Category Archives: History
In these trying times, many people are staying inside and away from people. Even in physical isolation, there is still ample opportunity to work on your family tree. No matter where in the world your relatives live, it is likely that they are spending more time sitting down and able to talk than they were at the start of the year. There are some excellent ways to communicate with relatives about family history while still maintaining a safe social distance. I will tell you three types of people you can contact during this pandemic.
The first group of people is family members you already talk to on a regular basis. If you are just starting out with genealogy, talking to relatives you already know is about the best possible “first step” you can take in researching your family history. Even if you are a seasoned genealogist, there is always more you can learn by talking to your family.
The second group of people will be relatives you have not heard from in years. Many of these relatives will be delighted to hear from you. Some of these relatives might have already started working on a family tree and will be very excited that you have made contact.
The third group of people is people you (or anyone you have ever had contact with) have never had contact with. These people can be found through several different sources.
One source is through connecting with other researchers. On sites such as Ancestry.com and Findagrave.com, you can network with other people who are distantly related to you. You can find distant relatives who upload information about their (and your) families to these sites or have made comments about other uploads. If you have accounts on these sites, you can send messages and exchange information.
Our Special Collections Department provides Ancestry.com and HeritageQuest for free at https://www.wcpltn.org/178/Digital-Resources in addition to several other online resources. If you have descendants from Tennessee and especially in Williamson County, they can help you reach out to local researchers and find resources.
If you do not think there is another researcher you are distantly related to who can exchange information with you…THINK AGAIN! Genealogy is a very popular interest and I promise that you have distant cousins out there researching your family.
While you are working on your family tree, you may realize you have distant relatives who are alive and cannot be contacted through a formal genealogy network. One way you can contact them by is looking them up in the phone book and calling them. It might seem intrusive, but you might land on a gold mine. The worst thing that could possibly happen is that they tell you they are not the slightest bit interested in family history and that they never want you to contact them again. In this case, you should respect their wishes and forever leave them alone.
Remember to use caution when you contact other researchers. Use discretion about giving out your personal information. Remember to respect other people’s privacy.
DO NOT BE SHY!
By Shannon Owens, Reference Department
What constitutes a hero? Slaying dragons? Pulling children from burning buildings? Wheeling and dealing like James Bond to save the world from certain disaster? Certainly such dynamic situations come to mind immediately. There’s a particular brand of heroism, though, that is far less talked about and sadly, nearly always underrated: The quiet kind. The type of heroism that involves doing the right thing when nobody is watching. The type of heroism that may never be recognized and rarely offers the hero any personal benefit. The type of heroism that, if discovered, would spell certain death for the perpetrator.
Eight years ago on this day, we saw the final light extinguished from one such individual. At 100 years old, Miep Gies, the last living member of a small group that hid Anne Frank, passed away in the Netherlands. It’s difficult to overstate the courage it took this group (including Johannes Kleinman, Victor Kugler, Bep Voskuijl, Jan Gies and Johan Voskuijl) who risked their lives every day for over two years while the Franks were in hiding. The Frank family, along with Otto Frank’s business associate and his wife and son, and Gies’ dentist, were hidden in the Secret Annex.
Miep Gies was born on February 15, 1909 in Vienna, Austria to a working-class, Catholic family. At the age of eleven, several factors (recovery from tuberculosis, poor nutrition, rising costs of food due to shortages related to the fallout of World War I) led to Gies being sent to live in Amsterdam with a foster family. Despite the family’s modest income, coupled with five other children, Gies was loved and treated with unending compassion. In fact, she loved the Netherlands with absolute ferocity; she vowed to make Holland her permanent home. In 1933, Miep went to work as secretary for Otto Frank, who ran a company that produced a substance used to make jam.
In May 1940, German forces invaded the Netherlands, making daily life exceedingly dangerous for the Jewish population. In early July, the Frank family went into hiding in the attic apartment behind Otto’s business (accessible by a stairway hidden behind a bookcase). Miep’s moral integrity was the reason, when asked by Otto Frank if she was prepared to be responsible for a family in hiding, she was able to respond with a resounding affirmative. At a lecture in 1994, Gies addressed the audience: “I myself am just an ordinary woman. I simply had no choice…it is our human duty to help those who are in trouble…I could foresee many, many sleepless nights and a miserable life if I had refused to help the Franks. Yes, I have wept countless times when I thought of my dear friends. But still, I am happy that these are not tears of remorse for refusing to assist those in trouble.”
