Friday, October 31, 2014

Reformation Day 2014

 Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, WI      

Martin Luther posted his ninety-five theses on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenburg, Germany on this day in 1517. He could no longer tolerate the Catholic practice of collecting indulgences from sinners seeking salvation. Today, Protestants commemorate this event every October 31 as Reformation Day.

Johann Sebastian Bach, the musical voice of the Reformation in the Baroque period, wrote the following cantata for Reformation Day 1725:

1. Chorus

God the Lord is sun and shield. The Lord gives grace and honor, He will allow no good to be lacking from the righteous.

2. Aria A

God is our sun and shield!
Therefore this goodness
shall be praised by our grateful heart,
which He protects like His little flock.
For He will protect us from now on,
although the enemy sharpens his arrows
and a vicious hound already barks.

3. Chorale

Now let everyone thank God
with hearts, mouths, and hands,
Who does great things
for us and to all ends,
Who has done for us from our mother's wombs
and childhood on
many uncountable good things
and does so still today.

4. Recitative B

Praise God, we know
the right way to blessedness;
for, Jesus, You have revealed it to us through Your word,
therefore Your name shall be praised for all time.
Since, however, many yet
at this time
must labor under a foreign yoke
out of blindness,
ah! then have mercy
also on them graciously,
so that they recognize the right way
and simply call You their Intercessor.

5. Aria (Duet) S B

God, ah God, abandon Your own ones
never again!
Let Your word shine brightly for us;
although harshly
against us the enemy rages,
yet our mouths shall praise You.

6. Chorale

Uphold us in the truth,
grant eternal freedom,
to praise Your name
through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thanks be to God!


Photo, Conrad Schmitt Studios, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Bach translation, emmanuelmusic,org

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween Countdown - Day 1

It is the end of the countdown. It is time for the scariest of the scary. For the sounds, words, images that get within our persons and crawl around awhile until they enter our consciousness once more and  leave us pondering about the what and where , the who  and how of the shaded day we are about to enter.

Our music:

The words:

The Hollow Men

T.S. Eliot

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us -- if at all -- not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.


Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death's dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind's singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death's dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat's coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer --

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom


This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man's hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death's other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.


The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death's twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.


Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o'clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow

Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

The visual:

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

William Kapell: Another Day The Music Died

In the mid-point of the 20th century the United States was still waiting for its very own native world-class pianist. The most likely candidate was William Kapell, a New Yorker in his early twenties who had already reached such maturity at the keyboard even Vladimir Horowitz said he could teach him nothing. Kapell was in great demand for international performances by 1953. On October 29 that year he was on return from his spectacular Australia tour when all hopes for greatness were lost. His airliner clipped the cloud-covered summit of Kings Mountain on approach to San Francisco. The crash killed Kapell, ten additional passengers and a crew of eight. His widow, Anna Lou Dehavenon, worked to keep his name and recorded performances  before the public but her efforts were limited until the 1980's and renewed interest in Kapell's genius.

Kapell in 1948

In 1986, the University of Maryland became the home of the quadrennial Kapell International Piano Competition and Festival. Over the next fifteen years, old recordings returned, his complete authorized catalog appeared, and newly discovered recordings of his concerts in Australia made days before his death were issued. For a tantalizing sense of his abilities, here is a legendary recording made in 1945 when he was twenty-two years old:

Even if you know little about the classical piano, as I assuredly do, you'll come away from hearing his performance with the understanding that you just heard a very special genius. His performance ended in 1953 but his music really never remains an inspiration to a generation of new students, one of whom may become "the pianist of the century." 

Halloween Countdown - Day 2

In 1946, Jean Cocteau directed a version of the French fairy tale, La Belle et La Bete (The Beauty and the Beast). For film buffs, it's an innovative production. For audiences, both children and adults, it's a compelling, visual dream feast filled with suspense and surprise. Although the story has nothing to do with Halloween this scene is one of many that captures the magic of the season quite well.

Granted this is a long poem but it is Robert Burns's wonderful description of the Halloween traditions of Scotland. Here is the introduction in the poet's own words:

The following poem will, by many readers, be well enough understood; butfor the sake of those who are unacquainted with the manners and traditions ofthe country where the scene is cast, notes are added to give some account ofthe principal charms and spells of that night, so big with prophecy to thepeasantry in the west of Scotland. The passion of prying into futurity makesa striking part of the history of human nature in its rude state, in allages and nations; and it may be some entertainment to a philosophic mind, ifany such honour the author with a perusal, to see the remains of it among themore unenlightened in our own.  R.B. 1785

[Notes appear after the poem. Some readers may find them more helpful if read before the poem.] 

