Category Archives: History

Guy Fawkes Day/Bonfire Night

By Jessica Dunkel, Reference Department

“Remember, remember, the 5th of November

Gunpowder treason and plot…”

Who is Guy Fawkes and why do they burn his effigies in England every 5th of November? I mean — that seems a bit harsh. To be fair, the modern-day celebration is more about fireworks and parades, which is far more humane than what actually happened to Guy Fawkes in the aftermath of November 5th, 1605.

Some History: A few months before the fateful November 5th a group of men, Guy Fawkes among them, were plotting to kill King James I of England. Why, you ask, would they want to do such a thing?

The hatred of the monarchy began with the throne’s predecessor, Queen Elizabeth I. Under Elizabeth’s reign it was illegal for Catholics like Fawkes and his co-conspirators to celebrate mass or marry according to Catholic rites. Maybe if the Pope hadn’t excommunicated Elizabeth I in 1570 she would not have gone to such lengths, which included killing dozens of priests.

After the reign of Elizabeth I ended in 1603 Catholics in England had hope that King James I would be different. His mother, Mary Queen of Scotts, was Catholic, and it was said that his wife converted to Catholicism. It was even rumored that King James I would convert as well. Unfortunately for the Catholic population, King James I treated them just as poorly as the former Queen had. He publically condemned the Catholic religion, referred to it as a superstition, and ordered all Catholic priests to leave England. And so, a group of Catholic dissidents decided to blow him up.

But how do you go about blowing up the King of England? In what would later be called the “Gunpowder Plot”, Guy Fawkes and 12 others planned to blow him up indirectly.fawkes-1

The Plot: Many people believe that Guy Fawkes was the mastermind behind the Gunpowder Plot. In reality, he’s probably so popular because he was caught in the act of carrying it out. The real leader and creator of the plot was Robert Catesby. His idea was to kill the king, kidnap his daughter, and marry her off to a Catholic to restore their rights in the kingdom. In order to do that the current regime had to be destroyed.

Using the alias John Johnson, Fawkes was chosen to pose as caretaker of a cellar located directly below the House of Lords. The group had managed to smuggle 36 barrels of gunpowder into the cellar and would wait until the 5th of November when Parliament was in session for Fawkes to light the fuse.

The Mysterious Letter: To this day no one knows who sent the letter that unraveled the Gunpowder Plot. The letter advised its recipient to avoid the House of Lords, which was handed over to authorities and spurred them to search Westminster Palace. They found Fawkes in his cellar, along with the barrels of gunpowder and a match. That was all of the evidence they needed to capture Fawkes and torture him until (after two grueling days) he revealed the names of his co-conspirators. Four were killed while resisting arrest; the others were tried and executed for their treason.

The Punishment: Being found guilty of treason in seventeenth-century England was one of the last things you would ever want to happen. Fawkes was to be hung, drawn, and quartered after having his stomach opened before his eyes. Fawkes, a rebel until his death, jumped off the hangman’s platform and died from a broken neck. Although he saved himself from his horrible punishment, they still quartered him to be sent to the four corners of the kingdom as a warning to potential traitors.

Unintentional Consequences: The Gunpowder Plot had not only failed, it backfired. King James I worked even harder to make sure Catholics knew he, not the Pope, had authority over them. The king required that every citizen take an oath saying just that. Catholics in England were not fully liberated from legal restrictions including the right to vote, practice law, or serve in the military until the 19th century.

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Guy Fawkes Night celebrations in Lewes, England

The Celebration: The king and parliament had narrowly escaped being blown to pieces. In 1606 they would officially commemorate November 5th as a day of thanks and celebration. Back then, there was still an anti-Catholic atmosphere surrounding the festivities. They would burn effigies of the Pope and Guy Fawkes. They also gathered for parades, set off fireworks, and made huge bonfires.

Today’s Celebrations: Britain still celebrates Guy Fawkes Day every 5th of November. Although the anti-Catholic sentiment is nowhere near as wide-spread, some groups still burn effigies of the 1605 Pope in keeping with tradition. The town of Lewes is particularly noted for burning effigies, including the Pope, Guy Fawkes, and current political figures. Different towns celebrate in different ways, but among the celebrations you will find burning tar barrels, seriously big bonfires, fireworks, torches, costumes, and members of bonfire societies leaping through open flames. Not an event for the faint of heart.

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Wax Guy Fawkes effigy ready for the bonfire

The Mask: Americans might not know Guy Fawkes from the 5th of November plot, but from the Guy Fawkes masks used by protestors to protect their identity. The graphic novel and film V for Vendetta used the mask while overthrowing a suppressive government in future dystopian England. What inspired protestors to use it in real-life situations? The illustrator of the graphic novel, David Lloyd, says it best, “It’s a great symbol of protest for anyone who sees tyranny.”

Many groups have used Guy Fawkes’ face as a way to protect their identity while protesting against what they consider to be tyrannical establishments. From the hactivist group Anonymous to Egyptian protestors during the Arab Spring movement, these masks have become a symbol of anti-establishment protest.

Guy Fawkes may have lost the battle for Catholic rights in 17th century England, but his face has come to serve as a symbol of protest throughout the world.

Hactivist group Anonymous protesting at the Scientology area in Los Angeles

Hactivist group Anonymous protesting at the Scientology area in Los Angeles

 


Sources:

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HOW MONSTERS ARE BORN

By Sharon Reily, Reference Department

There are a lot of scary things in the world, and I’m not talking about the upcoming election. Literature and films are loaded with frightening monstrosities, but I’ll focus on three “classic” creatures – vampires, zombies, and mummies – and examine the origins of these horrors that have terrified folks for centuries.

