Friday, February 29, 2008
Today we feature a portrait from the 1860's of Thomas Nast. Most people today have never heard of Thomas Nast, but he was responsible for creating many of the icons that endure today. He was an illustrator, and he created our modern picture of Santa Claus as a chubby, jolly figure in a red suit. He also created the image of Uncle Sam as a tall, bearded figure in a flag suit.
In addition to these icons of American History, Thomas Nast help steer important political events. At the low point of the Civil War, when it looked likely that Lincoln would lose, and the Democrats were campaigning on a platform of "Compromise with the South", Nast created a series of poignant illustrations for Harper's Weekly that helped the public see the importance of seeing the war to a successful close. Many felt that Nast played a pivotal role in getting Lincoln reelected. Nast also played an important role in getting US Grant elected president, and he help dismantle the Boss Tweed organization in New York. For Thomas Nast, the pen was truly mightier than the sword.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
This photograph was taken in 1920, and shows a busy street scene on 5th Avenue in New York City. I got to go to New York City one time on a business trip. It was a really neat place. I grew up in a little town of about 1,500 people. When I grew up, I moved to a city of about 750,000. I have decided that cities are wonderful places to visit, but I prefer to live in small towns. I enjoy the sense of community that exists in small places . . . neighbors watching out for each other, and that sort of thing. I guess most people would prefer to live in the city, and that is why they are so big.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
This is an interesting picture of a man with a big cart load of money. It was taken in the 1910's or 1920's. Actually, he worked at the US Treasury, and it was his job to wheel the old money around that had been returned for destruction. He had been at this job for 50 years. Ahhhh . . . so close yet so far away.
Have you ever noticed how we always think that more money would solve all of our problems? I find it interesting that when you look into it, more often than not, when people win the big lotteries, it ends up ruining their lives. We all think that that would NOT happen to us, but it sure seems to be the most likely outcome of a big windfall. I never play the lottery, not because it is a waste of money, but because I am afraid that I might win. No, I am happy with things the way they are. I have a wife of noble character, a delightful teenage daughter, and two little puppies, Elmo and Ginger. That is all I need.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
This is a neat picture of an old confederate soldier, taken in front of a Rebel flag in the year 1913. The soldier would have probably been about 70 years old. It is interesting that there is probably no symbol that is more divisive in this country today than the confederate flag.
First of all, it should be noted that the flag in the picture is not actually the real confederate flag. Pictured is the "Southern Cross", which was the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. It would have been the flag that Robert E. Lee fought under in battle, but was never used as the Confederate National Flag. The actual National Flag of the Confederacy, the Stars and Bars, was completely different. Nonetheless, this flag is a divisive symbol that generates heated disputes. As I study the debate, I come to the conclusion that the root of the controversy comes down to this fact . . . the flag means different things to different people, and the problem arises when people assume that the flag means the same thing to everybody that it means to them. I see four basic groups, with four different views of the flag.
The first group I will call the Southern Romantics. These are typically southern folks interested in the Civil War, and who romanticize about the Old South, and the Civil War. These folks realize that slavery was a grave mistake, feel bad about it, and are sorry that it happened. Nonetheless, they are inspired by men like Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and P.G.T. Beauregard who were not slave holders, but were willing to risk all and face overwhelming odds to stand up against what they considered to be an oppressive federal government. These people harbor no ill will towards anyone, but love the flag as a symbol of great men involved in an epic struggle. The analogy I would give to help understand this group of people would be this. I am a proud American. I think the US is a great country. I have two 5o foot flagpoles in front of my house. One flies the American Flag, and the other flies the Texas Flag. I believe we live in a great country, and I am proud to fly the colors of my country and my state. At the same time, I am not proud of every last thing this country has done. In particular, I think the way we handled the Native American population in the last half of the 1800's was pretty bad. Not just that we were at war with them, and there were some unfortunate abuses, but that we broke pretty much every deal we ever made with them. When I fly the American flag, I am not celebrating our treatment of Native Americans, I am seeking to honor all the good things we have done, and all the brave men who did them, and the great things we have yet to do. Similarly, a southern romantic who might display the Rebel flag is not celebrating slavery, but is showing some sympathy to the positive aspects of the Old South, and men like Lee, Jackson and Beauregard.
