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What’s In a [Pen] Name?

By Sharon Reily, Reference Department

Originally published Dec 4, 2015

“Pseudonym” comes from the Greek pseudonymos, meaning “having a false name, under a false name,” and writers have used pseudonyms or pen names for centuries. Everybody knows that “Mark Twain” was the pen name for Samuel Clemens, and by now most readers have figured out that “Robert Galbraith” (The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm) is a pseudonym for Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling. But did you know that “J.K. Rowling” is also a pseudonym? Rowling’s real name is Joanne (no middle initial) Rowling! Why would an author choose to write under a different name? And just who are some of these writers who’ve pulled the literary wool over readers’ eyes with alternate identities?

To Conceal Gender

wuthering heights book cover

One of the most common reasons for writing under an assumed name is to conceal the author’s gender. Women writers simply weren’t always taken as seriously as their male counterparts, and some of the most celebrated authors of all times had to use masculine pen names to insure their works were given the same consideration as male writers, or even be published at all. Among the most famous are the Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Charlotte published her works, including the classic Jane Eyre, under the male pen name “Currer Bell.” Emily used “Ellis Bell” for her masterpiece Wuthering Heights, while Anne wrote Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall as “Acton Bell.”

To Conceal Identity

warlock

Louisa May Alcott published her most famous work, Little Women, under her real name, but she began her career writing as “A.M. Barnard.” Mary Ann Evans began writing as “George Eliot” to distance herself from the female romance novelists of the Victorian era. She revealed her true identity after her novel Adam Bede was well-received, but continued using her pen name for her other works, including Middlemarch. Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa, is better known as “Isak Dinesen.” Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin is famous as “George Sand.” Women writers still use male or androgynous pen names. Science fiction novelist Alice Mary Norton wrote as “Andre Norton” to increase her marketability with her primarily male audience. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter publishers urged her to use initials instead of her real name Joanne for fear the target audience of young boys wouldn’t read something written by a woman. Jane Austen hid her identity but not her gender when she published Sense and Sensibility as “A Lady.”

To Switch Genres

mcbain book cover

Sometimes writers known for specific genres just want to try something different, which can be confusing and off-setting to their faithful readers. So they choose to use pen names. Mystery writer Agatha Christie also wrote romance novels as “Mary Westmacott.” Nora Roberts, mainly known for her romance novels, branched out into science fiction as “J.D. Robb.” Anne Rice, famous for her Vampire Chronicles, writes erotic fiction as “A.N. Roquelaure” and “Anne Rampling.” (For the record, her real name is Howard Allen O’Brien, so “Anne Rice” is also a pen name.)

J.K. Rowling wrote her adult mysteries The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm as “Robert Galbraith” to “publish without hype or expectation” and received unbiased reviews from critics without the preconceived notions her name carries. Novelist Evan Hunter (born Salvatore Albert Lombino) saw his most success writing crime fiction as “Ed McBain” (the 87th Precinct series). Hunter’s 2005 New York Times obituary explained that McBain and Hunter bylines were kept very separate “to avoid any confusion or shock that readers of Evan Hunter’s ‘serious’ books might feel when exposed to the ‘mayhem, bloodshed, and violence’ that were Ed McBain’s meat and drink.” Isaac Asimov, best known for his popular science and science fiction works, wrote a series of juvenile sci-fi novels as “Paul French.” Poet Cecil Day-Lewis published detective novels as “Nicholas Blake.”

To Avoid Saturating The Market

the regulators book cover

Early in Stephen King’s career, his publishers felt writers should be limited to putting out only one book a year. To get around this restriction, he created “Richard Bachman.” He came up with the name while on the phone with his publisher – he had a Richard Stark novel on his desk and a Bachman Turner Overdrive song was playing. King wrote four novels as Bachman but once his cover was blown, he declared Bachman dead of “cancer of the pseudonym.”

A more extreme example is provided by horror master Dean Koontz. Throughout the 1970s, Koontz published as many as eight books a year, and since his editors told him that writing in different genres under the same name was a bad idea, and risked serious overexposure, he chose some aliases: “Aaron Wolfe,” “Brian Coffey,” “David Axton,” “Deanna Dwyer,” “John Hill,” “K.R. Dwyer,” “Leigh Nichols,” “Anthony North,” “Owen West,” and “Richard Paige.” Koontz is suspected of using other names as well, but only admits to writing under these ten pen names.

To Separate A Writing Career From A “Day Job”5180sUOPy3L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Nevil Shute Norway published his novels, including A Town Like Alice and On the Beach, as “Nevil Shute” to protect his aeronautical engineering and business careers. Renowned Egyptologist Dr. Barbara Mertz is better known as “Elizabeth Peters,” writer of the bestselling Amelia Peabody mystery series. Sir Walter Scott wrote Waverly and other novels anonymously to protect his reputation as a poet. “Ann Landers” was a pen name created by the popular advice column’s original author, Ruth Crowley, who didn’t want it confused with another column she was writing about child care. Joe Klein, TIME magazine political columnist, wrote the novel Primary Colors, based on Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, as “Anonymous” and went to great lengths to protect his true identity.

