Category Archives: History

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.

 


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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

April 12: A Day in Space

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

April 12 is an important day in history, as least when it comes to space. There were 3 big space related events that all happened on the same day in different years.  The brilliant astronomer Galileo Galilei was convicted of heresy by the Catholic Church for saying the solar system is heliocentric, a.k.a. the Earth revolved around the Sun.  This meant that he was saying that the Earth was not the center of the universe, which was in direct contradiction to what the church believed.  The second big event was sending a human into space.  Yuri Gagarin was the first man (and human) ever to go into space.  And finally, the first NASA space shuttle was launched into space on April 12.

GALILEO

Galileo Galilei

In 1616, Galileo was called in by the Inquisition, not really to question what he was studying with his telescope, but to give him a warning. They were probably restating that the Catholic Church believed that the earth was the center of the universe, and that to state otherwise would get him in trouble.  He was allowed to continue to research, but not to publicly talk or publish about his heliocentric theory that was originated by Nicolaus Copernicus. However, in 1632, he published Dialogue on the Two World Systems, which compared the theory of earth-centric and heliocentric cosmological systems by three different scientists: one for an earth-centric cosmos, one for a heliocentric one and a third who was neutral. The side representing the sun-centered theory came out looking better and the Pope was not pleased.  On April 12 in 1633, Galileo was called in by the Holy Office so that he could be questioned with the hope that he would admit his guilt of heresy, but he never did.  He did confess that he was practicing his public speaking skills and perhaps went a little too far. In May, he was convicted of a strong suspicion of heresy, a lesser charge since he had made no confession.  Luckily for him, being such a public figure made it harder for more aggressive questioning by the Inquisition, as did his age and health.  Ultimately, his book was banned and he was sentenced to prison at home for the rest of his life.  Galileo’s science outlasted the Inquisition and we now recognize him as a famous scientist who helped make the theory that the earth revolved around the sun a scientific fact.

First Human in Space

Yuri Gagarin

In 1961, Yuri Gagarin was the first human to fly into space and orbit the earth aboard the Sputnik 1 (of course, less than a month later, the US sent up Alan Shepard).  Gagarin was a good choice for the USSR, being a test pilot and an industrial engineer.  The flight was eighty-nine minutes long, and reached an altitude of 187 miles.  According to history, he only made one communication with the ground control in Russia, stating that the flight was proceeding normally and that he was well.  He became an instant celebrity, just like Lindbergh was after he flew from New York to Paris.  He was given honors and streets were named after him all over Russia. The designer of the rocket was sent by Russia to Germany to study the V2 rocket the Nazis were using.  The United States captured the designer of the rocket, Wernher von Braun, but the Soviets captured paperwork and designs. And thus the Space Race began.

NASA Reaches Space

Space Shuttle Columbia

On April, 12, 1981, the Space Shuttle Columbia shot into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center.  It was the first space shuttle in history. The space shuttle was different from a rocket in that it landed like a plane instead of on the water, and it was the first reusable spacecraft.  It carried quite a few astronauts to space.  In February 2003, the Columbia burned up during re-entry over Texas in February 2003.  They found that a piece of foam insulation had broken off from one of the tanks and damaged the shuttle’s left wing.  That became part of the safety check in all future flights.  It made twenty-eight missions and was in space a little over 300 days.  Space shuttle Atlantis was the last shuttle to fly, landing in 2011.  For eight years, we have been ride sharing into space.  New frontiers are on the horizon from NASA or private companies.  It will be interesting to see what unfolds.

If you find this interesting, we’ll continue exploring the universe and space during our annual Summer Reading Program for Grown-Ups.  Take a look at some of our special events this summer:

  • An astronomy petting zoo on Thursday, May 23 – have you ever wanted to buy a telescope but didn’t know which one to get?  Come to his program and  narrow down your choices
  • On Tuesday, May 28, learn how real astronomy has found 13 astrological symbols.
  • On Saturday, June 15 we’ll be having a film festival of some of the best movies about space.  Stay tuned for titles!
  • On Saturday, July 20, we’ll be making a day of commemorating the 50th anniversary of NASA’s moon landing.  Movies, refreshments, lectures and more!!
  • On Tuesday, July 23, we’re offering a program about all the inventions NASA created for the space program that we use almost every day!
  • On Monday, July 15, come hear about how people in history used the stars and constellations.

