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alexandria-canal-and-wharf_12659630893_o.jpgIn C&O Canal National Historical Park Librarian Karen Gray’s study of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, she divides the canal’s existence into the three periods. The first period is the time up until the canal opened to Cumberland. During this time, the canal was being built, but it had partial operations for different types of boats. From 1850 to the turn of the century, the canal operated independently for the most part and also had its golden age. From the turn of the century until the canal closed, it operated primarily under the Canal Towage Company at a reduced capacity. The research has even turned up a couple mysteries that have yet to be solved.

Before the canal was fully completed to Cumberland in 1850, flatbed riverboats used to travel the Potomac River and enter the partially open canal at the dam near Williamsport. From there, they could continue their journey to Georgetown.

The question is how did they continue their journey? Riverboats were carried by the current with the crew using poles to guide the boat. Poles could not be used on the canal, though, or the clay berm would have been damaged. So how were the boats moved through the canal?

“Most likely, someone rented mules at Williamsport, but we don’t know for sure,” Gray said.

Perhaps the biggest mystery is how canal boats that were supposed to be 92-feet long fit into some locks that could hold boats no longer 85 to 90 feet. The 92-foot boat length comes from a single boat that was used to make drawings from. At the time the drawings were made, the boat had been out of the water for years so it is probable that frame may have loosened somewhat, adding length and width to the dimensions. This is only a guess at this time, though.

“All of this information is a great resource that we’ve been able to make available to the world so that future researchers and future students can dig down and do deep analysis,” Bill Holdsworth, president of the C&O Canal Association, said.

He said that since much of the current beliefs about the canal come from oral histories of canallers and information from the canal’s last days, this new information is changing people’s impressions of the canal. canal-boat-crossing-aqueduct_12256215046_o.jpg

Catherine Bragaw, chief of interpretation for the C&O Canal, said that rangers are always looking for stories that people can relate to and that as more research becomes available, it may change the stories.

“It’s not unusual for history to change,” Bragaw said. “Some history stays consistent. Some is dynamic as more is uncovered.”

She said that interpretation is an art because different people can focus on different aspects of the subject. That, in turn, affects, the stories and information they incorporate into their presentations.

“It’s fascinating to unlock the mysteries,” Bragaw said.

That’s just what this new research continues to do. It is unlocking the mysteries of the early days of the canal and discovering new ones that need to be solved.

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51CBWAtpQ-L._SX425_The old saying goes, “You can’t fit a square peg in a round hole.” Yet for more than 90 years, historians have said that somehow 92-foot-long canal boats on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal fit into locks that could hold boats no larger than 90 feet and probably less.

It’s just one of the many questions that modern researchers are finding need to be answered about the C&O Canal. Some have easy answers that go against the accepted history of the canal. Others, like the question of canal-boat length, are still being researched.

Both have historians and National Park Service staff rethinking how the C&O Canal operated.

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal ended business operations in 1924. Since then, books have been written about the canal, historians have researched the lives of canallers and lock tenders, and the National Park Service has documented the life of the canal. You would think that in that time, all that could be known about the canal had been discovered. It turns out that that’s not the case.

“New information available and things are happening remarkably quickly,” said Karen Gray, C&O Canal National Historical Park Librarian. 51sSEDsB2mL

The work being done is the transcription of canal records, historic newspaper articles, and other canal documents, primarily by William Bauman, a member of the C&O Canal Association. Gray vets a lot of the information. Some pieces are posted on the C&O Canal NPS site, but she puts most of the information on the C&O Canal Association web site in the “Canal History” section. The section includes oral histories, newspaper reports from long-forgotten newspapers along the canal, books, reports, payroll records, canal boat registration documents, and family histories.

“William Bauman has done a lot of terrific work collecting and transcribing records and articles to give everyone a flavor of how the canal operated,” said Bill Holdsworth, who is both the president and webmaster for the C&O Canal Association.

The C&O Canal Association is a volunteer organization that promotes and advocates for the canal.

“There’s so much available, but it needs to data mined,” Gray said.

A careful reading of this new information has turned some long-held beliefs about the canal on their heads.

