Monday, October 31, 2011

Harry Houdini

“Got down the last of our small potatoes and set up the coal stove this forenoon.  Went to the Sunday school convention this afternoon.  Froze very hard this morning.”

Houdini in 1899

Harry Houdini (born Erik Weisz, later Ehrich Weiss; March 24, 1874 – October 31, 1926) was a Hungarian-born American magician and escapologist, stunt performer, actor and film producer noted for his sensational escape acts. He was also a skeptic who set out to expose frauds purporting to be supernatural phenomena.

Houdini began his magic career in 1891. At the outset, he had little success. He performed in dime museums and sideshows, and even doubled as "The Wild Man" at a circus. Houdini focused initially on traditional card tricks. At one point, he billed himself as the "King of Cards". But he soon began experimenting with escape acts.

In 1893, while performing with his brother "Dash" at Coney Island as "The Houdini Brothers", Harry met fellow performer Wilhelmina Beatrice (Bess) Rahner, whom he married. Bess replaced Dash in the act, which became known as "The Houdinis." For the rest of Houdini's performing career, Bess would work as his stage assistant.

Houdini's "big break" came in 1899 when he met manager Martin Beck in rural Woodstock, Illinois. Impressed by Houdini's handcuffs act, Beck advised him to concentrate on escape acts and booked him on the Orpheum vaudeville circuit. Within months, he was performing at the top vaudeville houses in the country. In 1900, Beck arranged for Houdini to tour Europe. After some days of unsuccessful interviews in London, Houdini managed to interest Dundas Slater, then manager of the Alhambra Theatre. He gave a demonstration of escape from handcuffs at Scotland Yard, and succeeded in baffling the police so effectively that he was booked at the Alhambra for six months.

Houdini became widely known as "The Handcuff King." He toured England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Russia. In each city, Houdini would challenge local police to restrain him with shackles and lock him in their jails. In many of these challenge escapes, Houdini would first be stripped nude and searched. In Moscow, Houdini escaped from a Siberian prison transport van. Houdini claimed that, had he been unable to free himself, he would have had to travel to Siberia, where the only key was kept. In Cologne, he sued a police officer, Werner Graff, who alleged that he made his escapes via bribery. Houdini won the case when he opened the judge's safe (he would later say the judge had forgotten to lock it). With his new-found wealth and success, Houdini purchased a dress said to have been made for Queen Victoria. He then arranged a grand reception where he presented his mother in the dress to all their relatives. Houdini said it was the happiest day of his life. In 1904, Houdini returned to the U.S. and purchased a house for $25,000, a brownstone at 278 W. 113th Street in Harlem, New York City.

From 1907 and throughout the 1910s, Houdini performed with great success in the United States. He would free himself from jails, handcuffs, chains, ropes, and straitjackets, often while hanging from a rope in plain sight of street audiences. Because of imitators, on January 25, 1908, Houdini put his "handcuff act" behind him and began escaping from a locked, water-filled milk can. The possibility of failure and death thrilled his audiences. Houdini also expanded repertoire with his escape challenge act, in which he invited the public to devise contraptions to hold him. These included nailed packing crates (sometimes lowered into water), riveted boilers, wet-sheets, mailbags, and even the belly of a whale that had washed ashore in Boston. Brewers challenged Houdini to escape from a barrel after they filled it with beer in Scranton, PA and other cities.

Many of these challenges were pre-arranged with local merchants in what is certainly one of the first uses of mass tie-in marketing. Rather than promote the idea that he was assisted by spirits, as did the Davenport Brothers and others, Houdini's advertisements showed him making his escapes via dematerializing, although Houdini himself never claimed to have supernatural powers.

In 1912, Houdini introduced perhaps his most famous act, the Chinese Water Torture Cell, in which he was suspended upside-down in a locked glass-and-steel cabinet full to overflowing with water. The act required that Houdini hold his breath for more than three minutes. Houdini performed the escape for the rest of his career. Despite two Hollywood movies depicting Houdini dying in the Torture Cell, the act had nothing to do with his death. Throughout his career, Houdini explained some of his tricks in books written for the magic brotherhood. In Handcuff Secrets (1909), he revealed how many locks and handcuffs could be opened with properly applied force, others with shoestring. Other times, he carried concealed lockpicks or keys, being able to regurgitate small keys at will. When tied down in ropes or straitjackets, he gained wiggle room by enlarging his shoulders and chest, moving his arms slightly away from his body, and then dislocating his shoulders.