Halloween (1)

Upon that night, when fairies light 
On Cassilis Downans (2) dance, 
Or owre the lays, in splendid blaze, 
On sprightly coursers prance; 
Or for Colean the rout is ta'en, 
Beneath the moon's pale beams; 
There, up the Cove, (3) to stray an' rove, 
Amang the rocks and streams 
To sport that night; 

Amang the bonie winding banks, 
Where Doon rins, wimplin, clear; 
Where Bruce (4) ance rul'd the martial ranks, 
An' shook his Carrick spear; 
Some merry, friendly, countra-folks 
Together did convene, 
To burn their nits, an' pou their stocks, 
An' haud their Halloween 
Fu' blythe that night. 

The lasses feat, an' cleanly neat, 
Mair braw than when they're fine; 
Their faces blythe, fu' sweetly kythe, 
Hearts leal, an' warm, an' kin': 
The lads sae trig, wi' wooer-babs
Weel-knotted on their garten; 
Some unco blate, an' some wi' gabs 
Gar lasses' hearts gang startin 
Whiles fast at night. 

Then, first an' foremost, thro' the kail, 
Their stocks (5) maun a' be sought ance; 

They steek their een, and grape an' wale
For muckle anes, an' straught anes. 
Poor hav'rel Will fell aff the drift, 
An' wandered thro' the bow-kail, 
An' pou't for want o' better shift 
A runt was like a sow-tail 
Sae bow't that night. 

Then, straught or crooked, yird or nane, 
They roar an' cry a' throu'ther; 
The vera wee-things, toddlin, rin, 
Wi' stocks out owre their shouther: 
An' gif the custock's sweet or sour, 
Wi' joctelegs they taste them; 
Syne coziely, aboon the door, 
Wi' cannie care, they've plac'd them 
To lie that night. 

The lassies staw frae 'mang them a', 
To pou their stalks o' corn; (6) 
But Rab slips out, an' jinks about, 
Behint the muckle thorn: 
He grippit Nelly hard and fast: 
Loud skirl'd a' the lasses; 
But her tap-pickle maist was lost, 
Whan kiutlin in the fause-house (7)
Wi' him that night. 

The auld guid-wife's weel-hoordit nits (8)
Are round an' round dividend, 
An' mony lads an' lasses' fates 
Are there that night decided: 
Some kindle couthie side by side, 
And burn thegither trimly; 
Some start awa wi' saucy pride, 
An' jump out owre the chimlie 
Fu' high that night. 

Jean slips in twa, wi' tentie e'e; 
Wha 'twas, she wadna tell; 
But this is Jock, an' this is me, 
She says in to hersel': 
He bleez'd owre her, an' she owre him, 
As they wad never mair part: 
Till fuff! he started up the lum, 
An' Jean had e'en a sair heart 
To see't that night. 

Poor Willie, wi' his bow-kail runt, 
Was brunt wi' primsie Mallie; 
An' Mary, nae doubt, took the drunt, 
To be compar'd to Willie: 
Mall's nit lap out, wi' pridefu' fling, 
An' her ain fit, it brunt it; 
While Willie lap, and swore by jing, 
'Twas just the way he wanted 
To be that night. 

Nell had the fause-house in her min', 
She pits hersel an' Rob in; 
In loving bleeze they sweetly join, 
Till white in ase they're sobbin: 
Nell's heart was dancin at the view; 
She whisper'd Rob to leuk for't: 
Rob, stownlins, prie'd her bonie mou', 
Fu' cozie in the neuk for't, 
Unseen that night. 

But Merran sat behint their backs, 
Her thoughts on Andrew Bell: 
She lea'es them gashin at their cracks, 
An' slips out-by hersel'; 
She thro' the yard the nearest taks, 
An' for the kiln she goes then, 
An' darklins grapit for the bauks, 
And in the blue-clue (9) throws then, 
Right fear't that night. 