For instance, it has been written that canal boats in the 1800s were privately owned and often operated by a family. While they often were privately owned, “It was written into the boat mortgages that the boat needed to operate 24 hours a day,” Gray said. “A family is not going to be able to do that.”

Holdsworth said this is the most-surprising thing that he has learned from the new information. “Canal work was not this leisurely, bucolic life of strolling along the towpath,” he said. “Those people were working hard and moving fast along the towpath.”

Records show canallers were making the trip along the canal in roughly four days.

Gray explained that the idea of family run boats comes primarily from a 1923 U.S. Department of Labor study that was conducted at a time when 60 percent of the canal boats were run by a family.

In addition to boats not being family run, there is evidence that a single captain might have been in charge of up to four boats. What is not certain at this time is whether those boats moved together or one towed another boat or some other variation, but the records don’t support the one boat – one captain idea.

“It’s really clear that we need to rethink our original beliefs of how the canal operated,” Gray said.

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History Myths Debunked

Thanks to Eric Olsen, Park Ranger and Historian at Morristown National Historic Park, for this one. Seems new myths are always popping up! Let’s nip this one in the bud.

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“I’ve got a new myth for you that I never heard before last week. I was talking with one of our new volunteers after she had completed a tour of Washington’s Headquarters [Ford Mansion, Morristown NHP] and she was excited because she learned something new from one of our visitors.
 
The visitor told her that parents placed their babies in trundle beds and then pushed the bed underneath the adult bed with the baby still in the trundle bed! The reason for this behavior was that the heat from the adults sleeping in the large bed about the trundle bed would help keep the baby warm.
 
At this point I explained the whole concept of Old House Tour…

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A R T L▼R K

500px-Jerome_Myers_-_Night_in_Seward_Park_-_Google_Art_Project “Night in Seward Park” 1919, oil on canvas

On the 19th of June 1940, American painter Jerome Myers died in New York. For more than 50 years Myers, small of stature and bearing a striking resemblance to Paderewski, was a familiar sight on the streets of New York, which he made his special painting province.” His obituary in The Art Digest, read that, The Lower East Side, with its crowded tenements and struggling immigrants, knew him best and was recorded in hundreds of sketches which were later transcribed onto soft-toned canvases. The poor seemed to bring forth Myers’ deepest feelings, but he did not paint them because they and their environment were ugly; he saw the beauty of their humble lives, and on his canvases he has caught that beauty…During those 50 years the cobblestones that Myers used to tramp were smoothed to asphalt pavements…

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Albert Einstein died on April 18, 1955. President Dwight Eisenhower said of him, “No other man contributed so much to the vast expansion of 20th Century knowledge. Yet no other man was more modest in the possession of the power that is knowledge, more sure that power without wisdom is deadly.”

Einstein was cremated the day of his death in Trenton, New Jersey. It was a low-key service with only a dozen people in attendance and his ashes were scattered so that his final resting place wouldn’t become a tourist attraction or scientific Mecca.

But one part of his body was not burned and did not end up in the four winds. Some would argue it was the most important part of Einstein…his brain.

During the routine autopsy of Einstein’s body at Princeton Hospital, Pathologist Thomas Harvey removed the brain and decided to embalm it.

The removal was discovered the next day when Harvey’s son let the secret slip in his class.

Harvey said his reason was that he believed there was scientific value in studying the brain.

When word of the existence of the brain became known, Harvey was inundated with calls from people who wanted Einstein’s brain or at least a piece of it.

He eventually allowed friends at the University of Pennsylvania to create microscope slides of different areas of the brain.

Harvey then began a process of sending the slides off to random researchers.

In 1978, a reporter for New Jersey Monthly was allowed to see the remnants of the brain. They were stored in a Mason jar in a cardboard box in a corner of Harvey’s office behind a picnic cooler.

The story of Einstein’s brain even became a bestselling book called Driving Mr. Albert by Michael Paterniti.

In 1998, Harvey was 86 years old and had been caring for Einstein’s brain for half his life. He decided it was time to pass on the responsibility. He returned the brain from where he had gotten it. Not from Einstein but from Princeton Hospital.