His straitjacket escape was originally performed behind curtains, with him popping out free at the end. However, Houdini's brother, (who was also an escape artist, billing himself as Theodore Hardeen), discovered that audiences were more impressed when the curtains were eliminated so they could watch him struggle to get out. On more than one occasion, they both performed straitjacket escapes whilst dangling upside-down from the roof of a building for publicity.]

Martinka & Co., America's oldest magic company. The business is still in operation today. He also served as President of the Society of American Magicians (aka S.A.M.) from 1917 until his death in 1926. In the final years of his life (1925/26), Houdini launched his own full-evening show, which he billed as "3 Shows in One: Magic, Escapes, and Fraud Mediums Exposed".

"Handcuff" Harry Houdini, circa 1905

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Caroline Astor

“Drew in two bags of corn in shocks this morning and then drew three of stalks before dinner. After dinner we finished drawing the stalks (one load) and then drew in the rest of the corn before night.  We have the corn field cleared.  Froze hard this morning and has been cold all day.”

Portrait of Mrs. Astor by Carolus-Duran, which was placed prominently in her house. She would stand in front of it when receiving guests for receptions.
Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor (September 22, 1830 – October 30, 1908) was a prominent American socialite of the last quarter of the 19th century. Famous for being referred to later in life as "the Mrs. Astor" or simply "Mrs. Astor", she was the wife of real estate heir William Backhouse Astor Jr. Four years after her death her son John Jacob Astor IV was the richest man on the RMS Titanic and perished in the disaster of that ship.
In the decades following the Civil War the population of New York City grew almost exponentially, and immigrants and arrivistes from the Midwest began challenging the dominance of the old New York Establishment of which Lina Astor and her family were part. Her desire to be the unchallenged grande dame of New York society was as much about preserving the heritage and traditions of her native New York, a conflict dramatized by Edith Wharton in The Age of Innocence, as it was about excluding those whom she deemed inferior.
Aided by the social arbiter Ward McAllister, whose life work was the codification and maintenance of the rules of social intercourse, Lina Astor attempted to codify proper behavior and etiquette, which had formerly been a lingua franca among the city's Establishment, as well as determine who was acceptable among the arrivistes for an increasingly heterogeneous city. McAllister once stated that, amongst the vastly rich families of Gilded Age New York, there were only 400 people who could be counted as members of Fashionable Society. He did not, as is commonly written, arrive at this number based on the limitations of Mrs. Astor's New York City ballroom. (McAllister, an Astor cousin by marriage, referred to her as the "Mystic Rose".) Her husband's lack of interest, not only in the social whirl but in Lina herself and their marriage, did not stop but instead fueled her burgeoning social activities, which increased in intensity as her children grew older.
Mrs. Astor was the foremost authority on the Aristocracy of New York in the late nineteenth century. She held ornate and elaborate parties for herself and other members of the elite New York socialite crowd. None was permitted to attend these gatherings without an official calling card from Mrs. Astor herself. Mrs. Astor's social groups were dominated by strong-willed aristocratic females. These social gatherings were dependent on overly conspicuous luxury and publicity. Moreso than the gatherings themselves, importance was highly placed upon the group as the upper-crust of New York's elite. Mrs. Astor and her ladies therefore represented the Aristocratic, or the Old Money, whereas the newly wealthy Vanderbilt family would establish a new wave of New Money.
Mrs. Vanderbilt, as a new member of socialite New York through the copious amounts of money that her family had earned rather than inherited, represented a type of wealth that was abhorrent to Mrs. Astor and her group. For this reason, Mrs. Astor was reluctant to call upon the Vanderbilt girls. In 1883, however, Caroline Astor was forced to formally socially acknowledge Alva Vanderbilt, the first wife of William Kissam Vanderbilt, thereby providing the Vanderbilts, the greatest "new" fortune in New York, entrance into the highest rungs of society. An oft-repeated New York legend has it that Alva Vanderbilt had planned an elaborate costume ball with entertainments given by young society figures for her housewarming, but at the last minute notified young Caroline Astor (Lina's youngest daughter) that she could not participate, because Mrs. Astor had never formally called on Mrs. Vanderbilt. Also likely, Mrs. Astor had noted the rising social profile of the Vanderbilt family, led by Alva and Willie, and viewing them as useful allies in her efforts to keep New York society exclusive had called formally on the Vanderbilts prior to Alva's lavish ball which Mrs. Astor herself attended. The Vanderbilts were subsequently invited to Mrs. Astor's annual ball, a formal acknowledgement of their full acceptance into the upper echelon of New York society.

