By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
We all know that many thousands of people gather in Times Square in New York City each year on December 31 and millions watch and celebrate at home. But why? Why December 31? And when did the ball drop in New York City become the American celebration it is?
We have to go way back in history to find out why January 1 is the beginning of the year, at least to most of us. The Jewish calendar and the Chinese calendar don’t begin on January 1. Neither does the Islamic calendar. In ancient times, the new year started for most civilizations after the Spring Equinox. It wasn’t until the time of Julius Caesar that our modern calendar was established. The calendar had gotten badly out of sync with the sun. That’s what happens when the year is only 10 months long. Julius Caesar added two months to the calendar (July and August, for Julius and Augusts, respectively.) He also established January 1 as the beginning of the year. Most European countries used the Julian calendar until it was replaced by the Gregorian calendar in 1582, which we still use today. That caused a great deal of unrest and problems, but that is another story.
Pope Gregory XIII, who invented the Gregorian calendar, also kept January 1 as the beginning of the year. Throughout history, January 1 was celebrated riotously, sometimes to excess. So much excess that these celebrations were banned after the Protestant Revolution. It took a while for fun and joy to return. Most people probably had a quiet celebration at home. Make you wonder how Scrooge would have celebrated the New Year.
New York was a happening town in the 19th century, bustling with life and many, many people. Around the beginning of the century, people began getting together to celebrate and welcome in the New Year. It didn’t take long to organize special events. People began to gather at times Square to celebrate New Year’s in 1904. It didn’t take long for the most famous celebration in the United States to start. The first ball drop was in 1907. But it was nothing like we see now. It was made of iron and wood, covered in 25 watt light bulbs—it weighed 700 hundred pounds! Made by a young immigrant metalworker named Jacob Starr; Mr. Starr formed the company that for most of the 1900s provided the ball for each new year celebration. And lest we think the lighted glasses and blinking light hats revelers wear are new, people wore battery-powered glasses in 1908!
In 1920, the ball’s weight was reduced to only 400 pounds. That ball was in use up until 1955, when an aluminum ball was introduced, weighing much less. In 1980, red lights were added and a green lit stem, making the ball look like an apple—for the New York: The Big Apple campaign. In 1988, the white lights returned; in 1998, the last aluminum ball was lowered. But for the year 2000 celebration, everything changed. That’s when Waterford Crystal and Phillips Lighting created a new, snazzier and jazzier ball! In 2007, the 100th anniversary of the ball dropping, LED lights were added to the aluminum and crystal ball. There are now 2,688 triangles on the ball, with over 30,000 LED lights make the ball more spectacular and programmable. The lights are more like programmed Christmas lights you see now. As an added bonus, and a year-round tourist attraction, the ball stays in full public view at Times Square. It weighs over 10,000 pounds (that’s five tons!) and is twelve feet in diameter. It is lowered slowly (you wouldn’t want a 5 ton object to move fast) down a 77 foot tall poll at one minute to midnight on December 31. The whole crowd counts down the last ten seconds, then the horns and screams echo throughout the city, chaos ensues and a new year begins.
Across the United States a range of cities and towns hold their own versions of the ball drop. A variety of objects are lowered or raised during the last minute of the year. The objects are usually linked to an aspect of local history or industry. Examples of objects ‘dropped’ or raised in this way include a variety of live and modeled domestic and wild animals, fruit, vegetables and more…
- In Key West, Florida, a very large conch is dropped
- Miami drops “Big Orange”
- Atlanta drops a peach – not surprising
- In Indianapolis, they started dropping an Indy race car recently
- Westover, NC drops a three-foot tall wooden flea
- In Cincinnati, a flying pig is flown (not dropped)
- Bethlehem, PA drops a 100 pound lighted Peep (the company headquarters are there…)
- Memphis drops a guitar, Nashville used to, but now it’s a musical note
- Plymouth, WI drops a huge cheese wedge, and why not?
- Boise, ID drops a huge potato
- Raleigh, NC drops a giant acorn made of brass—it weighs 900 pounds
- And for a bit of fun, Stroudsburg, PA drops ping pong balls!
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Michael de Nostradame (Nostradamus) was born on December 15, 1503 in the south of France. His family bout and sold grain, and was originally Jewish (several generations before his birth, the family converted to Catholicism and changed the name to Nostradamus). At the age of 15, in 1518, he became a student at the University of Avignon. Yet only a year after he came, the plague came to the city and the school closed to keep the disease far away. This was not the only time that Nostradamus would come close to the plague.
