Author Archives: WCPLtn
by Howard Shirley, Teen Department
“If you’re not shocked by quantum theory, you haven’t understood it.”—Niels Bohr, winner of the 1922 Nobel Prize in Physics.
“I think I can safely say nobody understands quantum mechanics.”—Richard Feynman, winner of the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics
The Universe is weird. And the closer you look, the weirder it gets.
How weird you say?
Well according to quantum theory:
- We know stuff cannot appear out of nothing (The Law of Conservation of Matter and Energy), but stuff appears out of nothing all the time, but disappears before there is any time for it to be here, so it doesn’t violate the previous law.
- A pure vacuum, empty of all matter, isn’t actually empty (see the above).
- A thing in one place can be changed, and it instantly changes an identical thing in another place, no matter how far apart they are.
- Things can move from one location to another without going through the space in between.
- Things don’t exist as things in specific places but as the possibility of things in different places at once, until you look at them.
Now, all of that is about things that are very, very tiny (add a lot more “very, veries” to that). Things like electrons and photons and all the things that make up all the matter and energy in our Universe. But it’s also therefore about all the big things too—like stars and planets and black holes and even you and me.
Which means that all that little weirdness has some weird implications for the big things, like:
- We might be living in a massive simulation, like a virtual world in a computer (don’t take the red pill!).
- Nothing might exist unless someone observes it.
- OR, everything might exist in all possible combinations of all possible events, all at the same time, but we only experience (and observe) one progression of these (while, presumably, infinite other “us”-es experience all the other versions).
- We (and everything else) are all just parts of one big energy field that “ripples” back and forth through time.
- We could exist alongside a completely invisible, undetectable world with invisible, undetectable living beings, all made out of “dark matter” and “dark energy.”
And none of the above is just another over-the-top Hollywood movie. It’s serious science, all stemming from the basics of quantum theory. And, yes, quantum theory isn’t just wild speculation, but one of the most robustly established concepts in modern science, going back to 1900, proven again and again by experimentation and practical application (you’re looking at one of those applications right now as you use an electronic device to read this blog; if quantum theory were wrong, your electronic device wouldn’t work).
Quantum theory is based on the concept that energy, like matter, is divisible and isolatable into definable, self-contained bits, or quanta. Think of it as a long band of light, seen from a distance. The light looks like one continuous bar. But as you get closer, you can see that the bar is instead made of individual lights separated by gaps. We will call these lights “photons.” Each light in our analogy represents a single “packet” or “quanta” of energy, which cannot be any smaller, but is very much separated from each of the other photons, like particles. That may not be confusing, but what is confusing is that these photons behave both as if they each are individual particles and as if they each are also a continuous wave of energy, like our distant band of light. And if you observe them in one way, they will appear to be particles and not waves, and if you observe them in another way, they will appear to be waves and not particles. They are neither, and they are both, at the same time. And it is from this bit of weirdness that all the other weirdness of the quantum world arises.
It’s heady stuff, but it’s also a lot of fun. If you’re intrigued, come in and search for some of our titles on quantum physics. And don’t worry—they’re written for the layman to understand. So you don’t have to be either Niels Bohr or Richard Feynman to appreciate all that weirdness (but you probably will still be shocked).
*Howard Shirley is the Teen Library Assistant. And no, he doesn’t claim to understand quantum theory, but still enjoys being shocked by it.*
- Rocket Science for the Rest of Us by Ben Gilliland (YA 520 GIL)
- Quantifying Matter by Joseph A. Angelo, Jr. (YA 530 ANG)
- The New Encyclopedia of Science: 1 Matter and Energy by John O.E. Clark (YA 503 NEW vol.1)
By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department
Let’s talk about the Internet for a minute. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know what I would do without the Internet. We have access to information literally at our fingertips, and it’s absolutely fantastic. I love being able to find answers to the random questions zipping through my head. Of course, I don’t have to list off all the benefits of the Internet, and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you the dangers of the Internet either.