An' ay she win't, an' ay she swat- 
I wat she made nae jaukin; 
Till something held within the pat, 
Good Lord! but she was quaukin! 
But whether 'twas the deil himsel, 
Or whether 'twas a bauk-en', 
Or whether it was Andrew Bell, 
She did na wait on talkin 
To spier that night. 

Wee Jenny to her graunie says, 
"Will ye go wi' me, graunie? 
I'll eat the apple at the glass, (10)
I gat frae uncle Johnie:" 
She fuff't her pipe wi' sic a lunt, 
In wrath she was sae vap'rin, 
She notic't na an aizle brunt
Her braw, new, worset apron 
Out thro' that night. 

"Ye little skelpie-limmer's face! 
I daur you try sic sportin, 
As seek the foul thief ony place, 
For him to spae your fortune: 
Nae doubt but ye may get a sight! 
Great cause ye hae to fear it; 
For mony a ane has gotten a fright, 
An' liv'd an' died deleerit, 
On sic a night. 

"Ae hairst afore the Sherra-moor, 
I mind't as weel's yestreen- 
I was a gilpey then, I'm sure 
I was na past fyfteen: 
The simmer had been cauld an' wat, 
An' stuff was unco green; 
An' eye a rantin kirn we gat, 
An' just on Halloween 
It fell that night. 

"Our stibble-rig was Rab M'Graen, 
A clever, sturdy fallow; 
His sin gat Eppie Sim wi' wean, 
That lived in Achmacalla: 
He gat hemp-seed, (11) I mind it weel, 
An'he made unco light o't; 
But mony a day was by himsel', 
He was sae sairly frighted 
That vera night." 

Then up gat fechtin Jamie Fleck, 
An' he swoor by his conscience, 
That he could saw hemp-seed a peck; 
For it was a' but nonsense: 
The auld guidman raught down the pock, 
An' out a handfu' gied him; 
Syne bad him slip frae' mang the folk, 
Sometime when nae ane see'd him, 
An' try't that night. 

He marches thro' amang the stacks, 
Tho' he was something sturtin; 
The graip he for a harrow taks, 
An' haurls at his curpin: 
And ev'ry now an' then, he says, 
"Hemp-seed I saw thee, 
An' her that is to be my lass 
Come after me, an' draw thee 
As fast this night." 

He wistl'd up Lord Lennox' March 
To keep his courage cherry; 
Altho' his hair began to arch, 
He was sae fley'd an' eerie: 
Till presently he hears a squeak, 
An' then a grane an' gruntle; 
He by his shouther gae a keek, 
An' tumbled wi' a wintle
Out-owre that night. 

He roar'd a horrid murder-shout, 
In dreadfu' desperation! 
An' young an' auld come rinnin out, 
An' hear the sad narration: 
He swoor 'twas hilchin Jean M'Craw, 
Or crouchie Merran Humphie- 
Till stop! she trotted thro' them a'; 
And wha was it but grumphie
Asteer that night! 

Meg fain wad to the barn gaen, 
To winn three wechts o' naething; (12)
But for to meet the deil her lane, 
She pat but little faith in: 

She gies the herd a pickle nits, 
An' twa red cheekit apples, 
To watch, while for the barn she sets, 
In hopes to see Tam Kipples 
That vera night. 

She turns the key wi' cannie thraw, 
An'owre the threshold ventures; 
But first on Sawnie gies a ca', 
Syne baudly in she enters: 
A ratton rattl'd up the wa', 
An' she cry'd Lord preserve her! 
An' ran thro' midden-hole an' a', 
An' pray'd wi' zeal and fervour, 
Fu' fast that night. 

They hoy't out Will, wi' sair advice; 
They hecht him some fine braw ane; 
It chanc'd the stack he faddom't thrice (13)
Was timmer-propt for thrawin: 
He taks a swirlie auld moss-oak 
For some black, grousome carlin; 
An' loot a winze, an' drew a stroke, 
Till skin in blypes cam haurlin 
Aff's nieves that night. 

A wanton widow Leezie was, 
As cantie as a kittlen; 
But och! that night, amang the shaws, 
She gat a fearfu' settlin! 
She thro' the whins, an' by the cairn, 
An' owre the hill gaed scrievin; 
Whare three lairds' lan's met at a burn, (14)
To dip her left sark-sleeve in, 
Was bent that night. 