Since he was interested in medicine, he traveled the French country-side collecting folk remedies and helping sick people. This became a problem for him later, though. After over seven years of traveling and healing, he went back to school to get a doctorate in medicine. He was quickly expelled after the faculty found out he had practiced “folk medicine.” When he was twenty-eight, he was invited to the Aquitaine area by a scholar and physician. While there he married, and had two children, all of whom died, most likely from the plague. He continued traveling after the death of his family through France, and (probably) Italy. In 1545, he helped a physician fight off a plague outbreak in Marseille, and then again in Provence, close to his home area. In 1547 he married a rich widow, and had another family of six children. He he died from complications of gout in 1566.
Nostradamus’s books also reflected his medical interests. He translated a book by the famous Roman physician Galen, and wrote a medical cookbook with recipes for medicinal treatments, including the plague, which he is considered to have been somewhat successful at treating. It also included how to make various kinds of cosmetics.
However, during this time period, everyone was writing almanacs, at least many literate Renaissance men were (this continued up through Benjamin Franklin’s time. And yes, Franklin wrote an almanac too.) So in 1550, Nostradamus joined the trend and wrote an almanac for the year. Once he realized how successful the almanac could be, he decided to write one a year (even though he often published more than one a year). He published them annually from 1550 until his death. In all, we know he wrote at least eleven almanacs—at least that’s all we know about, that still exist. These annual books contained over 6,000 prophecies. Is it any wonder he started getting requests for horoscopes from prominent people near and far? His greatest and best seller, The Prophecies, was the compiled collection of his major predictions.
He wrote his greatest and best seller, The Prophecies, as a book of quatrains—poems with four lines. Each quatrain was a prophecy for a future time, but they were not in chronological order. He often wrote in prophetic code; sometimes using mixed words from other languages, puns, word games and more. He must have worried about threats from the church, but he was never charged or arrested by the Inquisition for his writings. According to the work’s preface, a letter from Nostradamus to his son Cesar (a child from his second marriage), the verses were intended to be mystifying; plus he wanted return customers!
They were published over a period of three years by his secretary, who oversaw the entire collection’s publication in 1568. Nostradamus’ major work of prophecies is often referred to as “The Centuries.” It was published in installments and consisted of about a thousand quatrains , collected in groups of a hundred , which gave the title its other name. The Centuries refers to the organizing structure of the work, not to periods of time. Nostradamus said he was able to predict the future through a combination of astrological study and divine inspiration. He was well-known for his astrological charts and was popular with both nobles and royalty. He said that sometimes an angelic spirit helped him figure out the charts and influences. He sought out inspiration through various forms of meditation, usually focusing in on fire or water. He claimed he could see and understand events in the near and distant future. Most quatrains refer to deaths, wars or natural disasters, events that are sure to occur again and again. This is a lot like modern horoscopes. Horoscopes typically detail things a wide range of people experience regularly, such as “conflicts at work,” “happiness in relationships” or “exciting new changes.” Chances are, these predictions will line up with your life, at least some of the time.
- The house where he grew up still exists, and has a plaque next to it indicating that this house is where the seer Nostradamus was born.
- The document about his being expelled from the University of Montpellier still exists, archived in the school’s library.
- He was buried in the local Franciscan chapel in Salon (legend says he was standing up!), which is now part of a restaurant. He was re-interred during the French Revolution in the Saint-Laurent Church, where his tomb remains to this day.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Krampus is a new movie coming out in December that’s rated PG-13; the story is based on the Germanic legend of Krampus. It could be scary for the little ones. Read below and you’ll see why. And if you’re wondering what is a Krampus? It’s not a what; it’s a who.
Krampus, a kind of bogeyman, is most often found in Germanic and Austrian legends and is a terrifying companion of St. Nicholas, usually seen as a black or dark figure with horns, (and often a very long tongue) shadowing the good Santa Claus. He walks behind Saint Nicholas on St. Nicholas Day Eve (December 6) and leaves ashes or sticks for the naughty children, while St. Nicholas leaves sweets or fruit for the good little girls and boys. Krampus is the one who punishes the bad children, those who misbehave or are mean to others. He carries a large sack with him, and legend has it that he carried bad girls and boys (those on the naughty list) away to store in a tall tree for eating later. You wouldn’t want to be on this naughty list! In some towns, not too long ago, he followed Saint Nicholas from town to town and quizzed children on their deeds, whether they were good of bad that year, whether they did well in school and their chores.