The Internet can be a scary place for anyone. There are creeps and weirdos galore, and who knows whether or not our information is really private? It’s tough enough for many adults to navigate, so it’s no wonder we receive lots of requests for books about Internet safety for kids. Kids use a variety of online services, from social media to games, and each one hosts its own safety concerns. Below are a few basic tips parents can be sure to implement no matter how their kids use the Internet, as well as a list of resources to use for talking about Internet safety with kids:
- Keep the computer in a high-traffic area of your home.
- Establish limits for which online sites kids can visit and for how long.
- Remember that the Internet is mobile, so make sure to monitor cell phones, gaming devices, and laptops.
- Surf the Internet with your children and let them show you what they like to do online.
- Know who is connecting with your children online and set rules for social media, instant messaging, email, online gaming, and using webcams.
- Continually talk with your children about online safety.
The following websites provide more in depth tips and suggestions for talking about Internet safety with children:
- A program of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, NetSmartz Workshop provides interactive, age-appropriate resources to help teach children how to be safe online. This website features videos, games, presentations, and other activities for kids ages 5 through 17, as well as guides for parents and educators.
- PBS Parents is a great resource for information about all aspects of child development and early learning, and the “Children and Media” section is especially helpful for talking to kids about online safety. Featuring numerous articles and age-by-age tips for helping children and teens get the most out of media and technology, this website provides information for parents of children ages 3 through 18.
- Common Sense Media is a non-profit organization that provides information and advice to help parents navigate the issues surrounding raising children in the digital age. The website’s extensive FAQ section features questions from real parents that are broken down by age group or topic.
And finally, here’s a list of books we have here at WCPL about Internet safety and security for both kids and parents:
- “Berenstain Bears’ Computer Trouble” (part of 5 Minute Berenstain Bears Stories) (J E BERENSTAIN)
- Savvy Cyber Kids (J E HALPERT)
- What Does It Mean to be Safe? (J E DIORIO)
- Online Privacy (J 005.8 MAR)
- Safe Social Networking (J 006.754 LIN)
- The Smart Girl’s Guide to the Internet: How to Connect with Friends, Find What You Need, and Stay Safe Online (J 006.754083 CIN) American Girl nonfiction
- A Smart Kid’s Guide to Social Networking Online (J 006.754083 JAK)
- Information Insecurity: Privacy Under Siege (YA 323.448 JAN)
- iRules: What Every Tech-Healthy Family Needs to Know About Selfies, Sexting, Gaming, and Growing Up (004.678083 HOF)
- Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives (302.2310835 PAL)
- It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (302.30285 BOY)
- How to Protect Your Children on the Internet: A Roadmap for Parents and Teachers (305.235 SMI)
- Cyber Self-Defense: Expert Advice to Avoid Online Predators, Identity Theft, and Cyberbullying (613.602854678 MOO)
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
On November 2, 1947 the Hughes H-4 Hercules drifted out of its hanger in Long Beach Harbor at the end of a tow rope pulled by a small boat. The authorities had cleared the water so the massive flying boat could do some taxi tests. Hughes, taking a break from congressional testimony over his government contracts (including the $18 million one for the H-4), decided it was time to get the massive plane out and see how she handled on the water. He invited the press and even the members of the committee he was testifying in front of. The politicos didn’t show, but the press did. The first run was a leisurely 40 knots, the second a much more brisk 90 knots. The plane lined up for a third run; Howard Hughes himself at the controls. The eight propellers spun up to speed. The plane lurched forward. Speed increased, and increased, and increased, and then it happened. The eight story tall Hercules took to the air.
To understand what a momentous event this was you need to understand three factors; the times, the plane, and the man.
The early days of America’s involvement in the Second World War were costly, and America hadn’t even declared itself at war. Tons of ships and materials were being sent to the bottom of the Atlantic every month by German U-boats. We needed a way to move a lot of cargo weight a great distance, and to do it quickly. While the ship building industry began to ramp up production to an unequaled pace, some people looked to the skies to transport more. Seaplanes were used far more prevalently than they are now and were far from being a primarily private aviation phenomenon. Military and commercial carriers had sizable seaplanes, carrying upwards of seventy people.