Over two years, Miep provided food, clothing, books, supplies, and news from the outside world to the Frank family (this included procuring additional ration cards, at great personal risk). On August 4, 1944, Miep Gies was working at her desk, and looked up to suddenly find a Gestapo officer in front of her, with information verifying the hideout. Gies realized the arresting officer was Austrian, like herself, and she pointed this out, which very likely saved her life. The officer arrested the Franks, the Van Pels, Dr. Pfeffer, Johannes Kleinman, and Victor Kugler. After a time, Miep and Bep returned to the Annex to collect the loose papers and the contents of Anne’s diary (they hid these away for safekeeping without reading them).
Acting with surefire moxie, Miep hatched a plan to negotiate for the release of the Franks. She collected money from the employees of the company and went to the headquarters of Security Service to offer a bribe. At the office, she met the Austrian who had arrested those at the Annex and he waved her upstairs. She reached the landing, found a half open door, and walked in to a startling sight: a group of high ranking Nazi officers were surrounding a radio, listening to a BBC broadcast. Likely, they were too shocked to see her standing there to react, giving her time to hightail it out of Dodge before they could arrest her (and likely execute her as well).
After the war, Miep was devastated to learn that all of her friends, excepting Otto, had perished. She gave Anne’s diary to her father, telling him that it was the lasting legacy of his youngest daughter. To this point, Miep had not read the contents of the diary, and was relieved. If she had read the diary, she surely would have had to destroy it since it implicated all of the conspirators who safeguarded the Franks and their friends for years. Miep received several awards late in life, including the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Yad Vashem Medal and the Wallenberg Medal. In 1987, Gies published her memoir: “Anne Frank Remembered”. Here, she makes several comments referencing her legacy as a hero, maintaining that she only did what any decent human would: “I am not a hero. I stand at the end of the long, long line of good Dutch people who did what I did and more- much more- during those dark and terrible times years ago, but always like yesterday in the heart of those who bear witness. Never a day goes by that I do not think of what happened then.”
Many of us believe that if we found ourselves in a similar situation, we would act as Miep did. The reality is probably a little more complicated than that. Miep Gies stated over and over that she was no hero. I disagree emphatically: her actions gave hope where there was little, showed humanity in a time when humanity was utterly depleted, and showed strength, will, and belief in all that is good and that connects us to others. It is hard to find more heroism than that.
Originally published January 11, 2019.
By Savannah, Reference Department
Urban legends, like most things in the modern world, have evolved. In the past, they were spread by word of mouth. Though detailed, there was always something in the story that made it …unreachable. They were never firsthand. Someone might tell you a story that happened to a friend of their cousin. Later, you may hear the same story from somebody else, finding it had shifted. It wasn’t the friend’s cousin. It was her brother. Or was it her boyfriend? However, there was always just enough detail to make it believable.
I remember personally being duped by an urban legend. My friend said he heard about a college student in Florida. After a kiss from a date, she developed a rash. Almost immediately, she received calls from her doctor and local law enforcement. Her rash was caused by a bacteria found on decomposing corpses. She had been on a date with a cannibal. I told several friends. They were eager to spread the story to theirs as well. I googled the story, assuming it must be all over the news . I found it…just not in the way I expected. I found multiple versions of the story all over the web. The college, state, and other minor details changed to fit the teller’s narration. It was an URBAN LEGEND spreading like wildfire. I myself had spread it to half a dozen people.
Urban legends are more popular than ever. They are thriving online. We now call them “Creepypastas” (creepy + pasta, after the pattern of copypasta, itself an alteration of copy and paste). Creepypastas are online tales that are often blatantly presented as fiction. But are they really? Even if they start as fiction, these stories develop such a following, parts of them do become real. Often in frightening ways. The website makes it easy to find a pasta about anything you desire. There are pastas about dolls, stalkers, devilish pets…you name it! I highly recommend listening to the pastas being narrated on YouTube. I like to listen to them while I get ready in the morning.
Slenderman is one of the most prolific Creepypasta. The story tells of a tall humanoid creature with a featureless, white face. The creature wears a black suit and has disproportionately long limbs. He haunts and traumatizes his victims, which are often children. The stories of Slenderman have led to real-life tragedy.
In 2014, two Wisconsin teenage girls stabbed their friend. The girl barely survived. Her friends cited their reason for stabbing the girl was Slenderman. They believed killing their friend would prove their loyalty to the monster. The crime caused hysteria among parents everywhere. Slenderman only gained more of an audience. Russell Jack, the police chief of Waukesha, Wisconsin, made a powerful statement. ” The Internet has changed the way we live. It is full of information and wonderful sites that teach and entertain. The Internet can also be full of dark and wicked things.”