Some think that the word Krampus comes from the Germanic word for talon, similar to crampon, the device climbers use when climbing icy mountains. Some folklorists say that Krampus is the god of the witches, brought low to serve Saint Nicholas. Others say he is a pagan god, greatly diminished. Perhaps this is why Krampus celebrations were banned by the Catholic Church for centuries. He is similar to the horned god the witches in colonial New England were accused often of consorting with!
He is mostly known in Europe, Austria and Germany, and is popular in Christmas parades in those countries. In Holland, he’s known as Black Peter, or Zwarte Piet. In Germany, he’s known as Knecht Ruprecht and in some parts of Germany, Hans Trapp. When the Pennsylvania Dutch came to America, they brought the name Fur Nicholas (Pelz Nicholas) with them. This name became Belsnickel down through the years. Also, in Philadelphia, there is still a Mummer’s parade on New Year’s Day, often with people in Krampus costumes. In Austria, sweets made out of dates and nuts are made to look like Krampus are sold in markets. At one time, people could send Christmas cards with Krampus on them. Who’s to say they won’t make a reappearance? In Ypsilanti, they put on a Krampus Ball. People can come in costume and dance. One of the organizers has called it “Halloween for Adults,” even though it’s a Christmas party.
Many families brought the legend of Krampus with them when they came to the United States. Perhaps Brom was from one of those families? The legend of Krampus became more widely known in the United States from the book Krampus the Yule Lord by the author and artist Brom. The cover of his book is quite arresting. If something looking like that was asking me if I was a good child, I’d say yes no matter what. In Brom’s story, Krampus has been imprisoned by Saint Nicholas, and is working on getting free to take his revenge. He has a few servants, called belsnickels, who carry out his orders. Whether or not he succeeds, you’ll have to find out yourself.
He was known to carry with him a whip, a stick, a bell or a sack.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
419 years ago Sir Francis Drake died of dysentery on a ship near Puerto Rico; it was his last voyage. It was fitting that this privateer, naval captain and hero to the English died at sea, on his ship. He was almost always at sea.
Francis Drake was born in 1540, probably, since no recorded date exists. When he was nine, his family moved to Kent. It was a lucky break for Francis. His father was appointed as chaplain for the King’s Navy, which brought Francis to the sea. He was apprenticed to a family neighbor who had coastal ship, and thus his training started. He was such a natural at sea that the ship’s owner, being so impressed with his abilities, willed Francis his ship. And so he got his first ship.
In 1563, when he was twenty-three, Drake made his first voyage to the Americas with his cousin, whose family owned a fleet of ships. One must suppose that from the age of nine to at least his mid-teens, he was learning the ropes, so to speak, probably working his way up from the lowly cabin boy. History doesn’t say, but he did well enough to sail with his cousin several times.
In 1572, commanding his first fleet, he sailed to the Isthmus of Panama (where the Panama Canal is now.) During the raid, Drake was badly wounded, and the crew, wanting to save his life, left the treasure they had liberated. He recovered and then set about liberating some more gold and treasure from Spain. He had a close call later; his partner was captured and beheaded. With the Spanish hot on his trail, he and two volunteers built a raft and sailed on it to meet up with the rest of the fleet. (Wow!)
After Panama, he was asked by Queen Elizabeth to raid the Spanish along the American Pacific coast, but bad weather stopped him. He tried again, and lost several ships. He ended up wintering in the Argentina area, or what was later to be Argentina. With his last ship (the Golden Hinde), he made it to the western coast of South America. He captured a ship here, a ship there, adding to his fleet and obtaining more accurate maps of the area. He liberated a ship of wine and a treasure ship carrying 25,000 pesos. He also captured a ship with 80 pounds of gold and 25 tons of silver! He sailed all the way up to California, calling it New Albion; he may have been the first white man to see the San Francisco Bay!. In 1580, after sailing across the Pacific and around India and Africa, he sailed into Plymouth. The queen’s share of the treasure was more than the income of the nation for the whole year! He was knighted the next year, by a French diplomat, as Elizabeth watched.
King Phillip II of Spain had declared war, so the British government ordered Drake to attack the Spanish colonies. In 1585, commanding twenty one ships, he did just that. With twenty-one ships under his command, he sailed to Spain and then the colonies of Santa Domingo and Cartagena. He even sacked St. Augustine (in Florida) and stopped by Roanoke and took all the colonists back to England. Could this be what happened to the lost colony? He returned to England in 1586 to be hailed a hero. In another raid later that year, he raided Cadiz, destroying 37 ships. Based on these continued attacks and raids Phillip II ordered a planned invasion of England. Spain was truly feeling the pinch from the English privateers.