There is a second group of people who fly the Rebel Flag. This group, for a lack of a better description, I will call the "Redneck" contingency. These are typically blue collar workers who today feel totally disenfranchised in this country. They work very hard, but are barely able to keep their head above water. The "trickle down" economy touted by the Republicans never seems to trickle down to them. At the same time, while they are working double shifts to try to support their family, they go to the grocery store and see able bodied young men buying food with food stamps. They feel like the Democratic Party has been hijacked by special interests, and that they are more concerned with the people who can but won't work. They feel that no one is representing their interests, Republican or Democrat. They are the working poor. They work hard to pay taxes that go to support people gaming the system. They are barely making it, working themselves to death, and they are left hanging, all on their own. They feel a particular affinity to the confederacy because people who similarly felt oppressed took up arms and tried to overthrow the oppressive system. They would never take up arms themselves . . . that would just never happen, but displaying the Rebel flag on their truck or shirt is their way of saying, "I am Mad as Hell and I am not going to take it any more". These people realize that there are a lot of things that they can not do, but the one thing that they can do is to display the flag as a sign of protest. In effect, just their little way of sticking it to the man. They are not racists, and are not deliberately trying to offend a specific race, but are not particularly concerned that displaying the flag might be politically incorrect . . . they are trying to be politically incorrect.
The third group of people are people descended from slaves, or people very sympathetic to those who suffered under slavery, and the disadvantage that the descendants of slaves might face. To these people, the Rebel Flag is a symbol of the system of slavery. The flag is a very disturbing image to them, and one that they would prefer to not see. It is a very painful image to them, and understandably so. They sometimes believe that someone displaying the flag is celebrating, and perhaps even wanting to return to, the terrible institution of slavery.
The forth group of people are a group of racists. These people are filled with hatred, and use the Rebel Flag as a symbol for that hate. In effect, they have hijacked the flag, and made it into something really bad. This group, as you can easily see, inflame intense emotions from group three, as one can easily understand.
So, the badness of group four over the years has rubbed off on the old Flag of Northern Virginia. Group four has made life very difficult on group three. This all has made group one and two somewhat displaced, in that they do not understand why they should not be able to display the flag. They feel at times somewhat bullied by group three, whose real beef is with group four. At the same time, group one is not always sensitive to the real issues of racism and hate that can still exist in this country. They are sometimes not sensitive to the fact that the flag is a very painful site for many people. Group two does not particularly care what anyone thinks, they are just going to keep flying the flag.
Anyway, I would put myself somewhat in group one. As I study the Civil War, I find myself rooting for Lee and Jackson. I always like the underdogs. While I root for the south, I find myself thankful that the south did not win, as I feel that would have been a disaster, for many different reasons. I have both a Confederate National Battle Flag, and a Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. I do not fly them however, because I really don't want to offend anyone.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
It is about time I came clean with all my faithful readers. When I was a kid, I had a pony (pictured above). We were not rich or anything like that, but we lived on a ranch, and one day my Uncle showed up pulling a stock trailer. I ran out to greet him, but instead of receiving the normal greeting from him, he just smiled, walked around and opened the door on the stock trailer. There inside was the most beautiful pony you ever saw. He gave it to my bother and me. Now I don't want to make to big of a deal about it, but I must say that as a kid, having a pony is just about as good as it gets. The horse was a Shetland pony, and was about the size of a big dog. We named her Wendy. She was such a nice little horse, and a very sociable creature. We did not have a saddle, but we did have a bridle and a small horse blanket, so we would ride her bareback, Indian style. She loved to be rode, and I can remember trotting around the yard on her back. Every day she would come to our yard and make little horse noises, wanting us to come out and play with her. She loved sugar cubes and carrots. We would always bring her a treat, and then she would rub her head on us. She loved to be combed, and loved to take us for a ride.
