Christmas 2013: Do we know who invented Santa Claus? Who really wrote the “Night Before Christmas?”

December 10, 2013

An encore post and Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub tradition from 2007

Thomas Nast invented Santa Claus? Clement C. Moore didn’t write the famous poem that starts out, “‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house . . . ?”

The murky waters of history from Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub soak even our most cherished ideas and traditions.

But isn’t that part of the fun of history?

Santa Claus delivers to Union soldiers, "Santa Claus in Camp" - Thomas Nast, Harper's Weekly, Jan 3, 1863

In Janaury 1863, Thomas Nast portraye Santa Claus delivered gifts to Union troops in Washington, D.C., wearing a blue, star-spangled coat, just a few days earlier.

Yes, Virginia (and California, too)! Thomas Nast created the image of Santa Claus most of us in the U.S. know today. Perhaps even more significant than his campaign against the graft of Boss Tweed, Nast’s popularization of a fat, jolly elf who delivers good things to people for Christmas makes one of the great stories in commercial illustration. Nast’s cartoons, mostly for the popular news publication Harper’s Weekly, created many of the conventions of modern political cartooning and modeled the way in which an illustrator could campaign for good, with his campaign against the graft of Tammany Hall and Tweed. But Nast’s popular vision of Santa Claus can be said to be the foundation for the modern mercantile flurry around Christmas.

Nast is probably ensconced in a cartoonists’ hall of fame. Perhaps he should be in a business or sales hall of fame, too.  [See also Bill Casselman's page, "The Man Who Designed Santa Claus.]

Nast’s drawings probably drew some inspiration from the poem, “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” traditionally attributed to Clement C. Moore, a New York City lawyer, published in 1822. The poem is among the earliest to describe the elf dressed in fur, and magically coming down a chimney to leave toys for children; the poem invented the reindeer-pulled sleigh.

Modern analysis suggests the poem was not the work of Moore, and many critics and historians now attribute it to Major Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828) following sleuthing by Vassar College Prof. Don Foster in 2000. Fortunately for us, we do not need to be partisans in such a query to enjoy the poem (a complete copy of which is below the fold).

The Library of Congress still gives Moore the credit. When disputes arise over who wrote about the night before Christmas, is it any wonder more controversial topics produce bigger and louder disputes among historians?

Moore was not known for being a poet. The popular story is that he wrote it on the spur of the moment:

Moore is thought to have composed the tale, now popularly known as “The Night Before Christmas,” on December 24, 1822, while traveling home from Greenwich Village, where he had bought a turkey for his family’s Christmas dinner.

Inspired by the plump, bearded Dutchman who took him by sleigh on his errand through the snow-covered streets of New York City, Moore penned A Visit from St. Nicholas for the amusement of his six children, with whom he shared the poem that evening. His vision of St. Nicholas draws upon Dutch-American and Norwegian traditions of a magical, gift-giving figure who appears at Christmas time, as well as the German legend of a visitor who enters homes through chimneys.

Again from the Library of Congress, we get information that suggests that Moore was a minor celebrity from a well-known family with historical ties that would make a good “connections” exercise in a high school history class, perhaps (”the link from Aaron Burr’s treason to Santa Claus?”): (read more, below the fold)

Clement Moore was born in 1779 into a prominent New York family. His father, Benjamin Moore, president of Columbia University, in his role as Episcopal Bishop of New York participated in the inauguration of George Washington as the nation’s first president. The elder Moore also administered last rites to Alexander Hamilton after he was mortally wounded in a tragic duel with Aaron Burr.

A graduate of Columbia, Clement Moore was a scholar of Hebrew and a professor of Oriental and Greek literature at the General Theological Seminary in Manhattan. [See comment from Pam Bumsted below for more on Moore.] He is said to have been embarrassed by the light-hearted verse, which was made public without his knowledge in December 1823. Moore did not publish it under his name until 1844.

Tonight, American children will be tucked in under their blankets and quilts and read this beloved poem as a last “sugarplum” before slipping into dreamland. Before they drift off, treat them to a message from Santa, recorded by the Thomas Edison Company in 1922.

Santa Claus Hides in Your Phonograph
By Arthur A. Penn, Performed by Harry E. Humphrey.
Edison, 1922.
Coupling date: 6/20/1922. Cutout date: 10/31/1929.
Inventing Entertainment: The Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies

Listen to this recording (RealAudio Format)

Listen to this recording (wav Format, 8,471 Kb)

But Henry Livingston was no less noble or historic. He hailed from the Livingstons of the Hudson Valley (one of whose farms is now occupied by Camp Rising Sun of the Louis August Jonas Foundation, a place where I spent four amazing summers teaching swimming and lifesaving). Livingston’s biography at the University of Toronto site offers another path for a connections exercise (”What connects the Declaration of Independence, the American invasion of Canada, the famous poem about a visit from St. Nick, and George W. Bush?”):

Henry Livingston Jr. was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, on Oct. 13, 1748. The Livingston family was one of the important colonial and revolutionary families of New York. The Poughkeepsie branch, descended from Gilbert, the youngest son of Robert Livingston, 1st Lord of Livingston Manor, was not as well off as the more well-known branches, descended from sons Robert and Philip. Two other descendants of Gilbert Livingston, President George Walker Herbert Bush and his son, President-Elect George W. Bush, though, have done their share to bring attention to this line. Henry’s brother, Rev. John Henry Livingston, entered Yale at the age of 12, and was able to unite the Dutch and American branches of the Dutch Reformed Church. At the time of his death, Rev. Livingston was president of Rutgers University. Henry’s father and brother Gilbert were involved in New York politics, and Henry’s granduncle was New York’s first Lt. Governor. But the law was the natural home for many of Henry’s family. His brother-in-law, Judge Jonas Platt, was an unsuccessful candidate for governor, as was his daughter Elizabeth’s husband, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Smith Thompson. Henry’s grandson, Sidney Breese, was Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court.

Known for his encyclopedic knowledge and his love of literature, Henry Livingston was a farmer, surveyor and Justice of the Peace, a judicial position dealing with financially limited criminal and civil cases. One of the first New Yorkers to enlist in the Revolutionary Army in 1775, Major Henry Livingston accompanied his cousin’s husband, General Montgomery, in his campaign up the Hudson River to invade Canada, leaving behind his new wife, Sarah Welles, and their week-old baby, on his Poughkeepsie property, Locust Grove. Baby Catherine was the subject of the first poem currently known by Major Livingston. Following this campaign, Livingston was involved in the War as a Commissioner of Sequestration, appropriating lands owned by British loyalists and selling them for the revolutionary cause. It was in the period following Sarah’s early death in 1783, that Major Livingston published most of his poems and prose, anonymously or under the pseudonym of R. Ten years after the death of Sarah, Henry married Jane Patterson, the daughter of a Dutchess County politician and sister of his next-door neighbor. Between both wives, Henry fathered twelve children. He published his good-natured, often occasional verse from 1787 in many journals, including Political Barometer, Poughkeepsie Journal, and New-York Magazine. His most famous poem, “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” was until 2000 thought to have been the work of Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863), who published it with his collected poems in 1844. Livingston died Feb. 29, 1828.

More on Henry Livingston and his authorship of the Christmas poem here.
Thomas Nast, Merry Old Santa Claus, Harper's Weekly, Jan 1, 1881

Our views of Santa Claus owe a great deal also to the Coca-Cola advertising campaign. Coca-Cola first noted Santa’s use of the drink in a 1922 campaign to suggest Coke was a year-round drink (100 years after the publication of Livingston’s poem). The company’s on-line archives gives details:

In 1930, artist Fred Mizen painted a department store Santa in a crowd drinking a bottle of Coke. The ad featured the world’s largest soda fountain, which was located in the department store of Famous Barr Co. in St. Louis, Mo. Mizen’s painting was used in print ads that Christmas season, appearing in The Saturday Evening Post in December 1930.

1936 Coca-Cola Santa cardboard store display

  • 1936 Coca-Cola Santa cardboard store display

Archie Lee, the D’Arcy Advertising Agency executive working with The Coca-Cola Company, wanted the next campaign to show a wholesome Santa as both realistic and symbolic. In 1931, The Coca-Cola Company commissioned Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sundblom to develop advertising images using Santa Claus — showing Santa himself, not a man dressed as Santa, as Mizen’s work had portrayed him.
1942 original oil painting - 'They Remembered Me'

  • 1942 original oil painting – ‘They Remembered Me’

For inspiration, Sundblom turned to Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (commonly called “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”). Moore’s description of St. Nick led to an image of Santa that was warm, friendly, pleasantly plump and human. For the next 33 years, Sundblom painted portraits of Santa that helped to create the modern image of Santa — an interpretation that today lives on in the minds of people of all ages, all over the world.

Santa Claus is a controversial figure. Debates still rage among parents about the wisdom of allowing the elf into the family’s home, and under what conditions. Theologians worry that the celebration of Christmas is diluted by the imagery. Other faiths worry that the secular, cultural impact of Santa Claus damages their own faiths (few other faiths have such a popular figure, and even atheists generally give gifts and participate in Christmas rituals such as putting up a decorated tree).

