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The History of April Fools Day

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

With the coming of April the First we are all reminded of the jokes and pranks of years past, but very few people are reminded of the actual origin of this humorous day.

The tradition of April Fool’s Day can be traced back to the days of the early Christian church. Like St. Patrick’s Day and Valentine’s Day, April Fool’s Day is yet another church Holy Day that has become a secular holiday.

The tradition dates back to the late fourth century CE, and St. Hilary of Poitiers. Hilary was an extremely well educated man of a pagan family in the Poitiers region of what is now France. He converted to Christianity and was baptized in his early adulthood along with his wife and young daughter, the future St. Abra. Hilary was well liked and soon was elected Bishop of Poitiers. He was a serious man but had a well-documented jovial streak. There are documented incidents of his being reprimanded by the archbishops and cardinals of France at the time for once having replaced the water in the holy font with “the juice of the apple, the fruit that brought the fall of Eve.” And on another occasion adding a well-loved local sheep to the list of priests to be elevated to the level of monsignor, claiming “no purer lamb of god than he.”

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Hilary of Poitiers

Unfortunately, Hilary, also known as the Hammer of the Arians, was a very prominent detractor of the heretical sect of Christianity known as Arianism. This led him into conflict with some Church Leaders as well as the Emperor Constantius II, and resulted in his exile. When the Emperor’s centurion delivered the notice of exile, Hilary tweaked the man’s nose and immediately decamped for Phrygia. He spent the four years of his exile defending the Roman Catholic ideal and was eventually allowed to return to Poitiers and to the Church’s good favor. After his death in 367, Hilary was Beatified and Canonized very quickly as a defender of the faith with the church of Sant Ilario at Casale Monferrato being named in his honor as early as 380. This dedicated church father and his japery are remembered to this day on the first of April, what we know as April Fool’s Day, but what was once remembered as the Feast of St. Hilary or as he was known in Latin Sanctus Hilarius.

 

Just Kidding!!!April_Fools'_Day_003

Here’s the (more or less) true history of April Fool’s Day:

Okay, so the real history of April Fool’s Day is quite a bit different from that. The actual origin is uncertain. The earliest written reference connecting foolishness and the First of April is from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In the Nun’s Priest’s Tale Chanticleer the egotistical rooster is tricked by the fox. The tale is set “Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two” or the First of April. This however may be a mistake in transcription and refer to 32 days from the end of March, May Second, the anniversary of the engagement of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia in 1381.

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Portrait of Chaucer from a manuscript by Thomas Hoccleve, who may have met Chaucer

Some believe that the practice of playing pranks on fools goes back to the advent of the Gregorian calendar. Before Pope Gregory’s modification to the calendar as we know it, the New Year was celebrated with a week-long festival that started on the Twenty-fifth of March and ended on April first. The new calendar changed that to the January first date we’re all familiar with. It is believed that it was common to send people who continued to hold to the April first date on fool’s errands, making them look the fools they were thought to be. The biggest problem with this likely apocryphal story is that the Gregorian calendar was not introduced until 1582, well after the Chaucer reference as well as several other historical allusions to the holiday.

The most likely origin is that it is a descent from earlier holidays like the roman festival of Hilaria, the Hindu religious festival of Holi, the Jewish Purim holiday and the medieval Feast of Fools. All of these holidays, except for the Feast of Fools, traditionally take place between March and April and are celebrations of joy and mirth. There is a distinct connection with the end of winter and the beginning of spring, a resurgence of joy from the dormancy and doldrums of winter.

bwTraditions vary across the world when it comes to the type of pranks played. In the United Kingdom, and many of its former possessions, it is common to give someone a letter to take to another person who will then read something akin to “send the fool further” and direct them to another person with the same letter. This is supposed to end by noon or else it is the sender rather than the messenger that will be the April fool. In Poland, the tradition of pranks and silliness is so rampant that in 1683 Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II refused to sign a treaty involving Poland unless it was backdated to March 31st. The Scandinavian countries have a tradition where the newspapers will publish exactly one false front page news item, but it is never the main headline. Finally, in French speaking areas and Italy as well you find the April fish (poissons d’avril in French or pesce d’aprile in Italian). This is a practice of attempting to hang a paper fish on the back of someone’s shirt on the first of April.