Whiles owre a linn the burnie plays, 
As thro' the glen it wimpl't; 
Whiles round a rocky scar it strays, 
Whiles in a wiel it dimpl't; 
Whiles glitter'd to the nightly rays, 
Wi' bickerin', dancin' dazzle; 
Whiles cookit undeneath the braes, 
Below the spreading hazel 
Unseen that night. 

Amang the brachens, on the brae, 
Between her an' the moon, 
The deil, or else an outler quey, 
Gat up an' ga'e a croon: 
Poor Leezie's heart maist lap the hool; 
Near lav'rock-height she jumpit, 
But mist a fit, an' in the pool 
Out-owre the lugs she plumpit, 
Wi' a plunge that night. 

In order, on the clean hearth-stane, 
The luggies (15) three are ranged; 
An' ev'ry time great care is ta'en 
To see them duly changed: 
Auld uncle John, wha wedlock's joys 
Sin' Mar's-year did desire, 
Because he gat the toom dish thrice, 
He heav'd them on the fire 
In wrath that night. 

Wi' merry sangs, an' friendly cracks, 
I wat they did na weary; 
And unco tales, an' funnie jokes- 
Their sports were cheap an' cheery: 
Till butter'd sowens, (16) wi' fragrant lunt, 
Set a' their gabs a-steerin; 
Syne, wi' a social glass o' strunt, 
They parted aff careerin 
Fu' blythe that night.

[Footnote 1: Is thought to be a night when witches, devils, and other
mischief-making beings are abroad on their baneful midnight errands;
particularly those aerial people, the fairies, are said on that night to hold
a grand anniversary,.-R.B.]
[Footnote 2: Certain little, romantic, rocky, green hills, in the
neighbourhood of the ancient seat of the Earls of Cassilis.-R.B.]
[Footnote 3: A noted cavern near Colean house, called the Cove of Colean;
which, as well as Cassilis Downans, is famed, in country story, for being a
favorite haunt of fairies.-R.B.]
[Footnote 4: The famous family of that name, the ancestors of Robert, the
great deliverer of his country, were Earls of Carrick.-R.B.]
[Footnote 5: The first ceremony of Halloween is pulling each a "stock," or
plant of kail. They must go out, hand in hand, with eyes shut, and pull the
first they meet with: its being big or little, straight or crooked, is
prophetic of the size and shape of the grand object of all their spells-the
husband or wife. If any "yird," or earth, stick to the root, that is "tocher,"
or fortune; and the taste of the "custock," that is, the heart of the stem, is
indicative of the natural temper and disposition. Lastly, the stems, or, to
give them their ordinary appellation, the "runts," are placed somewhere above
the head of the door; and the Christian names of the people whom chance brings
into the house are, according to the priority of placing the "runts," the
names in question.-R. B.]
[Footnote 6: They go to the barnyard, and pull each, at three different times, a stalk of oats. If the third stalk wants the "top-pickle," that is, the grain at the top of the stalk, the party in question will come to the marriage-bed anything but a maid.-R.B.]
[Footnote 7: When the corn is in a doubtful state, by being too green or wet,
the stack-builder, by means of old timber, etc., makes a large apartment in
his stack, with an opening in the side which is fairest exposed to the wind:
this he calls a "fause-house."-R.B.][Footnote 8: Burning the nuts is a favorite charm. They name the lad and lass
to each particular nut, as they lay them in the fire; and according as they
burn quietly together, or start from beside one another, the course and issue
of the courtship will be.-R.B.]
[Footnote 9: Whoever would, with success, try this spell, must strictly
observe these directions: Steal out, all alone, to the kiln, and darkling,
throw into the "pot" a clue of blue yarn; wind it in a new clue off the old
one; and, toward the latter end, something will hold the thread: demand, "Wha
hauds?" i.e., who holds? and answer will be returned from the kiln-pot, by
naming the Christian and surname of your future spouse.-R.B.]
[Footnote 10: Take a candle and go alone to a looking-glass; eat an apple
before it, and some traditions say you should comb your hair all the time; the
face of your conjungal companion, to be, will be seen in the glass, as if
peeping over your shoulder.-R.B.]
[Footnote 11: Steal out, unperceived, and sow a handful of hemp-seed,
harrowing it with anything you can conveniently draw after you. Repeat now and
then: "Hemp-seed, I saw thee, hemp-seed, I saw thee; and him (or her) that is
to be my true love, come after me and pou thee." Look over your left shoulder,
and you will see the appearance of the person invoked, in the attitude of
pulling hemp. Some traditions say, "Come after me and shaw thee," that is,
show thyself; in which case, it simply appears. Others omit the harrowing, and
say: "Come after me and harrow thee."-R.B.]
[Footnote 12: This charm must likewise be performed unperceived and alone. You go to the barn, and open both doors, taking them off the hinges, if possible; for there is danger that the being about to appear may shut the doors, and do you some mischief. Then take that instrument used in winnowing the corn, which in our country dialect we call a "wecht," and go through all the attitudes of letting down corn against the wind. Repeat it three times, and the third time an apparition will pass through the barn, in at the windy door and out at the other, having both the figure in question, and the appearance or retinue, marking the employment or station in life.-R.B.]
[Footnote 13: Take an opportunity of going unnoticed to a "bear-stack," and fathom it three times round. The last fathom of the last time you will catch in your arms the appearance of your future conjugal yoke-fellow.-R.B.]
[Footnote 14: You go out, one or more (for this is a social spell), to a south running spring, or rivulet, where "three lairds' lands meet," and dip your left shirt sleeve. Go to bed in sight of a fire, and hang your wet sleeve before it to dry. Lie awake, and, some time near midnight, an apparition, having the exact figure of the grand object in question, will come and turn the sleeve, as if to dry the other side of it.-R.B.]
[Footnote 15: Take three dishes, put clean water in one, foul water in another, and leave the third empty; blindfold a person and lead him to the hearth where the dishes are ranged; he (or she) dips the left hand; if by chance in the clean water, the future (husband or) wife will come to the bar of matrimony a maid; if in the foul, a widow; if in the empty dish, it foretells, with equal certainty, no marriage at all. It is repeated three
times, and every time the arrangement of the dishes is altered.-R.B.]
[Footnote 16: Sowens, with butter instead of milk to them, is always the Halloween Supper.-R.B.]