Vampires

bela_lugosi_as_dracula_75From Bela Lugosi to Gary Oldman and Robert Pattinson, everyone has a favorite movie bloodsucker. But the original vampires of legend weren’t as forlornly romantic as Oldman or as adorable as Pattinson. Ancient versions of the vampire weren’t thought to be humans returned from the grave, but were supernatural entities that didn’t take human form. There are many vampire variations around the world: an Egyptian vampire that was a demon summoned by sorcery, Asian vampires that attacked people and drained their life energy, the blood-drinking Wrathful Deities that appeared in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and many others.

Belief in vampires surged in the Middle Ages in Europe. Any unfortunate event that befell a person or village with no obvious cause, such as disease or crop failure, could be blamed on a vampire. Villagers combined their belief that something had cursed them with their fear of the dead, and concluded that the recently deceased might be responsible, returning from the grave with evil intent.

“The Vampyre,” the first fully realized vampire story, was written by John Polidori, personal physician to Lord Byron (the haughty Byron often belittled his young employee). In 1816, Percy Shelley and Mary Godwin joined Byron and Polidori at Byron’s villa on Lake Geneva. Byron suggested that his guests each write a ghost story. Mary’s tale became the novel Frankenstein. One theory is that Polidori, inspired by his resentment of Byron’s arrogant treatment, based his character Lord Ruthven, a charming aristocratic vampire, on the poet. But when Polidori’s story was published in 1819, it was credited to Byron. Polidori tried to prove his authorship, but was accused of misusing Byron’s name.

The most famous appearance of a vampire in literature was Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897. Like Polidori’s vampire, Dracula appeared as an aristocratic gentleman. It’s often assumed that Stoker’s Count Dracula was inspired by Vlad Dracula, a real-life prince cited as an influence for modern personifications of vampires. Known as Vlad the Impaler because of the gruesome method he used to kill his enemies, he is considered a national hero for the extreme measures he used to defend his Romanian principality in the 15th century. Historians have implied but never proved that Vlad drank the blood of his enemies.

interviewwithavampiremovieposteStoker’s novel was popular in the Victorian age, but it wasn’t until the 20th century film versions that it became iconic. The first adaptation of Stoker’s novel, the silent German film Nosferatu, was controversial because of its departures from Dracula – instead of being charming, Nosferatu was a vile character, and instead of drinking his victim’s blood to create new vampires, he spread rats and plague. The most influential adaptation of Stoker’s work was the 1931 film Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi. His performance inspired future actors who took the role and was a factor in making horror films a viable genre in the U.S. market. In the 1950s and 1960s, Christopher Lee played Dracula in a number of violent adaptations. Since then Count Dracula has been portrayed more times in film and TV than any other horror character. Now vampires are everywhere – in Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels (depicted on TV in True Blood), the Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, the TV series The Strain and Being Human, and countless others.

Zombies

walking-dead-posterThose shambling creatures intent on devouring Rick Grimes and his dwindling band of survivors bear little resemblance to the earliest incarnation of the zombie. The word “zombi” originally didn’t refer to the familiar brain-eating monsters but instead to a West African deity. It later came to suggest the human force leaving the shell of a body, and ultimately a creature human in form but lacking self-awareness, intelligence, and a soul. The notion was imported to Haiti and elsewhere from Africa through the slave trade. In Haiti and the Caribbean, zombies are an element of the voodoo religion and believers take them seriously.

Haitian zombies were said to be people brought back from the dead (and sometimes controlled) through magical means by voodoo priests called bokors, often as an act of punishment. Zombies were supposedly used as slave labor on farms and sugarcane plantations, although none of these zombie-powered plantations was ever discovered. Westerners considered zombies fictional horror film characters until the 1980s when a scientist, Wade Davis, claimed in his book The Serpent and the Rainbow to have solved the mystery of the zombie. The work met much skepticism. Davis asserted that he found the actual powder used by the bokors to create zombies – a neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin that could bring on the appearance of death.

poster_-_white_zombie_01Early zombie films, most notably White Zombie in 1932 and I Walked with A Zombie in 1943, acknowledged the zombie’s voodoo roots. George Romero’s 1968 film The Night of the Living Dead introduced the current popular characterization of the zombie as a flesh-eating creature. Romero’s film established common themes in current zombie films – the zombie as a metaphor for societal unrest and alienation; unconventional protagonists (hello, Daryl Dixon); and humans reduced to “survivalist” mentality. Romero’s zombies attack in groups and can be killed with a blow to the head. Recent zombie films – 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, World War Z, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and of course, The Walking Dead – feature elements of Romero’s films and ignore the voodoo connection.

Mummies

mummyUnlike vampires and zombies, mummies are not based on myth or legend. They are actual human corpses, preserved by a special method of embalming. Mummies have been found all over the world. But in ancient Egypt the mummification process was honed to a fine art over centuries, with the best prepared and preserved specimens, including Tutankhamen and other pharaohs, dating from around 1560 to 1075 B.C. The technique worked so well that after 3,000 years, we can still tell what the deceased looked like in life.