For over 100 years, Santa Claus has been a popular part of commercial, cultural and religious life in America. Has any other icon endured so long, or so well?

________________________
Below:
From the University of Toronto Library’s Representative Poetry Online

Major Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828)

Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas

1 ‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house,

2 Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

3 The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

4 In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

5 The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

6 While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads,

7 And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,

8 Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap –

9 When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

10 I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

11 Away to the window I flew like a flash,

12 Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.

13 The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,

14 Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;

15 When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

16 But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,

17 With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

18 I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

19 More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

20 And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:

21 “Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer, and Vixen,

22 “On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blixem;

23 “To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

24 “Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

25 As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,

26 When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;

27 So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

28 With the sleigh full of Toys — and St. Nicholas too:

29 And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

30 The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

31 As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

32 Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:

33 He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,

34 And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;

35 A bundle of toys was flung on his back,

36 And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack:

37 His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry,

38 His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;

39 His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow.

40 And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

41 The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

42 And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.

43 He had a broad face, and a little round belly

44 That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:

45 He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

46 And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;

47 A wink of his eye and a twist of his head

48 Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

49 He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

50 And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk,

51 And laying his finger aside of his nose

52 And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

53 He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

54 And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:

55 But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight –

56 Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Online text copyright © 2005, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto. Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries. Be sure to visit this site for more information on this poem, on Maj. Livingston, and on poetry in general.

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“Rise Again”: How a sea chanty saved a sailor, and why government regulation saves lives

May 30, 2013

Stan Rogers?

P. Z. Myers was feeling a tad puny, though he’s in Minnesota where that Texas phrase might not win understanding.  In any case, he queued up Nathan Rogers singing his late father’s most famous tune, “The Mary Ellen Carter.”

That was Stanfest, an annual music festival dedicated to Stan Rogers, who died tragically trying to put out an airplane fire, in 1983. (Stanfest is July 5, 6 and 7 in 2013. Actually, Ricky Skaggs kicks it off this year on July 4, a day early.)

The Mary Ellen Carter” is a bit of an odd song, probably best performed where a bunch of people can join in, obviously fueled by a few pints to the guitar players, and seemingly not correct if not done with at least one twelve-string in the band. More, it’s a song with a story that you may not get the first time through, but you should get.  Stan Rogers’s poetry is not simple.  He tells complex stories.

Home in Halifax, one of three albums by Stan Rogers on which “The Mary Ellen Carter” appears. The song is also on Between the Breaks . . . Live! and The Very Best of Stan Rogers.

It’s a song about a group of men who were aboard the Mary Ellen Carter when that ship scuttled.  The song describes their work to patch her up, to raise her from the depths and make her “rise again.”  But we never learn whether the ship was refloated.  That’s not the point of the song.  It’s a song about getting back up when you’ve been scuttled, when you’ve got holes punched in your side, and you’re under water.

That doesn’t get lost on fans of Stan Rogers, nor others who listened to the song over the years.

The song has become a classic of the genre and many artists covered it even before Rogers’ death, including Jim Post who began performing it in the 1980s, as did Makem and Clancy, and the English a cappella trio, Artisan, who went on to popularise their harmony version of it in UK folk circles throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and Portland, Maine-based folk group Schooner Fare. Ian Robb recorded it with the other members of Finest Kind on his album From Different Angels. It was also recorded by the seven piece Newfoundland band The Irish Descendants as part of the tribute album Remembering Stan Rogers: An East Coast Tribute performed by a large number of acts at Rogers’ favorite venue in Halifax, Dalhousie University; the album is out of print though occasionally available from online sellers; the track does not appear on any of the band’s own albums.

It was also recorded by Williamsburg, Virginia-based Celtic rock band Coyote Run as part of their self-titled Coyote Run album. According to liner notes with their 10 Years and Running retrospective album, Coyote Run‘s recording of the song was done with the same 12-string guitar that Stan Rogers himself had used when recording the song.

As a tribute to Stan Rogers, “The Mary Ellen Carter” has been sung to close the annual Winnipeg Folk Festival every year since his death.

Surely you’ve heard it, no?

English: Winnipeg Folk Festival 2006.

Winnipeg Folk Festival 2006. “The Mary Ellen Carter” is sung to close this festival, each year since 1983. Wikipedia image

According to the lore, the song actually saved a sailor’s life once, in 1983, with the sinking of the Marine Electric.  The pedestrian version of the story:

So inspiring is the song that it is credited with saving at least one life. On February 12, 1983 the ship Marine Electric was carrying a load of coal from Norfolk, Virginia to a power station in Somerset, Massachusetts. The worst storm in forty years blew up that night and the ship sank at about four o’clock in the morning on the 13th. The ship’s Chief Mate, fifty-nine-year-old Robert M. (“Bob”) Cusick, was trapped under the deckhouse as the ship went down. His snorkeling experience helped him avoid panic and swim to the surface, but he had to spend the night alone, up to his neck in water, clinging to a partially deflated lifeboat, and in water barely above freezing and air much colder. Huge waves washed over him, and each time he was not sure that he would ever reach the surface again to breathe. Battling hypothermia, he became tempted to allow himself to fall unconscious and let go of the lifeboat. Just then he remembered the words to the song “The Mary Ellen Carter”.

And you, to whom adversity has dealt the final blow
With smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go
Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain
And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

Rise again, rise again—though your heart it be broken
Or life about to end.
No matter what you’ve lost, be it a home, a love, a friend,
Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

He started to sing it and soon was alternately shouting out “Rise again, rise again” and holding his breath as the waves washed over him. At seven o’clock that morning a Coast Guard helicopter spotted him and pulled him to safety.[1] Only two men of the other thirty-three that had been aboard survived the wreck. After his ordeal, Cusick wrote a letter to Stan Rogers telling him what had happened and how the song helped save his life. In response, Cusick was invited to attend what turned out the be the second-to-last concert Rogers ever performed. Cusick told his story in the documentary about Stan Rogers, One Warm Line.[2][3]

Truth is stranger and better than fiction once again. You couldn’t convince me that story was plausible, if it were fiction.

Cusick’s story has a coda, though, and it’s an important one.  From the survivors come not only tales of the trials, but information that, if listened to, can prevent future tragedies.

In a 2008 story in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot, Bob Cusick related just how close and hard death breathed on him that night:

Bob Cusick is “still kicking.” That’s no small feat for any man about to turn 85. It’s especially notable when you are one of only three sailors to survive what was among the nation’s worst maritime disasters.

Tuesday will mark the 25th anniversary of the sinking of the coal ship Marine Electric in a blizzard off Chincoteague. Thirty-one sailors died.

Cusick was the ship’s chief mate. He still has nightmares about how the rusted relic of World War II rolled before the crew could launch its lifeboats. He can still feel the water swallowing him and hear the men screaming for help in the darkness.

But the nightmares aren’t as frequent now.

“It’s really been a long time,” he said from his home in New Hampshire. “And evidently, a lot of good came from that ship’s sinking.”

Most of it because of Cusick and the other two survivors’ testimonies.

Before we hear the good, let’s get the facts:

The Marine Electric was what mariners call a rust bucket. Its huge cargo hatches were warped, wasted away and patched cosmetically with putty and duct tape. The deck was cracked, and the hull even had a hole punched through by a bulldozer.

Still, inspectors cleared it to sail, and it routinely hauled pulverized coal from Norfolk to a power plant near Boston.

Its last trip was into the teeth of a violent nor’easter. The aging ship was no match for the weather. For more than 24 hours, the Marine Electric was battered by swells that stretched 40 feet from trough to crest.

For part of the trip, the ship had been diverted to escort a trawler into Chincoteague.

Not long after resuming its course, the Marine Electric started taking on water.

Seas crashing over those corroded decks rushed inside the hatches, mixing with the powdered coal to create an unstable slurry.

The water couldn’t be pumped out, because the ship’s owners had welded covers over the drain holes.

Cusick was lucky. He had just come off watch and was wearing an insulated coat his wife had insisted he buy and a raw wool cap she had knitted for him. They would eventually make the difference between life and death.

Cusick swam for an hour in the tempest before finding a swamped lifeboat. He climbed inside and wedged himself beneath the seats, slipping under the 37-degree water, to escape the howling winds. He gasped for breaths between waves.

Cusick found strength in a song about the shipwreck of the Mary Ellen Carter, and folksinger Stan Rogers’ refrain to “rise again, rise again.”

Cusick would spend 2 hours and 45 minutes in the frigid water, nearly double what Navy survival charts claimed was possible.

It was after dawn when a Coast Guard helicopter from Elizabeth City, N.C., running on fumes, dropped a basket into his lifeboat and Cusick was hoisted to safety.

Rogers’s song, and Cusick’s story, were put to great use.

As a result of this accident, and the detailed records of neglect Cusick kept, the Coast Guard launched its renowned rescue swimmers program. Ships sailing in cold waters are required to provide survival suits to their crews; safety inspections are more rigorous; lifeboats must have better launching systems; and rafts must have boarding platforms to allow freezing sailors to climb inside.

We lived on the Potomac when the Marine Electric went down.  We had the daily, sometimes hourly updates, and the growing sense of tragedy.  I well recall my amazement that anyone survived in the cold water.  In the 30 years since, I had never heard the full story.