Our postcard for the day comes from the Ullman Manufacturing Company. The card is described as an American Colorgravure Post Card, Hallowe'en Series 182, Subject 2759.  There is no copyright date; however, it bears a 1911 postmark.  Obviously this card suffers from poor registration but, given the subject, a blurred image almost adds somewhat to the effect.


The Burns poem, footnotes, and introduction were taken from

Monday, October 27, 2014

Halloween Countdown - Day 3

We start today's countdown post with a classic that probably scared every child who saw it, especially those who were lucky enough to be a kid between 1940 and 1955. There is another Fantasia classic coming on Thursday.

Words for the day - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Haunted Houses:

All houses wherein men have lived and died
Are haunted houses. Through the open doors
The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,
With feet that make no sound upon the floors.

We meet them at the door-way, on the stair,
Along the passages they come and go,
Impalpable impressions on the air,
A sense of something moving to and fro.

There are more guests at table than the hosts
Invited; the illuminated hall
Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,
As silent as the pictures on the wall.

The stranger at my fireside cannot see
The forms I see, nor hear the sounds I hear;
He but perceives what is; while unto me
All that has been is visible and clear.

We have no title-deeds to house or lands;
Owners and occupants of earlier dates
From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands,
And hold in mortmain still their old estates.

The spirit-world around this world of sense
Floats like an atmosphere, and everywhere
Wafts through these earthly mists and vapours dense
A vital breath of more ethereal air.

Our little lives are kept in equipoise
By opposite attractions and desires;
The struggle of the instinct that enjoys,
And the more noble instinct that aspires.

These perturbations, this perpetual jar
Of earthly wants and aspirations high,
Come from the influence of an unseen star
An undiscovered planet in our sky.

And as the moon from some dark gate of cloud
Throws o'er the sea a floating bridge of light,
Across whose trembling planks our fancies crowd
Into the realm of mystery and night,—

So from the world of spirits there descends
A bridge of light, connecting it with this,
O'er whose unsteady floor, that sways and bends,
Wander our thoughts above the dark abyss.

If you're following our countdown, you're well aware of Ellen H. Clapsaddle as one the nation's most successful illustrators at the turn of the 20th century. Here is more postcard art she produced for S. Sarre, one of the finer publishers of the time. It was printed in Germany and bears a 1908 copyright on the painting.