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Women in Space and Their Firsts

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Valentina Tereshkova

This year marks the 50th anniversary of NASA’s moon landing.  As we start looking at the last fifty years of space exploration, we also want to celebrate the history of women in space as well.  According to NASA, by 2017 a total of 59 different women, including cosmonauts, astronauts, payload specialists, and foreign nationals, have flown in space. And seeing as history has recently provided us with a new first for women in space, let’s take a look at some of the previous ones. Granted, the history of women in space only reaches 50 years if we add in the accomplishments of the Soviet Union.

The first woman is space was a Russian.  Valentina Tereshkova was the pilot of the Vostok 6 on June 16, 1963 and she was 26 at the time of her flight.  She orbited the earth 48 times and manually brought the shop out of orbit.  She had been a textile worker and loved skydiving, which definitely helped her since the capsule was propelled into space by an intercontinental ballistic missile. (!)  And after returning to earth atmosphere, she ejected herself from the capsule and came down to earth using a parachute (her own parachute.)   Wow!

Sally Ride

Sally Ride became the first woman (and pilot) for the United States to fly in space. She chose space over a professional tennis career and went to space during space shuttle Challenger’s inaugural mission in 1983.  That’s a long time to wait for a woman to go to space!  Thankfully, Sally Ride was up to the challenge.

In 1984, Svetlana Savistkaya, was the first female to perform a spacewalk. She spent almost 4 hours cutting and welding metals outside the Salyut 7 space station.  She had a second record as well—this was her second mission, making her the first woman to go to space twice.

Mae Jemison was the first African American woman to go to space.  She had completed her medical degree and applied to NASA in 1983 and was asked to join in 1987, after serving in the Peace Corps.  She flew in 1992, working on bone cell research in space. She also holds 9 honorary doctorates!

Mae Jemison

Helen Patricia Sharman was the first woman to fly in space as a result of a newspaper ad for “Astronaut wanted – no experience necessary,” as well as the first British astronaut. The advertisement was for a private space programme called Project Juno, where a consortium was formed to raise money to pat the Soviet Union for a seat on a mission.  She stayed a week at Russia’s space station Mir in 1991.  She was also the first non-American, non-Soviet astronaut.

Chiaki Mukai, a physician, became the first Japanese woman to enter space as an astronaut with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency.  She had two trips, in 1994 and 1998, which made her the first Japanese woman to travel to space twice; she also helped support the deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Eileen Collins, a New York native, was a pilot at Vance Air Force Base before being assigned to the US Air Force Academy. In 1990, she was selected by NASA to become an astronaut, and became the first female Shuttle Pilot in 1995 on a mission that involved a rendezvous between Discovery and the Russian space station Mir.  She went on to become the first female commander of a US Spacecraft with Shuttle mission. She retired in 2006 after having completed four missions.

Chiaki Mukai

Anousheh Ansari is an Iranian-born American who had a background in aeronautical engineering and computer science.  She was able to train as a backup for the first spaceflight mission to the International Space Station (ISS), which was headed up by a private company.  In 2006, she was elevated to the prime crew, making her the first female space tourist.  She hopes to inspire everyone – especially young people, women, and young girls all over the world, and in Middle Eastern countries that do not provide women with the same opportunities as men – to not give up their dreams and to pursue them.

Karen Nyberg’s second mission was on the 50th anniversary of Valentina Tereskova’s first mission (2013).  Karen is considered the first American mother in space—(perhaps that might be mother of young children?) She is also training in deep-sea training and simulation exercise at the Aquarius underwater laboratory which hopes to prepare astronauts for missions to the moon and Mars.