This is why we study history.  This is why we write history.  This is why we revel in history, even faux history, being turned into art by the poets and troubadors.

Knowing history, and knowing the art, we can stand up to demand that money to inspect ships for safety be restored to the federal budget, that money to build safe air transport be revived, that politicians stop blocking the doors to the hospitals and clinics (Rick Perry, Greg Abbott), and that justice be done on a thousand other scores where cynics and highway robbers tell us it cannot be done or it’s too expensive.

And then we all may, as the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

Marine Electric sank on February 12, 1983; Stan Rogers died less than four months later, on June 2, 1983, returning home from performing at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas.  Listen to Mr. Cusick’s story, and listen to Mr. Rogers’s telling of his:

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‘Twas the 18th of April in ’75 . . . (Paul Revere’s Ride, 243rd anniversary)

April 18, 2013

The annual reminder:

Paul Reveretonight’s the anniversary of his famous ride.

John Copley's painting of Paul Revere

Paul Revere, 1768, by John Singleton Copley (1738-1815)

John Copley painted all the bigwigs of revolutionary Boston, including this portrait of the famous horse-mounted alarm before he turned older and grayer.

And as April 18 is the anniversary of Revere’s ride, April 19 is the anniversary of the “shot heard ’round the world.”

Both events are celebrated in poetry; April is National Poetry Month. This could be a happy marriage for history and English classrooms.

Teachers, this is your cue to break out the Longfellow and Emerson and Whitman, and tie them together in the thread that runs from the French and Indian War clearly through the American Civil War, and we might hope, to today.  Give the kids some culture to get their mental juices flowing for the tests.

National Poetry Month 2013 poster

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Historic images, encore: Quanah Parker, Last Chief of the Comanches

March 25, 2013

Glenn Frankel at the University of Texas wrote a book about the John Ford movie, “The Searchers.” It’s release, and stories about it, should remind us of the history of Quanah Parker, the last great, chief of the Comanches.  “The Searchers” was loosely based on a true story, the kidnapping of Cynthia Ann Parker, by Comanches, and her subsequent life with the tribe, and her recapture by white relatives.  She had married in the tribe — Quanah Parker was her son.

Back in June 2008 I posted this:

Quanah Parker, photo by Lanney

Quanah Parker, a Kwahadi Comanche chief; full-length, standing in front of tent.
Photographed by Lanney. Public Domain photo.
National Archives, “Pictures of Indians in the United States”

Photographs of Native Americans reside among the publicly and internet available materials of the National Archives. Images can be ordered in sets of slides, or as individual prints, though many are available in quality high enough for PowerPoint works and use on classroom materials. Many of the photos are 19th century.

Quanah Parker stands as one of the larger Native Americans in Texas history. This photo puts a face to a reputation in Texas history textbooks. Texas teachers may want to be certain to get a copy of the photo. His life story includes so many episodes that seem to come out of a Native American version of Idylls of the King that a fiction writer could not include them all, were they not real.

  • Quanah’s mother was part of the famous Parker family that helped settle West Texas in the 1830s. Cynthia Ann Parker was captured in 1836 when Comanches attacked Fort Parker, near present-day Groesbeck, Texas, in Limestone County. (See Fort Parker State Park.) Given a new name, Nadua (found one), she assimilated completely with the Nocona band of Comanches, and eventually married the Comanche warrior Noconie (also known as Peta Nocona). Quanah was their first child, born in 1852.
  • Nadua was captured by a Texas party led by Lawrence Sullivan “Sul” Ross in 1860, in the Battle of Pease River. Noconie, Quanah, and most of the Nocona men were off hunting at the time, and the fact of Nadua’s capture was not realized for some time. Nadua asked to return to the Comanches and her husband, but she was not allowed to do so. When her youngest daughter, who had been captured with her, died of an infection, Nadua stopped eating, and died a few weeks later.
  • Sul Ross was a character in his own right. At the time he participated in the raid that recaptured Cynthia Parker, he was a student at Baylor University (“What do I do on summer breaks? I fight Indians.”) At the outbreak of the Civil War, Ross enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private. Over 135 battles and skirmishes he rose to the rank of Brigadier General, the ninth youngest in the Confederate Army. A successful rancher and businessman back in Texas after the war, he won election as governor in 1887, served two very successful terms (he resolved the Jaybird-Woodpecker War in Fort Bend County, and had to call a special session of the legislature to deal with a budget surplus), refused to run for a third term, and was named president of Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College (Texas A&M) within a few days of stepping down as governor. Ross’s leadership of the college is legendary — students put pennies near a statue of Ross in a traditional plea to pass final exams, among many other traditions. After his death, Texas created Sul Ross State University, in Alpine, Texas, in his honor.
  • Quanah Parker’s father, Noconie, died a short time after his mother’s capture. He left the Nocona band, joined the Destanyuka band under Chief Wild Horse, but eventually founded his own band with warriors from other groups, the Quahadi (“antelope eaters”) (also known as Kwahadi). The Quahadi band grew to be one of the largest and most notorious, always with Quanah leading them. The Quahadis refused to sign the 1867 Medicine Lodge Treaties, and so avoided immediate internment to a reservation. However, dwindling food supplies and increasing opposition forced Quanah to retire to a reservation in 1875, in what is now southwestern Oklahoma. This was the last Comanche band to come to the reservation.
  • Quanah was appointed Chief of all the Comanches.
  • Through investments, Quanah became rich — probably the richest Native American of his time.
  • Quanah hunted with President Theodore Roosevelt.

    Quanah in European-American business attire.

    Quanah in European-American business attire. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Rejecting monogamy and Christianity, Quanah founded the Native American Church movement, which regards the use of peyote as a sacrament. Quanah had been given peyote by a Ute medicine man while recovering from wounds he’d suffered in battle with U.S. troops. Among his famous teachings: The White Man goes into his church and talks about Jesus. The Indian goes into his Tipi and talks with Jesus.
  • Photo at right: Quanah Parker in his later life, in his business attire. Photo thought to be in public domain.
  • Bill Neeley wrote of Quanah Parker: “Not only did Quanah pass within the span of a single lifetime from a Stone Age warrior to a statesman in the age of the Industrial Revolution, but he never lost a battle to the white man and he also accepted the challenge and responsibility of leading the whole Comanche tribe on the difficult road toward their new existence.”
  • Quanah Parker died on February 23, 1911. He is buried at Fort Sill Cemetery, Oklahoma, next to his mother and sister.

Quanah Parker’s epitaph reads:

Resting Here Until Day Breaks
And Shadows Fall and Darkness Disappears is
Quanah Parker Last Chief of the Comanches
Born 1852
Died Feb. 23, 1911

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Lunch at Woolworth’s, with a side of non-violence and civility: North Carolina, February 1, 1960

February 1, 2013

Today is the 53rd anniversary of the Greensboro sit-in. Be sure to read Howell Raines‘ criticism of news media coverage of civil rights issues in a 2010 article in the New York Times: “What I am suggesting is that the one thing the South should have learned in the past 50 years is that if we are going to hell in a handbasket, we should at least be together in a basket of common purpose.”

This is mostly an encore post; please holler quickly if you find a link that does not work.

Four young men turned a page of history on February 1, 1960, at a lunch counter in a Woolworth’s store in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Ezell A. Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond, sat down at the counter to order lunch. Because they were African Americans, they were refused service. Patiently, they stayed in their seats, awaiting justice.

On July 25, nearly six months later, Woolworth’s agreed to desegregate the lunch counter. One more victory for non-violent protest.

Ezell A. Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond leave the Woolworth store after the first sit-in on February 1, 1960. (Courtesy of Greensboro News and Record)

Caption from Smithsonian Museum of American History: Ezell A. Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond leave the Woolworth store after the first sit-in on February 1, 1960. (Courtesy of Greensboro News and Record)

News of the “sit-in” demonstration spread. Others joined in the non-violent protests from time to time, 28 students the second day, 300 the third day, and some days up to 1,000. The protests spread geographically, too, to 15 cities in 9 states.

On the second day of the Greensboro sit-in, Joseph A. McNeil and Franklin E. McCain are joined by William Smith and Clarence Henderson at the Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Courtesy of Greensboro News and Record)

Smithsonian caption: “On the second day of the Greensboro sit-in, Joseph A. McNeil and Franklin E. McCain are joined by William Smith and Clarence Henderson at the Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Courtesy of Greensboro News and Record)”

Part of the old lunch counter was salvaged, and today is on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History. The museum display was the site of celebratory parties during the week of the inauguration as president of Barack Obama.

Part of the lunchcounter from the Woolworths store in Greensboro, North Carolina, is now displayed at the Smithsonians Museum of American History, in Washington, D.C.

Part of the lunch counter from the Woolworth’s store in Greensboro, North Carolina, now displayed at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, in Washington, D.C.- photo from Ted Eytan, who wrote: ["Ever eaten at a lunch counter in a store?"] The words . . . were said by one of the staff at the newly re-opened National Museum of American History this morning to a young visitor. What she did, very effectively, for the visitor and myself (lunch counters in stores are even before my time) was relate yesterday’s inequalities to those of today, by explaining the importance of the lunch counter in the era before fast food. This is the Greensboro, North Carolina lunch counter, and it was donated to the Smithsonian by Woolworth’s in 1993.