The elaborate procedure, as much a religious ritual as a technical process, took at least 70 days. The basic method was to remove organs except the heart through a slit in the body’s side. The brain was removed through the nostrils with a hooked instrument. The organs were preserved in jars and placed inside the body. The body was covered in natron, a salt with drying properties. Once the body was dry, sunken areas were filled with linen, sawdust, and other materials to make it to look lifelike. The body was then wrapped in hundreds of yards of linen strips. Finally a shroud was secured to the body and it was buried in a tomb along with objects the person would need in the Afterlife. Throughout the entire process, rituals and prayers had to be performed precisely. Why expend so much time and effort to preserve a body? The Egyptians believed that the mummified body was the home for the soul or spirit, and if the body was destroyed, the spirit might be lost.

mummy_32How did a person so honored turn into the malevolent creature we know from films? Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt at the end of the 18th century sparked a European interest in ancient Egypt that was still strong in Victorian England, where public “unrollings” of mummies were held. In 1903, Bram Stoker published The Jewel of Seven Stars, the first novel featuring mummifies as supernatural antagonists. Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 fueled even more interest. Then came the famous Boris Karloff film, The Mummy. Released in 1932, it was based on the concept of “the pharaoh’s curse” (that anyone who disturbs a tomb would die) and featured the mummy Imhotep as an evil high priest. It set the stage for a slew of mummy films through the 1940s and 1950s.  Imhotep recently reappeared in the 1999 remake of The Mummy and its sequel, The Mummy Returns.

Early film depictions of vampires, zombies, and mummies may seem a little dated and not that terrifying compared to the ultraviolence common in today’s horror films. But that might change. In 2014, Universal Pictures announced it would be rebooting its library of “classic” horror films, bringing new life to standard horror characters. The first release in this effort, The Mummy starring Tom Cruise, is due to hit theaters in 2017.

Click here for a list of resources at WCPL for further reading and viewing. Read the rest of this entry

London’s Burning!

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

I hear this and immediately think of Joe Strummer howling at the start of the Clash’s song of the same name. While that was about the smoke and exhaust of the metropolitan road systems and gridlock, three hundred and fifty years ago it meant something far different. From the second to the fifth of September, 1666, London did indeed burn. A huge swath of the old medieval city of London, north of the Thames, was nothing but ash.

Great_Fire_London

The great fire of 1666 was not a terrorist plot like the abortive attempt to destroy parliament from sixty some years before with Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder plot. It did not have anything to do with the English Civil War and the return of the monarchy six years prior with the coronation of Charles II. It didn’t even directly tie to the plague outbreak the year prior, although that did lend some contributing factors. No, while Great Britain in the 17th century was a tumultuous place, the fire began in a most mundane way. It started with a stray spark from a bakery oven.

Just after midnight on 2 September 1666, the bakery of Thomas Farriner caught fire. Farriner, baker to King Charles II, lived above the bakery with his three children and a servant. The Family was unable to get to the street but did manage to get into the next house through an upstairs window. The serving woman, terrified by the situation refused and became the first victim of the fire. By the end of the day on Sunday the fire had spread almost half way to the far city wall.

Samuel_Pepys

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys, the noted diarist, lived in the environs of the fire and was able to view it from a tower and from a boat on the river. As a senior official in the Navy Office he was called to the King and reported on what he saw.

“everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them onto lighters that lay off; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the water-side to another.”

His report led to the Duke of York, the future James II, and King Charles himself going to the Thames to view the situation. The King ordered all buildings adjacent to the burning to be torn down. The Duke of York offered the life guards to assist in fighting the blaze. It was, however, a bit too late. The fire itself had created a chimney effect. A vacuum existed from the air being heated and pulled up through the fire. This in turn caused more air to rush into the area of the fire close to the ground. Anyone familiar with the principles of a blast furnace will tell you that this is a great recipe for extreme heat. The temperature was so high (approximately 1700°C) that pottery actually melted. From a position across the river, Pepys noticed the “one entire arch of fire from this to the other side of the bridge, and in a bow up the hill for an arch of above a mile long: it made me weep to see it”

Great_fire_of_london_mapOver the following days the fire spread until it was finally contained and on Tuesday and brought to an end the following day. Gunpowder was used for wholesale destruction of houses to create fire breaks. That and the dying down of what had been a very stiff east wind finally allowed for control and an extinguishing. The damage included the destruction of 13,500 houses, 87 parish churches, and 44 Company (guild) Halls and the final total was accessed at £10,000,000 (more than a billion pounds in today’s money) Only eight people were reported to have died but this number is heavily suspect because the temperatures reached would have melted steel and certainly would have cremated the remains of any of London’s poor unfortunate enough to not be reported missing.

Why the fire happened was an interesting thing. At first foreigners and papists were blamed. This was proven false, but the prejudice lasted for many years. Because the fire started on Pudding Lane and ended at Pye corner, many people suggested the fire was God’s punishment for the gluttony of the city. In actuality it was a combination of cheap buildings, poor design and planning, and poor management on the account of the Lord Mayor. Buildings in London were supposed to have been made of stone to prevent just such a thing. Stone was too costly and everyone went to wood as the next best choice. Also, in order to maximize available space, each successive floor was slightly larger than the ground level floor, jutting out over the street. The close proximity of such dwellings caused the fire to spread very rapidly. Finally, Lord Mayor Sir Thomas Bloodworth refused to act. Within an hour of the start he was called to Pudding Lane and asked to give the order to demolish surrounding houses to form a break. He declined initially and eventually left the scene, but not before declining the help of the Lifeguards and untruly telling representatives of the king demolitions were under way. That did not actually start until well into Monday.17thcenFirefighting

The Great Fire of London changed the face of London. The rebuilding was similar to the prior plan and avoided the radical changes suggested by some like John Evelyn, but there were still changes. Regulations to avoid fire were more strictly enforced and fire companies better trained. To this day you can still see the monuments, the Great Fire monument near the start and the Golden boy of Pye where it finally was brought to a halt.

