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What’s the oldest photographs that you have seen? I think most people would think of Civil War photos being the oldest, and at close to 160 years old, they are old.

 

They aren’t the oldest photos around, though. A few heliographic photos from the 1820s still exist. Joseph Nicéphore Niépce invented heliography in 1822. He used Bitumen of Judea, a naturally occurring asphalt, to coat on glass or metal. It hardened the more it was exposed to light. When the plate was then washed with oil of lavender, the hardened areas remained. It could then be printed as an engraving would be.

 

Then in the late 1830’s, Louis Daguerre brought the world what is considered the first true photographs. His process was called a daguerreotype. He exposed a silver-plated copper sheet to iodine crystal vapor. The interaction formed a coating of silver iodide, which is light sensitive, on the plate. The plate, which is in a camera, is then exposed to a scene.

 

The problem with both heliographs and daguerreotypes was that they required long exposures. Daguerre realized that shorter exposures created a faint image that could be developed into an easily visible image when exposed to mercury vapor heated to 75 degrees Celsius. The mercury vapor also set the image so that it could be no further developed.

 

A final wash in heated salt water then created a plate that was safe to be handled and displayed.

An article in National Geographic said that upon seeing his first developed image, Daguerre said, “I have seized the light – I have arrested its flight!”

Daguerreotypes are the first type of photos that reached America.

 

The reason I bring both of these up is that I found an interesting YouTube Channel by Chubachus. It shows a series of the oldest surviving photos in the United States. These photos date back to the early 1840s. Another video I found showed the oldest photos in the world, which are heliographs dating back to the 1820s.

These photos aren’t dramatic like many Matthew Brady’s photos from the Civil War, but it is fascinating to see images of the world that are nearly 200 years old.

Forget about imagining America from paintings or descriptions. Why watch a movie that creates an older America using CGI when you can look at the real thing?

The photos in these videos remind me of an article I once saw that showed photographs of people who had lived during the Revolutionary War who managed to still be alive when photography reached America.

For me, it was like having a window opened that looked into the past.

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Thurmont’s Western Maryland Railroad Station.

On March 2, 1915, David Firor kissed his wife goodbye and told her that he would be back on the evening train from Baltimore. Then he headed into the city to buy Easter items for his store on East Main Street in Thurmont.

 

That evening, “The train came but Dave did not come home, and it was taken for granted that he did not get to finish his shopping and remained until next day as he had done on future occasions,” the Catoctin Clarion reported.

When he failed to come home the next day, Firor’s wife and mother began to worry. They began to make inquiries at the places where he typically went, but no one could help them with any information.

Rumors began to run rampant. He had met with foul play in the streets of Baltimore. He was running from creditors because his business was about to go bankrupt. Both of these proved false.

Firor’s brother, J. W. Firor, was a professor at the University of Athens in Georgia. He took a leave of absence from his teaching to join his family in Thurmont. Then he set off for Baltimore to search for his brother in hospitals and other institutions.

Firor was 31 years old and had a medium build.  He stood 5 feet 6 inches tall and had black hair and eyes. He wasn’t particularly distinguishable from among hundreds of men in the city. J. W. made his inquiries, though, and walked through the hospital wards and looked at John Does in the morgue.

No sign could be found of him.

Ten days later, Grace Firor received a telegram from her husband. He was in Jacksonville, Florida.

“Losing all trace of his identity, knowing nothing whatever of his whereabouts until he was put ashore penniless from a dredge boat at Jacksonville, Florida, and cared for by a family of Italians, David Firor, of Thurmont, last Tuesday for the first time in a week realized who he was,” The Gettysburg Times reported.

The cause of the problem was what Firor called “sleepy-headedness” and the doctors called aphasia. In recent months, he had started sleeping a great deal of the time and when he slept, he was nearly impossible to wake. His mother even said that he could fall asleep talking or standing up.

Even after being found in Jacksonsville, he had an attack where he slept for 18 hours straight.

When asked about what had happened to him, Firor said that he couldn’t remember how he came to be on the boat. The last thing he remembered was speaking with Helen Rouzer, formerly of Thurmont, in a Baltimore Department Store.

He also had taken $60 with him to Baltimore when he left Thurmont. It was all missing when he reached Jacksonville. He didn’t remember what had happened to it, but since no orders were delivered to the store, he apparently didn’t spend the money on what it had been intended for.

Some people suggested that he may have been robbed. While this is a possibility, Firor still had his gold pocket watch on him when he was found. It seems unlikely that a robber wouldn’t have taken it as well.

Firor apparently never solved the mystery of what had happened to him during the missing days. He didn’t even know whether he had been conscious for most of them.

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Victor-Victrola.jpgWar can certainly be a time of danger, but there are other times when soldiers are in camp stateside or behind the lines when they can relax.