Urban Legends prove one thing: our words have meaning. Sometimes if believed enough, they can bring our worst nightmares to life.
If you are up for a scare, here are a few good places to start. These are not bedtime stories.
READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED. Read the rest of this entry
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Originally published September 7, 2018
Most of us remember seeing the poster, somewhere, at some time stating that “Uncle Sam Wants You….” Did you ever wonder why it is everywhere, and why this United States mascot is called Uncle Sam?? Prepare to be informed…
During the War of 1812, Sam Wilson (Marvel’s Falcon was aptly named), a meat packer in Troy, New York delivered meat for the soldiers fighting the battles of the war. There was a directive from the government that all supplies sent to the troops be stamped with the name and location of the supplier. He stamped the barrels with a U.S. which actually stood for United States. Sam was locally called Uncle Sam; when the barrels were delivered to the troops, soldiers from Troy knew Sam Wilson and called him Uncle Sam to other soldiers. Word spread and hearing the story, more and more soldiers began saying that the meat came from “Uncle Sam.” The soldiers began calling themselves Uncle Sam’s soldiers. By the end of the War of 1812, Uncle Sam was considered a new nickname for the United States.
The United States of America had also been called Columbia, shown as a classical Greek statue of a woman, sometimes holding a flag – dos the song “Columbia the Gem of the Ocean” ring any bells? The name Columbia was based on Columbus, since he discovered America (but maybe not the first discoverer any more…)
So now we know how the name Uncle Sam became associated with our armed forces. But what about the picture? We have to go back earlier than you might think. Thomas Nast was the first artist to create a picture of Uncle Sam. He’s the same artist who made Santa Claus into the character we see today. He created his image in the 1870s and 80s, and then continued to refine the image; he was the first artists to give Sam a white goatee, top hat and a suit of stars and stripes.
We’re probably all familiar with the poster Uncle Sam Wants You! Artist James Montgomery Flagg (truly, his last name is Flagg!) designed over 40 recruitment post for the United States as it entered World War I. Flagg was under a deadline; he didn’t have enough time to find a model for the poster. He looked in the mirror and used his own face for inspiration for Uncle Sam. He had a long face, with bushy white eyebrow and full beard. So he had the image he wanted for the poster. Flagg also had illustrations in “Photoplay,” “McClure’s Magazine,” “Colliers Weekly,” “Ladies Home Journal,” “Saturday Evening Post” and “Harper’s Weekly.”Now…, to find the message. He remembered seeing a poster of Lord Kitchener, the British Secretary of War, asking the British to “Join Your Country’s Army – Lord Kitchener Wants YOU.” Inspiration! He created the poster with the soon to be iconic image of Uncle Sam with the caption Uncle Sam Wants You To Join the Army. It was this image more than any other that set the appearance of Uncle Sam as the elderly man with white hair and a goatee wearing a white top hat with white stars on a blue band, a blue tail coat and red and white striped trousers, and his pointing finger. Flagg’s Uncle Sam first appearance is generally believed to be on the cover of the magazine Leslie’s Weekly, on July 6, 1916. Also on the cover was the title “What Are You Doing For Preparedness.” A poster of the image was also created, using the now famous phrase I wan You for the US Army. More than four million copies of this cover image were printed between 1917 and 1918. When Flagg was asked to update his famous image, he hired Indianan veteran Walter Botts as a model. Family lore has it that he was chosen because he had long arms, a long nose and extremely bushy eyebrows.
In 1961 the U.S. Congress recognized that Sam Wilson “Uncle Sam” as the progenitor of America’s national symbol. Wilson died in 1854, and is buried in Troy, New York, which rightly calls itself “The Home of Uncle Sam.”
By Steve Spann, Reference Department
Some institutions are so woven into the fabric of life that they are taken for granted. One such institution is the United States Postal Service (USPS). However, an examination of the history of the American colonies shows that reliable postage was an identifiable need, except not for the reason you might expect. After independence from England, the USPS was established, and it has been an integral part of our daily lives ever since.
The American colonies were mainly coastal settlements, separated by dense forests. The colonists were less interested in news from other colonies than they were for news from back home. However, the English government needed reliable delivery service between colonies in order to deliver official communications to and from the colonial governors.
There were informal and independently run postal routes for colonists in Boston as early as 1639. Then, in 1673, Governor Francis Lovelace of New York set up a monthly post between New York and Boston. The service was short-lived, but the post rider’s trail became known as the Old Boston Post Road and today it is part of U.S. Route 1.