Mrs. Astor would throw lavish parties and receptions at her house on Fifth Avenue

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Black Tuesday!

“Froze hard, ground crusted and water scaled this morning.  Cold day.”

Crowd at New York's American Union Bank during a bank run early in the Great Depression
The Wall Street Crash of 1929 (October 1929), also known as the Great Crash, and the Stock Market Crash of 1929, was the most devastating stock market crash in the history of the United States, taking into consideration the full extent and duration of its fallout. The crash signaled the beginning of the 12-year Great Depression that affected all Western industrialized countries and that did not end in the United States until the onset of American mobilization for World War II at the end of 1941.
Anyone who bought stocks in mid-1929 and held onto them saw most of his or her adult life pass by before getting back to even.
In the days leading up to the crash the market was severely unstable. Periods of selling and high volumes of trading were interspersed with brief periods of rising prices and recovery. Economist and author Jude Wanniski later correlated these swings with the prospects for passage of the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act, which was then being debated in Congress.
On October 24 ("Black Thursday"), the market lost 11% of its value at the opening bell on very heavy trading. Several leading Wall Street bankers met to find a solution to the panic and chaos on the trading floor. The meeting included Thomas W. Lamont, acting head of Morgan Bank; Albert Wiggin, head of the Chase National Bank; and Charles E. Mitchell, president of the National City Bank of New York. They chose Richard Whitney, vice president of the Exchange, to act on their behalf. With the bankers' financial resources behind him, Whitney placed a bid to purchase a large block of shares in U.S. Steel at a price well above the current market. As traders watched, Whitney then placed similar bids on other "blue chip" stocks. This tactic was similar to one that ended the Panic of 1907. It succeeded in halting the slide. The Dow Jones Industrial Average recovered, closing with it down only 6.38 points for the day; however, unlike 1907, the respite was only temporary.
Over the weekend, the events were covered by the newspapers across the United States. On Monday, October 28, "Black Monday", more investors decided to get out of the market, and the slide continued with a record loss in the Dow for the day of 38 points, or 13%. The next day, "Black Tuesday", October 29, 1929, about 16 million shares were traded, and the Dow lost an additional 30 points, or 12%. The volume on stocks traded on October 29, 1929 was a record that was not broken for nearly 40 years. Author Richard M. Salsman wrote that "on October 29—amid rumors that U.S. President Herbert Hoover would not veto the pending Hawley-Smoot Tariff bill—stock prices crashed even further". William C. Durant joined with members of the Rockefeller family and other financial giants to buy large quantities of stocks in order to demonstrate to the public their confidence in the market, but their efforts failed to stop the large decline in prices. The ticker did not stop running until about 7:45 that evening. The market had lost over $30 billion in the space of two days.

The trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange in 1930, six months after the crash of 1929


Friday, October 28, 2011

The Gateway Arch

“Pleasant this morning and we dug the balance of our potatoes this forenoon.  Picked up double box full after dinner and put them in the cellar.  And the balance about 30 bu and unloaded them in the tool house.  A little shower about two o’clock made them very muddy.  Hard frost this morning.  Put in about 45 bu small ones also.”  