Dylan Thomas: Oh May My Heart's Truth Be Sung On This High Hill In A Year's Turning

Today is a very special day for the people of Wales and for those who have the blood of Cymru coursing their veins. It is the centenary of the birth of Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet of the last century who produced some of the most extraordinary lyrical imagery found modern English. Thomas holds a very special place in my being. My grandmother's parents immigrated to the United States from Cardiff, Wales, in the 1870's. Although I don't remember my grandmother - she died before my second birthday - my father always reminded me of her Celtic pride and Welsh ancestry expressed especially in a love for song and singing. 

My family likely became aware of Thomas through his trips to the U.S. made over a span of about four years beginning in 1950. His trips always made sensational news for he was not only a rising star worshiped in metropolitan and university salons but also a boisterous character prone to drunkenness and colorful language.  Indeed, his trip in 1953 ended in death from pneumonia while in New York. One could say he covered the full spectrum of life and when he spoke of it in verse or prose he made music. I've read and listened to him recite his music since the mid-1950's. 

Here he is reading a poem about visits to his aunt and uncle's farm, Fernhill, near Llangain, Carmarthanshire, in the 1920's.

And for good measure, "Poem in October" and "In my Craft or Sullen Art."

What an unforgettable voice. And what imagery. 

I first heard a recording of Thomas sometime in elementary school. There's a good chance few students in any grade have that opportunity today. How unfortunate. We often think education has come a long way over the last seven decades. Perhaps it has, but somewhere on that journey we have undoubtedly lost some very precious cultural experiences. If we could hear Thomas's truth singing every year, we would know so much better who we are as individuals and as a people. 

Halloween Countdown - Day 4

It wouldn't be Halloween without something from the Muppets. Here is a classic that first appeared in 1977. Still fresh. Still fun.

Our postcard is another 1908 issue from the International Publishing Company, New York City. The art is unsigned and there are no other identifying numbers. 

Our countdown poem is a classic from the mind of Edgar Allan Poe. It was written a few months before his death in 1849 and is his last complete poem. 

Annabel Lee

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wing├Ęd seraphs of Heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea—
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Sources: Poe information, Wikipedia

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pat Conroy: Lowcountry Treasure

This year as every year I searched the Internet today looking for a post or two about the birth of the American novelist, Pat Conroy, born in Atlanta on this day in 1945. Again, there was nothing to find other than the obligatory and brief single liner. And so I am left to bring readers more than a name and a date about this Lowcountry treasure, his rich descriptive writing and intense webs of characters forged out of family and place.

Even in his fiction, Pat Conroy has a way of writing about himself and all of us as we face the challenges and adversities - mental and physical - of growing into young adulthood and beyond. Stated another way, Conroy has extraordinary skill in probing the long childhoods many of us face as we grow and change. For him, it's an arduous journey, carried out with the same reality that comes with recognizing nature as a cruel mother. Yes, there is beauty and light along the way, but the mountains can't stand without the valleys, and Conroy's reality has its share of both. Some may not enjoy such a journey, but it is a good dose of reality and I and millions of other readers hold Conroy in high esteem. 

Conroy's book, The River is Wide, was five years old when I moved to the edge of the ocean east of Savannah and a mere five miles across the sound from the book's setting on Daufuskie Island. In a matter of months, the sea islands captured me and, after living there eleven years, I was never quite the same again.  More than thirty years have passed since those days when I sat reading late in the quiet of night feeling and hearing the low frequency vibrations from ship screws in the Savannah River channel a few thousand feet away. That may seem like an odd recollection from the complex experience of a natural setting and its cultural overlay, but it approaches the unique and remains one of many fond Lowcountry memories. For the most part - small flashes of creativity being the exception - I simply observed and enjoyed those experiences. Pat Conroy, on the other hand, took the everyday and unique events in his life journey and turned them into some of the most lyrical writing of our time.

His latest book, The Death of Santini: A Story of A Father and His Son (2013) explores the intense and often suffocating relationship Conroy experienced with his domineering father. It is an autobiographical journey ending in a fragile reconciliation reconfirming the powerful bonds shared by every family.

The image above comes from a screen capture of a UNCTV interview conducted in February 2014. Interested readers may view this 27 minute program here. Well worth your time.

Halloween Countdown - Day 5

We'll start the day's post with some creepy music, the theme from Halloween (1978). It's the original and it's as scary now as it was 36 years ago.