This invasion, now called the Spanish Armada, was to overwhelm, defeat England and overthrow Queen Elizabeth and bring back Catholicism. In July 1588, this fleet of 130 ships was planning to sail to the Flemish coast and meet up with Flemish troops. The fleet never met with the Flemish soldiers, since the Protestant Dutch were blockading the port. Drake, who was now Vice Admiral of the English Navy captured one of the Spanish flag ships; the next morning the English brought out fire ships, which dispersed most of the fleet. Finally the weather took over and one third of the fleet was lost to storms and the rocky coasts on England (Cornwall) and Ireland. The Spanish Armada was no more.
In 1589, Drake was ordered by the queen to sail to Portugal to help support the Portuguese in their uprising against King Phillip II (he ruled both Spain and Portugal at this time), and also to find and destroy any remaining Armada ships. They were also to try to capture the Azores. This proved disastrous, since they lost twenty ships and over 100 men. He continued with the navy, but his glory days were behind him. During the attack on San Juan, 1596 (still a Spanish colony at this time) his cabin was badly damaged by a cannon ball shot. He survived, but succumbed to dysentery a few weeks later. He was buried at sea in a leaded coffin; he was 55. Although many people have tried to find his coffin, no one has yet been successful.
Drake’s famous ship – The Golden Hind
Drake’s famous ship the Golden Hind was originally known as Pelican, but was renamed by Drake mid-voyage in 1578, in honor of his patron, Sir Christopher Hatton, whose crest was a golden ‘hind’ (a female deer). Hatton was one of the principal sponsors of Drake’s world voyage.
After Drake’s circumnavigation, the Golden Hind was maintained for public exhibition for nearly 100 years at Deptford. This is the earliest known example of a ship being maintained for public display because of her historic significance. She eventually rotted away and was finally broken up. Two replicas have since been built over the years; the first of them was permanently on display in Brixham after 1963, when it was built for a TV series about Francis Drake, but was wrecked by a storm in 1987. The next replica was built in Devon soon after, in 1973, using traditional methods. She sailed from Plymouth on her maiden voyage in late 1974, arriving on May 8, 1975 in San Francisco. Between 1981 and 1984, she was berthed in England and was established as an educational museum, but in 1984–1985 she sailed around the British Isles and then crossed the Atlantic to the Caribbean. In 1986, she passed through the Panama Canal to sail on to Vancouver. In 1987, she began a tour of the US Pacific coast. In 1988, she passed back through the Panama Canal to visit Texas. In 1992 she returned home to tour the British Isles again. The oceangoing Golden Hinde has been featured in several films; since 1996 she has been berthed in London where she hosts visits from schools.
Other interesting items:
There is a board game called Francis Drake, which came out in 2013. Here is the description: Return to a bustling Plymouth Harbor in 1572 as an aspiring Elizabethan captain makes preparations for three exciting voyages to the Spanish Main in search of fame and fortune! The object of the game is to see who can set sail and reach the Spanish Main first. The riches of the Aztec and Inca Empires await the swashbuckling captains.
There is a Sir Francis Drake hotel in downtown San Francisco. Perhaps it is named after Drake since he sailed to this city? It was built in 1928 and although it has been refurbished it still tries to have an older, more historic feel to it. The doormen are Beefeaters, and the place gets four star ratings. It’s even pet friendly!
In Uprooted, Novik turns to her Polish heritage for a change of pace from the world of Temeraire. Don’t worry, though, another book in that world is due out next year.
Agnieszka grew up in a valley that borders The Wood. Every ten year, the Wizard Dragon picks a young girl as the price for keeping the valley safe from The Wood, which is corrupted, dangerous and unpredictable. Things that go in The Wood don’t come out, or come out changed and mad (insane, not angry.) Agnieszka’s best friend Kasia is perfect at all she does. Everyone assumes that Kasia will be chosen by Dragon. Nieshka can’t keep clean, she can’t cook, plus since she knows she won’t be chosen, she didn’t bother to learn to cook or sew. She’s totally unprepared. But when the time comes, Dragon does choose Agnieszka, no Kasia.
For several months Nieshka is terrified and lonely. Dragon is brusque and either ignores her or complains about her messiness. Then Kasia’s mother frantically asks for her help; Kasia has been abducted by beings from The Wood. Nieshka runs to rescue her friend, learns that she has magic herself, and meets the prince determined to free his mother from The Wood. The Queen was taken twenty years ago – no one believes it possible to rescue anyone from The Wood.
Can Nieshka succeed?? What will the Wood do if she and Dragon can free the queen?