The arch is a weighted catenary—its legs are wider than its upper section
The Gateway Arch, or Gateway to the West, is an arch that is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri. It was built as a monument to the westward expansion of the United States. At 630 feet (192 m), it is the tallest man-made monument in the United States, Missouri's tallest accessible building, and the largest architectural structure designed as a weighted or flattened catenary arch.
The arch is located at the site of St. Louis' foundation, on the west bank of the Mississippi River where Pierre Laclède, just after noon on February 14, 1764, told his aide, Auguste Chouteau, to build a city.
The Gateway Arch was designed by Finnish American architect Eero Saarinen and structural engineer Hannskarl Bandel in 1947. Construction began on February 12, 1963, and ended on October 28, 1965, costing US$13 million at the time ($90,491,005 today). The monument opened to the public on June 10, 1967

Saarinen working with a model of the arch in 1957

Thursday, October 27, 2011


“Started to dig potatoes this morning but it commenced a lttle drizzling rain and we took the team and drew in four bags of corn and cleared the field of pumpkins this forenoon.  Rained too hard to do anything out of doors this afternoon.”

A traditional Irish turnip Halloween lantern from the early 20th century on display in the Museum of Country Life, Ireland
The story of the carved vegetable as a lantern comes in many variants and is similar to the story of Will-o'-the-wisp retold in different forms across England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. An old Irish folk tale tells of Stingy Jack, a lazy yet shrewd farmer who uses a cross to trap the Devil. One story says that Jack tricked the Devil into climbing an apple tree, and once he was up there Jack quickly placed crosses around the trunk or carved a cross into the bark, so that the Devil couldn't get down. Another tale says that Jack put a key in the Devil's pocket while he was suspended upside-down.
Another version of the story says that Jack was getting chased by some villagers from whom he had stolen, when he met the Devil, who claimed it was time for him to die. However, the thief stalled his death by tempting the Devil with a chance to bedevil the church-going villagers chasing him. Jack told the Devil to turn into a coin with which he would pay for the stolen goods (the Devil could take on any shape he wanted); later, when the coin/Devil disappeared, the Christian villagers would fight over who had stolen it. The Devil agreed to this plan. He turned himself into a silver coin and jumped into Jack's wallet, only to find himself next to a cross Jack had also picked up in the village. Jack had closed the wallet tight, and the cross stripped the Devil of his powers; and so he was trapped.
In both folktales, Jack only lets the Devil go when he agrees never to take his soul. After a while the thief died, as all living things do. Of course, his life had been too sinful for Jack to go to heaven; however, the Devil had promised not to take his soul, and so he was barred from hell as well. Jack now had nowhere to go. He asked how he would see where to go, as he had no light, and the Devil mockingly tossed him an ember that would never burn out from the flames of hell. Jack carved out one of his turnips (which was his favourite food), put the ember inside it, and began endlessly wandering the Earth for a resting place. He became known as "Jack of the Lantern", or Jack-o'-Lantern.
The term jack-o'-lantern originally meant a night watchman, or man with a lantern, with the earliest known use in the 1660s in East Anglia; and later, meaning an ignis fatuus or will-o'-the-wisp.  In Newfoundland and Labrador, both names "Jacky Lantern" and "Jack the Lantern" refer to the will-o'-the-wisp concept rather than the pumpkin carving aspect.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Imp of Pain

“Drew up the load of potatoes this morning and we dug and picked up about 38 bu- before dinner.  I helped Mr Stowel butcher four pigs after dinner and then I took the load of potatoes up town.  Rather unpleasant day.”

The Imp of Pain
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Barney Oldfield

“Drew up the load of potatoes this morning and dug and picked up another load this forenoon.  Then Erny and I picked up the small ones this afternoon.  Got done about 4 o’clock and then picked up about 20 bu- which father dug after dinner and put them in the cellar.  Pleasant but cold day.”

Henry Ford standing beside Oldfield's first car in 1902
Berna Eli "Barney" Oldfield (June 3, 1878 – October 4, 1946) was an automobile racer and pioneer. He was born on a farm on the outskirts of Wauseon, Ohio. He was the first man to drive a car at 60 miles per hour (96 km/h) on an oval.  His accomplishments led to the expression "Who do you think you are? Barney Oldfield?"