As a Pen Name for a Group of WritersHardy-Boys

It turns out that some well-known writers never existed at all! The Hardy Boys series by Franklin W. Dixon was written instead by several ghostwriters. Likewise, the Nancy Drew and Dana Girls series were not the work of Carolyn Keene, who didn’t exist, but by different ghostwriters. Laura Lee Hope, credited with The Bobbsey Twins series, was also just a pseudonym for several ghostwriters.

 

No matter why a writer chooses to use a pseudonym, whether to mask gender, explore different genres, or maintain professional and personal privacy, key results are the unlocking of creativity, the freedom to write as one pleases, and the opportunity to have one’s work made available to readers. Without the use of pen names, some of literature’s greatest masterpieces (and works of popular fiction) might never have been written or published.

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Happy Father’s Day!

June is National Great Outdoors Month. Get out!

By Marcia Fraser, Special Collections Departmentddd8c1_3684bb6a36594cbb8e05f1d9cced3132.png_srz_p_171_170_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_png_srz

Originally posted June 12, 2015

Isn’t June everybody’s favorite month? School is out and the summer is spread out before us like a church picnic. In 1998, President Clinton designated June as Great Outdoors Month, and since then, the month-long celebration has grown by leaps and bounds, with special events planned throughout the month to showcase our nation’s parks and waterways.

This got me thinking — how would I observe and enjoy the great outdoors right here at home? I love exploring historic sites and parks with a camera, not at all hard to do in Williamson County, but if that’s not your cup of tea, opportunities are plentiful for outdoor fun, exercise and relaxation. And the best part? Almost everything is free and ADA accessible. So, what are you waiting for? Get out and find your happy place!

  • Timberland Park
    One of the newest of Williamson County Parks, located just south of New Highway 96 on the Natchez Trace Parkway. Timberland has pristine wooded trails, one of which is ADA accessible with a turnaround overlook at the end. There is also a very inviting high rocking chair deck at the interpretive center just waiting for you!2
  • Franklin Historic Audio Cell Phone Tours
    To tour Franklin historic parks, print a copy of the brochure and tour from the online link below, and then call the number provided. The tour will take you to designated areas of these Historic Franklin parks.
    1) Historical overview of the Battle of Franklin, 2) Winstead Hill, 3) The Cotton Gin Assault on Columbia Avenue, 4) Rest Haven Cemetery, 5) City Cemetery, 6) The Park at Harlinsdale Farm, 7) Fort Granger and Roper’s Knob, 8) Collins Farm, 9) Eastern Flank Battle Park, 10) Toussaint L’Ouverture Cemetery, 11) McLemore House, and 12) Hard Bargain Neighborhood.  Visit Franklin Walking Tour App
  • Fort Granger Park and Pinkerton Park
    You can go to one or both from the same entrance off Highway 96. Or, you can walk from Historic Downtown Franklin using the Sue Douglas Berry Memorial Pedestrian Bridge which will take you right into Pinkerton. Signs will direct you to Fort Granger from the bridge.

  • City of Franklin Park Trail Systems
    Get mileage, location and surface information here.
  • City of Franklin Parkfinder Map
  • Franklin Bicentennial Park
    Trailhead and Harpeth River Greenway3
  • Harpeth River Canoe Access Points
  • The Park at Harlinsdale Farm
    Not just for dog lovers, but you can take your dog for a walk or to the dog park in this lovely old horse farm. Also, the farm setting and old barn make it a popular spot for photographing your favorite subject.
  • Aspen Grove Park
    So you work in Cool Springs and just need a quiet place to eat your lunch and take a short walk? With its 1/2 mile trail and pavilion, this little park, tucked away off Aspen Grove drive, is the perfect midday getaway.
  • The Skate Plaza at Jim Warren Park
    Take your kids to skate, or just sit and watch the amazing teenage skateboarders show off their skills.
  • Westhaven Lake, Highway 96 West
    Open to the public and the fishing is easy. Speaking from personal experience, this is a great place to teach your child or grandchild to fish. The lake is full of bream, or sunfish, and they practically jump onto your hook before it hits the water. Please note that Westhaven Lake is catch and release only. Bring your fishing gloves so that you can remove hooks and release the fish safely back into the water.1
  • Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary, Brentwood
    By reservation only, for nature and wildlife lovers. There is a free hike day scheduled each month. Go online or call to get information about nature classes and interpretive hikes.
  • Franklin Farmer’s Market
    For the freshest and most local food, you can’t beat the open air Franklin Farmer’s Market, open on Saturday mornings at the Factory in Franklin.
  • Concerts in the Park
    Want to enjoy some amazing music under the stars on summer nights?
    Summer concerts at Crockett Park’s Eddy Arnold Amphitheatre and Franklin’s Carnton Plantation.
  • Lawnchair Theatre, Leiper’s Fork
    Fun for the whole family!
  • Williamson County Parks
  • Franklin City Parks
  • Brentwood City Parks

Not free, but lots of fun!