Howard Hughes was a man who thought big. He was brash and arrogant, but also pioneering and adventurous. He was born into privilege, but longed for meaning. He sought that in everything from business, to engineering, to Hollywood to flight. He had the arms of the most beautiful women in the world and the envy of the masses, but he longed for the respect of the powerful.
At the intersection of America’s need and Hughes’ ego was the Hercules. The largest seaplane ever built. A wooden gamble for the Hughes Aircraft Company. A five year project that cost millions of dollars, personal relationships, and congressional intervention.
The call for a new seaplane went out and amongst the bidders was an audacious project. A plane that could carry multiple tanks, hundreds of troops or huge amounts of supplies. It was so crazy it took Hughes himself to sell the project. By this time it was 1942 and the United States was no longer a sideline player in World War Two. This new design of Hughes’s could revolutionize troop deployment and materiel transport. Best of all, it would be easy on the precious commodities of metal and rubber. The Hughes H-4 Hercules would be made of wood. The press thought it was a huge mistake. The Flying Lumberyard and The Spruce Goose were the mocking names the media gave to what they saw as a colossal waste of money and time. Hughes hated the derisive nicknames, especially the Spruce Goose (especially because it was made mostly of birch).
It wasn’t actually Hughes’s brainchild alone. Henry J. Kaiser, a builder of Liberty Ships, came up with the initial idea of a flying cargo ship. Kaiser knew very well that he knew more about hydrodynamics than aerodynamics and that to pull off his enormous plan he would need to get an aircraft builder to help. Hughes was just the man. The problems began to pile up almost immediately. Building a plane mostly from wood solved some of the problem but there were still restrictions on strategic wartime materials like aluminum. The other problem was the partnership. Kaiser was from an industry that ran its production up to unheard of levels during the war. Hughes insisted on perfection over punctuality. The frustrations caused Kaiser to pull his support from the project and caused a rift between the two men from then on. It took sixteen months to go from approval to production start.
Five years after the initial approval, in 1947, Hughes still hadn’t gotten his magnum opus off the ground. The Senate Investigating Committee was looking into the project with a very skeptical eye. The war it was supposed to have helped fight had been over for more than two years. Hughes vowed to the committee that he would prove the plane was not a failure or he would “probably leave this country and never come back.” He left the hearings during a recess, went home and flew the plane on what was supposed to have been a taxi test. It reaches an altitude of seventy feet and was aloft for a single mile. This was all Hughes needed to feel that he had vindicated himself. The plane was moved back to its hanger, kept air ready by a crew of 300 employees, then cut to 50 in 1962 and finally just left in its hanger in 1976 after Hughes died.
The plane remains. You could go and see it in Long Beach, California for many years as it passed from one hand to the next several years until it was finally moved to its current home at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in Oregon. It’s on display for all to come and marvel at the folly and the genius and the audacity of one man’s need to be better than everybody else, and it still has the largest wingspan ever created.
- Biplanes, Triplanes and Seaplanes, Sharpe, Michael YA 629.13334 SHA
- Flight 100 Years of Aviation, Grant, R.G. 629.13009 GRA
- Howard Hughes His Life and Madness, Bartlett, Donald and Steele, James B Hughes
- Howard Hughes The Secret Life, Higham, Charles B Hughes
- Jane’s Encylopedia of Aviation, Taylor, Michael J. H. ed., R 629.13 JAN
- The Timechart History of Aviation, Lowe & B. Hould Publishers, 629.13009 TIM
- Time Magazine (Vol. 50 No. 19) November 10 1947 p27
- Hughes H-4 Hercules (Spruce Goose) at Military Factory https://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.asp?aircraft_id=349#specs
by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department
We did the mash.
We did the monster mash.
We did the mash, and it was a book list smash!
That is to say, we think y’all really liked the books we picked out for October’s monstrous book display. We had to refill it with new books several times! In case you missed it – or want to relive it –, here are the books we featured in October 2018.