At Lakeside Track, April 1907

Barney Oldfield sitting in his Blitzen Benz at Daytona (undated)

Monday, October 24, 2011

A photographic collage

“Dug and picked up potatoes all day.  Picked up the box full after dinner and Father came down with them and got Mr Stowell’s wagon and we picked up about 25 bushes in that and Johnny  Pratt drove the teams down and Erny and I picked up small one until night.  Has been a pleasant day.”

I found one more Victorian trick photograph.  It is not scary, but it is interesting.  A fairly early example of a photographic collage.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Ghostly Image

“We dug and picked up a load before dinner and I went up with them after dinner and picked up another load and I took them up at night.”

The last in my series of Creepy Victorian Trick Photography - "A ghostly image"

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Friday, October 21, 2011

A head on a stick!

“I helped did awhile this morning and then finished picking up the load and took them up before dinner.  After dinner I helped dig awhile and then picked up another load and went up with them.  And Erny picked up some small one.  Fine day.  Has been a beautiful week.”

Trick photography has been around since the invention of the camera.  This is the first in a series of Victorian trick photographs.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The East Ohio Gas Company Explosion of 1944

“I went up with the potatoes this morning and another load abut three o’clock and picked up about 30 bushs on another load.  Erny Stowell has helped me today.  Has been a beautiful day.”

At 2:30 p.m. on the afternoon on Friday, October 20, 1944, above ground storage tank number 4, holding liquefied natural gas in the East Ohio Gas Company's tank farm, began to emit a vapor that poured from a seam on the side of the tank. The tank was located near Lake Erie on East 61st Street, and winds from the lake pushed the vapor into a mixed use section of Cleveland, where it dropped into the sewer lines via the catch basins located in the street gutters.
As the gas mixture flowed and mixed with air and sewer gas, the mixture ignited. In the ensuing explosion, manhole covers launched skyward as jets of fire erupted from depths of the sewer lines. One manhole cover was found several miles east in the Cleveland neighborhood of Glenville.
At first it was thought that the disaster was contained, and spectators returned home thinking that the matter was being taken care of by the fire department. At 3:00 p.m., a second above-ground tank exploded, leveling the tank farm.
However, the explosions and fires continued to occur, trapping many who had returned to what they thought was the safety of their own homes. Housewives who were at home suddenly found their homes engulfed in flame as the explosion traveled through the sewers and up through drains. The following day, Associated Press wire stories contained quotes from survivors, many of whom were at home cleaning in preparation for the coming Sabbath. Survivors said that within a split second after the explosion, their homes and clothes were on fire.
Cuyahoga County Coroner Dr. Samuel Gerber estimated that the initial death toll stood at 200; however, Gerber was quoted in newspaper wire stories stating the magnitude of the fire and the intense temperatures had the power to vaporize human flesh and bone, making an exact count impossible until weeks after the disaster. The final death toll was lower than the coroner’s initial estimates.
The toll could have been significantly higher had the event occurred after local schools had let out and working parents returned to their homes for the evening. In all over 600 people were left homeless, and seventy homes, two factories, numerous cars and miles of underground infrastructure destroyed.
Following the explosions and fires, East Ohio Gas worked to assure the public that the destroyed plant only held 24 hours worth of gas for the city. Many families living in the area not only lost their homes, but stocks, bonds and cash, which many kept at home. Estimates for destroyed personal and industrial property ranged between $7,000,000 and $15,000,000.
The explosion also had a long range impact on the natural gas industry. Until the disaster, above ground storage of natural gas, used as fuel for homes, office buildings and factories, was a common sight in cities across America. Following the disaster, utility companies and communities began to rethink their natural gas storage systems, and below ground storage of natural gas grew in popularity.
The disaster plays a major role in Don Robertson's 1965 novel "The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread."

