment on May 21, 1919, and two weeks later, on June 4, the Senate followed with a vote of 56 to 25. The next year, following approval by three-fourths of state legislatures, the amendment was ratified into the Constitution.  

The opening of the Amendment’s text reads, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

Since the 19th Amendment’s passage, women have helped inaugurate a new era of American politics. In fact, many historians can point a clear line from the passage of the 19th amendment to the passage of Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s and the current movements seeking to offer greater federal protections for gay and transgender Americans.  

The 19th Amendment emerged out of the Progressive Era in American politics, a period of increased social activism and economic reform during the first two decades of the 20th century. Suffragists like Jeannette Rankin, the first female member of the House of Representatives, brought greater attention to the rights of women. Certain states like California, Washington and Arizona passed their own legislation granting women either full or partial suffrage in the early 1910s. Wyoming was the first to do so in 1869, when it was still a territory. 

The 19th Amendment changed the electorate forever. Some names are etched in the annals of American history: Winnifred Huck of Illinois, the first woman to win a special election to Congress; Gladys Pyle of South Dakota, the first woman elected to the Senate without previously been appointed; Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress; Patsy Mink of Hawaii, the first non-white woman and Asian American woman elected to Congress; Shirley Chisholm of New York, the first African American woman elected to Congress; and Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Senate. 

And then there’s Nellie Ross of Wyoming, the first female governor, Sandra Day O’Conner, the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice, and Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House. 

Some historic images may be seen at the link.

The Hunt for Silver

From Priceonomics (hat tip: Instapundit), a bit of interesting business history:

Until his dying day in 2014, Nelson Bunker Hunt, who had once been the world’s wealthiest man, denied that he and his brother plotted to corner the global silver market.

Sure, back in 1980, Bunker, his younger brother Herbert, and other members of the Hunt clan owned roughly two-thirds of all the privately held silver on earth. But the historic stockpiling of bullion hadn’t been a ploy to manipulate the market, they and their sizable legal team would insist in the following years. Instead, it was a strategy to hedge against the voracious inflation of the 1970s—a monumental bet against the U.S. dollar.

Whatever the motive, it was a bet that went historically sour. The debt-fueled boom and bust of the global silver market not only decimated the Hunt fortune, but threatened to take down the U.S. financial system.

The panic of “Silver Thursday” took place over 35 years ago, but it still raises questions about the nature of financial manipulation. While many view the Hunt brothers as members of a long succession of white collar crooks, from Charles Ponzi to Bernie Madoff, others see the endearingly eccentric Texans as the victims of overstepping regulators and vindictive insiders who couldn’t stand the thought of being played by a couple of southern yokels.

In either case, the story of the Hunt brothers just goes to show how difficult it can be to distinguish illegal market manipulation from the old fashioned wheeling and dealing that make our markets work.

More at the link. Stephen Green comments that: “Anyone ‘smart’ enough to try to get rich cornering the market for a natural resource ought to have a long talk with these guys. In the long run, it never works, as high prices cause people to find substitutes or new sources.”

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.