Notes and resources:

Student video, American History Rules, We Were There – First person story related by Georgie N. and Greg H., with pictures:

Associated Press interview with Franklin E. McCain:

More, in 2013:


A neglected 95th anniversary of Mencken and Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub – National Bathtub and Presidential Obscurity Day

December 28, 2012

A Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub December 28 tradition; mostly encore post, but worthy of note on National Bathtub and Presidential Obscurity Day

95 years ago today, on December 28, 1917, this column by H. L. Mencken was published in The New York Evening Mail:

Portrait of H. L. Mencken

1927 Portrait of H. L. Mencken by Nikol Schattenstein; Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore

A Neglected Anniversary

On December 20 there flitted past us, absolutely without public notice, one of the most important profane anniversaries in American history, to wit, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the introduction of the bathtub into These States. Not a plumber fired a salute or hung out a flag. Not a governor proclaimed a day of prayer. Not a newspaper called attention to the day.

True enough, it was not entirely forgotten. Eight or nine months ago one of the younger surgeons connected with the Public Health Service in Washington happened upon the facts while looking into the early history of public hygiene, and at his suggestion a committee was formed to celebrate the anniversary with a banquet. But before the plan was perfected Washington went dry (This was war-time Prohibition, preliminary to the main catastrophe. — HLM), and so the banquet had to be abandoned. As it was, the day passed wholly unmarked, even in the capital of the nation.

Bathtubs are so common today that it is almost impossible to imagine a world without them. They are familiar to nearly everyone in all incorporated towns; in most of the large cities it is unlawful to build a dwelling house without putting them in; even on the farm they have begun to come into use. And yet the first American bathtub was installed and dedicated so recently as December 20, 1842, and, for all I know to the contrary, it may still be in existence and in use.

Curiously enough, the scene of its setting up was Cincinnati, then a squalid frontier town, and even today surely no leader in culture. But Cincinnati, in those days as in these, contained many enterprising merchants, and one of them was a man named Adam Thompson, a dealer in cotton and grain. Thompson shipped his grain by steamboat down the Ohio and Mississippi to New Orleans, and from there sent it to England in sailing vessels. This trade frequently took him to England, and in that country, during the ’30s, he acquired the habit of bathing.

The bathtub was then still a novelty in England. It had been introduced in 1828 by Lord John Russell and its use was yet confined to a small class of enthusiasts. Moreover, the English bathtub, then as now, was a puny and inconvenient contrivance — little more, in fact, than a glorified dishpan — and filling and emptying it required the attendance of a servant. Taking a bath, indeed, was a rather heavy ceremony, and Lord John in 1835 was said to be the only man in England who had yet come to doing it every day.

Thompson, who was of inventive fancy — he later devised the machine that is still used for bagging hams and bacon — conceived the notion that the English bathtub would be much improved if it were made large enough to admit the whole body of an adult man, and if its supply of water, instead of being hauled to the scene by a maid, were admitted by pipes from a central reservoir and run off by the same means. Accordingly, early in 1842 he set about building the first modern bathroom in his Cincinnati home — a large house with Doric pillars, standing near what is now the corner of Monastery and Orleans streets.

There was then, of course, no city water supply, at least in that part of the city, but Thompson had a large well in his garden, and he installed a pump to lift its water to the house. This pump, which was operated by six Negroes, much like an old-time fire engine, was connected by a pipe with a cypress tank in the garret of the house, and here the water was stored until needed. From the tank two other pipes ran to the bathroom. One, carrying cold water, was a direct line. The other, designed to provide warm water, ran down the great chimney of the kitchen, and was coiled inside it like a giant spring.

The tub itself was of new design, and became the grandfather of all the bathtubs of today. Thompson had it made by James Cullness, the leading Cincinnati cabinetmaker of those days, and its material was Nicaragua mahogany. It was nearly seven feet long and fully four feet wide. To make it water-tight, the interior was lined with sheet lead, carefully soldered at the joints. The whole contraption weighed about 1,750 pounds, and the floor of the room in which it was placed had to be reinforced to support it. The exterior was elaborately polished.

In this luxurious tub Thompson took two baths on December 20, 1842 — a cold one at 8 a.m. and a warm one some time during the afternoon. The warm water, heated by the kitchen fire, reached a temperature of 105 degrees. On Christmas day, having a party of gentlemen to dinner, he exhibited the new marvel to them and gave an exhibition of its use, and four of them, including a French visitor, Col. Duchanel, risked plunges into it. The next day all Cincinnati — then a town of about 100,000 people — had heard of it, and the local newspapers described it at length and opened their columns to violent discussions of it.

The thing, in fact, became a public matter, and before long there was bitter and double- headed opposition to the new invention, which had been promptly imitated by several other wealthy Cincinnatians. On the one hand it was denounced as an epicurean and obnoxious toy from England, designed to corrupt the democratic simplicity of the Republic, and on the other hand it was attacked by the medical faculty as dangerous to health and a certain inviter of “phthisic, rheumatic fevers, inflammation of the lungs and the whole category of zymotic diseases.” (I quote from the Western Medical Repository of April 23, 1843.)

The noise of the controversy soon reached other cities, and in more than one place medical opposition reached such strength that it was reflected in legislation. Late in 1843, for example, the Philadelphia Common Council considered an ordinance prohibiting bathing between November 1 and March 15, and it failed of passage by but two votes. During the same year the legislature of Virginia laid a tax of $30 a year on all bathtubs that might be set up, and in Hartford, Providence, Charleston and Wilmington (Del.) special and very heavy water rates were levied upon those who had them. Boston, very early in 1845, made bathing unlawful except upon medical advice, but the ordinance was never enforced and in 1862 it was repealed.

This legislation, I suspect, had some class feeling in it, for the Thompson bathtub was plainly too expensive to be owned by any save the wealthy; indeed, the common price for installing one in New York in 1845 was $500. Thus the low caste politicians of the time made capital by fulminating against it, and there is even some suspicion of political bias in many of the early medical denunciations. But the invention of the common pine bathtub, lined with zinc, in 1847, cut off this line of attack, and thereafter the bathtub made steady progress.

The zinc tub was devised by John F. Simpson, a Brooklyn plumber, and his efforts to protect it by a patent occupied the courts until 1855. But the decisions were steadily against him, and after 1848 all the plumbers of New York were equipped for putting in bathtubs. According to a writer in the Christian Register for July 17, 1857, the first one in New York was opened for traffic on September 12, 1847, and by the beginning of 1850 there were already nearly 1,000 in use in the big town.

After this medical opposition began to collapse, and among other eminent physicians Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes declared for the bathtub, and vigorously opposed the lingering movement against it in Boston. The American Medical Association held its annual meeting in Boston in 1849, and a poll of the members in attendance showed that nearly 55 per cent of them now regarded bathing as harmless, and that more than 20 per cent advocated it as beneficial. At its meeting in 1850 a resolution was formally passed giving the imprimatur of the faculty to the bathtub. The homeopaths followed with a like resolution in 1853.

But it was the example of President Millard Fillmore that, even more than the grudging medical approval, gave the bathtub recognition and respectability in the United States. While he was still Vice-President, in March, 1850, he visited Cincinnati on a stumping tour, and inspected the original Thompson tub. Thompson himself was now dead, but his bathroom was preserved by the gentlemen who had bought his house from the estate. Fillmore was entertained in this house and, according to Chamberlain, his biographer, took a bath in the tub. Experiencing no ill effects, he became an ardent advocate of the new invention, and on succeeding to the Presidency at Taylor’s death, July 9, 1850, he instructed his secretary of war, Gen. Charles M. Conrad, to invite tenders for the construction of a bathtub in the White House.

This action, for a moment, revived the old controversy, and its opponents made much of the fact that there was no bathtub at Mount Vernon, or at Monticello, and that all the Presidents and other magnificoes of the past had got along without any such monarchical luxuries. The elder Bennett, in the New York Herald, charged that Fillmore really aspired to buy and install in the White House a porphyry and alabaster bath that had been used by Louis Philippe at Versailles. But Conrad, disregarding all this clamor, duly called for bids, and the contract was presently awarded to Harper & Gillespie, a firm of Philadelphia engineers, who proposed to furnish a tub of thin cast iron, capable of floating the largest man.

This was installed early in 1851, and remained in service in the White House until the first Cleveland administration, when the present enameled tub was substituted. The example of the President soon broke down all that remained of the old opposition, and by 1860, according to the newspaper advertisements of the time, every hotel in New York had a bathtub, and some had two and even three. In 1862 bathing was introduced into the Army by Gen. McClellan, and in 1870 the first prison bathtub was set up at Moyamensing Prison, in Philadelphia.

So much for the history of the bathtub in America. One is astonished, on looking into it, to find that so little of it has been recorded. The literature, in fact, is almost nil. But perhaps this brief sketch will encourage other inquirers and so lay the foundation for an adequate celebration of the centennial in 1942.

(Text courtesy of Poor Mojo’s Almanac(k))

The entire history was a hoax composed by Mencken.