The fire department sifts through the remains of the East Ohio Gas Comapany.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Siege of Yorktown

“Dug potatoes today.  This first we have dug.  We dug and picked up a double box load.  They are very nice but the ground is quite wet.”

by John Trumbull, depicting the British surrendering to French (left) and American (right) troops. Oil on canvas, 1820
The Siege of Yorktown, Battle of Yorktown, or Surrender of Yorktown in 1781 was a decisive victory by a combined assault of American forces led by General George Washington and French forces led by the Comte de Rochambeau over a British Army commanded by Lieutenant General Lord Cornwallis. The culmination of the Yorktown campaign, it proved to be the last major land battle of the American Revolutionary War in North America, as the surrender of Cornwallis' army prompted the British government eventually to negotiate an end to the conflict.
In 1780, 5,500 French soldiers landed in Rhode Island to assist their American allies in operations against British-controlled New York City. Following the arrival of dispatches from France that included the possibility of support from the French West Indies fleet of the Comte de Grasse, Washington and Rochambeau decided to ask de Grasse for assistance either in besieging New York, or in military operations against a British army operating in Virginia. On the advice of Rochambeau, de Grasse informed them of his intent to sail to the Chesapeake Bay, where Cornwallis had taken command of the army. Cornwallis, at first given confusing orders by his superior officer, Henry Clinton, was eventually ordered to make a defensible deep-water port, which he began to do at Yorktown, Virginia. Cornwallis's movements in Virginia were shadowed by a Continental Army force led by the Marquis de Lafayette.
The French and American armies united north of New York City during the summer of 1781. When word of de Grasse's decision arrived, the combined armies began moving south toward Virginia, engaging in tactics of deception to lead the British to believe a siege of New York was planned. De Grasse sailed from the West Indies and arrived at the Chesapeake Bay at the end of August, bringing additional troops and providing a naval blockade of Yorktown. He was transporting 500,000 silver pesos collected from the citizens of Havana, Cuba, to fund supplies for the siege and payroll for the Continental Army. While in Santo Domingo, de Grasse met with Francisco Saavedra de Sangronis, an agent of Carlos III of Spain. De Grasse had planned to leave several of his warships in Santo Domingo. Saavedra promised the assistance of the Spanish navy to protect the French merchant fleet, enabling de Grasse to sail north with all of his warships. In the beginning of September, he defeated a British fleet led by Sir Thomas Graves that came to relieve Cornwallis at the Battle of the Chesapeake. As a result of this victory, de Grasse blocked any escape by sea for Cornwallis. By late September Washington and Rochambeau arrived, and the army and naval forces completely surrounded Cornwallis.
After initial preparations, the Americans and French built their first parallel and began the bombardment. With the British defense weakened, Washington on October 14, 1781 sent two columns to attack the last major remaining British outer defenses. A French column took redoubt #9 and an American column redoubt #10. With these defenses taken, the allies were able to finish their second parallel. With the American artillery closer and more intense than ever, the British situation began to deteriorate rapidly and Cornwallis asked for capitulation terms on the 17th. After two days of negotiation, the surrender ceremony took place on the 19th, with Cornwallis being absent since he claimed to be ill. With the capture of over 7,000 British soldiers, negotiations between the United States and Great Britain began, resulting in the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

Siège de Yorktown by Auguste Couder, c.1836. Rochambeau and Washington giving their last orders before the battle

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mason-Dixon Line

“Husked corn this forenoon and drew in what we had husked this afternoon about 100 bush’s and drew a load of pumpkins for the cows.  Has been a fine day.”

The original Mason-Dixon Line
The Mason–Dixon Line (or Mason and Dixon's Line
 A "crownstone" boundary monument on the Mason-Dixon Line. These markers were originally placed at every 5th mile along the line, oriented with family coats of arms facing the state that they represented. The coat of arms of Maryland's founding Calvert family is shown. On the other side are the arms of William Penn.

 A "crownstone" boundary monument on the Mason-Dixon Line. These markers were originally placed at every 5th mile along the line, oriented with family coats of arms facing the state that they represented. The coat of arms of Maryland's founding Calvert family is shown. On the other side are the arms of William Penn

Monday, October 17, 2011

Kate Greenaway Buttons

“Husked corn all day.  Has been a very fine day.  Hard frost this morning, but I think it did no damage.”