Governor William Penn established Pennsylvania’s first Post Office in 1683. In the South, private messengers, usually slaves, connected the huge plantations; a hogshead (a barrel 43 inches high and 26 inches in diameter) of tobacco was the penalty for failing to relay mail to the next plantation. As plantations expanded inland from port regions, so did the communications network.
Centralized postal organization began in 1692, when the English sovereigns William and Mary granted a royal patent to Englishman Thomas Neale to operate a colonial postal system for 21 years. Neale, who never set foot in North America, appointed New Jersey colonial governor Andrew Hamilton as his deputy. Hamilton then appointed postmasters in every British colony.
On May 1, 1693, the Internal Colonial Postal Union began weekly service between Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Williamsburg, Virginia. The ICPU established post offices, consulted with colonial assemblies about postal rates, and, perhaps as a harbinger of things to come, did not make any money. Mail to the North American colonies was left at places like taverns and inns, as there were no post office buildings to receive the correspondence and door to door delivery came much later.
Hamilton died in debt in 1699 and assigned his patent to an heir, who in turn sold the rights back to the English in 1707. The government then appointed Hamilton’s son John as deputy postmaster general of America. He served until 1721, when he was succeeded by John Lloyd of Charleston, South Carolina. (United, n.d.). In 1730, Alexander Spotswood, a former lieutenant governor of Virginia, became deputy postmaster general of America.
The appointment of Benjamin Franklin as postmaster of Philadelphia in 1737 may have been Spotswood’s most notable achievement. Franklin, only 31 years old at the time, was a successful printer, publisher, and civic leader, who would go on to become one of the most accomplished and popular men of his time.
In 1753, Benjamin Franklin and William Hunter, postmaster of Williamsburg, were named by the English as joint Deputy Postmaster General of the American colonies. (United, n.d.). Franklin moved quickly, as you might expect he would, making a 1,600-mile inspection of post offices. He also organized a weekly mail wagon between Philadelphia and Boston. Franklin’s postal riders traveled day and night by horseback in relays, using lanterns to light their way. The service cut mail delivery time between the cities in half, making the colonial post both efficient for colonists and profitable for the Crown.
The colonial posts in North America registered their first profit in 1760. When Franklin left office, post roads operated from Maine to Florida and from New York to Canada.
In 1774, as tension grew between the colonists and England, the Crown dismissed Franklin from his position because of his revolutionary activities.
William Goddard formed a partnership with Benjamin Franklin to publish the Pennsylvania Chronicle, a newspaper sympathetic to the revolutionary cause. Savvy publishers like Goddard and Franklin used private carriers to get their news past the suspicious eyes of the Crown post, which would have confiscated and destroyed any mail or news it deemed unsuitable for the Crown. Goddard and Franklin were using the Chronicle to report on controversial topics. The Chronicle was subsequently driven out of business when the Crown post refused to accept it in the mails. Goddard responded by creating a new postal system, that is the basis for our current USPS system. The new system was based upon some values that we now take for granted, but that were revolutionary at the time. The values included open communication, freedom from governmental interference, and the free exchange of ideas. The plan also included the creation of the position of Postmaster.
Soon after Franklin had been removed from office, Goddard set up the Constitutional Post for intercolonial mail service. Colonies paid subscriptions and net revenues were used to improve mail service. Goddard presented a plan for the new postage system to Congress on October 5, 1774. Congress waited to act until after the battles of Lexington and Concord in the Spring of 1775. By 1775, when the Continental Congress met at Philadelphia, Goddard’s post was flourishing, and 30 Post Offices operated between Williamsburg and Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
However, after the colonists won victories in those battles, Goddard’s “Constitutional Post” was adopted on July 26, 1775, by the Second Continental Congress. Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin Postmaster General of the United Colonies. Goddard was disappointed at being passed over for the position of Postmaster, but Franklin named him Riding Surveyor.
This independent postal service was significant because it kept the colonial population informed about events during the American Revolution and allowed for communication by and between patriots from different colonies. The revolutionary post became so popular among colonists that it forced the Crown post out of business. The Crown post folded on Christmas day, 1775.
The colonies became the United States on July 4, 1776, and as the states began to create their new government in the late 1780s, postal issues were among the issues that were debated and not resolved. In June 1788, the ninth state ratified the Constitution, which gave Congress the power “To establish Post Offices and post Roads” in Article I, Section 8. A year later, the Act of September 22, 1789, continued the Post Office and made the Postmaster General subject to the direction of the President. Four days later, President Washington appointed Samuel Osgood as the first Postmaster General under the Constitution. A population of almost four million was served by 75 Post Offices and about 2,400 miles of post roads.