- The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein by Peter Ackroyd (F ACK)
- The Loch by Steve Alten (F ALT)
- Aunt Dimity: Vampire Hunter by Nancy Atherton (F ATH)
- Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis (F BAK)
- I’m the Vampire, That’s Why by Michele Bardsley (F BAR)
- Infernal Parade by Clive Barker (F BARKER)
- Oscar Wilde and the Vampire Murders by Gyles Brandreth (F BRA)
- Vampyrrhic by Simon Clark (F CLA)
- The Gates by John Connolly (F CON)
- Undead and Unwed by Mary Janice Davidson (F DAV)
- The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue (F DONOHUE)
- A Study in Scarlet; The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (F DOYLE)
- Dracula in London by P. N. Elrod, ed. (F DRA)
- Grendel by John Gardner (F GAR)
- Camouflage by Joe Haldeman (F HAL)
- The Monsters of St. Helena by Brooks Hansen (F HAN)
- Sorcerers of the Nightwing by Geoffrey Huntington (F HUN)
- Mazes and Monsters by Rona Jaffe (F JAFFE)
- Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King (F KIN)
- Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein, Book One: Prodigal Son by Dean Koontz (F KOO)
- The Black Swan by Mercedes Lackey (F LAC)
- Chasing the Moon by A. Lee Martinez (F MAR)
- Mothers & Other Monsters by Maureen F. McHugh (F MCHUGH)
- The Moon and the Sun by Vonda N. McIntyre (F MCINTYRE)
- You Suck: a love story by Christopher Moore (F MOO)
- The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy (F MURPHY)
- Monster by Frank Peretti (F PER)
- Relic by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child (F PRE)
- A Monster’s Notes by Laurie Sheck (F SHE)
- The New Annotated Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (F SHELLEY)
- A Winter Haunting by Dan Simmons (F SIM)
- The Terror by Dan Simmons (F SIM)
- Sacred Monster by Donald E. Westlake (F WES)
- Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters and Jane Austen (F WIN)
- Sustenance by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (F YARBRO)
- Burning Shadows by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (F YARBRO)
- Great Southern Mysteries by E. Randall Floyd (001.940975 FLO)
- American Monsters: a history of monster lore, legends, and sightings in America by Linda S. Godfrey (001.944 GOD)
- Abominable Science! Origins of the Yeti, Nessi, and other famous cryptids by Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero (001.944 LOX)
- Sasquatch: legend meets science by Jeff Meldrum (001.944 MEL)
- Cryptozoology A to Z: the encyclopedia of loch monsters, Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and other authentic mysteries of nature by Loren Coleman & Jerome Clark (001.94403 COL)
- More Haunted Tennessee by Charles Edwin Price (133.1 PRI)
- True Ghost Stories and Eerie Legends from America’s Most Haunted Neighborhood by David Dominé (133.109 DOM)
- The Haunting of the Presidents: a paranormal history of the U.S. presidency by Joel Martin & William J. Birnes (133.10973 MAR)
- Ghosts of Franklin: Tennessee’s most haunted town by Margie Gould Thessin (133.10973 THE)
- The Bell Tower: the case of Jack the Ripper finally solved in San Francisco by Robert Graysmith (364.15 GRA)
- People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry (364.1523092 PAR)
- Alligators in the Sewer: and 222 other urban legends by Thomas J. Craughwell (398.2 CRA)
- Demon in the Woods: tall tales and true from East Tennessee by Charles Edwin Price (398.2 PRI)
- Living with the Living Dead: the wisdom of the zombie apocalypse by Greg Garrett (398.21 GAR)
- The Zombie Book: the encyclopedia of the living dead by Nick Redfern with Brad Steiger (398.21 RED)
- The Werewolf Book: the encyclopedia of shape-shifting beings by Brad Steiger (398.24 STE)
- Zombies from History by Geoff Holder (398.45 HOL)
- The Werewolf in Lore and Legend by Montague Summers (398.45 SUM)
- How to Make a Zombie: the real life (and death) science of reanimation and mind control by Frank Swain (398.45 SWA)
- Dragons, Unicorns, and Sea Serpents: a classic study of the evidence for their existence by Charles Gould (398.469 GOU)
- Young Frankenstein: the story of the making of the film by Mel Brooks with Rebecca Keegan (791.4372 BRO)
- Doctor Who: Character Encyclopedia by Jason Loborik, Annabel Gibson, and Moray Laing (791.4572 LOB)
- Zombies Have Issues by Greg Stones (818 STO)
- The Complete War of the Worlds: Mars’ invasion of Earth from H.G. Wells to Orson Welles by Brian Holmsten & Alex Lubertozzi, editors (823.912 COM)
- Beowulf: a new verse translation by Seamus Heaney, translator (829.3 BEO)
- The Hidden Hitler by Lothar Machtan (B HITLER)
By Rebecca Tischler, Reference Librarian
We all love It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, but were you aware that the first Jack O’Lanterns were carved out of turnips?