Even conservative wackoes appreciate the column.

Content with his private joke, Mencken remained silent about the hoax until a follow-up article, “Melancholy Reflections,” appeared in the Chicago Tribune on May 23, 1926, some eight years later. This was Mencken’s confession. It was also an appeal for reason to the American public.

His hoax was a joke gone bad. “A Neglected Anniversary” had been printed and reprinted hundreds of times in the intervening years. Mencken had been receiving letters of corroboration from some readers and requests for more details from others. His history of the bathtub had been cited repeatedly by other writers and was starting to find its way into reference works. As Mencken noted in “Melancholy Reflections,” his “facts” “began to be used by chiropractors and other such quacks as evidence of the stupidity of medical men. They began to be cited by medical men as proof of the progress of public hygiene.” And, because Fillmore’s presidency had been so uneventful, on the date of his birthday calendars often included the only interesting tidbit of information they could find: Fillmore had introduced the bathtub into the White House. (Even the later scholarly disclosure that Andrew Jackson had a bathtub installed there in 1834—years before Mencken claimed it was even invented—did not diminish America’s conviction that Fillmore was responsible.)

(No, dear reader, probably not correct; surely John Adams brought a bathtub with him when he moved into the White House, then called the President’s Mansion.  Plumbing, hot water, and finally hot water to a bathtub in the president’s residence, were installed between 1830 and 1853, as best I can determine.)

Mencken wrote an introduction to the piece in a later bookA Mencken Chrestomathy (Alfred A. Knopf, 1949):

The success of this idle hoax, done in time of war, when more serious writing was impossible, vastly astonished me. It was taken gravely by a great many other newspapers, and presently made its way into medical literature and into standard reference books. It had, of course, no truth in it whatsoever, and I more than once confessed publicly that it was only a jocosity… Scarcely a month goes by that I do not find the substance of it reprinted, not as foolishness but as fact, and not only in newspapers but in official documents and other works of the highest pretensions.

There’s a moral to the story:  Strive for accuracy!

So, Dear Reader, check for accuracy, and question authority.

Fact checks — what else might need to be corrected in this story?

Resources:

Finally, Dear Readers — have you noticed someone falling victim to the hoax of Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub recently?  Give us details in comments, please.


In 2012, do we know who invented Santa Claus? Who really wrote the “Night Before Christmas?”

December 23, 2012

An encore post and Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub tradition from 2007

Thomas Nast invented Santa Claus? Clement C. Moore didn’t write the famous poem that starts out, “‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house . . . ?”

The murky waters of history from Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub soak even our most cherished ideas and traditions.

But isn’t that part of the fun of history?

Santa Claus delivers to Union soldiers, "Santa Claus in Camp" - Thomas Nast, Harper's Weekly, Jan 3, 1863

In Janaury 1863, Thomas Nast portraye Santa Claus delivered gifts to Union troops in Washington, D.C., wearing a blue, star-spangled coat, just a few days earlier.

Yes, Virginia (and California, too)! Thomas Nast created the image of Santa Claus most of us in the U.S. know today. Perhaps even more significant than his campaign against the graft of Boss Tweed, Nast’s popularization of a fat, jolly elf who delivers good things to people for Christmas makes one of the great stories in commercial illustration. Nast’s cartoons, mostly for the popular news publication Harper’s Weekly, created many of the conventions of modern political cartooning and modeled the way in which an illustrator could campaign for good, with his campaign against the graft of Tammany Hall and Tweed. But Nast’s popular vision of Santa Claus can be said to be the foundation for the modern mercantile flurry around Christmas.

Nast is probably ensconced in a cartoonists’ hall of fame. Perhaps he should be in a business or sales hall of fame, too.  [See also Bill Casselman's page, "The Man Who Designed Santa Claus.]

Nast’s drawings probably drew some inspiration from the poem, “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” traditionally attributed to Clement C. Moore, a New York City lawyer, published in 1822. The poem is among the earliest to describe the elf dressed in fur, and magically coming down a chimney to leave toys for children; the poem invented the reindeer-pulled sleigh.

Modern analysis suggests the poem was not the work of Moore, and many critics and historians now attribute it to Major Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828) following sleuthing by Vassar College Prof. Don Foster in 2000. Fortunately for us, we do not need to be partisans in such a query to enjoy the poem (a complete copy of which is below the fold).

The Library of Congress still gives Moore the credit. When disputes arise over who wrote about the night before Christmas, is it any wonder more controversial topics produce bigger and louder disputes among historians?

Moore was not known for being a poet. The popular story is that he wrote it on the spur of the moment:

Moore is thought to have composed the tale, now popularly known as “The Night Before Christmas,” on December 24, 1822, while traveling home from Greenwich Village, where he had bought a turkey for his family’s Christmas dinner.

Inspired by the plump, bearded Dutchman who took him by sleigh on his errand through the snow-covered streets of New York City, Moore penned A Visit from St. Nicholas for the amusement of his six children, with whom he shared the poem that evening. His vision of St. Nicholas draws upon Dutch-American and Norwegian traditions of a magical, gift-giving figure who appears at Christmas time, as well as the German legend of a visitor who enters homes through chimneys.

Again from the Library of Congress, we get information that suggests that Moore was a minor celebrity from a well-known family with historical ties that would make a good “connections” exercise in a high school history class, perhaps (”the link from Aaron Burr’s treason to Santa Claus?”): (read more, below the fold)

Clement Moore was born in 1779 into a prominent New York family. His father, Benjamin Moore, president of Columbia University, in his role as Episcopal Bishop of New York participated in the inauguration of George Washington as the nation’s first president. The elder Moore also administered last rites to Alexander Hamilton after he was mortally wounded in a tragic duel with Aaron Burr.

A graduate of Columbia, Clement Moore was a scholar of Hebrew and a professor of Oriental and Greek literature at the General Theological Seminary in Manhattan. [See comment from Pam Bumsted below for more on Moore.] He is said to have been embarrassed by the light-hearted verse, which was made public without his knowledge in December 1823. Moore did not publish it under his name until 1844.

Tonight, American children will be tucked in under their blankets and quilts and read this beloved poem as a last “sugarplum” before slipping into dreamland. Before they drift off, treat them to a message from Santa, recorded by the Thomas Edison Company in 1922.

Santa Claus Hides in Your Phonograph
By Arthur A. Penn, Performed by Harry E. Humphrey.
Edison, 1922.
Coupling date: 6/20/1922. Cutout date: 10/31/1929.
Inventing Entertainment: The Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies

Listen to this recording (RealAudio Format)

Listen to this recording (wav Format, 8,471 Kb)

But Henry Livingston was no less noble or historic. He hailed from the Livingstons of the Hudson Valley (one of whose farms is now occupied by Camp Rising Sun of the Louis August Jonas Foundation, a place where I spent four amazing summers teaching swimming and lifesaving). Livingston’s biography at the University of Toronto site offers another path for a connections exercise (”What connects the Declaration of Independence, the American invasion of Canada, the famous poem about a visit from St. Nick, and George W. Bush?”):

Henry Livingston Jr. was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, on Oct. 13, 1748. The Livingston family was one of the important colonial and revolutionary families of New York. The Poughkeepsie branch, descended from Gilbert, the youngest son of Robert Livingston, 1st Lord of Livingston Manor, was not as well off as the more well-known branches, descended from sons Robert and Philip. Two other descendants of Gilbert Livingston, President George Walker Herbert Bush and his son, President-Elect George W. Bush, though, have done their share to bring attention to this line. Henry’s brother, Rev. John Henry Livingston, entered Yale at the age of 12, and was able to unite the Dutch and American branches of the Dutch Reformed Church. At the time of his death, Rev. Livingston was president of Rutgers University. Henry’s father and brother Gilbert were involved in New York politics, and Henry’s granduncle was New York’s first Lt. Governor. But the law was the natural home for many of Henry’s family. His brother-in-law, Judge Jonas Platt, was an unsuccessful candidate for governor, as was his daughter Elizabeth’s husband, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Smith Thompson. Henry’s grandson, Sidney Breese, was Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court.

Known for his encyclopedic knowledge and his love of literature, Henry Livingston was a farmer, surveyor and Justice of the Peace, a judicial position dealing with financially limited criminal and civil cases. One of the first New Yorkers to enlist in the Revolutionary Army in 1775, Major Henry Livingston accompanied his cousin’s husband, General Montgomery, in his campaign up the Hudson River to invade Canada, leaving behind his new wife, Sarah Welles, and their week-old baby, on his Poughkeepsie property, Locust Grove. Baby Catherine was the subject of the first poem currently known by Major Livingston. Following this campaign, Livingston was involved in the War as a Commissioner of Sequestration, appropriating lands owned by British loyalists and selling them for the revolutionary cause. It was in the period following Sarah’s early death in 1783, that Major Livingston published most of his poems and prose, anonymously or under the pseudonym of R. Ten years after the death of Sarah, Henry married Jane Patterson, the daughter of a Dutchess County politician and sister of his next-door neighbor. Between both wives, Henry fathered twelve children. He published his good-natured, often occasional verse from 1787 in many journals, including Political Barometer, Poughkeepsie Journal, and New-York Magazine. His most famous poem, “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” was until 2000 thought to have been the work of Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863), who published it with his collected poems in 1844. Livingston died Feb. 29, 1828.