The Post Office received two one-year extensions by the Acts of August 4, 1790, and March 3, 1791.
The 1792 Postal Act
Congressional debate considered issues of a free press, personal privacy, and national growth. Finally, the Postal Act of February 20, 1792, defined the Post Office Department. Under the act, newspapers would be allowed in the mails at low rates, in order to promote the spread of information across the several states.
To ensure privacy, postal officials were forbidden to open any letters unless they were undeliverable. Finally, Congress assumed responsibility for the creation of postal routes, ensuring that mail routes would not only serve existing settlements but also promote expansion into new territories.
The Act let newspaper editors exchange their newspapers by mail without any fee, so that each could more easily print the other’s news. The idea was to promote the free exchange of information. By 1825, newspapers circulated in-state or within 100 miles of publication were charged a fee of 1 cent for delivery, while the charge was for 1-1/2 cents if delivery went outside that range. Today newspapers and magazines still enjoy such special rates.
Later legislation enlarged the duties of the Post Office, strengthened and unified its organization, and provided rules for its development. The Act of May 8, 1794, continued the Post Office indefinitely.
The Post Office moved from Philadelphia in 1800 when Washington, D.C., became the seat of government. Two horse-drawn wagons carried all postal records, furniture, and supplies. Read the rest of this entry
By Shannon Owens, Reference Department
June 28, 1914…a date which will live in infamy? Well, something like that, at any rate. For those left in the dark, June 28th signifies the anniversary of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, Archduke and heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne. Most casual observers believe this incident was the cause of The Great War (WWI.) It should go without saying that this grossly oversimplifies the situation. The late 1800s saw a shift in the fairly equal balance of powers that had previously dominated the political landscape of Europe. Several causes led to this, but suffice to say, the continent was braced for a fight. By 1914, Europe was simply a ticking time bomb, ready to explode. Many thought war was inevitable (this begs the chicken vs the egg question: did war break out simply because enough important people didn’t see another recourse? Depressing to consider.) At any rate, a Serbian national shot Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, on a state visit in Sarajevo…and the rest, as they say, is history.
What is less often mused over is how unlikely it was that this situation would come to fruition in the first place. Heck, Franz Ferdinand wasn’t even supposed to be the heir to the great Habsburg line in the first place. His cousin, Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, was the son of Emperor Franz Josef. However, he died suddenly, in a sordid fog of mystery, that wouldn’t be out of place in a 21st century soap opera. Rudolf was not a man known for fidelity, the number of affairs he conducted were countless. Cue the Mayerling Incident. In 1887, he bought Mayerling and turned it into a hunting lodge of sorts. The following year, Crown Prince Rudolf (then 30 years old) met Baroness Marie Vetsera, a young woman of 17. Simply put, the baroness was utterly besotted, she worshiped him fully. For his part, it’s hard to imagine that he returned the young girl’s ardor, but he probably cared for her. At the very least, he was a vain man, and likely loved to be the center of a lovely young woman’s world. On the morning of January 30th, 1889, a valet broke his way into a Mayerling bedroom after hearing two pistol shots. Once inside, he found a gruesome scene. The prince’s skull had been partially blown away, his body slumped on the bed next to the body of his young mistress.
The official report stated that Rudolf had shot his mistress then proceeded to kill himself (he had also been declared “mentally unbalanced”.) This is likely the truth. Other conspiracies have been suggested over the years but none really stick. Crown Prince Rudolf (despite his womanizing and carousing) was a more liberal figure than his father and other European heads of state at that time. He was resolutely against unnecessary military conflict and intervention. He was constantly at odds with his overbearing father and may very well have been a deeply unhappy man.
With Rudolf’s death, Archduke Karl Ludwig (the emperor’ eldest surviving brother) became the heir presumptive. After Karl Ludwig’s death, his son, Franz Ferdinand, became the heir presumptive. Had Crown Prince Rudolf lived (and if his father abdicated in the tradition of his father before him) Austria would have had a leader with a far more pacifist outlook than his father. He may very well have been against the military alliance with Germany that was instrumental in the outbreak of World War I. Unfortunately, that was not the way history played out. The Great War was one of the most brutal wars of all time, resulting in the deaths of roughly 40 million souls.
By Shannon Owens, Reference Department
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
- Come to the library and check out a movie like First Man, Apollo 13 or October Sky.
- Watch space documentaries on TV, rent from our library, or stream them.
- Go to a science museum – Why not the Adventure Science Center or Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory.
- 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.
- Check out the NASA website and find out something interesting
- 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
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.
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.
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!
- 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)