Camp Meade near Laurel was named for Maj. Gen. George Meade. It became an active army installation in 1917. During World War I, more than 400,000 soldiers would pass through the camp to be trained for the war. It was the training site for three infantry divisions, three training battalions, and one depot brigade.

During the course of the war, 704 Garrett Countians would serve in the military and most of them were sent to Camp Meade for training. The Garrett County boys in Camp Meade in October 1917 were part of a company of 250 men from Garrett and Allegany counties and Baltimore City. The traveling agent with the B&O Railroad who had charge of the Garrett County recruits when they were taken to Camp Meade, said of them, “The boys from Garrett county were the finest bunch I have so far taken to any camp.”

Once at camp, their training went well. “We arrived safely in camp, and most everyone is well and getting along fine with our drills, considering the time we have been here,” six of the recruits – Henry Byrn Hamill, Earl W. Alexander, Harry M. Setzer, Paul R. Liston, Robert R. Glotfelty, John W. Livengood – wrote in a letter to The Republican.

They were healthy and happy. The Republican described them as “the finest specimens of young manhood in the country.”

They were bored, though.

The six recruits, who were representing all of the Garrett County recruits, asked if a subscription fund could be started to buy them a Victrola “as the time when off duty would pass much faster if we had a Victrola to cheer up the boys from ‘Old Garrett,’ and serve to keep them from getting blue,” the letter read.

Although today, Victrola has become a generic term for old phonographs, back then a Victrola was a brand of phonographs with an internal horn that was manufactured by the Victor Talking Machine Company. They are not the older versions of phonographs that Victor used in its logo. This version had an external horn, and a dog sat in front of the horn to hear his master’s voice.

True Victrolas were first marketed in 1906 and quickly gained popularity. That popularity helped bring down the price to roughly $100 ($1,870 today) depending on where it was purchased.

The Republican staff jumped into action starting the subscription fund not only for a Victrola but also records that could be played on it. Not waiting for the next issue, staff began notifying people in town about the request.

Within an hour after the subscription efforts began, $46.50 in donations had come into the news room from 41 donors. E. H. Sincell pledged the most ($5) and some people pledged as little as 25 cents.

One minister gladly donated a dollar to the fund, telling the editor, “Never do you start anything for the boys again unless I am in on the ground floor. If this is insufficient for the purpose or if you want to raise another fund for anything else to come to me.”

The citizens of Friendsville took up a collection and raised $11 from 11 donors. The Girls Club of Gormania raised another $5 and mailed it to the newspaper office.

After a week, $83 had been raised from 74 donors. Within two weeks the $100 goal had been surpassed, and the boys from Garrett County had an enjoyable way to pass the time by the end of October.

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razor_blade_020Men have shaved their faces for thousands of years. Some of the earliest materials for razors were clam shells, flint, shark’s teeth and pumice stones, all of which were sharpened on rocks. Though they worked, they certainly didn’t leave men’s cheeks feeling smooth as a baby’s bottom. There was also a danger of slicing your throat or your palm while getting rid of your five o’clock shadow.

Clean-shaven men were seen more commonly in the 11th Century. At that time, not only were people focusing more of personal grooming with things like perfumes, but the Roman Catholic Church began urging its men to shave as way to distinguish themselves from men of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The two churches had separated in 1054.

When men began working with metals, bronze razor blades appeared. However, it was the age of steel that allowed razor blades to make their greatest advances. As blacksmiths created sharper knives and axes with more-durable edges, it was only logical that they also use those skills to create better razors.

What has become known as the first modern razor was created by Benjamin Huntsman in the 1740. Huntsman worked in Sheffield, England, which would eventually give its name to the Sheffield Razor. Between 1740 and 1830, these blades were often marked as “cast steel” or “warranted.”

Huntsman used a special process to create steel with superior hardness so that it could hold a thin, sharp edge. These blades were easier to sharpen and held their edge longer. When these early blades did lose their edge, they were sharpened like knives were. Razor-Blades__74514_zoom

The next improvement to razors was to hollow grind them and replace the wedge-shaped edge with a concave, bevelled edge. Hollow-ground razors began showing up around 1825, though the process wouldn’t be fully refined until the end of the century.

As razors became sharper, some inventors began turning their eyes to increasing the safety of razors. The first safety razor was developed in 1770 by Jean-Jacques Perret of France. It was a straight razor with a wood guard. The Kampfe Brothers patented their safety razor in 1880. This razor had a removable handle, a head that caught excess lather and a wire guard along the blade.

King Gillette started developing his innovations to the safety razor in 1895. His idea was to use cheap, disposable blades in a safety razor. Producing this razor was still impossible until 1903 when MIT graduate William Nickerson helped Gillette develop the disposable blade.

Shaving now became convenient and easy. Gillette provided razors to the U.S. military, which allowed him to introduce millions of men to the new technology, which they then went on to use once they left the military.