Did you know that the horrifying mask worn by Michael Myers in the Halloween movie was actually a William Shatner Star Trek mask?
Halloween is the second highest grossing commercial holiday after Christmas. The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts Halloween spending this year—including candy, costumes, and decorations—will hit $7.4 billion. Candy will account for more than $2 billion of that amount and a quarter of all candy bought in the U.S. is for Halloween.
But what are the origins of this creepy holiday? Here’s what we do know about the history of Halloween: it wasn’t created by the Candy Companies, although they’ve certainly profited, nor was it created by the toilet paper companies (though I do wonder how much money they make with all the teepeeing).
The history of Halloween is a rather vague and confusing tale, mainly because no one can seem to agree on how Halloween evolved from a harvest pagan New Year celebration, to the candy gorging and anything goes costumes of today. One thing that everyone seems to agree on, even though there has never been a proven connection, is that modern Halloween begins with the Celtic festival of Samhain (although, they don’t know much about that either).
Scholars are pretty sure that Samhain was an annual celebration of the end of the harvest months to honor the Celtic deities (as well little green leprechauns and tricky fairies). It was also a time to gather resources and slaughter livestock (or maybe they were sacrifices – who knows) in preparation for the upcoming winter months. Some say it was the Celtic New Year. It was also believed that this was the day that the veil between the dead and living was thinnest, and the dead could cross over. They would celebrate this day with bonfires, food laid out for the dead, and costumes to blend with the spirits. Strangely enough, they’re not sure whether these actions were to honor and welcome the dead or to ward off the visiting spirits. Either way, the dead were a big part of the pagan festival.
The second part of Halloween’s history that seems to be agreed on is the attempted Christianization of a pagan celebration. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III assigned the Christian feast, All Saints Day, to November 1, as a day was to honor all Christian saints and martyrs. It is generally believed that this edict was meant to cause All Saints Day to replace Samhain. However, instead of killing off the pagan traditions, these two celebrations combined to create All-Hallows Eve. The holiday was no longer about the Celtic deities, or about the Christian Saints. The previously celebrated supernatural creatures were now thought to be evil and the main focus of the holiday was about the wandering dead.
The third fact that seems to be agreed upon is that trick-or-treating came from another two practices that eventually combined. The first is “mumming”, a medieval practice where people would disguise themselves and go door-to-door asking for food in exchange for “tricks” (basically they were putting on shows and clowning around). The second is the practice of leaving out food and offerings for the dead in order to gain favor with them, which is believed to be part of the original Samhain tradition. So basically, we give kids candy in exchange for entertainment, and to satisfy the little goblins that knock on our door.
By Alysia Maxwell, WCPLtn Library
It’s Halloween and that means it’s time for the creepy crawlies and the monsters to come out. Kids are planning their costumes and their routes to the houses that give out the best candy. Houses are decked out in spider webs and eerie lights, and people are reveling in the supernatural and the macabre.
As parents, this time of year can be hard. We often want to protect children from the scariest things out there, but how much do we protect them and how much do we let them experience some of the fun of the season? After all, what is it that we love so much about scary stories? Why do we seek out the things that send prickles down our spine? As adults we think that it’s that rush of adrenaline that comes from our senses being on high alert; but it’s more than that. It’s also the relief that floods your body when you realize there’s not really someone hiding the closet. It’s the calm that washes away the fear when you know you are not in danger; everything is fine. You are safe.