More on Henry Livingston and his authorship of the Christmas poem here.
Thomas Nast, Merry Old Santa Claus, Harper's Weekly, Jan 1, 1881

Our views of Santa Claus owe a great deal also to the Coca-Cola advertising campaign. Coca-Cola first noted Santa’s use of the drink in a 1922 campaign to suggest Coke was a year-round drink (100 years after the publication of Livingston’s poem). The company’s on-line archives gives details:

In 1930, artist Fred Mizen painted a department store Santa in a crowd drinking a bottle of Coke. The ad featured the world’s largest soda fountain, which was located in the department store of Famous Barr Co. in St. Louis, Mo. Mizen’s painting was used in print ads that Christmas season, appearing in The Saturday Evening Post in December 1930.

1936 Coca-Cola Santa cardboard store display

  • 1936 Coca-Cola Santa cardboard store display

Archie Lee, the D’Arcy Advertising Agency executive working with The Coca-Cola Company, wanted the next campaign to show a wholesome Santa as both realistic and symbolic. In 1931, The Coca-Cola Company commissioned Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sundblom to develop advertising images using Santa Claus — showing Santa himself, not a man dressed as Santa, as Mizen’s work had portrayed him.
1942 original oil painting - 'They Remembered Me'

  • 1942 original oil painting – ‘They Remembered Me’

For inspiration, Sundblom turned to Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (commonly called “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”). Moore’s description of St. Nick led to an image of Santa that was warm, friendly, pleasantly plump and human. For the next 33 years, Sundblom painted portraits of Santa that helped to create the modern image of Santa — an interpretation that today lives on in the minds of people of all ages, all over the world.

Santa Claus is a controversial figure. Debates still rage among parents about the wisdom of allowing the elf into the family’s home, and under what conditions. Theologians worry that the celebration of Christmas is diluted by the imagery. Other faiths worry that the secular, cultural impact of Santa Claus damages their own faiths (few other faiths have such a popular figure, and even atheists generally give gifts and participate in Christmas rituals such as putting up a decorated tree).

For over 100 years, Santa Claus has been a popular part of commercial, cultural and religious life in America. Has any other icon endured so long, or so well?

________________________
Below:
From the University of Toronto Library’s Representative Poetry Online

Major Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828)

Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas

1 ‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house,

2 Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

3 The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

4 In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

5 The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

6 While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads,

7 And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,

8 Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap –

9 When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

10 I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

11 Away to the window I flew like a flash,

12 Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.

13 The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,

14 Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;

15 When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

16 But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,

17 With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

18 I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

19 More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

20 And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:

21 “Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer, and Vixen,

22 “On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blixem;

23 “To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

24 “Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

25 As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,

26 When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;

27 So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

28 With the sleigh full of Toys — and St. Nicholas too:

29 And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

30 The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

31 As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

32 Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:

33 He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,

34 And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;

35 A bundle of toys was flung on his back,

36 And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack:

37 His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry,

38 His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;

39 His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow.

40 And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

41 The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

42 And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.

43 He had a broad face, and a little round belly

44 That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:

45 He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

46 And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;

47 A wink of his eye and a twist of his head

48 Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

49 He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

50 And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk,

51 And laying his finger aside of his nose

52 And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

53 He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

54 And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:

55 But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight –

56 Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Online text copyright © 2005, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto. Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries. Be sure to visit this site for more information on this poem, on Maj. Livingston, and on poetry in general.

More:

 


Teaching the personal meaning of 9/11: Welles Crowther, the man with the red bandana

September 10, 2012

On Facebook, Duncanville Superteacher Medgar Roberts said:

I am using this in my classroom to teach the personal impact of 9/11 on real people. If you have fifteen minutes to spare it is worth the time. You might want to have a bandanna nearby, though. It is a bit of a tearjerker.

Don’t believe him.  Get at least two bandanas.

ESPN produced the film about Welles Crowther.

Ten years later: remembering the man who led people to safety after terrorists struck the World Trade Center on September 11th — a former Boston College lacrosse player whose trademark was a red bandanna.

If you use this film, please tell us about it.


Pixar’s 22 rules for a good story (how do they fit your organization?)

July 30, 2012

Pixar logo, with flourishes

From The Pixar Touch, a set of rules for writing a good story to translate to the screen.

Good rules to keep in mind for composition of stories in English, no?  Good rules of writing to keep in mind for any essay writing.

Where else do these rules apply?

Pixar story rules (one version)

Sunday, May 15, 2011 at 03:39PM

Pixar story artist Emma Coats has tweeted a series of “story basics” over the past month and a half — guidelines that she learned from her more senior colleagues on how to create appealing stories:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Presumably she’ll have more to come. Also, watch for her personal side project, a science-fiction short called Horizon, to come to a festival near you.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Farnam Street, who adds:

Still curious?Watch as Kurt Vonnegut explains the different shapes that stories can take.

Where else can you use this?

Consider the project you’ve got to lead, with one person from each department in your company.  What is your vision (the hackneyed but apt word) for how the project ends up?  Storyboard it — and keep in mind these 22 rules.  What’s the essence of your view of the project?  Can you tell it in a minute?  Get the story down to 30 seconds.  What are the stakes, if you get this project done well?  What are the stakes if you fail?   Everybody on the team knows the stakes?  Is your plan on paper?  Have you revised it?

More:


Sourced quote of the moment: Tax, or mandate? Lincoln said . . .

June 28, 2012

In light of this morning’s Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Health Care Act, and questions about whether the law is a “mandate” or a “tax,” we might look to history to see whether the question matters, and what it is.

Lincoln probably had it right, as we noted here many months ago.  So, an encore post:

It’s a delightful story I’ve heard dozens of times, and retold a few times myself: Abraham Lincoln faced with some thorny issue that could be settled by a twist of language, or a slight abuse of power, asks his questioner how many legs would a dog have, if we called the dog’s tail, a leg. “Five,” the questioner responds confident in his mathematical ability to do simple addition. Lincoln Memorial statue, profile view

“No,” Lincoln says. “Calling a dog’s tail a leg, doesn’t make it a leg.”

But there is always the doubt: Is the story accurate? Is this just another of the dozens of quotes that are misattributed to Lincoln in order to lend credence to them?

I have a source for the quote: Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln by distinguished men of his time / collected and edited by Allen Thorndike Rice (1853-1889). New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1909. This story is found on page 242. Remarkably, the book is still available in an edition from the University of Michigan Press. More convenient for us, the University of Michigan has the entire text on-line, in the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, an on-line source whose whole text is searchable.

However, Lincoln does not tell the story about a dog — he uses a calf.

Rice’s book is a collection of reminiscences of others, exactly as the title suggests. Among those doing the reminiscing are ex-president and Gen. U. S. Grant, Massachusetts Gov. Benjamin Butler (also a former Member of Congress), Charles A. Dana the editor and former Assistant Secretary of War, and several others. In describing Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, George W. Julian relates the story. Julian was a Free-Soil Party leader and a Member of Congress during Lincoln’s administration. Julian’s story begins on page 241:

Few subjects have been more debated and less understood than the Proclamation of Emancipation. Mr. Lincoln was himself opposed to the measure, and when he very reluctantly issued the preliminary proclamation in September, 1862, he wished it distinctly understood that the deportation of the slaves was, in his mind, inseparably connected with the policy. Like Mr. Clay and other prominent leaders of the old Whig party, he believed in colonization, and that the separation of the two races was necessary to the welfare of both. He was at that time pressing upon the attention of Congress a scheme of colonization in Chiriqui, in Central America, which Senator Pomeroy espoused with great zeal, and in which he had the favor of a majority of the Cabinet, including Secretary Smith, who warmly indorsed the project. Subsequent developments, however, proved that it was simply an organization for land-stealing and plunder, and it was abandoned; but it is by no means certain that if the President had foreseen this fact his preliminary notice to the rebels would have been given. There are strong reasons for saying that he doubted his right to emancipate under the war power, and he doubtless meant what he said when he compared an Executive order to that effect to “the Pope’s Bull against the comet.” In discussing the question, he used to liken the case to that of the boy who, when asked how many legs his calf would have if he called its tail a leg, replied, ” Five,” to which the prompt response was made that calling the tail a leg would not make it a leg.

I believe it is fair to call the story “confirmed.” It’s not an exact quote, but it’s an accurate story.

_____________

So, is it a tax, or a mandate?  If it’s the right thing to do, does it matter what we call it?  A rose by any other name . . .

Update:  There remains the very strong danger that critics of the Affordable Healthcare Act can’t tell the difference between a calf’s tail and a calf’s leg, or ear, or any other part of the anatomy.


Robert Johnson’s centennial, May 8: Memorial to the blues

May 8, 2011

May 8, 2011, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of bluesman Robert Johnson.

Robert Johnson, hat and guitar

Robert Johnson -- one of two known photographs of the Delta blues legend

In a fitting tribute to Johnson and an important coming-of-age coming-to-senses moment, First Presbyterian Church in downtown Dallas announced plans to save the old Brunswick Records Building at 508 Park Avenue, a site where Johnson recorded songs in 1937 that changed the blues, changed recording, and left us a legacy of Johnson to study from his short life.