Self-Published Poets

By Shannon Owens, Reference Department,

Walt Whitman

Using the lens of today’s microscope, hearing the term “self-published author” is pretty commonplace. With technology being what it is, anybody can publish their work online. It’s easy to forget that this designation can be applied to many of the most famous writers, dating back generations. Point of fact: Walt Whitman self-published his masterpiece collection of poetry. “Leaves of Grass” was first published in 1855; a simple volume with a mere twelve poems. Whitman continued to add new poems, change titles, and regroup poems up until his final, “deathbed” ninth volume 1891-1892. This had turned into a daunting collection, comprised of nearly 400 poems. Whitman influenced several famous poets, including Allen Ginsburg, Ezra Pound, and William Carlos Williams. He never backed away from controversial (at least for the 1800s) topics and changed the game with his unusual rhyme, meter, and cadence patterns.

Today, poetry has seen an epic resurgence of popularity. This is encouraging, given that we’re so inundated with technology of the instant gratification sort: internet, podcasts, Instagram, Netflix, etc. It’s sometimes shocking that people find the time to simply sit down and read a book. Maybe it stands to reason that poetry is the perfect literary hallmark, given that it lends itself to brevity and creativity. Heck, some of today’s most popular poets have gained major steam using that aforementioned source: Instagram. If you’re a poetry connoisseur or just interested in dipping your toe into the poetry waters, we’ve got some great current poets to check out!

Rupi Kaur reading from her book milk and honey in Vancouver – 2017

Rupi Kaur is one of those poets whose poetry is all over Instagram. She’s already a number one New York Times bestseller, with her first collected work, “Milk and Honey”, selling over a million copies. In fact, it’s been translated into 40 languages and has knocked Homer’s “The Odyssey” out of its position as the bestselling poetry book of all time. In 2017, Kaur released her second volume of poetry entitled “The Sun and Her Flowers.” She tackles tough issues familiar to all: love, loss, and trauma.

Tracy K. Smith is the author of four books of poetry, most recently releasing “Wade in the Water” (2018). Her resume and accolades are staggering. She received her BA from Harvard and a MFA in creative writing from Columbia. “Life on Mars” (2011) went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. In 2014 she was awarded the Academy of American Poets fellowship and in 2017 she was named U.S. poet laureate. Her memoir, “Ordinary Light”, was a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction. Academy of American Poets Chancellor, Toi Derricotte, summed Smith’s work up best: “The surfaces of a Tracy K. Smith poem are beautiful and serene, but underneath, there is always a sense of unknown vastness. Her poems take the risk of inviting us to imagine, as the poet does, what it is to travel in another person’s shoes.”

Ocean Vuong

Ocean Vuong was born in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on a rice farm. When he was two years old (1990), he immigrated with his family to Connecticut (after spending a year in a refugee camp in the Philippines.) Despite the tender age in which this occurred, one suspects his background influences his work, which seems to explore themes of transformation and traumatic loss. Vuong earned his BA at Brooklyn College and is now works for the MFA program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His collection, “Night Sky with Exit Wounds,” was the winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2018. He has had works translated into Korean, Vietnamese, Russian, and Hindi.

Mary Oliver is a fitting final mention, given that she has drawn widespread comparisons to Walt Whitman himself. Her poetry focuses primarily on nature, with a particular regard for the quiet aspects and moments it holds. Her fifth book (“American Primitive”) was written in 1983 and won the Pulitzer Prize. “New and Selected Poems” (1992) was the recipient of the National Book Award. She was a prolific writer, producing a new book or collection every one-two years. Her last release (2017) was a greatest hits of sorts entitled “Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver” and can be found at a bookstore or library near you. Oliver passed away at the age of 83 earlier this year.

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ENDANGERED!

After the last male white rhino died in March 2018, only 2 females remain alive in the world.

By Sharon Reily, Reference Department

You may have recently read distressing headlines predicting mass extinctions of species of animals and plants. Most alarming is the U.N.’s new report on biodiversity and ecosystems asserting that up to 1 million species of plants and animals are now threatened with extinction, some within decades, including 40% of all amphibians, 33% of marine mammals, and another 33% of shark, shark relatives and reef-forming corals. Since May is Endangered Species Month, this is a good time to explore where information on endangered species comes from. Who collects and analyzes the data? Who decides which plants and animals make it onto the endangered list?  What is the processing for getting on the list? Once an animal is added to the list, who determines what steps are required to protect it? Which animals are currently considered to be in the most danger, and which threatened animals are making a comeback?