That’s what it really comes down to, not the fear, but the feeling of safety. No one actually wants to be scared all the time. We seek it out when feeling safe becomes too commonplace, too work-a-day, too boring. We chase that rush of fear so that we can appreciate that feeling of tranquility again.
Kids are searching for that too, although they may not realize it. The whole world is big and scary to them and they need to feel that reassurance as much as adults do, possibly even more so. Of course, every kid is different and what barely startles one might be too much for another. I’m not telling you to traumatize your children, but don’t shy away from letting them read something that might be a little scary. Let them experience those shivers so they can feel safe again. What could possibly be safer than being snuggled up warm with mom and dad reading a book together? Here are some great stories to read with your kids that will give you both the shivers.
Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman; Lucy hears noises coming from inside the walls. She is sure that there are wolves in the walls, but her family doesn’t believe it. They tell her, “If the wolves come out of the walls, it’s all over”. This picture book is great for a younger crowd because it is punctuated with humorous moments that break up the tension. When the wolves finally do come out of the walls they end up doing silly things like wearing Lucy’s socks and eating toast and jam. This story says to kids that the thing they are afraid of may turn out to be not as bad as they think, and maybe even something they can handle just fine.
Another Gaiman gem for slightly older kids is Coraline. Yes, it is a movie and a graphic novel, both of which are fantastic – but for me, nothing beats the original novel. Something about the way the light glints off the button eyes of the Other Mother is so sinister and frightening. Here is a story that is precisely that search for excitement and return to safety. Coraline is bored with her uneventful life, but her search for adventure ends up more than she bargained for. When she goes exploring the house and finds a mysteriously (sometimes) bricked up doorway it leads her to a very unnerving and terrifying version of her own life. It hits kids close to home with a seemingly idyllic family trying to steal her away from her real family. And no adult comes to her rescue. Coraline is the heroine of her own story and must rescue herself as well as her parents. What better way to empower a child than to show them they can face their own fear and conquer it.
The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste is a wonderfully spooky story based on Caribbean folklore. There are menacing creatures in the woods with glowing eyes and dark intentions. Corinne believes they are just stories made up to get children to behave, but maybe they are not made up after all. There is a witch whose beauty and attractiveness give her an ominous quality, especially when she tries to insert herself into Corinne’s family. Once again the children are the ones who have to confront that which they fear and defeat it. Baptiste gives us fresh monsters to fuel the imagination.
Scarlett Hart Monster Hunter by Marcus Sedgwick reads more like an adventure story than a terror filled one, however this graphic novel does feature zombies, gargoyles and all sorts of otherworldly foes as well as a very earthly one as well. Scarlett’s got grit and gadgets and her own faithful retainer (sort of like Batman’s Alfred) to help her bring down the baddies.
Guys Read: Terrifying Tales collected by Jon Scieszka is a great compilation of middle grade short stories by various authors including, among others, the master of kids’ horror himself R.L. Stein of Goosebumps fame. These are fun for reading quick stories each night (under the covers of course!)
The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Parents may have read his beautiful Shadow of the Wind, but this oft overlooked YA title is particularly disturbing. Max and his sister Alicia move to a small town and soon discover their new house holds a dark secret from the past. They must uncover the mystery of a spectral creature who is trying to collect an old debt. If the weeping angels in Doctor Who send a chill up your spine this one is right up your alley.
The fun of Halloween is allowing ourselves to feel that delicious prickle of fear followed by the reassurance that we are not about to be eaten after all! So grab a book and a flashlight, pull the blankets over your heads, and have fun reading these scary stories!
By Shannon Owens, Reference Department
We can all recite the poem: “In fourteen hundred ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”…I know, I know, I can see your eyes rolling from here. Christopher Columbus, born in Genoa (like the salami) Italy, is frequently credited with “discovering” the New World (aka: The Americas). This is a rather dubious claim, given that Viking explorer, Leif Erikson, landed in Newfoundland and Labrador a good 500 years before Columbus went about destroying indigenous Caribbean culture (I digress). It’s impossible to say why Columbus remains ingrained in our history books and general psyche, whilst Erikson is relegated to a footnote, but I would hazard a guess here: American culture is profoundly impacted by Western European culture, whereas Nordic culture remains a mystery. It certainly wouldn’t be the only factor, but I imagine this is not insignificant.