I listened to Temeraire, but never read the rest of the books about fighting on dragons during the Napoleonic Wars. But this book, I fell right in. It took me a while to realize that Jaga, who Agnieszka was most like, was Baba Yaga, a witch from Slavic mythology. Her mobile house walks around on three chicken legs… When talking with a friend, we both agreed it will make a great movie. Let’s see if someone makes an option on the book to make a movie.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
It’s Leif Erikson Day! Hinga Dinga Durgen Everyone! Turns out this what Spongebob Squarepants wishes everyone on Leif Erikson Day. It’s his second favorite holiday, after April Fool’s… He even has a costume!
Leif Erikson (pronounced Layf, like some of us of a certain age remember the actor Leif Garrett) was a Norwegian traveler, voyager, explorer and sailor who is considered the leader of the first boat of explorers to visit North America. It’s generally considered that he landed at Newfoundland and later Labrador. Leif had a very adventurous father, Erik the Red, who established a colony on Greenland, after being kicked out of Iceland—but that’s another story.
There was no place for Leif there, since Erik the Red was a larger than life person himself, so he set his eyes on the West. There had been rumors of a far-away land full of wonders, (specifically from Bjarni Herjólfsson, another Viking explorer who some believe is the true first discover of North America.) He decided to go exploring, heading west across a great body of water. Artifacts excavated at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland have been dated to around 1000 A.D., which is considered the only confirmed Viking settlement in North America. According to sagas, the Norse called the area Vinland, because they found grapes growing there.
It wasn’t until 1924 that President Calvin Coolidge, after learning of the research done by Norwegian-American researchers, recognized Erikson as the “Discoverer of America,” even though the first book written about the Norse having discovered America was published in the late 1800s. Wisconsin was the first state to make Leif Erikson day an official holiday—not surprising since it was mostly settled by Scandinavians. Over the years, other states made the day an official holiday. In 1963, a U. S. Congressman from Duluth introduced a bill to observe Leif Erikson day across the nation. In 1964, L B J started the tradition of proclaiming October the 9th as Leif Erikson Day. Every year, it’s at least one thing Congress can agree on!
Why is it October 9? Since there were no records available from the Viking visitation in 1000, any date could have been chosen for Leif Erikson Day. How was October 9th chosen? The Norwegian ship Restauration, bearing the first official waive of Norwegian immigrants, arrived in New York on October 9, 1825.
So have a happy holiday, and remember that it’s because of Leif Erikson and the Restauration that Congress is actually agreeing once a year. Hinga Dinga Durgen Everyone!
(As always, the opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and in no way reflect upon the beliefs and principles of Williamson County Public Library, its employees, or the Norwegians.)
This year Williamson County Public Library is having a program on Saturday, August 15 in conjunction with Spirit of ’45 to commemorate the end of World War II and the soldiers who fought, served, returned or died during the war.
Why August 15th? The Greatest Generation, as Tom Brokaw so eloquently named them, would know immediately. Japan surrendered on august 14, and August 15 immediately began to be celebrated as V-J Day (as June 6th was V – E Day.) 2015 is the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. As those who served in World War II and those who lived during it pass away, many people began to realize that as they pass away, so does our connection to World War II and remembering the cost and sorrow of the war.
Led by Susan Collins, Senator from Maine, supported by Senators Daniel Inouye and Frank Lautenberg, who co-sponsored this resolution, Congress in 2010 voted unanimously to create a national day to preserve and honor those who served in World War II. Spirit of ’45 Day is observed on the second Friday of August this year, aligning with August 14, 1945, when spontaneous celebrations broke out across America at the news that the most destructive war in history was over. The purpose of Spirit of ’45 Day is to renew the sense of community, national unity, shared sacrifice and “can do” attitude that were the hallmarks of the generation that endured the difficult times of the Great Depression, fought to defend democracy in the largest mobilization of manpower since the building of the pyramids, and led an unprecedented effort to assure a better future for their children and their children’s children, for both former ally and foe alike.
Spirit of ’45 Day has been steadily gaining traction each year, and is now being celebrated throughout the country with events and activities organized by museums and community history associations, WWII heritage groups, senior living communities and care providers, veterans’ organizations, youth leadership organizations, and others. This year, Scarlett Johansson and Elton John both are stepping up in a big way to help commemorate this generation. John’s mother manned an anti-aircraft gun during the Battle of Britain, and Johansson’s great uncle was the last soldier to die in combat on August 15, 1945.
WWII in Images: Remembrance and Reflection