The Endangered Species Act

The Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep was the first species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act in the 21st century.

In the 1960s, due to hunting, habitat loss and use of the toxic pesticide DDT, the bald eagle had suffered a drastic decrease in population that left only 417 breeding pairs accounted for. In 1966, public outcry over the decline of our national bird and other animals motivated Congress to pass the Endangered Species Preservation Act. The Act eventually evolved into The Endangered Species Act (ESA), which was signed into law in 1973 by President Richard Nixon. The bald eagle was one of the first animals protected by the ESA.

The ESA is our nation’s most powerful tool for protecting wildlife. Its purpose is to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. The ESA is administered by the Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (responsible for terrestrial and freshwater organisms) and the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service (responsible for marine wildlife such as whales and also fish like the salmon that live in the sea and migrate to fresh water to breed).

Under the ESA, a species can be listed as “endangered” or “threatened.” An “endangered” species is in danger of extinction while a “threatened” species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. All species of plants and animals, except for pest insects, are eligible to be listed in both categories. Currently, 1471 animals and 947 plants species are on the ESA’s endangered list.

Several species of sea turtles are endangered, with many killed in commercial fishing nets.

The ESA lists species as endangered or threatened based on five factors:

  • Damage or destruction to their habitat
  • Overutilization of the species for commercial, recreational, scientific or educational purposes
  • Disease or predation
  • Inadequacy of existing protection
  • Other natural or manmade factors that effect a species’ continued existence

Numerous other organizations monitor and report on endangered species, including the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Center for Biological Diversity. They don’t have the regulatory powers of the ESA, but they do provide valuable information used by the ESA and other conservationists.

Animals and plants can be added to the endangered list in one of two ways. Either biologists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service add candidates based on the findings of their own assessments, or they respond to a public petition. Under the act, anyone can submit a written petition, and must be notified within 90 days whether the request warrants further research, which must be completed within a year. Thirty days after a listing is added, it becomes effective.

Once a species is on the list as either endangered or threatened, the ESA protects it and its habitat by prohibiting interstate or international trade and “take” of the listed animal. Take means “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect” a member of the species. Listed plants are not protected from take, although it is illegal to collect or harm them on Federal land. They’re also protected from commercial trade.

The Endangered Species

The population of the Florida manatee has increased enough that they’ve been downlisted from Endangered to Threatened on the list.

The ESA and other conservation organizations haven’t been able to save every species. Three species of birds went extinct in 2018 – two songbirds from Brazil (the Cryptic Treehunter and the Alagoas Foliage-gleaner) and the Po’ouli from Hawaii.

Nearing extinction are the vaquitas (a small dolphin-like porpoise), the northern white rhino, and the red wolf. Only 30 vaquitas remain in the world. The last male northern white rhino died at a wildlife sanctuary in Kenya last March, and only two females are left. In the U.S., only 40 endangered red wolves remain in the wild and they could become extinct in the next 8 years.

Other endangered species are well known:

  • Amur Leopard
  • Cross River Gorillas and Mountain Gorillas
  • Hawksbill and the Leatherback Sea Turtles
  • Sumatran Orangutan
  • Sumatran Elephant
  • Saola (an antelope-like animal discovered in Vietnam in 1992)
  • Tiger
  • Black Rhino, Javan Rhino and Sumatran Rhino
  • Pangolin (Scaly Anteater)

In April the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it is considering adding giraffes to its endangered list and will begin an in-depth review that can take several years.

The number of bald eagles has improved enough that it has been removed from the endangered species list.

But there is also encouraging news. While only 39 species have been declared fully recovered in the ESA’s 46-year history, scientists estimate at least 300 species would have been lost to extinction without the law. According to the National Resources Defense Council, 99 percent of the species granted protection under the act have managed to survive until today.

Some of the success stories include:

  • Bald Eagles: recovered from less than 500 breeding pairs to nearly 70,000 birds today.
  • Humpback Whales: increased in such numbers that in most habitats, they’ve been delisted.
  • Grizzly Bears: numbers are still low, but they’re beginning to rebound thanks to aggressive conservation efforts.
  • Florida Manatees: population has increased to the point that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in 2017 that the mammals had been downlisted from Endangered to Threatened on the list.
  • California Condors: there are now over 400 birds, up from only 23 in 1982.
  • Grey Wolves: starting to make a comeback.
  • Whooping Cranes: still endangered with only 800 living today, but the numbers were once in the 20s.
  • Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep: after being added to the list, the bighorn has come back from the brink of extinction. Its population is slowly on the rise, although it is still endangered.

Population numbers for the endangered mountain gorilla have recently increased despite ongoing civil conflict, poaching and an encroaching human population in their habitats in the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.

In addition, the American peregrine falcon, Eggert’s sunflower, and the red kangaroo have recovered enough to be delisted, meaning they’re no longer in danger.

