Archive for the ‘History News’ Category

Susan reporting,It’s easy to think of America’s Founders only through the images that are left of them, the stoic and often-idealized portraits painted by John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart, and Charles Willson Peale. But regardless of how posterity venerates them, the Founders were a decidedly mixed group in their behavior, beliefs, and morals, as just…

via A Scandalous Sketch of Benjamin Franklin with a Lady, c1768 — Two Nerdy History Girls

This was an interesting post that I noticed this morning from Two Nerdy History Girls. We know that Benjamin Franklin had a weakness for women, but those descriptions came from words that couldn’t be reconciled with the image of the gentleman on the $100.

I don’t know about you, but my eyes really opened with Tom Wilkinson’s portrayal of Franklin in “John Adams.” He was a scene stealer in the mini-series. I particularly remember the scene where an angry John Adams bursts into a room to argue with Franklin, only to find the man playing chess in a tub with a French countess.

Now there are these sketches done by Charles Willson Peale when he was still a journeyman artist. According to the American Philosophical Society caption done with the two pictures in this post: While studying art in London, Charles Willson Peale called upon Benjamin Franklin uninvited. Peale accidentally witnessed the well-known Franklin engaging in promiscuous behavior with a lady. Instead of leaving, Peale secretly sketched the scandalous scene for future generations.

Of the two, I think the one above is the most scandalous. Franklin seems to have his hand on the unnamed woman’s breast while she has her hand on his crotch. It is even more scandalous when you remember that this must have been done in public and lasted for a while for Peale to make not one, but two drawings.

My question is: Given society’s tendency nowadays to discount all the good someone does for even one sin (i.e., Thomas Jefferson), is Benjamin Franklin, on balance, a good or bad person?


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I’ve had the chance to be on television three times so far in my writing career. Once was with a local independent station. Once was with a statewide cable network, and the most recent was for C-SPAN. I actively pursued the first two, but the

I actively pursued the first two, but the C-SPAN appearance was a happy turn of events. I was doing a book signing at the Gettysburg Heritage Center for two days during the anniversary weekend, and I volunteered to make a presentation about my book, The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles, & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg. Shortly before anniversary weekend rolled around, I was told that C-SPAN would be filming the author presentations for a future broadcast.

I think this shows that if you are an author out there marketing yourself and your books, things will eventually start to happen for you. It may be a hard doing this at first, and hard getting to the point where things happen, but they will start to come together for you.

My only regret is that the presentation wasn’t one of my better ones. Right before I started, I was told that I would need to cut the presentation so that it could end by a certain time. I found myself cutting on the fly, and I felt the presentation was choppy. I also wound up cutting too much out.

Here’s the presentation:


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marines-recruitingA couple years ago, Richard Fulton and I wrote The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles, & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg. It is the only book about the only Marine line-of-duty deaths at Gettysburg, although they weren’t part of the Civil War battle.

Now the Marine Corps League is trying to raise funds to erect a memorial on the site of the airplane crash that killed Capt. George Hamilton and GySgt. George Martin on June 26, 1922.

They have established Go Fund Me page to try and raise funds for the memorial that they hope to dedicate this summer. Take a look, and if you can help out, please do so.

Here’s the description from the back of the book to give you more context to why the Marines were in Gettysburg:

Last To Fall Cover“There’s more than one way to fight the Civil War. The 1863 Battle of Gettysburg resulted in horrific slaughter that ultimately ended the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania. But after the Allied victory of World War I in 1918, people began to wonder what if some of the post-world war military technology had been available to the armies during the American Civil War?

“The Marine officers who were debating these questions had the capability to test their theories. The purpose and results were supposed to be safe. The exercises and associated reenactments were meant to merely serve as being training maneuvers, along with strikingly realistic, horrific battle, by substituting their “modern-day” military equipment for that which had been used during the Civil War.

“On June 19, 1922, more than 5,000 Marines left Quantico, heading north to the battlefield of Gettysburg. They would reach the battlefield on June 26, but their arrival would be marred by the sudden, tragic deaths of two of their numbers, when a de Havilland fighter would crash, resulting in the plane’s pilot and observer being the last U.S. soldiers killed in the line of duty on the Gettysburg battlefield.