 


You can learn more about the 1666 Great Fire of London at the library:

  • The Great Fire of London by Pam Robson (J 942.1 ROB)
  • Fire Cat by Pippa Goodhart (J E GOO)
  • By Permission of Heaven: The Story of the Great Fire of London by Adrian Tinniswood (942.1 TIN)
  • The Great Fire of London by Stephen Porter (942.1066 POR)
  • The Mammoth Book of How it Happened in Britain by Jon E. Lewis (eBook through TotalBoox)
  • In Ashes Lie by Marie Brennan (F BRE)

France’s Rights of Man

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Declaration_of_the_Rights_of_Man_and_of_the_Citizen_in_1789On August 26, 1789, the French Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which was truly a remarkable document. Although inspired by The Declaration of Independence, it contained more principles than that document; it was drafted by the Marquis de Lafayette, who was impressed by the document written by his good friend Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was in Paris as our ambassador during this time.

The Declaration was a statement of democratic principles grounded in the philosophical and political ideas of Enlightenment thinkers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The document proclaimed the Assembly’s commitment to replace the ancien régime (meaning the king and the way the county had been governed for centuries) based on equal opportunity, freedom of speech, popular sovereignty and representative government.

Here, in its entirety is Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen:

The representatives of the French people, organized as a National Assembly, believing that the ignorance, neglect, or contempt of the rights of man are the sole cause of public calamities and of the corruption of governments, have determined to set forth in a solemn declaration the natural, unalienable, and sacred rights of man, in order that this declaration, being constantly before all the members of the Social body, shall remind them continually of their rights and duties; in order that the acts of the legislative power, as well as those of the executive power, may be compared at any moment with the objects and purposes of all political institutions and may thus be more respected, and, lastly, in order that the grievances of the citizens, based hereafter upon simple and incontestable principles, shall tend to the maintenance of the constitution and redound to the happiness of all. Therefore the National Assembly recognizes and proclaims, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of man and of the citizen:

Articles:

Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.

The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.

The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.

Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.

Law can only prohibit such actions as are hurtful to society. Nothing may be prevented which is not forbidden by law, and no one may be forced to do anything not provided for by law.

Law is the expression of the general will. Every citizen has a right to participate personally, or through his representative, in its foundation. It must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, are equally eligible to all dignities and to all public positions and occupations, according to their abilities, and without distinction except that of their virtues and talents.

No person shall be accused, arrested, or imprisoned except in the cases and according to the forms prescribed by law. Any one soliciting, transmitting, executing, or causing to be executed, any arbitrary order, shall be punished. But any citizen summoned or arrested in virtue of the law shall submit without delay, as resistance constitutes an offense.

The law shall provide for such punishments only as are strictly and obviously necessary, and no one shall suffer punishment except it be legally inflicted in virtue of a law passed and promulgated before the commission of the offense.

As all persons are held innocent until they shall have been declared guilty, if arrest shall be deemed indispensable, all harshness not essential to the securing of the prisoner’s person shall be severely repressed by law.

No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.

The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.

The security of the rights of man and of the citizen requires public military forces. These forces are, therefore, established for the good of all and not for the personal advantage of those to whom they shall be intrusted.

A common contribution is essential for the maintenance of the public forces and for the cost of administration. This should be equitably distributed among all the citizens in proportion to their means.

All the citizens have a right to decide, either personally or by their representatives, as to the necessity of the public contribution; to grant this freely; to know to what uses it is put; and to fix the proportion, the mode of assessment and of collection and the duration of the taxes.

Society has the right to require of every public agent an account of his administration.

A society in which the observance of the law is not assured, nor the separation of powers defined, has no constitution at all.

Since property is an inviolable and sacred right, no one shall be deprived thereof except where public necessity, legally determined, shall clearly demand it, and then only on condition that the owner shall have been previously and equitably indemnified.

 

For months after this declaration, the Assembly members debated fundamental questions about the shape and expanse of France’s new political landscape. Would the clergy owe allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church or the French government? And probably most importantly, how much authority would the king retain? The Assembly adopted France’s first written constitution on September 3, 1791, which was basically a compromise proposed by more moderate voices in the Assembly, establishing a constitutional monarchy. The more radical elements in the Assembly were not happy, namely Maximilien de Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins and Georges Danton; they wanted a more republican form of government and a trial for Louis XVI.

Marie Antoinette, Portrait by Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty, 1775. Musée Antoine Lécuyer.

Marie Antoinette, Portrait by Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty, 1775. Musée Antoine Lécuyer.

In April 1792, the newly elected Legislative Assembly declared war on Austria and Prussia, because it believed that French nobles leaving the country were building counterrevolutionary alliances. In Paris, the political crisis took a much more radical turn when a group of insurgents attacked the royal residence in Paris and arrested the king on August 10, 1792. The following month, amid a wave of violence in which Parisian insurrectionists massacred hundreds of accused counterrevolutionaries and the Legislative Assembly was replaced by the National Convention, which proclaimed the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of the French republic. On January 21, 1793, it sent King Louis XVI, condemned to death for high treason and crimes against the state, to the guillotine; his wife Marie-Antoinette suffered the same fate nine months later.

1793 saw the Revolution’s most violent and turbulent phase. In June 1793, the Jacobin party seized control of the National Convention from the more moderate Girondin party and instituted a series of radical measures, including the establishment of a new calendar and the eradication of Christianity!! They also unleashed the bloody Reign of Terror (“la Terreur”); for 10 months suspected enemies of the revolution (the Jacobins) were guillotined by the thousands. Many of the killings were carried out under orders from Robespierre until his own execution on July 28, 1794. His death marked the beginning of the more moderate phase in which the French people revolted against the Reign of Terror’s excesses.