For more details on specific species and to find out how you might be able to help or get involved, check out the websites of these conservation organizations:

If you’d like to learn more about the ESA and endangered species, see the attached sampling of books available at WCPL. Read the rest of this entry

Saved by the Librarian

By Rebecca Tischler, Reference Department

Originally published on April 17, 2015

A few days ago, I was having a relaxing night watching the Fellowship of the Rings and eating dinner, when I had a sudden revelation about the beginning of the movie. When (spoiler alert!) Gandalf realizes that the Ring left to Frodo might be a dangerous and evil object, what’s the first thing he does? He rides through the night, straight to the LIBRARY! Gandalf went to the library to save the world and fight evil. I know, technically, he went to an archive where they preserve all of the important historical documents, but it’s still a library.

In all these wonderful fictional stories, I know that information from a library has saved the world, but that made me start wondering, what about the librarians who saved the world (because we all know that real librarians are awesome every day, right?).  So in honor of National Library Week, here are six librarians who saved the world, and just so you know, past this point are a lot of spoilers.  BEWARE!

6. ZOE HERIOT

zoe-heriot-wendy-padbury-1For those of you who are familiar with one of the longest running sci-fi series, Doctor Who, Zoe was one of the companions to the Second Doctor from 1968-1969. She is first introduced to the Doctor while working as a librarian on a 21st century space station. She had a photographic memory and was incredibly smart, especially in mathematics, so basically she’s a complex human calculator. On her most intense adventure with the Doctor, her skills and intellect are instrumental in calculating an explosive chain reaction to destroy enemy ships to stop the Cybermen invasion.

5. REX LIBRIS14050780737_470443cb9b_o

Rex is the main character in a science fiction/humor comic book. Everyone knows him as the head Librarian at the Middleton Public Library, but what they don’t know is that he is actually over a thousand years old and was the original librarian at the Library of Alexandria. As a member of the Ordo Biblioteca (a secret international society of librarians), and with the ancient Egyptian god Thoth, Rex travels to the farthest reaches to fight the powers of darkness and ignorance, as well as to collect late book fees.

4. EVELYN (Evie) CARNAHAN

Evelyn-in-The-Mummy-evelyn-carnahan-26627779-467-309Evie could read and write Ancient Egyptian, decipher hieroglyphics and hieratic, and was the only person within a thousand miles who could properly code and catalog the library where she worked.  Although she was surrounded by more action inclined individuals (an adventurer mother, an explorer father, a treasure-hunting brother, married to a gunslinger and close friends with a Medjai warrior), she was proud to be a librarian.  And rightly so, because the first time she encountered a resurrected mummy, it was her knowledge and research ability that allowed her to strip the cursed mummy of his supernatural abilities.

3. RUPERT (Ripper) GILESgiles

Buffy the vampire slayer’s long-suffering mentor may have seemed like a mild mannered librarian when first introduced. However, as the series continued, it was revealed that he was a wild and dangerous teenager who ended up knee-deep in dark magic, and that magical dabbling ended up costing a friend’s life. While he helped save the world many times with his reference and research skills, he would show that his dark past left him capable of making difficult and morally-questionably decisions to protect not only the world, but those that he loves.

2. BARBARA GORDON

Batgirl_by_NowlanBarbara Gordon was a librarian at the Gotham Public Library, and you might also know her as BATGIRL, or ORACLE.  As  a crime fighter information was her true weapon, along with her ability to kick butt.  She had a near flawless memory and was a computer expert, and after her spine was broken, she continued to  fight crime by acting as a information broker for superheroes (and later operates as the leader of a full team of female crimefighters).  And as all librarians know, the librarian’s special power is finding and organizing information.  She had no superpowers, like Batman himself, and yet she was able to protect others and defeat villains who were powered.

1. FLYNN CARSEN

The main reason I gave Flynn the top spot is because his title is The Librarian. Flynn is the guardian of a secret collection of magical artifacts at  the Metropolitan Public Library.  Originally he was a somewhat lost but insanely intelligent individual (by the time he was 31 he had 22 academic degrees) and it wasn’t until one of his professors kicked him out of college that he stumbled on his librarian career.  Unlike most librarians, however, he travels the world searching for dangerous artifacts like the Judas Chalice, the Spear of Destiny, and King Solomon’s Mines and defeating those who would use those artifacts to harm others.  He saved the world with his intellect, knowledge, research skills, and the fencing skills he learned from the sword Excalibur.  Also, he had apprentice librarians who had their own TV series and saved the world on a weekly basis.Flynn-Carsen-noah-wyle-33582052-449-330

Madness, Paranoia, Blame: What Caused the Salem Witch Trials?

By Shannon Owens, Reference Department

The Salem Witch house of Salem Massachusetts. It is the only house directly connected to the Salem Witch Trial.