Nevertheless, it’s worthwhile to take a closer look at the man who gives us parades, bank holidays, time off from work, and downright incredible retail sales (I’m eyeing a pair of gorgeous boots being sold at a fifty percent markdown as we speak, so kudos, Cristobol)! Mr. Columbus was a marine entrepreneur (read: seaman) who was obsessed with finding a western route to China, India, and the spice and gold islands of Asia. Here’s where we run into another common misconception: Lore suggests that the entire world thought the world was flat at this time and Columbus was the renegade willing to challenge this idea. Nearly all educated Europeans knew the Earth was round. This wasn’t even a recent revelation. Around the sixth century BC, Greek mathematician, Pythagoras, theorized that the Earth was round, and about two centuries later Aristotle concurred with his findings. So, no, Columbus’ crew was not terrified that they’d fall off the edge of the world (despite what Washington Irving would have you believe).
Columbus was barely successful finding anybody who would fund this venture. It took nearly a decade to find a backer (monarchies in England, Portugal, and France had all refused) and Spain was not an easy mark, either. In fact, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand had once declined before changing their minds in the eleventh hour. Still, Columbus was granted his fleet and crew, comprised of three ships: the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria (two of which actually had different names…Spain was an extremely Catholic country and named all their ships after saints…Pinta was a nickname translated as “the painted one” and the Nina was actually the Santa Clara). This joint venture could prove mutually beneficial: Isabella and Ferdinand could gain power while exporting Catholicism to locals and Columbus’ contract guaranteed him ten percent of any riches he found and a noble title.
On October 12th, the expedition reached land (probably Watling Island in the Bahamas). Later that month, Columbus sighted Cuba (which he thought was China) and finally in December, the expedition landed on Hispaniola (Columbus surmised that this must be Japan). Here, he established a settlement of 39 men, and went about his business, terrorizing the locals (the Taino people, though Columbus referred to them as Indians). In March of 1493, he left the settlement and returned to Spain. Nearly six months later, he returned to Hispaniola to find the settlement destroyed. To this day, nobody knows exactly what happened. Columbus traveled island to island, and since he couldn’t seem to find the riches he had boasted of to his patrons, he sent Isabella 500 slaves instead. This was downright horrifying to the Queen, who believed these people were now Spanish citizens, and she swiftly rebuked Columbus for his monstrous actions.
In 1498, Columbus embarked on his third journey to the New World. First, he visited Trinidad and then South America before returning to the settlement in Hispaniola (which he had left his two brothers in charge of this time). Once again, it was decimated, but this time it was by the colonists themselves who had revolted against their leaders. It would seem that brutality and mismanagement run in the family. Spain sent new governorship and Columbus returned to Europe in in chains, arrested for the goings on. By 1502, Columbus had been cleared of most charges (although stripped of noble titles he had received previously) and the Spanish monarchy funded one last trip to the New World. It was an unmitigated disaster. Columbus made it all the way to Panama and then promptly abandoned four ships when they came under attack by natives. Columbus returned, bereft, to Spain, where he died in 1506.
It would seem that the man’s lasting legacy was one of abuse, brutality and ultimately, felony. He enslaved locals and introduced diseases that decimated the remaining indigenous populations. Other European countries hopped on the colonial bandwagon, which created environment change along with the borderline theft of local natural resources. He is blamed, not unfairly, for biological warfare. Interestingly, the phrase “Columbian Exchange” is used by historians to describe the exchange of plants, animals, and goods between the East and West. On the other hand, advocates could make the point that his legacy underlines the importance and history of the Age of Exploration. It’s globalization in its earliest form. Obviously, his actions cannot all be discounted as negative. Perhaps his lasting legacy is a cautionary tale on the grandest scale.