So now while you are on the lookout for the next person trying to prank you or enjoying the schadenfreude of your own April fools jokes you can now know you are just continuing a centuries old tradition.

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The Expulsion of Percy Shelley

By Lon Maxwell, Reference DepartmentPercy_Bysshe_Shelley_by_Alfred_Clint_crop

Percy Bysshe Shelley, perhaps one of the greatest poets of the English language, universally admired by students of literature, a revolutionary mind in literature and philosophy and college drop out. Okay, that is not entirely correct. He was actually expelled. Yes, expelled. That guy that you were required to study by your senior year English teacher and whom your Literature 201 professor went on about for days was actually expelled from Oxford. Now the Romantic poets were not exactly known for being good little boys and girls, and most of Byron’s poor behavior came in the form of romantic conquests and there was also the all too common descent into penury and debt that plagued them all at one time or another. But no, not Shelley.  He had done something entirely unacceptable, something so scandalous it would cause his father to stop speaking to him (although in honesty, it was one of several occasions where his father refused to speak to him so take that as you will).

What was this heinous crime? What terrible transgression did he commit? He wrote a paper. Yes, just a paper. Well, technically it was a pamphlet. It was 13 pages on a topic that would be none too popular today either. The pamphlet was titled “The Necessity of Atheism” and its author was listed only as “Thro’ deficiency of proof, an atheist.” Shelley never did actually cop to writing it, but it is believed that he and a friend named Thomas Jefferson Hogg wrote and published it in small numbers in the late winter of 1811. They both had talked it up amongst their fellows at Oxford and made sure copies were disseminated far and wide, going as far as to mail them to the bishops, professors and heads of the college. This was probably a bit too much cheek for the Oxford Dons.

The_Necessity_of_Atheism_(Shelley)_title_pageThe pamphlet itself was actually very blasé. It can be summed up quickly as saying due to a lack of empirical evidence of G_d’s existence; it is safer to be an atheist. It is not the very strong argument of a died in the wool zealot, nor was it actually written very well. It was, however, enough to bring him before a disciplinary committee. Some believe that it was helped by another of Shelley’s publications from that year, a poem called “A Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things” that Shelley had published alone as a Gentleman of the University of Oxford, that made a great outcry against the Napoleonic Wars that were nearing an end at that time. Whatever the reason turned out to be, when Shelley refused to confirm or deny his authorship of either works he was expelled. Hogg met the same fate.

Shelley wrote to his father 3 days after the expulsion had taken place. He was convinced that his father would at least sympathize with him. He Wrote:

“I know too well that your feeling mind will sympathise too deeply in my misfortunes. I hope it will alleviate your sorrow to know that for myself I am perfectly indifferent to the late tyrannical violent proceedings of Oxford.”

Sir Timothy Shelley felt no sorrow for his son. His own copy of “The Necessity of Atheism” has the word “impious” scrawled across it. In fact, the Baronet went to see his son and in the presence of the aforementioned Hogg raved, cursed and cried at his son, finally insisting that Percy return home to be educate by teachers Sir Timothy would choose. This began a rift that would eventually keep the two from speaking to each other for years and damaged their relationship in ways that were never to be mended.

To many modern Americans, “The Necessity of Atheism” and “A Poetical Essay” are just a bit of youthful rebellion, common to people in their late teens. They would have been articles in your school’s underground newspaper twenty or forty years ago. Today they would be blog posts from online aliases or facebooks status updates. Your parents might not approve, but nothing that would warrant expulsion and being disowned. Shelley held to his beliefs and rarely compromised them. He never abandoned them wholly, but only modified them as his life brought him greater scope of experience.