To continue the creep, here is the incomparable Vincent Price reading Edgar Allan Poe's classic, The Raven.

The brush of Ellen H. Clapsaddle lightens the mood in this 1909 postcard, "A Happy Halloween, Would you believe it or not!" The painting only is copyrighted by S. Sarre. The high quality card was printed in Germany.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Halloween Countdown - Day 6

Our postcard today features another painting by Ellen H. Clapsaddle published by the International Art Publishing Company, New York and Berlin. 

Poetry for the day comes from the pen of Fulke Greville, 1st Baron Brooke, a notable 16th century English poet, playwright, and statesman. 

In night, when colors all to black are cast, 
Distinction lost, or gone down with the light, 
The eye, watch to inward senses placed,
Not seeing, yet still having power of sight,

Gives vain alarms to the inward sense,
Where fear, stirred up with witty tyranny,
Confounds all powers, and through self offense
Doth forge and raise impossibility,

Such as in thick, depriving darknesses, 
Proper reflections of the error be. 
And images of self-confusednesses,
Which hurt imaginations only see - 
And from this nothing seen tell news of devils,
Which but expressions be of inward evils.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Halloween Countdown - Day 7

Our postcard for the day is a 1909 number from Julius Bien and Co., New York. Here is his biographical sketch from

Julius Bien (1826-1909) was a trained lithographer when he emigrated to the United States from Germany. His printing company was established in New York in 1849. His firm printed children's annuals and reproduction chromolithographs of Audubon's work. He then became a noted cartographer and produced thousands of high quality maps of the West as well as other parts of the United States. Julius Bien postcards are often colorful greetings of a comical nature such as the ones shown above, and were published in the 1900s-1910s.

Today's music comes from the The Adventures of Ichabod and Mister Toad, a Walt Disney film classic from 1949. The Ichabod adventure appeared again in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a 1955 production for the television series, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color. I turned nine years old in 1955, still the perfect age for the big event. By that year, our gang members had already been veterans at looking out for the Headless Horseman and his fiery pumpkin. Halloween in western Maryland was already an adventure with freezing winds, sometimes rain, and even heavy snow showers that roared off Lake Erie about 150 miles to the northwest. Those Halloweens were unforgettable rites of passage for us.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Johnny Carson: The King Of Late Night Television

Johnny Carson as Carnac the Magnificent

In light of Jimmy Fallon and Dennis Miller already in place as new late night television hosts, and Steven Colbert taking on the same role at CBS in 2015, it's a perfect time to mention Johnny Carson, the King of Late Night. Carson was born on this day in Corning, Iowa, in 1925. As host of The Tonight Show for thirty years, 1962-1992, he brought celebrity, entertainment, and his own brand of wacky comedy to millions of viewers. He was a major influence in the entertainment world but his impact may never be well understood or appreciated because he led a shy, guarded life beyond the studio lights. A documentary film by Peter Jones did much to open Carson's world to the public when it was broadcast on PBS as part of the American Masters series in 2012.

Here is a look at the master at work with his usual cast members and a host of notable entertainers and comedians.  The clip, known as the famous "Lost Episode", is long but it's a first-rate example of Carson at his best.

And here is Carson as one of his most beloved characters, Carnack the Magnificent:

Halloween Countdown - Day 8

Today's poem comes to us from the pen of the American editor, novelist, and satirist, John Kendrick Bangs (1862-1922). 


The ghosts of all things past parade, 
Emerging from the mist and shade 
That hid them from our gaze, 
And, full of song and ringing mirth, 
In one glad moment of rebirth, 
And again they walk the ways of earth 
As in the ancient days.

The beacon light shines on the hill, 
The will-o'-wisps the forests fill 
With flashes filched from noon;
And witches on their broomsticks spry 
Speed here and yonder in the sky, 
And lift their strident voices high
Unto the Hunter's Moon.

The air resounds with tuneful notes 
From myriads of straining throats, 
All hailing Folly Queen; 
So join the swelling choral throng, 
Forget your sorrow and your wrong, 
In one glad hour of joyous song 
To honor Hallowe'en!