Check out my video on Kate Greenaway Buttons.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fred Snodgrass

“I set up the corn this morning.  Got it done about 11 0’clock and husked rest of the day.  Very pleasant day.”

Snodgrass in 1916
In October 16, 1912, New York Giants outfielder Fred Snodgrass drops an easy pop-up in the 10th inning of the tiebreaking eighth game of the World Series against the Red Sox. His error led to a two-run Boston rally and cost the Giants the championship.
Snodgrass, who had been a catcher for the Hoegee Flags, joined the New York Giants in 1908. He spent most of the next two years on the bench, but in 1910, when the team’s manager suggested that he try playing a different position, the third-string catcher became a full-time outfielder. He was a good batter and a reliable fielder on an impressive team—Rube Marquard, Christy Mathewson and Jeff Tesreau owned the pitcher’s mound, and Fred Merkle, Chief Meyers and Larry Doyle all hit over .300. By the end of the 1912 season, the Giants were way ahead of every team in their league, and the Boston Red Sox, the AL champs, were almost as good. The World Series promised to be an exciting one.
In the first game at the Polo Grounds on October 8, the Red Sox beat the Giants 4-2. The second, at Fenway Park, was tied 6-6 when umpire Silk O’Laughlin called it in the eleventh because it had grown too dark to see the ball. The Giants won the third; the Sox won the fourth and the fifth; the Giants won the sixth and the seventh. The tied Series would go to an eighth game.
And so it happened that Fred Snodgrass was standing in center field on October 16. After nine innings of the eighth game, the score was tied 1-1. At the top of the 10th, the Giants pulled ahead by 1. At the bottom of the 10th, Red Sox pinch hitter Clyde Engle came to the plate and whacked a lazy fly ball to right-center field. It drifted easily toward Snodgrass’ glove. He caught the ball; then he dropped the ball. Engle scrambled to second. In the very next play, Snodgrass made a spectacular catch, but it didn’t matter—the damage was done. Mathewson walked the following batter, and then a single tied the game and put the winning run on third. Then Tris Speaker hit a single—after Merkle and Meyers both failed to catch an easy foul ball that Speaker wafted right at them, it should be noted—and the game was over. The Red Sox had won. To reporter after reporter, over and over, Snodgrass explained: "I just dropped the darn thing."
The error—dubbed "the $30,000 muff" because that’s how much money the Giants stood to win from a Series championship—stuck with Snodgrass for his whole life. After he retired from baseball, the hapless outfielder moved to California and became a banker. He bought a ranch. The citizens of Oxnard elected him mayor. But still, when he died in 1974—62 years after that fateful World Series game—the New York Times headline blared: "Fred Snodgrass, 86, Dead; Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly."

Snodgrass before a game of the 1911 World Series

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy, OM (2 June 1840 – 11 January 1928) was an English novelist and poet. While his works typically belong to the Naturalism movement, several poems display elements of the previous Romantic and Enlightenment periods of literature, such as his fascination with the supernatural.
While he regarded himself primarily as a poet who composed novels mainly for financial gain, he became and continues to be widely regarded for his novels, such as Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Far from the Madding Crowd. The bulk of his fictional works, initially published as serials in magazines, were set in the semi-fictional land of Wessex (based on the Dorchester region where he grew up) and explored tragic characters struggling against their passions and social circumstances.
Hardy's poetry, first published in his fifties, has come to be as well regarded as his novels and has had a significant influence over modern English poetry, especially after The Movement poets of the 1950s and 1960s cited Hardy as a major figure
In 1870, while on an architectural mission to restore the parish church of St Juliot in Cornwall, Hardy met and fell in love with Emma Lavinia Gifford, whom he married in 1874. Although he later became estranged from his wife, her death in 1912 had a traumatic effect on him. After her death, Hardy made a trip to Cornwall to revisit places linked with their courtship, and his Poems 1912–13 reflect upon her passing. In 1914, Hardy married his secretary Florence Emily Dugdale, who was 39 years his junior. However, he remained preoccupied with his first wife's death and tried to overcome his remorse by writing poetry.
Hardy became ill with pleurisy in December 1927 and died at Max Gate just after 9 pm on 11 January 1928, having dictated his final poem to his wife on his deathbed; the cause of death was cited, on his death certificate, as "cardiac syncope", with "old age" given as a contributory factor. His funeral was on 16 January at Westminster Abbey, and it proved a controversial occasion because Hardy and his family and friends had wished for his body to be interred at Stinsford in the same grave as his first wife, Emma. However, his executor, Sir Sydney Carlyle Cockerell, insisted that he be placed in the abbey's famous Poets' Corner. A compromise was reached whereby his heart was buried at Stinsford with Emma (at 50°43′05″N 2°24′36″W / 50.71802009°N 2.41008710°W / 50.71802009; -2.41008710), and his ashes in Poets' Corner.