In an ironic twist, these two pamphlets as well as Shelley’s letter to his father are all part of the collection of the Bodleian Library and are part of a travelling collection called Shelley’s Ghost. In fact a copy of “A Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things”, once thought lost to the world was added at some expense to the library’s collection as the 12 millionth items in 2006. The Bodleian is the much celebrated research library of Oxford University and the second largest repository in Britain. If you go to see it you can also take in the rather grand memorial to Shelley placed on Oxford’s campus, a place too noble to accept him in life and only too willing to lionize him, deservedly so, in death.WHITE-BOX

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The Situation with the Flint River

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

As most people are aware, the City of Flint, Michigan, is in the middle of an environmental and health crisis. The origins of this crisis come from what was once a cost cutting move that moved Flint from the Detroit water supply to pulling their water from the Flint River. After seeing a rise in cases of lead poisoning in the people of the city, especially the children, it was determined that the water they were getting from the river was corroding the lead pipes and releasing the lead from the pipes into the water supply.maxresdefault

Much of Michigan is in financial trouble and many of the state’s local governments are doing everything in their power to remain solvent. In 1962 Flint had attempted to build a pipeline for water to come from Lake Huron. This was ended due to a real estate profiteering scam and Flint began buying their water from the City of Detroit, culminating in the cessation of Flint’s own water treatment. A 2011 study by a local firm concluded that using the Flint River water would mean for expensive treatment, but that it could be done if improvements to the city’s water treatment plant were made. Water from Lake Huron was a more cost effective solution and Flint decided to move to a different water cooperative, to the dismay of Detroit who deemed the water agreement they had with Flint to be terminated in April of 2014. Unfortunately, the connection to the other water cooperative was not to be completed until 2016. This meant that Flint had to use a backup water source, the Flint River. While the water source had been the backup water supply for 50 years it had not been a major contributor in all that time. The Flint water treatment authority had been forced to issue boil advisories in August and September of 2014 due to coli-form bacteria and there were spikes in a chlorine related carcinogen, most likely caused by over chlorination to combat the bacteria. There is also a suspected link to a legionnaire’s disease outbreak. The major problem came from the low ph and higher salinity of the Flint River water corroding the protective layer of the lead pipes and leaching lead into the water.

Flint is now returning to the Detroit water supply and Flint will be adding orthophosphate to the Detroit water to help build up the protective scale in the lead pipes. How long this will take is unknown.

 

The Situation in Our Area

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Harpeth River

The Harpeth River, where our water comes from in most of Williamson County, has had its own share of contamination issues. The Harpeth Valley Utility District (HVUD), where most of the county gets their water shows lead at 1.3 parts per billion (ppb). HVUD Uses copper pipes for tap water delivery so the possibility of a situation like that in Flint is impossible. The Hillsboro, Burwood & Thompson’s Station Utility district shows1.5 ppb of lead in their water quality tests and they use PVC and Ductile Iron pipes for their water delivery. Franklin Water Management shows 1.4 ppb. The Mallory Valley Utility District has the lowest lead locally, with .6 ppb. When you compare these to the EPA regulatory standard of 15 ppb, or even the 5 ppb level the researchers from Virginia Tech call a cause for concern, you can see that our water here is relatively safe. Flint averages 27 ppb with the highest found spiking at 13,000. Two communities get their water from outside the county. Fairview buys their water from Dickson County (2.2 ppb) and Brentwood water comes from metro Nashville water (1.5 ppb).

Two contributors to water quality problems in our area were ELMCO and Metalico. The Egyptian Lacquer Manufacturing Company was the source of a leak into Liberty Creek. An underground line leaked into the soil, washed into Liberty Creek and flowed into Harpeth. Acetone and Toluene were the main components of that leak and it was down river from the Franklin water intake. Since the pipes have been disconnected and the chemical tanks removed before the fall of 2008, no free product has been observed in Liberty Creek or the Harpeth. What lead we do see in the Harpeth and surrounding watersheds comes from natural sources but may be contributed to by lead smelting and battery reclamation. From the 1950s to the 1990s in College Grove, General Smelting and Refining Inc. (owned by Metalico) operated a plant that did just that on a site adjacent to the river near its head waters. While there is no current concern for lead contamination, continued monitoring for lead and antimony from the plant still goes on.

While there are concerns over the treatment of sewage and the amount of water used by some entities, the water in this area has received a clean bill of health by the last set of standards and test and new, stricter standards are coming before the next time the state renews local water certificates. For information on some of the challenges facing the Harpeth River and water quality reports look at the web sites for the utility districts discussed above and also take a look at the web page for the Harpeth River Watershed Association.