Our International Art Publishing Company postcard dates from 1908 and is the work of the American illustrator, Bernhardt Wall (1872-1956). Wall was self-taught and at the height of his career was represented by as many as fifteen postcard companies. He is often called the "Postcard King" having illustrated more than 5000 cards, including a series of propaganda cards during World War I.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Halloween Countdown - Day 9

Today's post begins with a different kind of Halloween music. This country music classic reached #10 on the Billboard charts in 1974.

Our postcard is another nicely embossed 1909 issue featuring the work of Ellen H. Clapsaddle. She was the nation's leading postcard artist around the turn of the 20th century. She moved to Germany to enhance her career by working more closely with her engravers and printers. When war broke out Clapsaddle lost everything and had no way to return to the United States. After the war's end in 1918 she was found wandering as a pauper. Her American benefactors returned with her but she never recovered from the war's emotional damage and died penniless in 1934.

And here is a fitting poem about Halloween by Carl Sandburg from his Chicago Poems, 1916.

I spot the hills
With yellow balls in autumn.
I light the prairie cornfields
Orange and tawny gold clusters
And I am called pumpkins.
On the last of October
When dusk is fallen
Children join hands
And circle round me
Singing ghost songs
And love to the harvest moon;
I am a jack-o’-lantern
With terrible teeth
And the children know
I am fooling.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ben Bradlee RIP

News sources are reporting on the passing of Ben Bradlee, the truly legendary editor of the Washington Post from 1965 to 1991. Robert Kaiser said this in the opening two paragraphs of his article for the Post:

Benjamin C. Bradlee, who presided over The Washington Post newsroom for 26 years and guided The Post’s transformation into one of the world’s leading newspapers, died Oct. 21 at his home in Washington of natural causes. He was 93.
From the moment he took over The Post newsroom in 1965, Mr. Bradlee sought to create an important newspaper that would go far beyond the traditional model of a metropolitan daily. He achieved that goal by combining compelling news stories based on aggressive reporting with engaging feature pieces of a kind previously associated with the best magazines. His charm and gift for leadership helped him hire and inspire a talented staff and eventually made him the most celebrated newspaper editor of his era.

Back in 2008 I wrote a post lamenting the decline in American journalism and wishing for a return to better times:

Wouldn't it be pleasant as well as informative to see the restoration of journalism standards that dominated major media throughout most of the 20th century? At least we would know where to turn - the editorial pages - for opinion. Don't get me wrong, I know the history of American newspapers is filled with bias, partisanship, and polemic....
When I lived in suburban DC (1964-76) I devoured the Washington Post in a fit of Potomac Fever almost every day. On vacations near Romney, West Virginia, I made a 60 mile round trip just to get the Sunday edition. That's bad fever. With Ben Bradlee as editor, and the extraordinary personality of Katherine Graham as publisher, the Post became a stellar newspaper. Toward the end of their reign in the late '90s, I believe the Post overshadowed the New York Times. Today, I don't buy either one, but I do review the Post daily as one would a hometown newspaper. As for the Times, I read the obituaries. Sometimes I wonder if they have a draft notice of their own demise. God knows they need it.

And here is what I said a bit over a year ago on the purchase of the Post by Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos:

We've had our disagreements over the past six decades, but I must confess to having a serious affair with The Washington Post. Haven't been on real speaking terms with the paper for the past decade or so, still, the secret admiration burns on. It's all part of my "Potomac fever." In fact, I wrote a friend yesterday about dealing with my Post Addiction Deprivation Disorder, the fear of not having the Sunday edition of the the paper rattling in my hands at breakfast. Yes, the Internet brings me the pixels; however, nothing can replace the smell and smear of the ink on my fingers.
Yesterday's purchase of the Post by Jeff Bezos ends the Graham family era of ownership and operation of a once-great newspaper. I image millions of readers would enjoy the restoration of the quality brought to the paper by the likes of Katherine Graham, Ben Bradlee, and Donald Graham. It will be interesting to see how Bezos treats his new acquisition.... 
I wish Bezos and the Post well. As for me, the affair simply marches on.

The affair marches on because journalists like Bradlee took enormous risks forging the paper into the nation's newspaper of record and setting journalistic standards recognized throughout the world. No question he left quite an impression on the American experience making 20th century journalism informative, investigative, and entertaining. Today's new journalism carries on much of what he did in a totally different environment. Whether or not that journalism can return successfully to a large corporate setting is a question for the future. Either way we can thank Ben Bradlee for getting it right. Spot on right.