Anousheh Ansari

Samantha Cristoforetti went to space in 2014 and returned to earth in 2015 and so is the most recent woman to have returned from space. She has a number of firsts, which is perfect for this list.  She is she the first Italian woman to have entered space as a part of the Futura mission to ISS. She also holds the record for longest single space flight by a woman–199 days and 16 hours–and the record for the longest uninterrupted flight by a European astronaut.

And finally, for the first time in history, an all female crew will perform a spacewalk at the International Space Station.  The crew will consist of astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch who will complete the walk on March 29, lead flight controller Jackie Kagey, and lead flight director Mary Lawrence.

P.S. – This year our Summer Reading Program theme is “A Universe of Stories” and we will be having programs about space, including movies and guest speakers and so much more.  Stay Tuned!!!


Further Reading:

  • Almost heaven: the story of women in space by Bettyann Holtzmann Kevles (629.45 KEV)
  • Galaxy girls: 50 amazing stories of women in space by Libby Jackson (YA 629.450092 JAC)
  • Hidden figures: the American dream and the untold story of the Black women mathematicians who helped win the space race by Margot Lee Shetterly (510.9252 SHE)
  • Rise of the rocket girls: the women who propelled us, from missiles to the moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt (269.4072 HOL)
  • Rocket girl: the story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America’s first female rocket scientist by George D. Morgan (B MORGAN)
  • The glass universe: how the ladies of the Harvard Observatory took the measure of the stars by Dava Sobel (522.1974 SOB)
  • When we left Earth: the NASA missions (DVD 629.45 WHE)
  • The Mercury 13: the untold story of thirteen American women and the dream of space flight by  Martha Ackmann (629.45 ACK)

Sources:

Quiet Heroism: the Legacy of Miep Gies, World War II Resister

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.

Miep Gies, October 1980

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.”

Floor Plans for the Secret Annex

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.

 


Sources:

Winter Solstice

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Winter Solstice Art

We all know that Christmas is on December 25, but do you know why?  It wasn’t necessarily because it was the date of the birth of Jesus (most biblical scholars think he was born in March, BTW).  The pagan winter solstice observances were bigger and more wide-spread, more popular and considered more important to most non-Christian cultures.  The Catholic church wanted to promote Christianity (and get rid of pagan religions) so the celebration of Christ’s Mass was chosen to be on December 25 and promoted as the birth of Christ.

The “sol” in Solstice is Latin for sun and the “stice” part comes from the Latin verb for standing still. We, in the modern age know about the solstices that happen twice a year and the equinoxes that occur twice a year as well (the equinoxes are when day and night are equal in length, which is what equinox means in Latin).  Cultures from the past weren’t aware of the reason for this phenomenon and so it took on a religious meaning.  The nights got longer and the days got shorter.  The longer nights got colder, generally, and plants died in the cold and dark.  Is it any wonder that older cultures created ceremonies to bring back the sun and the warmth and the growing season?  The northern pagans burned huge logs that last the midwinter celebrations, sometimes even saving a small last bit of the Yule log to burn in the next winter’s fire.  The ashes of the fire on the longest night became so special many claimed it had healing properties.  The livestock, cattle, pigs, chickens and other animals were often slaughtered around this time—they often would not make it through the harsh winter and much of the meat was preserved in salt. They had huge meals; sometimes it was the last of the vegetables as well as the meats, to celebrate the return of the sun.  Often the winter months brought famine to some parts of Europe.

A little history…

Saturnalia (1783) by Antoine Callet, showing his interpretation of what the Saturnalia might have looked like

Saturnalia was a Roman holiday, a festival that started off somber but became more and more raucous. In Scandinavia this festival was called Jul or Yule. The huge log burned to keep the long night lit became the Yule log.  (And in a roundabout way we now have a fabulous holiday desert called the Buc de Noel, which is shaped like a log.  It is made from chocolate cake, often decorated with marzipan mushrooms and covered in chocolate sauce.  Very decadent and it has been around for hundreds of years.)  Saturnalia was replaced with Christmas by the Catholic Church, to make it less pagan and to make it more solemn.  It took centuries, but Christmas eventually became so raucous that it was outlawed in the new world of America.