Jacques-Louis_David_-_The_Emperor_Napoleon_in_His_Study_at_the_Tuileries_-_Google_Art_Project

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries

On August 22, 1795, the National Convention, composed largely of those assembly members who had survived the Reign of Terror, approved a new constitution that created France’s first bicameral (two houses) legislature. Executive power would lie in the hands of a five-member Directory (“Directoire”) appointed by parliament. Royalists and Jacobins protested the new regime but were swiftly silenced by the army, which was now being led by a young (and successful) Napoleon Bonaparte.

By the late 1790s, the government relied almost entirely on the military to maintain authority and had ceded much of their power to the generals in the field. On November 9, 1799, frustrated with the Directory leadership, Bonaparte staged a coup d’état, abolishing the Directory and appointing himself France’s “first consul;” soon to become Emperor of France, and then Europe.

 

Storming of the Bastille and arrest of the Governor Bernard-René de Launay, 14 July 1789. Museum of the History of France, Versailles.

Storming of the Bastille and arrest of the Governor Bernard-René de Launay, 14 July 1789. Museum of the History of France, Versailles.

Read the rest of this entry

The Eruption of Krakatoa: August 1883

Kracatoa 1By Stephen McClain, Reference Department

In our everyday, technology filled lives; it is easy to forget that the earth is dynamic. Our planet is constantly changing, whether we realize it or not. The landforms that we take for granted are in many cases the result of earth’s violent and relentless activity that has persisted for billions of years. This third planet from the sun is our home, but Earth does not care about us. Nature is not required to make sense nor consider human existence regarding its activity. What seems static from a human perspective is in a constant state of movement. Natural disasters often remind us that Mother Nature is more powerful than humans and she must be respected.Kracatoa 2

Kracatoa 3Tectonic activity, such as volcanic eruptions are illustrations of Earth’s volatility. Though there have been more recent blasts in modern times, none have been more deadly than the eruption of Krakatoa on August 26, 1883. Krakatoa (or Krakatau) is a small island located between Java and Sumatra in the Indonesian Island Arc. The island is only about 3 miles wide and 5 miles long. These islands and the volcanic activity in the region is the result of tectonic movement below the sea floor. The Indo-Australian plate is subducted under the Eurasian and Pacific plates as it moves slowly northward toward the Asian mainland. When Krakatoa erupted in August of 1883, an estimated 36,000 people were killed. Many perished due to the eruption, but many more died after the resulting tsunami following the collapse of the volcano into the caldera below.

With our advanced modern technology, we are able to detect natural hazards like severe weather and also monitor earth’s internal movement. For example, in 1980, geologists were able to detect seismic activity and knew that Mount St. Helens would erupt soon, saving the lives of many. The brave Krakatoans (10 points if you caught the Seinfeld reference there) had no warning system or advanced notice. Before nature was understood at the level it is today, it was more respected and spawned many legends and folktales of angry gods and evil spirits. Those closest to the volcano in western Java and Sumatra were victims of the volcanic debris and hot gases from the blast. Countless thousands more were killed by the 120 foot high wall of water from the following tsunamis. After the initial eruption on August 26, a cloud of gas and debris was sent some 15 miles into the atmosphere and it is believed that debris from this eruption clogged the neck of the volcanic cone, allowing pressure to build inside the magma chamber. The next morning, four massive explosions were heard as far away as Perth, Australia (about 2800 miles) and much of the island collapsed into the caldera. According to the Volcanic Explosion Index (VEI), the eruption of Krakatoa is given a rating of 6, which is comparative to the explosive force of 200 megatons of Trinitrotoluene (TNT). The eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 had a VEI rating of 5.Kracatoa 4

Coral block thrown onto the shore of Java after the Krakatau eruption of 1883. Picture taken in 1885.

Coral block thrown onto the shore of Java after the Krakatau eruption of 1883. Picture taken in 1885.

Just a few months prior to the eruption in May of 1883, the captain of a German warship reported a cloud of ash over Krakatoa that he estimated to be over 6 miles high. Other vessels in the area reported seeing similar sites and heard explosions. Inhabitants of the neighboring islands celebrated and held festivals in honor of the display of lights in the night sky. The celebrations would end tragically with the eruption and ensuing tsunami on August 27.

The first explosion ruptured the magma chamber, sea water rushed in causing the water to flash-boil. The force of this phenomenon created a steam-generated explosion that propelled pyroclastic materials over 25 miles at speeds of over 60 mph. The eruption sent about 11 cubic miles of volcanic debris in the lower atmosphere that darkened the skies for nearly 300 miles from the volcano. The effects of the eruption of Krakatoa were not only felt in the immediate area of the volcano. Because of the debris in the atmosphere, Europe and the United States experienced unusually brilliant sunsets and for the next five years, the average global temperatures would be about 1.2 F degrees cooler.

Large coral block transported by the Krakatoa explosion (Photo by S. Leroy)

Large coral block transported by the Krakatoa explosion (Photo by S. Leroy)

Krakatoa was not the largest eruption in the modern era, but it was certainly responsible for the largest loss of life. Could an eruption of this magnitude happen again? Absolutely. Do we know where or when? Nope. But be assured that the U.S. Geological Survey has its eye on many locations. Nevertheless, there is nothing that we can do about an eruption other than be prepared.

So stop worrying and enjoy this beautiful day. Earth always wins in the end.

 

 


Sources:

 

Virginia Dare and the Lost Colony of Roanoke

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Baptism of Virginia Dare, lithograph, 1880

Baptism of Virginia Dare, lithograph, 1880

Virginia Dare was the first child born in any British colony and part of the first mystery in the “new world.” She was born in 1587, in the Roanoke Colony (located in North Carolina now) and named after the Virginia colony where her parents lived. She was also the grand-daughter of the colony’s governor, John White. The Roanoke Colony was later known as the Lost Colony, one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of our country’s history.