Now I remember one day our parents went to town, and left my brother and I at home. I was about 7 years old, and he was about 11. Back then, you did not bother with baby sitters, you just assumed that the kids would just take care of themselves. Well, my brother and I were sitting on the front porch, and up comes Wendy. She walked right up on the front porch, and gave us a little nudge, like she always did. We petted her a while, and then we noticed that she kept looking in the front window into the house. My brother and I started talking about it, and we decided that she wanted to go into the house. Well, you don't do something like let a horse in the house without giving it some serious thought. We talked about it a while, and we came to the conclusion that neither of us had ever been told not to let the horse in the house. She was a pet, and the dog was a pet, and the dog was allowed in the house, so it must be OK to let the horse in the house. So after some more discussion, we decided we would let her in the house, but only if she really wanted to go in. My brother walked over to the front door and opened it. Sure enough she walked right in.
I will never forget the look on her face as she went into the house. It was a look of wonder and amazement. She had never seen anything like it before. She walked around the living room, being so careful not to bump or disturb anything. It is not every day that a horse gets to go into the house. She appeared to fully grasp the magnitude of the honor. She walked around and looked at every piece of furniture. My brother and I were feeling pretty good . . . we had done a really good thing, giving her a tour of the house. Well, she pretty much looked at everything in the living room, and things had gone so well, we decided to take her into the kitchen. Now being 7 and 11 years old, my brother and I did not have a good grasp of things like the coefficient of static friction, and traction control and all of that, so we had no way of anticipating what would happen next. As Wendy stepped into the kitchen, her hoofs had no traction on the freshly waxed linoleum floor. As she stepped into the kitchen, she lost all traction, and her four legs went out in four different directions, and she landed on her belly. This was something like she had never had happen before, and well, she panicked. She tried to get up, but lost her footing again, worse than the first time. At this point she went totally wild. She just started kicking and flailing around the kitchen. Well, as much as I respect the designers at Frigidaire, GE, and all the furniture companies, apparently in designing their products, they did not consider the possibility of a horse going crazy in the kitchen, and did not design their products to withstand the stresses introduced by such an event. I mean the horse was kicking, bucking, jumping, falling, and in the process totally wrecking the kitchen. The furniture was destroyed, the major appliances were damaged, and I wont even talk about the smaller appliances. Now I am going to have to apologize for telling the next part of the story. I am not trying to be vulgar or anything, but I just have to tell it to you like it happened. I guess the trauma of the situation caused some type of intestinal distress for the poor horse, and she started pooping and peeing. Now I am not talking about the normal thing you would expect of a horse taking care of a little business. I am talking about full scale projectile pooping. I mean she was firing poop across the kitchen like something I had never seen before. Also, the pee made the floor even slicker, and she lost any small amount of traction she might have had as she tried desperately to regain her footing. My brother and I just stood there pretty much in shock, as the horse destroyed the kitchen. Anything she did not wreck, she pooped on. Some items were both wrecked and pooped on. While we considered ourselves pretty proficient horse people, we had never been trained on how to deal with a horse gone crazy in the kitchen. Well, she finally was able to flail her way over to the more firm footing of the living room. My brother and I both panicked, as we could see she was still in a state of high anxiety and we imagined the same thing happening to the living room that had just happened to the kitchen. Now my brother was thinking pretty good, so he ran to the front door, and held it wide open. Wendy saw the sky and ran for it, and ran straight through the living room and out the front door, doing relatively little damage on her way through. The living room came out relatively unscathed, compared to the kitchen.
My brother and I then just sort of stood there and stared at the kitchen. We then both began to get a sinking feeling as we heard my parent's little green Volkswagen driving up. We had no time to even attempt to improve the disaster area formerly known as our kitchen. We had no time to even prepare an adequate defense, or seek professional councel. My Dad walked in and said, "What happened Here!". I don't know if he was asking because he really did not know what had happened, or if he was asking more of a rhetorical question. Given the amount of horse poop on the walls, and the hoof prints on the refrigerator, I think he probably knew what had happened, and it was in fact a rhetorical question . . . but I digress. Anyway, I tried to go into damage control mode and describe it as benignly as possible . . . "Wendy slipped and fell in the kitchen, and then got scared." My dad preferred to focus on the aspect of the situation that we had let a horse in the house. Try as I might, I could not get him to consider the broader complexity and subtleties of the situation. To him, it was simply a matter that we had let a horse in the house and the horse had destroyed the kitchen. I should say at this point that my parents were not well versed in some of the more modern theories of rearing children. Things like the importance of taking opportunities like this to try and build up your children's self esteem, or the fragile nature of a child's self image, or the importance of never raising your voice at a child . . . none of these things were understood by my parents, or at least, they did not appear to be manifesting themselves in this particular circumstance. No, it was pretty clear how they would handle the situation, we were going to get a whipping. Not what you might call a spanking today, like a little swat on the bottom or anything like that. No, we got a good old-fashioned, whipping with a belt. Now, as an adult, I really can not say that the whipping damaged my self esteem, or led me to be a criminal, or that I am harboring any deep seated problems because of that day. I can say one thing for sure though: from that day forward I never brought a horse, or for that matter any other farm animal, into the house. I should also say that I remember that evening my dad made us popcorn in what was left of the kitchen, we sat in his lap and he read a book to us. He never brought up the subject again. We were punished, the issue was put behind us, and we moved on as a happy family, and the horse stayed outside.