Another rival to Christmas was the celebration of the birth of Mithra, a sun god whose birth was celebrated by Romans all over the empire on December 25. Emperor Aurelian established December 25 as the birthday of the “Invincible Sun” or Mithra in the third century as part of the Roman Winter Solstice celebrations. In 273, the Christian church selected this day to represent the birthday of Jesus, and by 336, this Roman feast day was Christianized.

In Scandinavia, Yule is celebrated when the dark half of the year starts to get shorter  and the days start lasting a little longer.  The sun’s rebirth was celebrated with much joy. From this day forward, the days would become longer. Bonfires were lit in the fields, and crops and trees were wished good health with toasts of spiced cider.   The ceremonial Yule log was the highlight of the Solstice festival. In accordance to tradition, the log must either have been harvested from the householder’s land, or given as a gift… it must never have been bought. Once dragged into the house and placed in the fireplace it was decorated in seasonal greenery, doused with cider or ale, and dusted with flour before set ablaze by a piece of last year’s log.

Mistletoe

Caroling, wassailing the trees, burning the Yule log, decorating the Yule tree, exchanging of presents, kissing under the mistletoe were all activities that are still part of our Christmas traditions that came from celebrating the solstice.  Even the foods that we associate with solstice celebrations are similar.  Cider, spiced cider, ginger tea, eggnog, fall fruits and other spiced breads and cookies.

Interested in celebrating the solstice?  Try some of these ideas to start your own traditions of celebrating the rebirth of the sun.

  • Many people make a winter solstice tree by hanging food to feed the animals when their food supplies have become scarce on the winter solstice.
  • Make sun and or star ornaments to hang on your Christmas Tree to symbolize the return of the sun’s light.
  • Some people celebrate by staying up all night on the night of the solstice to be awake to welcome back the light.
  • Many people choose to not use electricity on the night of the solstice and instead enjoy the darkest night of the year by candlelight. Some people carry this tradition through to Christmas Eve.  Consider inviting friends and family over for a candlelight feast!
  • Eat, drink, and be merry! You can find recipes for wassail online, either spiked or unspiked to serve with your meal.
  • You could burn a bigger log than normal in the fire place.  You can also find a Yule Log online and watch it burn on your computer.  There are even videos you could purchase to have a crackling fire on cold winter nights.
  • Yule Log by Nigella.

    If you don’t have one, consider making a cake Yule Log.  The Buche de Noel is stunning and delicious.  Try some of these recipes:

  • Consider writing down everything that you would like to release or change in the new year onto scraps of paper, then throw them in the fire or burn them carefully in a safe container.
  • You could also write down your intentions for the new year, similar to a resolution.

And just to throw this in, in the southern hemisphere, they celebrate the summer solstice.  Here are some of the things they do that you might want to incorporate in the summer or the winter.

In the past, people in the Southern hemisphere celebrated renewal, life, fertility, and the potential for a good harvest on the summer solstice.  Today, many people often celebrate the arrival of summer with outdoor feasts, singing, dancing, and bonfires.  You might want to bathe in sunlight; make a flower wreath to wear; start a garden or spend time tending your garden and celebrate rebirth and renewal; visit a local farm, have a festival and feast; throw a bonfire and dance; do yoga or meditation; get outside and connect with nature.

In other countries there are many traditions to celebrate the solstice.  Here are a few of the most interesting.  Revelers come to Hollabrunn, Austria to watch people dressed up like Krampus scare the crowd.  They dress to look like Krampus and carry soft whips that they use on the crowds.  Doesn’t sound like fun to me, though.

In Japan, they like to soak in hot baths outside with fruits tossed into the water that are believed to bring good health.  Often the zoos do the same thing for the animals (those that like water, that is.)  The macaques and hippos sure do like it!

In Korea, the meal to eat is red bean porridge.  It’s believed to keep the evil spirits away.