Sir Walter Raleigh received the right to set up a colony from the Queen; he wanted the gold and riches the Spanish were getting, while the Queen wanted a base in the area to attack (and plunder) the Spanish ships coming from the new world full of gold. Even though Raleigh himself never visited North American, he sent two representatives to explore the area. They landed on Roanoke Island in 1584 and established good relations with the natives, taking two natives back to England. Raleigh met with the natives and decided to send an expedition, led by Sir Richard Grenville. As the men explored the area, they discovered that a silver cup was missing and accused the natives. They killed the villagers and burned the town—all for a silver cup. Grenville left the colonists to establish a fort and went back to England for more supplies. Surprisingly, the natives no longer viewed the English as friendly, and often attacked the fort. The ship promising to return didn’t come with fresh supplies. Sir Francis Drake stopped by to say hello, and offered to take anyone back to England who wanted to go; some did—they were the lucky ones. A second colony expedition, organized by Raleigh, was led by John White (a friend of Raleigh’s), and were to settle near Chesapeake Bay. Before they unloaded at Chesapeake, they had orders to check on the Roanoke Colony.

roanokeThis second expedition found no one in the colony. The colonists were forced to stay behind by the fleet’s commander, Simon Fernandez (reasons unknown), while the ship went back to England for reinforcements. Before he sailed away, White tried to re-establish friendly relations with the Native Americans; some tribes were friendly, others still were angry over the previous treatment of their tribesmen. The colonists watched as the ship left them in the new world. White wanted to get back as soon as he could, after all his daughter and granddaughter, Virginia Dare, were at Roanoke. He could find no captain to take him back in the winter months, and then in 1588, the Spanish attacked the English in the grand Armada, which further delayed his return. In 1590, White’s relief ship finally landed on Roanoke Island and found the settlement deserted. No people, no bodies, no signs of struggle. They only found this word carved in a pole: CROATOAN.

The return of Governor White to the "Lost Colony"

The return of Governor White to the “Lost Colony”

As to what happened to the 115 colonists living on Roanoke Island, no one has ever found any clues or remains. Only the word CROATOAN. Was it a clue? What did it mean?

Several ideas have been explored over the centuries. They could have been killed, but where were the bodies? They could have been assimilated into other friendly tribes; there was a Croatoan tribe that was friendly with the colonists. This would have accounted for no bodies and no struggles. But wouldn’t other tribes in the area have given this news to other white men? No one really tried to investigate until Captain John Smith, of Jamestown fame, tried to ask the nearby tribes if they knew what happened. He was told that a friendly tribe took them in. He was also told by Chief Powhatan that he and his tribe had murdered them all. He even showed Smith things he said had belonged to the white colonists. There were wild rumors of two story Native American buildings, possibly erected by the missing colonists.

Virginia Dare’s name has become a way to attract tourists for North Carolina. Many locations are named after her, including Dare County, North Carolina; the Virginia Dare Trail and the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge, which spans the Croatoan Sound. Her birthday is celebrated annually on Roanoke Island. On her 350th birthday in 1937, the community of Roanoke Island launched a play entitled “The Lost Colony.” This drama was supposed to be a one year run, but has become a permanent and popular Outer Banks attraction.

Marble sculpture of Virginia Dare formerly in St Bride's Church, Fleet St

Marble sculpture of Virginia Dare formerly in St Bride’s Church, Fleet St

In 2005, PBS aired a Time Team America program: the team traveled to Roanoke Island looking to find the site of Fort Raleigh and any clues as to what happened to the Lost Colony. This was a collaboration of archaeologists and scientists who are given 3 days to dig and study interesting historic sites to see if they can find more information. In an different program, aired on the History Channel in 2015, archaeologists searching around an old settlement area found some intriguing items, including a gold ring, a musket barrel and a slate that may have been used for children to learn their alphabet. Perhaps, someday, we’ll finally find out what happened to the vanished Roanoke colony.

To read about Virginia Dare, we suggest these books: Read the rest of this entry

The Scandalous Cleopatra

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Queen-cleopatraCleopatra is still an enigma even after 2000 years. So much so that books are still being written about her. Everyone knows the story of Cleopatra, who by the way was the 7th Cleopatra to rule Egypt. She read the writing on the wall when Rome began to conquer nation after nation. Plus she wanted to win the Egyptian throne, and rule alone, not with her brother/husband. She wanted to get on the good side of Julius Caesar when he was in Alexandria. Knowing that her brother Ptolemy XIII would keep her from meeting with Julius Caesar, she had herself wrapped in a rug and delivered to Julius. And thus she outwitted her rival brother. She and Julius had a good relationship; she became his mistress, even having his child. When Julius Caesar was murdered, she chose to back Mark Anthony against Octavian (soon to be Augustus Caesar). Octavian, upset that Mark Anthony has chosen Cleopatra over his own sister Octavia, broke the second triumvirate and declared war on Cleopatra (and Mark Anthony). After his defeat at the Battle of Actium, Mark Anthony fell on his sword in defeat and Cleopatra committed suicide by death by poisonous snake on August 12, 30 B.C.

This is what history tells us. Here are some facts you may not have known:

Cleopatra may not have been Egyptian, or maybe she was. Ptolemy I, a general in Alexander the Great’s army, became ruler of Egypt after Alexander died. His line, the Ptolemaic line, lasted for several centuries, ending with the death of Cleopatra. Greek was the language of the ruling family in the beginning; our Cleopatra (VII) knew the Egyptian language, but also spoke Greek and Latin and many others. Outside Europe, in Africa and in Islamic tradition, she was remembered very differently. Arab writers refer to her as a scholar; 400 years after her death her statue was still honored at Philae, a religious center that also attracted pilgrims from outside Egypt.