“But even as a pall, following in the wake of the deaths, descended upon the encampment established on the Codori Farm, the marine mission had to proceed as planned. For ten days, battle would rage once again on the fields and ridges where thousands had perished 59 years prior… climaxing on July 4 when the marines would fight the Battle of Gettysburg… with “modern” weapons and tactics.”

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At first, parents thought their children had been playing too hard. They developed fevers and some of them got headaches. They symptoms would pass, though, but then a few days later, the children would being to get stiff necks or backs. Some would experience constipation. If they were lucky, that is all that would happen.

Unfortunately, not all the children were lucky. Some of them would be playing and fall over unable to use their legs or arms. Others would wake up in the morning unable to move. A few even died unable to breathe.

The disease was called infant paralysis in 1918, though it is now better known as polio. The epidemic in Franklin County, PA, began in Waynesboro, PA, in June 1918 and continued through the fall. Forty-six cases were reported in the county with six children dying because of the disease. Chambersburg had 15 of those case and two deaths.

Though polio has been around for centuries, major epidemics weren’t seen until the early 20th Century when they began to appear in Europe and the United States.

Polio damages the nerve cells, which affects a person’s muscle control. Without nerve stimulation, the muscles weaken and atrophy. This can lead to paralysis and if the muscles that help the body breathe are affected, the paralysis can cause death because a patient is unable to breathe.

Two years prior to the Franklin County epidemic, there had been more than 27,000 cases of polio in the United States resulting in more than 6,000 deaths.

The first line of defense in fighting polio was to quarantine homes where there were outbreaks of polio and the families had to place placards in their windows as a notice of the quarantine.

Sometimes it would go further. An infant girl of the H. H. Harrison family in Guilford Township was stricken with polio in September 1918. Though she was not in serious condition, “She has eight brothers and sisters all at home and all attending school in Guilford. The school will be ordered closed today by Health Officer Kinter. The home will be will be quarantined today,” the Chambersburg Public Opinion reported.

Sanitary and hygiene campaigns were undertaken to encourage people to drink and bathe in clean water. Better hygiene meant that not only was it less likely a child, or even an adult would develop polio, but also more likely that the symptoms would be mild. However, this also meant that it was more likely that older children would develop polio and it would be the harsher, paralyzing form.

Little more could be done because doctors of the time were uncertain just what polio was and it was decades before a vaccine would be developed.

A 1916 article in the New York Times outlined the problem that doctors faced, noting “fighting infantile paralysis consists largely in doing everything that seems effective in the hope that some of the measures taken will be effective.”

Tony Gould wrote in A Summer Plague: Polio and Its Survivors about some of the treatments used at the time to unsuccessfully cure polio. Doctors would “Give oxygen through the lower extremities, by positive electricity. Frequent baths using almond meal, or oxidising the water. Applications of poultices of Roman chamomile, slippery elm, arnica, mustard, cantharis, amygdalae dulcis oil, and of special merit, spikenard oil and Xanthoxolinum. Internally use caffeine, Fl. Kola, dry muriate of quinine, elixir of cinchone, radium water, chloride of gold, liquor calcis and wine of pepsin.”

Unfortunately for Franklin County, residents had just begun to breathe a sigh of relief from the infantile paralysis epidemic to deal with an even greater threat called the Spanish Flu.

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CanawlersCurious how to pronounce the title of my historical novel Canawlers?

It’s CAN-all-ers. It’s what boatmen on the C&O Canal sounded like when they used to say “canaller”.

They also had a challenging and dangerous job during the Civil War. Canawlers brought coal and other goods 185 miles from Cumberland, Maryland, to Georgetown. All the while, they traveled along the Potomac River within site of the Virginia shore and the Confederate States of America. The C&O Canal ran along the border of two warring nations, the canawlers were caught in the crossfire.

Hugh Fitzgerald is a proud canawler. For nine months a year, he and his family live on their canal boat, working hard to get them through the lean winter months.

The year 1862 was a hard year to live on the canal, though. To this point, the Confederacy has stayed south of the canal, but now the Confederate Army intends to go on the offensive and take the war into the north.

Not only are the Fitzgeralds’ lives endangered by the increased activity of warring armies and raiders on the canal, but the Fitzgeralds’ secret activity as a stop along the Underground Railroad only endangers their lives all the more.

Then fate takes Hugh away from his family, leaving his wife, Alice, to hold the family together. With the help of her children; Thomas, George and Elizabeth; Tony, an orphan from Cumberland; and David Windover, a disillusioned Confederate soldier, they will face the dangers presented by the war, nature, and the railroad together.