Further Reading:

  • Winter solstice by Rosemund Pilcher (F PIL)
  • Winter solstice by Elin Hildenbrand (F HIL)
  • Krampus: the Yule lord by Brom (F BRA)

Sources:

Grandfather Frost

by Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden

The Russians got used to not celebrating Christmas during the Soviet years; they celebrated New Year’s Day just like we celebrate Christmas.  Luckily for them there was a legendary figure who fit the bill as a Santa Claus figure to help celebrate New Year, and now also Christmas.  He’s known as Grandfather Frost (definitely not to be confused with Frosty the Snowman).  In Russian, he’s called Ded Moroz, “d’ed” being Grandfather, “moroz” being frost.  He is often accompanied by his granddaughter, the Snow Maiden.  In Russian Snegurochka (just FIY – sneg is the Russian word for snow.)  And truly these are not modern figures made to help celebrate (and sell) a modern Christmas holiday.  They are ancient mythological figures.

Grandfather Frost predates Christianity.  In the pagan days, before the Russian tsar sent out envoys to compare the various religions in the area and chose the Greek Orthodox Church (choosing to differentiate their own version as Russian Orthodox), the peasants worshiped nature.  Frost and snow were very important in their lives, so they made a name for the frost lord.  He is a winter wizard who brought the frost and snow and he could be helpful if treated nicely, but vindictive if treated badly. Winter was a powerful figure in Russia; just look at what happened to both Napoleon and Hitler…

Troika

Frost is considered to be around 2,500 years old.  He usually wears a long red wool or fur robe and boots, but no belt.  He has a long bushy beard and sometimes wears a wreath of holly and sometimes a hat similar to our Santa Claus.  He has also been shown wearing a crown.  And he has powers.  He often carries a staff which he might use for magic spells and to help him walk through the snow drifts.  He doesn’t travel down chimneys either, he comes in through the front door.  He travels around in a troika; that’s a carriage driven by three horses (troika means three in Russian…). Even though there are caribou in some parts of Russia, they are not widespread enough for the legend of flying reindeer.  Though his troikas have been known to fly as well.

In 2002, a tradition was started between Finland and Russia where Father Christmas (or Santa Claus) crossed the border to greet Ded Moroz.  They hand out gifts to all, the crowd of children dance and then they all go inside and have fun.  We know that this Santa Summit was still taking place in 2016. Perhaps it still is.

The Snow Maiden is not as old a character as Grandfather Frost.  She first appeared in a collection of folktales published in the 1860s by Alexander Afanasyev.  He eventually collected three volumes of Russian folktales.  No one knows if the story of the snow maiden goes back further, though, since he was the first to collect the stories.  In her tale, she longs to be able to love her foster parents but has no heart since she is made of snow.  She is granted a heart by her mother and father but melts away as she joins other children jumping over the fire.  Grandfather Frost is considered her grandfather and the two of them bring joy and beauty to the snowy Russian winter.

Ded Moroz house in Veliky Ustyug

In 1998, the Moscow Mayor proposed to officially make Veliky Ustyug the residence of Ded Moroz,   The residence, which is a resort promoted as his estate, is a major tourist attraction.  The town also has a post office there that answers children’s mail to Ded Moroz.  Between 2003 and 2010, the post office in Veliky Ustyug received nearly 2,000,000 letters from all over Russia and worldwide.  On January 7, 2008, Vladimir Putin visited the estate for the Russian Orthodox Christmas Eve celebration.

Santa Claus made some inroads in Russia during the 1990s, but Russia’s resurgence has brought a renewed emphasis on the basic Slavic character of Ded Moroz.  The Russian Federation has even sponsored classes about Ded Moroz every December. People playing Ded Moroz and Snegurochka now typically make appearances at children’s parties during the winter holiday season, distributing presents and fighting off the wicked witch, Baba Yaga, who children are told wants to steal their gifts.

In November and December 2010, Ded Moroz was even one of the candidates in the running for consideration as a mascot for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

 


Further Reading:
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The Wacky World(s) of Quantum Theory

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).

Light photographed as both a particle and a wave by Fabrizio Carbone.

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.*

Sources:

  • 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)
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