On March 1st, 1692, three women were charged with practicing witchcraft by their neighbors in Salem Village, located in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The charges stemmed from an occurrence in the previous month in which two young girls (9 year old Elizabeth Parris and 11 year old Abigail Williams) were afflicted with strange fits and other odd maladies. A local doctor suggested the girls were suffering the effects of witchcraft and the children corroborated this claim. Mysteriously, this affliction spread to other children in the village, resulting in the madness and fear we know today as the Salem Witch Trials. In the end, 19 innocent people were executed on the basis of these flimsy claims.

Interestingly enough, how this madness over witchcraft became such a craze remains an utter mystery. One would think 21st century science and minds would be able to come to a more conclusive hypothesis about an affliction of this magnitude. Alas, we’re left in the dark, confounded as ever. There have been several suggestions about the cause, some more fascinating than others; some certainly more compelling than others.

Salem 1630: Pioneer Village in Winter 2008

According to records, witch hunts occur more frequently worldwide during cold weather periods. In her senior thesis at Harvard, economist Emily Oster pushed this theory and pointed out that the most prevalent period of witch trials in Europe coincided with a 400 year “little ice age.” Oster points out that during this time, scholars and popes believed witches were capable of controlling the weather, and since cold spells (no pun intended) led to low crop yields and general economic depression, witches made the perfect scapegoats. As a person who turns into an utter malcontent anytime the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, I can see Oster’s point.

In a less intuitive direction, we look to Native American Wars which reached an apogee during the 17th century. The front lines of battle were a mere 70 miles from Salem; many of the citizens of the village were refugees from the war and had witnessed certain horror. It’s not hard to imagine that this would lead to a certain amount of post-traumatic stress that would keep anxieties running high. Historian Mary Beth Norton has a slightly different take. With superstitions being what they were at the time, she suggests that the accusation and subsequent execution of ex-minister George Burroughs (who led several failed campaigns against the Native Americans) of witchcraft was symptomatic of the town officials’ attempts to shift blame from their own inadequate defense of the village to something more sinister.

Witchcraft at Salem Village. Engraving. The central figure in this 1876 illustration of the courtroom is usually identified as Mary Walcott.

More commonly we see the hysteria attributed to demographics. Many suggest that since this is a situation in which the accusers are prepubescents and the accused are adults, this might simply be a case of childhood rebellion (insert eye roll here). Personally, I find it hard to believe that a 9 year old would come up with this. In my opinion, it seems far more likely that the girls were egged on by their parents who may have held personal grudges against the defendants (something to the tune of Capulets vs Montagues or Hatfields vs. McCoys). Feminist historians have always viewed the trials as patriarchal oppression, given that most of the accused were women and more particularly, women who didn’t follow societal norms of the Puritan age. This is almost certainly a contributing factor, but cannot tell the whole tale since men were also executed on charges of sorcery.

Ergot on Wheat

The most individual (and fascinating) theory was put forward by behavioral scientist, Linnda Caporael. She suggests that some of the events in Salem may have been caused by ergot poisoning. Ergot is a fungus that can grow on grains and causes hallucinations and spasms, which fit the symptoms of the afflicted. More studies have found that children and females are the most susceptible to ergot poisoning. Some historians have suggested that ergot poisoning was the chief cause of the French revolution (rather insane conjecture given the massive poverty and unyielding oppression the French citizens were dealing with, but I digress).

However, the most accepted cause is the psychological disorder known as “mass hysteria syndrome.” This is defined as “rapid spread of conversion disorder, a condition involving the appearance of bodily complaints for which there is no basis…psychological distress is converted into physical symptoms.” Perhaps living in such an insular and repressed community led to the manifestation of these symptoms.

In the end, there’s probably not enough evidence to support one theory over the next, but it’s entertaining to speculate. In all likelihood, a combination of contributing factors is likely the culprit. With few reliable resources of the time (outside of physical court documents), this is liable to remain an unsolved mystery. While education, law, and enlightenment have made this situation rather unimaginable in North America or Europe, we still see prosecution of witches in Africa. Interestingly enough, a 2003 study by Berkeley economist Edward Miguel showed that extreme rainfall (whether too much or too little) coincided with increased witch killings in Tanzania (typically the oldest woman in the household and she was killed by her own family.) Does this lend itself to the weather theory? The debate may never end.

 


Sources:

Space, the Final Frontier…

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

The first Friday in May was established as National Space Day in 1997.   Lockheed Martin set the day up as a one-day celebration of space and its wonders and to help students take more interest in science and what’s out there above us in space. It proved so popular that teachers and schools decided to celebrate it every year, and always on the first Friday in May.  This space day became more and more popular every year, especially with students who learned about space day in school.

The aim of creating Space Day was to promote STEM learning (science, technology, engineering and math) in schools, and many schools have special speakers or programs to celebrate space.  In recent years the focus was on getting girls interested in space technology and engineering.  Having more female astronauts has helped this interest grow!  In 2001, John Glenn, former astronaut and Senator, said we should change the title to International Space Day.   And the whole world was brought into celebrating Space Day.