Download your Kindle copy for FREE until Jan. 20.

From the reviewers:

  • “A powerful, thoughtful and fascinating historical novel, Canawlers documents author James Rada, Jr. as a writer of considerable and deftly expressed storytelling talent.” – Midwest Book Review
  • “James Rada, of Cumberland, has written a historical novel for high-schoolers and adults, which relates the adventures, hardships and ultimate tragedy of a family of boaters on the C&O Canal. … The tale moves quickly and should hold the attention of readers looking for an imaginative adventure set on the canal at a critical time in history.” – Along the Towpath
  • “Mr. Rada presents an interesting slice of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal boatman’s life set against the backdrop of the turbulence and uncertainty of the American Civil War. The use of the canal as a route on the Underground Railroad is also woven into the plot which reveals how hard work, a strong family and difficult times could come together along the canal.” – Rita L. Knox, Park Ranger, C&O Canal NHP

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Can you imagine better timing than being able to open a time capsule right around Christmas time? Officials have uncovered one that is 219 years old in Massachusetts. It was removed from the cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House while the building was being renovated.

It was buried in 1795 by Gov. Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and William Scollay, who had been a militia officer during the Revolutionary War. Think about that. Two of the three are men who we still learn about in American history and this box contains items that they thought we might be interested in.

What’s more, this is like a double time capsule. Emergency repairs needed to be made to the state house in 1855 and the time capsule was uncovered during that time. Rather than officially open it, more items were added and it was reburied.

According to the Christian Science Monitor article, “The box is thought to contain coins dated between 1652 and 1855, an engraved silver plate, newspapers, a seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, cards, and a title page from the Massachusetts Colony Records, says Meghan Kelly, a spokeswoman for the state’s Executive Office of Administration and Finance, in an e-mail to the Monitor.”

The Museum of Fine Arts was supposed to x-ray the box today and decided when it would be opened and how to handle the contents.

It will be a unique moment with our Founding Fathers speaking to us out of the past.



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Photo: Rex from the UK Telegraph article.

Here’s a weird historical story for Halloween. Earlier this month, the UK Telegraph reported at a “vampire grave” had been found in the ruins of ruins of Perperikon, an ancient Thracian city located in southern Bulgaria.

The evidence that the grave had been believed to be the resting place of a vampire was a metal stake driven through the man’s chest. Professor Nikolai Ovcharov unearthed the body while doing excavations in the city.

Perperikon was discovered 20 years ago and believed to be the site of the Temple of Dionysius, who was the Greek God of wine and fertility. Perperikon is also located near Bulgaria’s border with Greece.

“We have no doubts that once again we’re seeing an anti-vampire ritual being carried out,” Professor Ovcharov is quoted in the newspaper. “Often they were applied to people who had died in unusual circumstances – such as suicide.”

Ovcharov explained that the stake was supposed to stop a bad person from rising from the dead. This particular “bad” person was a male between 40 and 50 years old when he died in the first half of the 13th century. A piece of ploughshare has been hammered through his chest. The lower left leg had also been removed from the body and placed beside it. The newspaper doesn’t note whether this happened before the man died and was, perhaps, the reason he died, or whether it was an extra precaution taken after death.

This is the third vampire grave discovered in Bulgaria in recent years. Two other graves were discovered in 2012 and 2013 in Sozopol, about 200 miles east of Perperikon. The inhabitants of these graves were called “the twin vampires of Sozopol”, according to the Telegraph.

Overall, about 100 vampire graves have been found in Bulgaria, which is the country south of Romania. Dracula was said to be from Transylvania, which is part of Romania.

Also, last year, skeletons were found in Poland with their heads removed and placed on their legs. Archeologists believed that this was done as part of a ritual to keep them from rising from the dead.

“Sometimes they would be decapitated, while another punishment involved hanging from a gibbet until decomposition resulted in the head separating from the body. In both cases the head was then laid on the legs of the victim in the hope that an inability to locate their head would hinder the progress of those intent on rising from the grave,” the Telegraph reported.

These bodies were found on a construction site. Although quite old, archeologists were having trouble dating the bodies because there were no cultural clues found in the graves.

Here is the link to the Bulgarian vampire story: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/bulgaria/11153923/Vampire-grave-found-in-Bulgaria.html

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