Today we feature a photograph from 1897 of the Hatfield clan, of the famed Hatfield-McCoy feud. Both the Hatfield and McCoy clans were involved in farming and Moonshining. The feud began in 1873, over a dispute over a pig. Before it was over, over a dozen members of the two families were killed, others imprisoned, there were several kidnappings, and there was significant loss of property on both sides. Legal aspects of the feud eventually ended up in the US Supreme Court. It is tragic when you think about how much both sides lost because they could not get along. Most tragic of all, both families will always be remembered, not for the good things they could have done, but for the fact that they could not get along with their neighbors.
I live in a small community of about 400 people, and have to say that it is a wonderful blessing to have good neighbors. Recently the man that built our house had an emergency medical situation that led to incredible medical bills. The entire community turned out for an "auction" to generate financial support for him. Every one brought small items like cakes and cookies and peanut brittle. One cake went for $300 and a plate of peanut brittle sold for $400. Many thousands of dollars were raised to help him get back on his feet. I asked one man why he paid so much for a plate of peanut brittle, and he said, "because I know he would have done the same for me". Life is so much easier when neighbors get along.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Nothing better on a hot summer day than a good slice of watermelon. This picture was taken in 1909, and shows children enjoying watermelon after a swim.
Now this might just be my imagination, but I think watermelons tasted better when I was a kid than they do now. You know the ones you bought from the farmer with a stand on the side of the road? The ones in the grocery stores these days are a little bland. It has been a long time since I have had a really good watermelon.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
This picture shows roughnecks working on an oil drilling platform, and was taken in 1939 in Kilgore, Texas. They are doing the step called "making a connection". This is the point where they are adding another 30 foot section of pipe to the drill stem. As the hole continues to get deeper, the roughnecks must continue to add more pipe to the drill stem. Making a connection is the most difficult and most dangerous part of the job. The men must first disconnect the existing drill stem from the "Kelly", which is the hoist like rigging that holds the drill stem in place. They then have to add another 30 foot section of pipe to the drill stem, and then reconnect the entire drill stem to the Kelly. There are lots of chains and cables and big heavy things flying around when this is going on, and this is the point in the job where most accidents occur. It takes a good crew about 1 minute to make a connection, and then it is about an hour until you have to make another connection. The "Driller" is the man in charge of the roughneck crew. He operates the motors, and has what is considered a much better and safer job. It is still a tough job, but a little less so than the floor roughnecks. The "Driller" is definitely one of the boys though.
Now the worst part of the job are the days that you have to "Come out of the Hole". These are times when you might need to replace the drill bit, which is on the bottom of the drill stem. The complete drill stem might be a mile deep. So to "Come out of the hole", you have to make one connection after another, bringing the mile long drill stem out of the hole 30 feet at a time. On days that you "Come out of the hole", you might spend the entire day making one connection right after another. This is truly backbreaking work.
The typical roughneck job is 8 hours a day (with up to a 2 hour drive to and from the rig), seven days a week, with good outfits giving you Christmas day off.