Jacob Schick followed a different direction for improving the razor. He patented an electric razor in 1923.  However, the design was unwieldy and Schick continued to refine it until he began selling them in 1931.

The Gillette company also introduced the first cartridge razor in 1971. The cartridge had two fixed blades in it and could be easily attached to a handle.

Companies still continue to look for new innovations and refinements to help men and woman find the way to get a closer shave.

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ea18d83eeba50026386b8feea2d24a1eFebruary 24, 1857, was a special night for Adelaide Gordy. It’s not known whether it was her first ball or not, but it was a night that would change her life. From this night would come a story that would show that fairy tales can come true.

Upon hearing a tale that would enchant generations, her descendants would look at each other and smile, knowing, yes, it could happen. It had happened to Adelaide.

Reviving Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras first came to America in 1699 before there even was a New Orleans. On March 3, French Explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville set up camp on the Mississippi River 60 miles south of present-day New Orleans. Iberville named the site of the celebration Point du Mardi Gras.

Under French rule, masked balls and festivals were common for Mardi Gras. That ended under Spanish control. That masked ball ban lasted even when New Orleans became part of the U.S. in 1803.

That changed in 1823 when the residents petitioned the governor to allow the masking. The first Mardi Gras parade happened in 1837.

However, the masks also allowed violence to grow during the festivals because it hid the criminals as well as the revelers. It became so bad that public opinion began turning against continuing Mardi Gras.

The 1857 Mardi Gras was the first one held by the Comus organization, a group of six New Orleaners who were determined to bring beauty and style back to a celebration that had become known for its violence. Comus started the traditions of having a secret Carnival society, a theme parade with floats and a ball after the parade. Their efforts not only saved Mardi Gras but created a night of magic for Adelaide.

Dressing for the Ball

The 16-year-old attended the ball looking like a princess dressed in a gown made of tarlatan with silk in satin stitch. Amid all the guests, the young lady caught the eye of 27-year-old John Blount Robertson. The two danced, talked and ignited a spark. However, during the evening, Adelaide left the ball hurriedly; so much so she left behind one of her slippers.

Recovering the Slipper

John saw the stray slipper and retrieved it. Later he would write on the inside a memory of the night and the girl who wore it:

“Slipper of Adelaide Gordy

Worn at Ball of Mystic – I saw

Mardi Gras 1857 [illegible] Street. By JBR”

John pursued Adelaide in a whirlwind courtship that culminated in their marriage on April 15, not even two months after they had met.

Dream Come True

On that special day, Adelaide enchanted John again, wearing the dress that had first caught his eye as her wedding dress, and he returned to her the slipper she had left behind at the ball.

She and John were married 13 years and had seven children, although only four lived to adulthood. Adelaide died of accidental poisoning at age 29, according to the U.S. Census Mortality Schedules. She is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Nashville, Tennessee.

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Benjamin_Franklin_by_Joseph_Siffrein_Duplessis.jpgBenjamin Franklin is well known as a publisher, statesman, scientist, and inventor, but he was also a musician who created the first American musical instrument.

Benjamin Franklin invented the glass armonica in 1761. Three years earlier he had seen Edmund Delaval play water-filled wine glasses. He worked with glassblower Charles James to build his instrument.

The name comes from the Italian word for “harmony.”

The First Armonica Performance

The glass armonica had its world premiere in February 1762. Marianne Davies in London. She gave a concert in which she not only played the armonica, but sang and played the German flute as well.

The armonica gained enough popularity in its day that both Mozart and Beethoven, as well as more than 100 composers, wrote music for the instrument. GHmains

What is a Glass Armonica?

The glass armonica is a set of 37 glass bowls mounted on a spindle. Each bowl is slightly smaller than the preceding one and they are mounted so that the bowls sit inside of each other. The spindle has a flywheel mounted on one end of it that is rotated by a foot treadle.

To play the armonica, the musician moistens his or her fingers and rubs the rims of the bowls as they rotate on the treadle. Each bowl vibrates at a different note. The resulting sound has an almost ethereal quality to it. Franklin also recommended using a small amount a chalk on one’s fingers to ensure a clear note.

The armonica is based on the same idea that causes sound when someone rubs their finger around the rim of a wine goblet.

Problems with the Armonica

Many people believed that playing the glass armonica led to health problems. This is due to both the lead in the glass bowls in the 18th Century and the lead in the paint used to mark the notes that each bowl played.

Some armonica musicians complained of the loss of feeling in their hands and some even suffered nervous breakdowns.

img-20150305194205Armonica Falls into Disuse

This fear led people to stop playing it and by 1830, it was no longer played for the most past.

Armonica Revival

After 30 years of experimentation, Gerhard Finkenbeiner, a Boston glassblower, is credited with reviving interest in the armonica. In 1984, he made an armonica using quartz rather than glass to make the bowls. The bowls also had gold bands on them that served the same purpose as black keys on a piano.

You can hear an armonica being played here.

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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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