Over more than four decades, research into Einstein’s brain shed little light on the man.

Because of the way the brain had been embalmed, it yielded no viable DNA that could have been used to show whether Einstein’s adopted daughter, Evelyn, was in actuality his biological daughter.

One study showed that part of Einstein’s parietal cortex had a higher ratio of glial cells to neurons. Researchers hypothesized that this might show the Einstein’s neurons needed and used more energy. There were some questions raised about the study, however, which have thrown some doubts on the theory.

Another study said Einstein’s cerebral cortex was thinner than in other sample brains. This study had the same problems a large enough sampling of brains to draw the broad conclusion.

A final paper showed that Einstein’s brain had a shorter groove in the inferior parietal lobe, which is believed to be related to mathematical thinking. The brain was also wider in this region. It was suggested this might mean Einstein had more integrated brain functioning.

While the research is interesting, biographer Walter Isaacson wrote, “The relevant question was how his mind worked, not his brain.” He then quotes an explanation Einstein himself gave, “I have no special talents, I am passionately curious.”

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Emerging Civil War

Dorence Atwater

Three flights of stairs! Wooden, rickety stairs! And who knew how successful he would be at the end of them, anyway? Recently released from Andersonville prison, returning home weighing in the neighborhood of ninety pounds, young Dorence Atwater climbed up those stairs, hopeful that Miss Barton would hear his story and help him out somehow. He’d been in prison–what could be worse?

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GoldfishCompetition in goldfish farming was inevitable, however, and by the late 1930s, the appearance of larger, more diversified, growers across the country reduced the demand from Frederick County, Maryland, farms.

Modern technology also worked against county goldfish farmers. Advances in shipping techniques and the increased variety and quality of goldfish available from growers around the world gradually changed the goldfish market.  By the 1950’s, fish could be shipped in plastic bags by air freight. The plastic reduced shipping costs and the planes extended the distance the goldfish could be shipped. This further increased the competition in the market.  Air transportation allowed areas that had not previously engaged in goldfish farming, such as Arkansas, to become competitive or even better locations than Frederick. “By going south, you had a longer growing season,” said Charles Thomas. “In a place like Arkansas, instead of having only one crop each season, you could have two.”

The result was that farms producing only common goldfish seasonally, such as those in Frederick County, could not compete. By the 1940’s only a few farms in Frederick County were still cultivating goldfish. “Everything changed,” goldfish farmer Ernest Tresselt said. “We have to supply fish year round. The competition made it unprofitable for most farmers, and they went out of business.”

The Powell family got out of the goldfish business in the 1960s. “People didn’t want them. They were starting to ban them from being in lakes. The county had a severe drought that made it hard to keep the ponds full. Fishermen were using spinning lures more than live bait, and kids didn’t want goldfish as pets. They wanted tropical fish that were harder to care for,” Bill Powell said.

By 1980, Lilypons, once the world’s largest producer of goldfish, had diversified so that it now specializes in water garden supplies and plants more than in fish. Hunting Creek Fisheries and Eaton Fisheries also survived by diversifying their offerings into plants, game fish, and/or other types of ornamental fish, such as koi.

Today, there are still fish ponds in Frederick County.  Lilypons devotes some of its nearly 500 ponds to goldfish. Hunting Creek Fisheries still has ponds in Thurmont and Lewistown, as does Eaton Fisheries in Lewistown.

Other goldfish ponds have disappeared, however. The Claybaugh fish ponds in Thurmont are covered over by Mountain Gate Exxon and McDonald’s.  Fish ponds belonging to Ernest Powell and Maurice Albaugh along Moser Road no longer exist.  The area east of the Maple Run Golf Course used to have Ross Firor’s ponds but does no more.  The ponds on William Powell’s Arrowhead Farms on Appels Church Road north of Thurmont and Frank Rice’s goldfish ponds alongside Route 15 south of Thurmont have been filled in and turned back to pasture.

Frederick County no longer is the biggest producer of goldfish in the country, but there was a time when the county led the country in growing the fish of emperors and kings.

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