Lucky for us, this year has brought us a Space weekend! Tomorrow is May 4th, which is Star Wars Day  (May the 4th be with you!!). May 5th is National Astronaut Day. May 5 was chosen for this annual day because May 5 was the day Alan Shepherd became the first American in space.  It was a brief flight, lasting around 15 minutes, but it was such a first for our nation.

How to Celebrate Space Weekend

  1. Enter the student art contest every year to create artwork that will become an astronaut special mission patch. The contest begins on May 5, 2019 and ends on Friday, July 20, 2019.  If you are an artist in grade k-12, you can enter this contest and maybe an astronaut will wear your patch in space!  There are 2 categories: grades K-6, and 7-12. There are other prizes, too.
  2. Come to the library and check out a movie like First Man, Apollo 13 or October Sky.
  3. Watch space documentaries on TV, rent from our library, or stream them.
  4. Go to a science museum – Why not the Adventure Science Center or Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory.
  5. Have an astronaut in space read a book to you.  Granted they are children’s books, but he does such a good job that everyone will enjoy it.  Scott Kelly read and recorded several books while he was in space.
  6. Check out the NASA website and find out something interesting
  7. Check out the B612 website – B612 is an organization that works towards protecting the Earth from asteroid impacts and informing and forwarding world-wide decision-making on planetary defense issues. The name of this website comes from The Little Prince, who lived on asteroid B62.

 

Fun Facts about NASA

  • NASA actually has an Office of Planetary Protection, just in case life is discovered out there on another planet.
  • NASA admitted to recording over the 1969 moon landing, in 2006!.  Luckily they weren’t the only organization recording the event.  Other organizations who did record the momentous event are restoring their recordings.
  • NASA will send you a text message whenever the International Space Station passes over your location.
  • Lonnie Johnson is a NASA scientist.  He also developed the Super Soaker water gun.
  • You may think NASA received a great deal of money from the US government budget.  Actually, they only receive $0.005 of every dollar.
  • The area code for the Kennedy Space center and surrounding area is 321.
  • When Skylab crashed in Australia in 1979, NASA was fined $400.00 for littering by the Australian government.
  • When the Space Shuttle components became outdates and near obsolete, NASA would buy spare parts from EBay and other similar sites.
  • There are others on the list.  Check it out yourself!

An Additional Item for Sky Viewing

The International Observe the Moon Night will be Saturday October 10.  This is a world-wide celebration of lunar science and exploration.  Every year one day is chosen; this celebration started in 2010.  This event occurs in September or October when the moon is in its first quarter.  The best viewing is usually during the time of dawn or dusk.  Even though we all would want to watch at the full moon, there is too much of a reflection of sunlight and it is too bright for human eyes (if you are using a telescope.) Read the rest of this entry

Ghosts of Franklin

By Amy Shropshire, Reference Department

Nothing sends a shiver down the spine like a good ghost story, except maybe seeing a real ghost! Franklin is chock full of tales of the supernatural, spirits coming to visit this earthly plane and frightening the daylights out of folks. Franklin is so haunted that walking tours downtown take you through some of the haunted places daily, and entire museums are set up to accommodate spectral visitors. National Paranormal Day seems a great day to explore these historic places and maybe check out a book about ghosts.

Just a few blocks from the library are the Lotz House and the Carter House, two haunted pieces of Civil War history. During the Second Battle of Franklin the Lotz family and other civilians gathered in the basement of the brick Carter House, huddled together as the battle raged about them. When they emerged 17 hours later, dead bodies littered the ground from the battle between the two houses. Thousands of bullet holes are still visible in the brick. One of the Carter sons fought in the battle and was mortally wounded and died days later at the home. The young Lotz twins also died after playing near a stream because the union soldiers had poisoned the water supply in anticipation of defeat.

A Dead Civil War Soldier Created by Edouard Manet in 1871

Further south, the Carnton Plantation House has its own tales of ghastly visitations. Countless soldiers died there as it was used as a field hospital. The apparition of a jawless floating head recalls the story of a soldier that lost his jaw and died of starvation. Blood stains are still present, dark shoe prints of the surgeon that stood amputating limbs for hours and reportedly chucking the spare limbs out the window. The property contains the largest Confederate graveyard in the south. The bodies that populate it however, have been interred for a second time. After the Second Battle of Franklin the bodies were simply buried where they fell, before the graveyard was donated. Perhaps these disturbed graves are responsible for the appearance of ghostly soldiers.

Ghost sightings have been reported at all these houses. At the Lotz House, Civil War soldiers appear with accompanying fog and at the Carnton Plantation, the lady of the house appears in windows and on balconies to wave toward the cemetery. A bandaged soldier has been known to appear sitting on the bed where the Carter’s son died after being wounded in battle. Closer to downtown, the courthouse has been known for ghost sightings, where lynchings, hangings, and branding of criminals took place. Along third avenue several businesses that are currently open  claim hauntings.