Florence Hardy at the seashore, 1915

Friday, October 14, 2011

Elwood P. Haynes

“Stashed the corn in the corn house this morning and then husked in the barn rest of the day.  Rained quite a good deal during the night and the wind has blown very hard all day.  Has blown the corn down very bad.”

Elwood P. Haynes (October 14, 1857 – April 12, 1925) was an American inventor, metallurgist, automotive pioneer, entrepreneur and industrialist. He invented the metal alloys stellite and martensitic stainless steel and designed one of the earliest automobiles made in the United States. He is recognized for having created the earliest American design that was feasible for mass production and, with the Apperson brothers, he formed the first company in the United States to produce automobiles profitably. He made many advances in the automotive industry.
Early in his career, while serving as a superintendent at gas and oil companies during Indiana's gas boom, Haynes invented several devices important to the advance of the natural gas industry. When working for the Indiana Natural Gas and Oil Company, he oversaw the construction of the first long-distance natural gas pipeline in the United States, connecting Chicago with the Trenton Gas Field 150 miles (240 km) away. He began to formulate plans for a motorized vehicle in the early 1890s; he successfully road tested his first car, the Pioneer, on July 4, 1894—eight years after the first automobile was patented in Germany. He formed a partnership with Elmer and Edgar Apperson in 1896 to start Haynes-Apperson for the commercial production of automobiles, and he renamed it Haynes Automobile Company in 1905, following the loss of his partners.
Working in his auto company's laboratory to develop new corrosion-resistant metals for auto parts, Haynes discovered that mixing tungsten with chromium, steel and iron resulted in the formation of strong and lightweight alloys that were impervious to corrosion and could withstand very high temperatures. He formed Haynes Stellite Company to produce one of the new alloys and received lucrative contracts during World War I, making Haynes a millionaire in 1916. He sold his patent for stainless steel to the American Stainless Steel Company in exchange for enough stock to gain a seat at the company's board of directors, a position he held for twelve years. Because of labor problems, he sold the stellite company and patent to Union Carbide in 1920, and after passing through different owners, the company was renamed and is now called Haynes International. Haynes returned his focus to his automotive company, but in the economic recession of the 1920s the business went bankrupt and was liquidated. He lost a quarter of his fortune in 1925 when he was held personally responsible for a large portion of the company's debts.
An outspoken advocate of prohibition, he made substantial donations to the Prohibition Party and Indiana's prohibitionist leader Frank Hanly. Haynes ran an unsuccessful campaign in Indiana for the U.S. Senate in 1916 as a prohibition candidate and remained active in the party until prohibition became law. Later, he became a philanthropist and served two terms as president of the YMCA, five years on the Indiana Board of Education, and was an active member of the Presbyterian church. After his death from complications arising from influenza, his Kokomo mansion was converted into the Elwood Haynes Museum and is open to the public where many of his original inventions and automobiles are on display.

Elwood Haynes driving in his first automobile, the 1894 Pioneer, photo taken c. 1910

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Husking Corn

“Husked corn in the field this forenoon.  Picked our apples this afternoon.  Pleasant day.”

I thought that I would throw in a picture of what it probably looked like when our guy was husking corn.

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