(On at least one day of those 1937 recordings, Johnson could have brushed shoulders with the Light Crust Doughboys, the Texas Swing legends, who were recording in the same building.  The Doughboys set their own pace and gave birth to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.  Two of Texas’s greatest music legends, in the same building on the same day, both just stepping on the platform of the train to immortality.)

Saving 508 Park Avenue vexed Dallas for a couple of decades.  First, blues is not the music of Dallas cognescenti, though the world class musicians in town including Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Jaap van Zweden tend to support the eclectic music scence and honoring musicians of all genres (and Texas is loaded with different music genres).  Second, while Park Avenue may have been a bustling business district adjunct once, Dallas’s city center suffered 50 years of decline after school desegregation.  Parts of downtown and Uptown begin to look prosperous again, but the southern peninsula of the city, away from the now-packed-with-performance venues Arts District, a freeway and ten blocks away from Uptown, with its back up against another freeway, part of Interstate 30 and the famous Dallas Mixmaster.

508 Park Avenue, Dallas, Robert Johnson's early recording site, photo by Justin Terveen for the Dallas Observer

508 Park Avenue, Dallas, Robert Johnson's early recording site, photo by Justin Terveen for the Dallas Observer

Plus, the building is directly across the street from the Stewpot, a kitchen operated by First Presbyterian Church to serve Dallas large and unfortunately thriving homeless population.

Who wants to renovate an abandoned building that has homeless people as scenery for the better part of the day?

Big news this week:  508 Park Avenue was sold to First Presbyterian, who have plans to save the building (and recording studio!), add a performance amphitheatre at one end of the block, and a park at the other.  This is people-friendly development well ahead of its time — there is not a resident population in that part of the city to support such a venue — yet.

Last summer, it was the neighbors, First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, who made an offer to buy 508 Park Avenue and the adjacent building and empty lot. But the deal was contingent on the city allowing the church, which also operates the Stewpot, to tear down an unrelated building next door, at 1900 Young, and replace it with an outdoor amphitheater for church socials and concerts. The Landmark Commission went into last Monday’s meeting with angels on one shoulder and devils on the other: The commission’s task force suggested approval; city staff, denial. The latter would have sent 508 Park Avenue back into purgatory.

But Landmark OK’d the plan, and the church says it will restore 508 Park Avenue to its former glory, inside and out—including the construction of a real recording studio where Johnson once sat and played “Hell Hound on My Trail.”

The church promises: It has musicians lined up to participate, but it can’t yet reveal who. The church promises: 508 Park Avenue will be resurrected.

One hell of a birthday gift for a man who supposedly sold his soul to the Devil.

The second authenticated photo of blues legend Robert Johnson

The second authenticated photo of blues legend Robert Johnson

So, on Robert Johnson’s 100th birthday (assuming he wasn’t really born in 1912 . . . another mystery for another time, perhaps), the news is that the legendary bluesman who burned out like a shooting star helped save one of the few examples of art deco building decoration in Dallas, when a group of Christians who help the homeless, decided to step in an update their downtown Dallas campus.

Every step of the way, it’s an unlikely story.  Truth is, in this case, much, much stranger than fiction.

Ovation Music released to YouTube the video of Eric Clapton playing and singing “Me and the Devil,” at 508 Park Avenue, in the same room where Robert Johnson sang for a record early on.  Johnson recorded the song at that same location on Sunday, June 20, 1937.

508 Park Avenue, Dallas, is already a memorial to Robert Johnson, to the blues, and to the city where these early blues hits were made.  The struggle remains to make the memorial accessible, and not threatened with destruction.

More, resources: 


Abraham Lincoln, ‘is a dog’s tail a leg?’ and Computational Complexity

February 22, 2011

It’s geek humor for Presidents Day.  I think it’s geek humor.  Computational Complexity analyzed the story attributed to Abraham Lincoln, about the moral of asking how many legs a dog has, if you call a tail “a leg.”

Amazing five-legged dog, Esther Derby.com

Amazing five-legged dog, image by Esther Derby.com

The author acknowledged it, but we now know it was a calf’s tail, not a dog’s tail.


Civility? Doing lunch the rights way, North Carolina, February 1, 1960

February 1, 2011

Today is the 51st anniversary of the Greensboro sit-in. Be sure to read Howell Raines’ criticism of news media coverage of civil rights issues in last year’s New York Times: “What I am suggesting is that the one thing the South should have learned in the past 50 years is that if we are going to hell in a handbasket, we should at least be together in a basket of common purpose.”

Four young men turned a page of history on February 1, 1960, at a lunch counter in a Woolworth’s store in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Ezell A. Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond, sat down at the counter to order lunch. Because they were African Americans, they were refused service. Patiently, they stayed in their seats, awaiting justice.

On July 25, nearly six months later, Woolworth’s agreed to desegregate the lunch counter. One more victory for non-violent protest.

 

Ezell A. Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond leave the Woolworth store after the first sit-in on February 1, 1960. (Courtesy of Greensboro News and Record)

Ezell A. Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond leave the Woolworth store after the first sit-in on February 1, 1960. (Courtesy of Greensboro News and Record) (Smithsonian Institution)

News of the “sit-in” demonstration spread. Others joined in the non-violent protests from time to time, 28 students the second day, 300 the third day, and some days up to 1,000. The protests spread geographically, too, to 15 cities in 9 states.

On the second day of the Greensboro sit-in, Joseph A. McNeil and Franklin E. McCain are joined by William Smith and Clarence Henderson at the Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Courtesy of Greensboro News and Record)

Smithsonian caption: "On the second day of the Greensboro sit-in, Joseph A. McNeil and Franklin E. McCain are joined by William Smith and Clarence Henderson at the Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Courtesy of Greensboro News and Record)"

Part of the old lunch counter was salvaged, and today is on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History. The museum display was the site of celebratory parties during the week of the inauguration as president of Barack Obama.

Part of the lunchcounter from the Woolworths store in Greensboro, North Carolina, is now displayed at the Smithsonians Museum of American History, in Washington, D.C.

Part of the lunchcounter from the Woolworth's store in Greensboro, North Carolina, is now displayed at the Smithsonian's Museum of American History, in Washington, D.C.

Notes and resources:

Student video, American History Rules, We Were There – First person story related by Georgie N. and Greg H., with pictures:

Associated Press interview with Franklin E. McCain:

This is mostly an encore post.


Almost neglecting the “neglected anniversary” of Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub, H. L. Mencken’s hoax, and the lessons that lie therein

December 29, 2010

Could I get a longer title?  Here is our annual tribute to the hoax that gave its name and much inspiration to this blog.

Otherwise occupied — Kenny’s due to board an airplane in Beijing soon; tires for the cars; papers to correct, curriculum to correct; our wedding anniversary I cannot forget pending –  I nearly forgot: 93 years ago yesterday, on December 28, 1917, this column by H. L. Mencken was published in The New York Evening Mail:

A Neglected Anniversary

Mencken on April 7, 1933 - end of low-alcohol beer - Baltimore Sun Photo

H. L. Mencken at approximately 12:30 a.m., April 7, 1933, at the Rennert Hotel, corner of Saratoga and Liberty Streets, 17 years later, not neglecting a sudsy anniversary – Baltimore Sun photo

On December 20 there flitted past us, absolutely without public notice, one of the most important profane anniversaries in American history, to wit, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the introduction of the bathtub into These States. Not a plumber fired a salute or hung out a flag. Not a governor proclaimed a day of prayer. Not a newspaper called attention to the day.

True enough, it was not entirely forgotten. Eight or nine months ago one of the younger surgeons connected with the Public Health Service in Washington happened upon the facts while looking into the early history of public hygiene, and at his suggestion a committee was formed to celebrate the anniversary with a banquet. But before the plan was perfected Washington went dry (This was war-time Prohibition, preliminary to the main catastrophe. — HLM), and so the banquet had to be abandoned. As it was, the day passed wholly unmarked, even in the capital of the nation.

Bathtubs are so common today that it is almost impossible to imagine a world without them. They are familiar to nearly everyone in all incorporated towns; in most of the large cities it is unlawful to build a dwelling house without putting them in; even on the farm they have begun to come into use. And yet the first American bathtub was installed and dedicated so recently as December 20, 1842, and, for all I know to the contrary, it may still be in existence and in use.

Curiously enough, the scene of its setting up was Cincinnati, then a squalid frontier town, and even today surely no leader in culture. But Cincinnati, in those days as in these, contained many enterprising merchants, and one of them was a man named Adam Thompson, a dealer in cotton and grain. Thompson shipped his grain by steamboat down the Ohio and Mississippi to New Orleans, and from there sent it to England in sailing vessels. This trade frequently took him to England, and in that country, during the ’30s, he acquired the habit of bathing.

The bathtub was then still a novelty in England. It had been introduced in 1828 by Lord John Russell and its use was yet confined to a small class of enthusiasts. Moreover, the English bathtub, then as now, was a puny and inconvenient contrivance — little more, in fact, than a glorified dishpan — and filling and emptying it required the attendance of a servant. Taking a bath, indeed, was a rather heavy ceremony, and Lord John in 1835 was said to be the only man in England who had yet come to doing it every day.