Bullets and Bayonets Book

Celebrate National Paranormal Day with something to chill the blood. Take a stroll through these haunted places with a tour group downtown or walk into a tour at Lotz House to chase down some ghost sightings of your own. Book ahead for a tour of the Carter house and Carnton Plantation to see if you can rustle up a spook or two. To fuel your ghost hunting, come check out a book at the library to gather more info about the local specters and spirits. Also, take a look at the fabulous book Bullets and Bayonets that was written and created by the employees of the Williamson County Public Library System.  Happy hunting!


Books:

  • Bullets and bayonets : a Battle of Franklin primer : a Sesquicentennial project of the Williamson County Public Library compiled by the staff of the Williamson County Public Library (J 973.737 BUL)
  • Tennessee Ghosts they are among us by Lynne L. Hall (133.109768 HAL)
  • Haunted Battlefieds of the South by Bryan Bush and Thomas Freese (133.10975 BUS)
  • Ghosts of Franklin: Tennessee’s most haunted town by Margie Gould Thessin (133.10973 THE)
  • Carnton Plantation Ghost Stories by Lochlainn Seabrook (133.10973 SEA)

Resources:

La Llorona: The Weeping Woman

By Amy Shropshire, Reference Department

“La Llorona stories across cultures part 1 of 3,” The Chicano Gothic, Citedatthecrossroads.net,

There’s nothing like a good ghost story to send a tingle down the spine and a shock to the heart. For generations, people have been sitting around campfires telling tales of creeping creatures from the beyond, here to steal away innocent souls. One such creature is la Llorona, the weeping woman. The tales of her vary widely, histories blurring with the passage of time.

Her name was once Maria, they say. The stories that paint her the most innocent say that she danced and cavorted about town with her children left alone at home. They drowned in the river, from neglect or murder no one could say. Other tales say that she fell in love with a conquistador and had her children with him. After he spurned her to marry another woman she drowned her children in the river. The tales agree that she realized the wrong she’d done far too late and grieved the loss of her children until she wasted away or drowned herself in the river to follow her children to their graves. She was turned away from heaven, forced to wander the Earth endlessly searching for her dead children and mourning their loss.

Poster for the 1933 movie La Llorona

La Llorona is a boogeyman used to frighten children into behaving, a creature of myth and morbid imagination. She wanders the waterways at night, drawn to the damp and dark places where she and her children died. When her cries sound farthest away is when she is close enough to touch. With her wailing the only warning, her hands will snatch a child found alone at night and drag them to a watery grave. She also visits children who argue with their parents, trying to lure them out and into her clutches. A gaunt young woman, once beautiful but now shriveled and with sunken eyes, she wears either pure white or mourning black, depending on which tales you believe. She drags truant children away, drowning them in puddles and rivers alike.

This awful specter of Mexican legend has haunted the dreams of children since her story was quite different, when she resembled a vengeful Aztec goddess. She has inspired folk songs, plays, and countless movies, mostly in Mexico where the legends originate. In addition to frightening children, her story is used as a moral object lesson about responsible motherhood. Historians and anthropologists theorize that the figure of la Llorona descended from Aztec stories and slowly evolved, taking on more modern elements as the folktales change with the times. In modern times, she has been a long time movie monster on par with Count Dracula or Frankenstein’s monster.

La Llorona’s first film was in 1933, where she took on the mantle of vengeful spirit, murdering the wives and firstborn of a cursed family descended from the conquistadors. She continued the theme in 1960, terrorizing a family and attempting to murder an infant. Both films are simply called La Llorona. Multitudes of movies and plays capitalize on the legend of the weeping woman. She has made appearances in TV shows and even comic books. The newest film starring the specter is The Curse of La Llorona, which just came out in theaters.

Teachers are beginning to use folktales and legends such as la Llorona to encourage literacy development in increasingly multicultural classrooms. Story books about la Llorona are increasingly available in English and Spanish. Students are attracted to the familiar tales and encouraged to learn reading skills from these books. Despite the terrifying nature of la Llorona, children are drawn to her morbid tales. There’s no denying the appeal of a good ghost story and la Llorona is a spine chilling ghost.

Translation from video:

You were leaving the Temple one day, Llorona
When in passing I saw you
You wear a beautiful huipil*
That I though you were the Virgin Mary herself.

Ay my crying woman, Llorona
Llorona of blue sky
Even if it cost my life, llorona
I won’t stop loving you

They say I don’t feel pain, Llorona
Because they don’t see me mourn
There are dead ones who make no sound, Lllorona
And your sorrow is much greater

Ay my llorona, llorona
Llorona carry me to the river
Cover with your shawl, llorona
Because I’m dying of cold

*huipil- a blouse with embroidery and lace. Read the rest of this entry

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