I worked on an oil rig during the summers while I was going to college. I will have to say that the people I worked with were the most crass, rough, and unrefined people that I ever ran across in my life. They used words I had never heard before, and most could curse in multiple different languages. I will also say that I never worked with a group of men that I would trust more than these men on the oil rigs. Routinely I would see these men put their lives in extreme danger to help a friend that had gotten hurt on the rig floor. Later on I worked in various executive positions at high tech companies. Having had the chance to work with both the highest of upper crust in society, and the lowest of the lower crust, I have to honestly say, I preferred the lower crust.
When I worked on the rig there was a popular poem, written by a roughneck. It was called "The Roughnecks Dream"
A Roughneck's Dream
I was working in the oil fields one cold West Texas day,
And there on the rig floor a dying roughneck lay,
He said, "I am off to the Big Rig, the Big Rig I'm told
Where the crown is purest silver, and the kelly's made of gold
Where a diamond studded cat line hangs from a pearl gin pole,
And the the driller makes all the connections,
and you never come out of the hole.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
This photograph shows a poor girl living in a "shacktown" near Oklahoma City. The picture was taken in 1936, and shows the poverty of the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma. When I started this blog, I was planning on featuring a lot of old happy or funny pictures. It turns out that there are many more sad pictures than happy pictures in history. I think we sometimes forget how good we have it today.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
This picture shows a newborn baby. The picture was taken in 1943. It was on this date, February 19, in the year 1942 that Franklin D. Roosevelt signed executive order number 9066, ordering the US military to relocate American Citizens of Japanese Descent to detention camps. This picture was taken in the Manzanar Relocation Center, one of these camps.
Monday, February 18, 2008
This is a picture of an Amish man, taken in 1942. The picture was taken in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I find the Amish fascinating. There is something very attractive to me about their simple lifestyle. I think many of us long for a less confused lifestyle, and the Amish have maintained it all these years.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
This picture was taken in Washington DC, in 1922. It shows a car wreck resulting from a high speed chase through the streets of Washington. The car was being used to run bootleg whiskey. After the crash, the bootleggers were apprehended by the police. During prohibition, bootleggers would soup their cars up, to be better able to outrun the police. They became quiet good at this, and with the end of prohibition, many of them began to race each other for recreation, which became the basis for today's extremely popular race circuits.
It was on this day, February 17, in the year 1933 that prohibition came to an end in the United States.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Today's picture features a boy in a cotton field picking Boll Weevils off the cotton plants. The picture was taken in 1937 in Macon County, Georgia. Boll Weevils are a severe problem for cotton farmers. If a field of cotton is infested, the crop is lost. Trying to pick them off by hand would be a desperate, and in the end, pretty much useless exercise. I guess they were doing all they could to try to save some of the cotton crop. I grew up on a cotton farm in the 1960's and can remember how much fear there was about losing a crop to Boll Weevils, even in the 60's. Today I think that they have pesticides that will take care of the problem, but Weevils are probably still a concern for farmers.
Friday, February 15, 2008
This picture shows children who work in a Cotton Mill in Pell City, Alabama. The photograph was taken in 1910. Notice the cotton fibers on the children's hats. Cotton fiber is very dangerous to breath, and the health effects were probably as bad as working in a coal mine.
There is such a look of hopelessness on these faces. Children robbed of their childhood.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
This is a portrait of a young African American woman. The photograph was taken in 1899. So many of the pictures of African Americans from this era are in the context of sharecropping and other more unfortunate circumstances. While we don't have any other details on this photograph, it appears that this woman, and her family have done better than what was typical for African Americans of this time.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Today we feature a portrait of Jesse James. The picture was taken in 1864.
Jesse James rode with the "Bloody Bill" Anderson Raiders in the Civil War. It was during his stint as a Confederate Raider that he learned the art of Guerrilla warfare, and the tactics of successful raiding . . . hitting an unsuspecting area with overwhelming force, fast speed, and then disappearing into the countryside.
After the Civil War, many of the confederate raiders did not receive the same amnesty offer given regular confederate forces. With the end of the war, these raiders were in effect wanted men. A number of the Quantrill and Anderson raiders banded together to form the James-Younger gang. The gang was hugely successful. They used the guerrilla tactics they had learned in the war to plan their robberies. It was the use of these tactics that made them the most successful bank robbers of the Old West era.