African American Olympians: The Unknown Greats

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

With it being African-American history month and an Olympic year it seems only logical to look back at some of the great African-American Olympians of the past and look forward to the new heroes of this summer.

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George Poage

Most Americans are familiar with the Olympic greats of the past like runners, Jesse Owens and Wilma Rudolf. They might even remember a young light heavyweight boxer from the 1960 Olympics named Cassius Clay, although they are more likely to remember him as we all do now as Mohammed Ali. Some people will recall Tommie Smith and John Carlos from their memorable podium appearance in the 1968 summer games for the 200 meter. And Gabby Douglas from the last Olympics who was the first American to win an individual all-around gold medal as well as the team gold.

However, for every one of these household names there are heroes who are forgotten. Very few remember George Poage who was the first African American to compete in the Olympics and the first to win a medal. Mr. Poage was born in Hannibal, Missouri but actually grew up in La Crosse, Wisconsin. While working on his post-graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin he was sponsored by the Milwaukee Athletic club to compete in the St. Louis games in 1904 where he won Bronze medals in the 200 and 400 meter Hurdles.

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John Baxter Taylor, Jr. and team

There is also John Baxter Taylor, Jr. who became the first African American to win gold when he ran the third leg of the 400 meter relay. Dr. Taylor was a graduate of the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Veterinary Medicine, but did not live long enough to practice his craft or enjoy his Olympic success, dying of Typhoid Fever less than five months after the glory of his Olympic championship at the 1908 London games. He might have been the first African American individual gold medal winner, but refused to participate in a re-running of the 400 meter final because he felt a teammate was unfairly disqualified for obstructing a runner from the host nation.

Instead, DeHart Hubbard was the first African American to win an individual gold, a feat he completed in the long jump at the 1924 Paris Olympics. Mr. Hubbard went on to found the Cincinnati Tigers baseball team of the Negro American League.

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Alice Coachman

African American woman began competing in the Olympics as early as the 1936 Berlin Olympics when Tidye Pickett and Louise Stokes were selected for the 80 meter hurdles, although only Pickett competed, Stokes having been injured before the games. The first Medal won by an African American woman was gold in High jump at the 1948 London Games, won by Alice Coachman. Ms. Coachman had begun her track career running barefoot on dirt roads and improvising her jumping equipment out of whatever was handy in Albany, Georgia, only learning proper technique and working with real equipment when she reached high school. She won the gold medal she received from King George VI by setting a world record and did it all despite missing her prime years due to the cancellation of the 1940 and 1944 Olympics due to the War. Ms. Coachman went on to work in education as a teacher and worked with the Job Corps as well as becoming the first African American woman to sign an endorsement deal for an international product when she appeared in a Coca-Cola advertisement with Jessie Owens in 1952.

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Carl Lewis

While not breaking down barriers or being the firsts, many African American athletes have given us great memories over past 30 years as well. The Eighties and Nineties had the brother-sister team of nine time gold medalist, and International Olympic Committee Sportsman of the Century Carl Lewis and his Sister Carol, now a commentator and bobsleigh break man, competing in the track and field events. The U.S. dominance of track and field during that time was also helped by another family. Six time Olympic medalist; three gold, one silver and two bronze, Jackie Joyner Kersee, her brother Al Joyner, a gold medalist in 1984 and his wife Florence Griffith Joyner who has three gold and two silver Olympic medals. All three were trained by legendary track and field coach, and Jackie’s husband, Bob Kersee. Joyner Kersee has held the world record for most points in a Heptathlon since 1988 and was named Female Athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated. At this same time the Dream Team of the 1992 Olympics, including NBA greats like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippin, David Robinson and Charles Barkley, reasserted U.S. dominance of the basketball world.

As summer approaches and the Olympic rosters are set, many new faces and some returning heroes will make themselves known. We can already be sure that Ashley Perry, a young woman from right here in Middle Tennessee, playing for the inaugural women’s rugby sevens team, and hopefuls like Simone Biles and returning legend Gabby Douglas, expected US Gymnastic team stars, and track star Allyson Felix will make sure that African Americans and Americans in general are represented proudly in Rio this summer.

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