Thompson, who was of inventive fancy — he later devised the machine that is still used for bagging hams and bacon — conceived the notion that the English bathtub would be much improved if it were made large enough to admit the whole body of an adult man, and if its supply of water, instead of being hauled to the scene by a maid, were admitted by pipes from a central reservoir and run off by the same means. Accordingly, early in 1842 he set about building the first modern bathroom in his Cincinnati home — a large house with Doric pillars, standing near what is now the corner of Monastery and Orleans streets.

There was then, of course, no city water supply, at least in that part of the city, but Thompson had a large well in his garden, and he installed a pump to lift its water to the house. This pump, which was operated by six Negroes, much like an old-time fire engine, was connected by a pipe with a cypress tank in the garret of the house, and here the water was stored until needed. From the tank two other pipes ran to the bathroom. One, carrying cold water, was a direct line. The other, designed to provide warm water, ran down the great chimney of the kitchen, and was coiled inside it like a giant spring.

The tub itself was of new design, and became the grandfather of all the bathtubs of today. Thompson had it made by James Cullness, the leading Cincinnati cabinetmaker of those days, and its material was Nicaragua mahogany. It was nearly seven feet long and fully four feet wide. To make it water-tight, the interior was lined with sheet lead, carefully soldered at the joints. The whole contraption weighed about 1,750 pounds, and the floor of the room in which it was placed had to be reinforced to support it. The exterior was elaborately polished.

In this luxurious tub Thompson took two baths on December 20, 1842 — a cold one at 8 a.m. and a warm one some time during the afternoon. The warm water, heated by the kitchen fire, reached a temperature of 105 degrees. On Christmas day, having a party of gentlemen to dinner, he exhibited the new marvel to them and gave an exhibition of its use, and four of them, including a French visitor, Col. Duchanel, risked plunges into it. The next day all Cincinnati — then a town of about 100,000 people — had heard of it, and the local newspapers described it at length and opened their columns to violent discussions of it.

The thing, in fact, became a public matter, and before long there was bitter and double- headed opposition to the new invention, which had been promptly imitated by several other wealthy Cincinnatians. On the one hand it was denounced as an epicurean and obnoxious toy from England, designed to corrupt the democratic simplicity of the Republic, and on the other hand it was attacked by the medical faculty as dangerous to health and a certain inviter of “phthisic, rheumatic fevers, inflammation of the lungs and the whole category of zymotic diseases.” (I quote from the Western Medical Repository of April 23, 1843.)

The noise of the controversy soon reached other cities, and in more than one place medical opposition reached such strength that it was reflected in legislation. Late in 1843, for example, the Philadelphia Common Council considered an ordinance prohibiting bathing between November 1 and March 15, and it failed of passage by but two votes. During the same year the legislature of Virginia laid a tax of $30 a year on all bathtubs that might be set up, and in Hartford, Providence, Charleston and Wilmington (Del.) special and very heavy water rates were levied upon those who had them. Boston, very early in 1845, made bathing unlawful except upon medical advice, but the ordinance was never enforced and in 1862 it was repealed.

This legislation, I suspect, had some class feeling in it, for the Thompson bathtub was plainly too expensive to be owned by any save the wealthy; indeed, the common price for installing one in New York in 1845 was $500. Thus the low caste politicians of the time made capital by fulminating against it, and there is even some suspicion of political bias in many of the early medical denunciations. But the invention of the common pine bathtub, lined with zinc, in 1847, cut off this line of attack, and thereafter the bathtub made steady progress.

The zinc tub was devised by John F. Simpson, a Brooklyn plumber, and his efforts to protect it by a patent occupied the courts until 1855. But the decisions were steadily against him, and after 1848 all the plumbers of New York were equipped for putting in bathtubs. According to a writer in the Christian Register for July 17, 1857, the first one in New York was opened for traffic on September 12, 1847, and by the beginning of 1850 there were already nearly 1,000 in use in the big town.

After this medical opposition began to collapse, and among other eminent physicians Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes declared for the bathtub, and vigorously opposed the lingering movement against it in Boston. The American Medical Association held its annual meeting in Boston in 1849, and a poll of the members in attendance showed that nearly 55 per cent of them now regarded bathing as harmless, and that more than 20 per cent advocated it as beneficial. At its meeting in 1850 a resolution was formally passed giving the imprimatur of the faculty to the bathtub. The homeopaths followed with a like resolution in 1853.

But it was the example of President Millard Fillmore that, even more than the grudging medical approval, gave the bathtub recognition and respectability in the United States. While he was still Vice-President, in March, 1850, he visited Cincinnati on a stumping tour, and inspected the original Thompson tub. Thompson himself was now dead, but his bathroom was preserved by the gentlemen who had bought his house from the estate. Fillmore was entertained in this house and, according to Chamberlain, his biographer, took a bath in the tub. Experiencing no ill effects, he became an ardent advocate of the new invention, and on succeeding to the Presidency at Taylor’s death, July 9, 1850, he instructed his secretary of war, Gen. Charles M. Conrad, to invite tenders for the construction of a bathtub in the White House.

This action, for a moment, revived the old controversy, and its opponents made much of the fact that there was no bathtub at Mount Vernon, or at Monticello, and that all the Presidents and other magnificoes of the past had got along without any such monarchical luxuries. The elder Bennett, in the New York Herald, charged that Fillmore really aspired to buy and install in the White House a porphyry and alabaster bath that had been used by Louis Philippe at Versailles. But Conrad, disregarding all this clamor, duly called for bids, and the contract was presently awarded to Harper & Gillespie, a firm of Philadelphia engineers, who proposed to furnish a tub of thin cast iron, capable of floating the largest man.

This was installed early in 1851, and remained in service in the White House until the first Cleveland administration, when the present enameled tub was substituted. The example of the President soon broke down all that remained of the old opposition, and by 1860, according to the newspaper advertisements of the time, every hotel in New York had a bathtub, and some had two and even three. In 1862 bathing was introduced into the Army by Gen. McClellan, and in 1870 the first prison bathtub was set up at Moyamensing Prison, in Philadelphia.

So much for the history of the bathtub in America. One is astonished, on looking into it, to find that so little of it has been recorded. The literature, in fact, is almost nil. But perhaps this brief sketch will encourage other inquirers and so lay the foundation for an adequate celebration of the centennial in 1942.

(Text courtesy of Poor Mojo’s Almanac(k))

The entire history was a hoax composed by Mencken.

Even conservative wackoes appreciate the column.

Content with his private joke, Mencken remained silent about the hoax until a follow-up article, “Melancholy Reflections,” appeared in the Chicago Tribune on May 23, 1926, some eight years later. This was Mencken’s confession. It was also an appeal for reason to the American public.

His hoax was a joke gone bad. “A Neglected Anniversary” had been printed and reprinted hundreds of times in the intervening years. Mencken had been receiving letters of corroboration from some readers and requests for more details from others. His history of the bathtub had been cited repeatedly by other writers and was starting to find its way into reference works. As Mencken noted in “Melancholy Reflections,” his “facts” “began to be used by chiropractors and other such quacks as evidence of the stupidity of medical men. They began to be cited by medical men as proof of the progress of public hygiene.” And, because Fillmore’s presidency had been so uneventful, on the date of his birthday calendars often included the only interesting tidbit of information they could find: Fillmore had introduced the bathtub into the White House. (Even the later scholarly disclosure that Andrew Jackson had a bathtub installed there in 1834—years before Mencken claimed it was even invented—did not diminish America’s conviction that Fillmore was responsible.)

(No, dear reader, probably not correct; surely John Adams brought a bathtub with him when he moved into the White House, then called the President’s Mansion. Plumbing, hot water, and finally hot water to a bathtub in the president’s residence, were installed between 1830 and 1853, as best I can determine.)

Mencken wrote an introduction to the piece in a later book, A Mencken Chrestomathy (Alfred A. Knopf, 1949):

The success of this idle hoax, done in time of war, when more serious writing was impossible, vastly astonished me. It was taken gravely by a great many other newspapers, and presently made its way into medical literature and into standard reference books. It had, of course, no truth in it whatsoever, and I more than once confessed publicly that it was only a jocosity . . . Scarcely a month goes by that I do not find the substance of it reprinted, not as foolishness but as fact, and not only in newspapers but in official documents and other works of the highest pretensions.

There’s a moral to the story: Strive for accuracy!

So, Dear Reader, check for accuracy, and question authority.

Fact checks — what else might need to be corrected in this story?

Resources:


Beard that saved the Union

November 25, 2010

Adam Goodheart’s online essay on the beginning of Abraham Lincoln’s beard makes worthy reading.

Library of Congress image, first photo of Lincoln's beard, by Samuel Alschuler in Chicago, 11-25-1860 (via NY Times)

Very first photo of president-elect Abraham Lincoln with a beard, November 25, 1860. Lincoln was photographed in Chicago by Samuel G. Alschuler. Library of Congress photo, via New York Times

Goodheart points to the first photo of Lincoln’s beard, made November 25, 1860, exactly 150 years ago, today.


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