I grew up on a ranch in West Texas. The ranch was bought by my Grandfather from Allen Parmer, who was a member of the James-Younger gang. Parmer was also married to Jesse James sister. My grandfather was a friend of both Frank James, and Allen Parmer. Frank James was sometimes seen in our community, visiting my Grandfather.
I spent much of my youth with a shovel in hand, digging holes searching for some of the James Gang loot. I was convinced that it would be buried some where on our ranch. It never struck me that Parmer would have dug up the loot and taken it with him when he sold the property, if he had in fact ever even buried any there. Anyway, I never found anything, but did get pretty good at digging holes.
It was on this date, February 13, in the year 1866 that the James Gang robbed their first bank, in Liberty Missouri.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
This photograph shows President Abraham Lincoln in the tent of General George McClellan. The photograph was taken on the Antietam battlefield shortly after the battle. I was always curious about this picture . . . it looks like an American flag is being used as a table cloth in the tent.
Abraham Lincoln was born on this day, February 12, in the year 1809.
Monday, February 11, 2008
Sunday, February 10, 2008
This is a photograph of Charles Stratton (AKA General Tom Thumb) and wife Lavinia Warren. Charles was a famous performer for notorious showman P. T. Barnum. Charles stood just 25 inches high and weighed 16 pounds when he began working for Barnum. Charles Stratton and Lavina Warren were married on this day in 1863. Following the wedding, the newlyweds were received by President Lincoln at the Whitehouse.
Saturday, February 9, 2008
Friday, February 8, 2008
I love this old picture. It shows the hands of a slave. The photograph was taken in 1941, so the man must have been a young boy when he was a slave in the 1860's, and hence must have spent most of his life as a free man. His hands tell a story though . . . life did not get much easier with the end of slavery.
Lincoln prosecuted the war primarily for the purpose of preserving the Union. As the war progressed, he came to understand the cruelty of the institution of slavery, and became convicted that slavery must be ended. He even spoke of his belief that the untold horror of the Civil War was God's punishment on a Nation that had tolerated slavery. I think it is important to realize that slavery was not a Sin of the South, but a Sin of the Nation. Many in the North were willing to look the other way, and tolerate slavery because it enabled cheap cotton and other agricultural products, which they were all to eager to consume.
Unfortunately, things did not get much better with the end of slavery. No one thought through the next steps of how to assimilate slaves into society. Most were uneducated, and lacked the simple life skills that exist in a free society. The slaves were turned loose, and left to figure out how to make a way for themselves in a free society, even though they were ill equipped to do so. Slavery was replaced by other systems, such as sharecropping which were almost as oppressive.
One hopes that the man pictured above was able to find some joy in life, and some hope that things would be better for his children.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
This picture was taken in 1939, and shows a street vendor selling combs and candy from a small cigar box. One has to wonder how hard it must have been scratching out a living from such a small box. The picture was taken in Waco, Texas.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
This picture shows an old storefront in Salem, Illinois in 1940. It is interesting to see that three pounds of Sausage costs 25 cents. Looking at these prices makes us long for the good old days. However it is interesting to note that median income in 1940 was about $515 per year, or around 25 cents per hour. So, if you worked an hour, you could buy 3 pounds of sausage. Average household income today is about $48,000 per year. In most cases there are two wage earners today, so probably the average income per person is about $24,000, or about $12 per hour. I just bought some sausage, and it was $4 per pound. So, today the average person could buy 3 pounds of sausage for one hour of work. While these numbers are pretty rough, to first order, the average person today has to work the same aount of time to buy a pound of sausage. The real question, did the average person enjoy their sausage more then or now?
Monday, February 4, 2008
This photograph was taken in 1861, and shows the State Capitol in Montgomery Alabama. It was on this day, February 4, in the year 1861 that representatives from Southern States met at this building to form the Confederate States of America. In the words of Abraham Lincoln . . . "And the War Came".
Sunday, February 3, 2008
Saturday, February 2, 2008
Friday, February 1, 2008
This photograph was taken in Vale Oregon in 1941. The couple are relaxing after a July 4th parade. I can't help but look at this picture and wonder if there could possibly be a better illustration of true love? Yesterday my wife and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. I hope we would still be as close as this couple in another 20 years.