Cleopatra_VII_tetradrachm_Syria_mint

A tetradrachm of Cleopatra VII, Syria mint

Many scholars believe that Cleopatra wasn’t as beautiful as once believed. She was intelligent and well educated, speaking as many as a dozen languages and was familiar with mathematics, philosophy, oratory and astronomy. She reportedly enjoyed talking to learned men and women and could hold her own with them. Coins with her portrait show her with manly features and a large, hooked nose (however, she might have intentionally portrayed herself as masculine as a display of strength). Plutarch claimed that Cleopatra’s beauty was “not altogether incomparable,” and that it was instead her mellifluous speaking voice and “irresistible charm” that made her so desirable. So it may have been only Roman propaganda that portrayed her as a debauched temptress as shown in the movies.

Members of the Ptolemaic dynasty often married within the family to preserve the purity of their bloodline. Cleopatra’s parents were probably even brother and sister. Cleopatra eventually married both of her younger brothers, each of whom served as her ceremonial spouse and co-regent at different times during her reign. Her first sibling-husband, Ptolemy XIII, defeated her and ran her out of Egypt after she tried to become sole ruler, and they faced off in a civil war. Cleopatra regained the upper hand by teaming with Julius Caesar, and becoming his mistress. Nine months into their relationship, she gave him a son, naming the baby Caesarion – little Caesar.  After Caesar’s son was born, he backed Cleopatra’s claim to the throne and helped her regain it.  Because of this alliance, Ptolemy drowned in the Nile River after being defeated in battle. Following the war, Cleopatra married to her younger brother Ptolemy XIV, but it is believed that she had him murdered in a bid to make her son Caesarion her co-ruler. She also engineered the execution of her sister, Arsinoe, whom she considered a rival to throne.

Cleopatra’s relationship with Caesar caused quite a scandal in Rome: Egypt and its pleasure-loving culture were despised as decadent by the rule conscious Romans. But the real reason their relationship was so scandalous was that Caesar had no other sons. He was married to Calpurnia, and had had two wives before her, but he had no son, until now. The worry that Caesarion, an Egyptian, might grow up to claim to rule over Rome as Caesar’s heir was a direct threat to Rome.

Antony and Cleopatra, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Antony and Cleopatra, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Eventually, Cleopatra married Mark Antony and had three children with him, which made the Romans even angrier with her. Antony’s rival Octavian portrayed him as a traitor under the sway of a scheming seductress, and in 32 B.C., the Roman Senate declared war on Cleopatra. The conflict reached its climax the following year in a famous naval battle at Actium. Cleopatra personally led several dozen Egyptian warships into the fray alongside Antony’s fleet, but they were no match for Octavian’s navy. The battle soon devolved into a rout, and Cleopatra and Antony were forced to break through the Roman line and flee to Egypt.

Augustus (Octavian) founded his reign on the defeat of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. When he had the chance to have a month named in his honor, he chose the eighth month, in which Cleopatra died to create a yearly reminder of her defeat. She chose to die rather than suffer the violence of being paraded and shamed, led through the streets of Rome as a defeated enemy. Augustus had to make do with an image of her that was carried through the streets instead.

Most scientists thought the grave was under the sea near Alexandria (in or near a temple that fell into the sea after too many earthquakes), but others are not so sure. Kathleen Martinez, a criminal lawyer who became an archaeologist to find Cleopatra’s tomb, has found promising signs at some of the sights Cleopatra was known to visit of a possible gravesite. At the close of the program, the search was still on. I suppose we’ll know when the world knows. Read the rest of this entry

π (Pi) Approximation Day

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

pi-151602_960_720Pi Approximation Day is always celebrated on July 22; this year it’s on a Friday. Why you ask? Because the fraction 22/7 is used as a common approximation of π. The number π is a mathematical constant that is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter and is approximately equal to 3.14159…. π (Pi) Day is celebrated by mathematicians, geeks and everyone else on March 14—3.14, get it?) It has been represented by the π, a Greek letter for P and pronounced pi, since the mid-18th century. Because π is an irrational number, it can’t be shown as a fraction, such as ½, ¼ or 3/16. Consequently, its decimal representation never ends and never settles into a permanent repeating pattern.

A fraction represents a part of a whole or, more generally, any number of equal parts, describing how many parts of a certain size there are, for example, one-half, eight-fifths, three-quarters. A simple fraction consists of an integer numerator, displayed above a line (or before a slash), and a non-zero integer denominator, displayed below (or after) that line.

5525295088_393b010f76_bAn approximation is a mathematical and scientific term used to describe anything that is very near to but not exactly equal to something else. (In English, we’d use the word roughly or almost.)

Want to celebrate π Approximation Day?

Eat pie, any kind will do. See how many slices you can make. Try another mathematical problem of how to get the first slice out without making a mess. This will take much experimentation!
Or eat something round if you don’t like pie. Pizza anyone?? Read the rest of this entry

Happy Bastille Day!: Now what is it?

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Bastille Day is July 14 this year and every year in France. It is the French National Day which celebrates the unity of the french people and commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789. So what exactly is a Bastille, you want to know?

Prise_de_la_BastilleThe Bastille was a fortress in Paris, known formally as the Bastille Saint-Antoine, for the district that it was in. For most of its history was used as a state prison by the kings of France. The fortress was originally built to defend the eastern gate of the city of Paris from the English threat in the Hundred Years’ War, in the 1300s. It was a strong fortress with eight towers which protected that highly strategic entrance at the eastern edge of Paris. It was made into a state prison in 1417, used by both the invading English and the French. As Paris grew and spread beyond the gates, the Bastille became surrounded by houses, and was a less of a fortress and more of a prison. King Louis XIV used the Bastille to lock away any of the nobility who opposed him or angered him. Under kings Louis XV and XVI, the fortress was used to detain prisoners from all classes and as a police station, prison and arsenal.

On July 14th, 1789the Bastille was stormed by a crowd filled with revolutionary zeal, some intent on freeing the prisoners, others who wanted the valuable gunpowder held within the fortress. The seven remaining prisoners were found and released. This revolt was the start of the French Revolution. The Bastille became an important symbol for the French Republican movement, and was later demolished and replaced by the Place de la Bastille.

Bastille_Day_2014_Paris_-_Color_guards_034But how do they celebrate Bastille Day?

  • Every July 14, a large military parade takes place along the Champs Elysées, the famous French avenue that runs from the Arc de Triomphe. It is the biggest parade that takes place in all of Europe. During the 2015 parade, three different anti-terror squads marched in the parade to honor the 10,000 troops that helped secure safety in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
  • Another part of the celebrations are the Fireman’s Balls. In this tradition, which started in 1937, fire stations open their doors to host fundraising dance parties. The money collected goes to help funding of the fire stations all over France.
  • And another thing you must be aware of—you never wish a Frenchman (or woman) Happy Bastille Day.   In France, July 14th is always la fête du 14-juillet (the July 14th holiday) or more officially, la fête nationale (The National Holiday). And everyone sings La Marseillaise, which is the French national anthem. “Allons enfants de la patrie…”
  • Bastille Day isn’t a celebration only in France; it is celebrated all over the world. Two of the largest outside France are in the United States: in New Orleans, where Francophiles celebrate the holiday for a week long, and in New York City, where a block party takes place on 60th street.

9301304458_6fb2d03a3f_b

Read the rest of this entry

What in the World is Heraldry: A Primer

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

Grenville ArmorialHeraldry, the word brings up ideas of knights and tournaments, royalty and television dramas. To most people it’s a stuffy, old fashion anachronism. To a very small few, it is an art form. What it really is falls under the modern concept of branding. If you were in the know in the 14th and 15th centuries you could look at the heralds list at a tournament and recognize knights from their coats of arms. If you had not met the knight personally, you could judge his character based on his arms. Knights of the same family had similar elements and you could see that sir Thomas was a younger brother or cousin or nephew of Sir William and make a value judgment based on what you knew of Sir William. This is the same way we make a judgment of the quality on a restaurant based on whether we see two arches or on a field gules, or woman gardant argent on a field noir. While these terms are in the language of heraldry the images they describe are not. No one would mistake Starbucks or McDonalds as knightly.

While the decoration of a shield or garment goes back for thousands of years, heraldry as we know it is documented back to the time of Charlemagne. It started as a way to differentiate between people on the battlefield. In the eras before military uniform, you had to know exactly who was on your side so you did not attack, or be attacked by, one of your fellows. As armor became more comprehensive and helmets began to cover the entire head, a new means of identification became necessary. The natural thing to do was to make sure you used the same design on all your shields and that what you used was different from other people. As more people began to use this new system, someone had to keep track of designs to make sure that repetition did not occur and that designs were recorded and differentiated between sons and cousins etcetera. This led to the creation of Heraldic authorities that kept (and still keep) roles of arms and titles and control who is granted what arms and how close to the original familial arms they can be.

Heraldic_Banners_of_the_Knights_of_the_Garter_mid-16th_Century

Banners of mid-sixteenth-century Knights of the Order of the Garter supported by single beasts.

The initial designs were simple ones. Shapes of one color, or tincture, were placed on fields of another. The only real rule of early heraldry was that you did not place a color on another color. If the field was red, the symbol had to be silver or gold. Black was occasionally acceptable for either tincture or metal. Simple designs were quickly used up and more complex symbols began to be used. As families grew and armigerous , or arms bearing, families intermarried and carried both arms going forward through processes called impaling or quartering, designs got more and more elaborate. This could be taken to the extreme such as the case of the Grenville Armorial, with its 719 quarterings. This is an exceptional example though. Most Arms only had 16 quartering at most and they were often repeated. The other issue was differencing arms from father to son. A father had arms of a saltire noir on a field argent, a black X on a silver shield. He also had six sons. They couldn’t all take his arms, only the eldest could and he had to bear a label on his until his father had passed. The system of cadency was created. This varied from country to country but usually consisted of a label applied to the father’s arms and each point of that label carried a specific type of symbol depending on birth order. Some countries varied this. Scotland for instance used a system of borders to delineate the same thing.Scottish Cadency

In modern times heraldry has fallen in importance amongst the general population. It has not, however disappeared completely. The family of Kate Middleton was granted a coat of arms before her marriage to Prince William, showing the continued importance of the institution of heraldry to the elites of the United Kingdom. In Scotland the “family” coat of arms does not exist, regardless of what those online family history services tell you. The arms of the family are actually the arms of the chief of the clan of that name and only that person can claim them as their own. It is actually a crime to claim them without a certification of the Lord Lyon, the Scottish heraldic authority. You might think that an egalitarian nation like the United States is beyond such trappings of nobility, but you would be mistaken. There are a few heraldic authorities in the United States, but none who have governmental status. The American College of Heraldry, a private non-profit organization will register your arms giving them some protection from use by others. The only official governmental organization concerned with heraldry is one that goes back to the military roots of heraldry. The Army Institute of Heraldry keeps track of all the coats of arms of all branches of the service and designs, or commissions designs, for new units, ships and awards. The symbolism and association of heraldry continues to be relevant today even beyond the days of using them as a very colorful My Name Is … badge.

 


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