Monday, October 31, 2016

All Hallow's Eve: A Day For Reformation

Martin Luther Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin

In 1517, Martin Luther knew that All Saints Church in Wittenburg, Germany, would be filled with worshipers on November 1 for All Saints Day celebrations. For this reason he posted his ninety-five theses on the door of the church the night before to publicize his disgust with the Catholic practice of collecting indulgences from sinners seeking salvation. Little did Luther know that his protest on October 31, All Hallow's Eve, would start a revolution within the church. Today, Protestants around the world 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.


Photos and Illustrations:
Conrad Schmitt Studios, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Bach translation, emmanuelmusic,org

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Halloween Countdown - Day 1

A few hours from now Halloween 2016 will be upon us. No doubt the little goblins in the neighborhood indeed have, as the postcard suggests, "the highest of expectations for Halloween."

An October Night

Charles Audete

The wind whispers
A wary warning
There was plenty, still
Early this morning 

These primal urges
Are hard to fight
An unholy diet
A dark appetite 

The pavement scrapes
With scuttling leaves
I'll pull the drapes
And hope to deceive 

The moon suffocates
In ominous clouds 
Shut off the lights
Heartbeats too loud

Then the neighbor's gate creaks
But it's not the wind
That seeks to feast
On fearing humans

Red brake lights
A car crawls by slow
The shadowy shapes
On my dark doorstep know

That the empty window
Of my house lies.
The horrible truth
Hides deep inside 

Everything tonight
Could have been just dandy
But now the demons have wrath - 
Cause I ate all the candy!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Halloween Countdown 2016 - Day 2

The mysterious "Katherine" mailed the postcard below from Camden, New Jersey, to my great uncle, Charles, who in 1910 lived in the railroad town of Piedmont, West Virginia. The family archives hold scores of postcards from Katherine but never reveal if she and Charles were more than friends. She did include a "friendly" message and it was no secret that Charles was well-known in the community for his mischief.

Dear Friend, Charles: I sincerely hope you are enjoying life to the full extent. I suppose you will be out for mischief tomorrow night. Halloween is always the biggest night in the year for me.    Katherine

Music from the imagination of Serge Prokofiev is perfect for spooky owls, fearful cats, and flying bats. Witches, too. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

Halloween Countdown 2016 - Day 3

For our Day 3 countdown 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.

And here's a return to the "spirit" of the season from the pen of the father of the horror genre in literature, Edgar Allan Poe, and read by the incomparable and unforgettable actor, Vincent Price.

Descriptive Writing From Two Authors And Their Timeless Shores

This week marks the anniversary of the birth of two Western writers who cherished their lives at the ocean's edge and shared that love with millions of adoring readers. They are the American novelist, Pat Conroy (1945-2016), born on the 26th, and the Welsh poet and short story writer, Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) born on the 27th.

Conroy, who died earlier this year was nothing less than a Lowcountry treasure. His rich descriptive writing and intense webs of characters forged out of family and place always returned to the magic of South Carolina's islands in the sea: 

Charleston has a landscape that encourages intimacy and partisanship. I have heard it said that an inoculation to the sights and smells of the Carolina lowcountry is an almost irreversible antidote to the charms of other landscapes, other alien geographies. You can be moved profoundly by other vistas, by other oceans, by soaring mountain ranges, but you can never be seduced. You can even forsake the lowcountry, renounce it for other climates, but you can never completely escape the sensuous, semitropical pull of Charleston and her marshes.  
                                                                                             The Prince of Tides

Conroy during an interview at Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 2014
Almost thirty years have passed since my personal immersion in the coastal environment Conroy describes. I recall those late evenings reading in the den and at first suddenly feeling, then hearing the low frequency vibrations from ship screws in the Savannah River channel a few thousand feet away. It's an experience one cannot have watching the massive vessels moving through the Tybee Knoll Cut Range at the mouth of the Savannah River. It takes the quiet and the dark for one to merge with the event. That may seem like an odd recollection out of the complex catalog of island experiences, but it approaches the unique and remains one of many fondest memories. For the most part - small flashes of creativity being the exception - I simply enjoy those memories. 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. I'm so glad he did.

Many critics and authorities note that Thomas's recitations are spoken words that approach song. You can form your own opinion listening to the poet reading Poem in October, his recollections of his thirtieth birthday. Audio quality isn't the best. I suggest earphones and closed eyes for this sound journey if you choose not to read along.

What an unforgettable voice. I was in elementary school when I first heard a recording of Thomas reading his work. There's a good chance few students in any grade have that opportunity today. That is unfortunate because we often think education has come a long way over the last five decades. Perhaps it has, but somewhere on that journey we have undoubtedly lost some very precious cultural experiences that have made us who we are as a people.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Halloween Countdown 2016 - Day 4

Our Halloween countdown today features a 1909 postcard with the work of Ellen H. Clapsaddle (1863/65-1934), one of the leading American illustrators of postcards beginning in the late 19th century. She produced art for over 2000 postcards, some now valued at $10 to $50 in the vintage postcard market.

And here's a classic that probably scared every kid who saw it, especially those who were lucky enough to be sitting in a dark theater between 1940 and 1955.  

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Halloween Countdown 2016 - Day 5

Our family archive 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. 

And here is a fitting Halloween poem by Carl Sandburg. It was first published in his collection, Chicago Poems, 1916.

Theme in Yellow

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 25, 2016

Halloween Countdown 2016 - Day 6

Our countdown continues with an International Art Publishing Company postcard featuring the work of the noted American illustrator, Ellen H. Clapsaddle. It's one of many postcards the mysterious "Katherine" sent to my great uncle in 1911.

It wouldn't be a jolly Halloween without some dancing ghosts

Monday, October 24, 2016

Halloween Countdown 2016 - Day 7

It's almost here!

My family archives has hundreds of postcards from Katherine. She signed all of them either "Katherine" or "K" without a surname and therefore in spite of all that mail she is the mystery woman, a perfect choice for our Halloween countdown. By the time we inventoried the large collection of postcards my grandmother's generation left behind there was no one left to identify her.  She sent the postcard shown above - postmarked October 30, 1910, Camden, New Jersey - to my great uncle, Charles. Given that this is one a many postcards she sent that Halloween and other special occasions it seems that sending several postcards to the same recipient on the same day was a popular activity. The message:

Dear Friend: Because I have not written do not think I have forgotten you. I am alive and enjoying life. Have just finished breakfast at 4:30 a.m. Kate

Sounds like she had a night on the town. That sounds about right for a friend of Charles who in his day was well-known as quite the party animal in the family. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

October Closures

Late last week Atlanta temperatures reached a record high of 88 degrees. In a matter of hours our wooded ridge east of the city braced for a fast-moving cold front that dropped temperatures 25 degrees. Seriously, it was the first hint of fall in our typical lingering late summer. Sometimes those Indian summers last far into November. Occasionally they allow us to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner on the patio under a warm sun surrounded by the last color of the season and bathed in the crisp aroma of dry woods and burning oak.

Actually the first hint of fall doesn't have me thinking about the future. In fact, this time of year my mind floods with wonderful memories. For most of the first half of my life the Ides of October marked an important event. The story descends out of my dad's membership in  a lodge - the Knights of Pythias -  born out of the search for national reconciliation following the Civil War.  Within the Pythias organization was an elite military-style uniformed rank or company organized by the individual lodges. Most companies maintained campgrounds including lodging, mess,  parade grounds, a recreation pavilion, and often more.  My dad's lodge built its campground adjacent the village of Burlington, West Virginia. The grounds served as a regional park, complete with pre-OSHA playground equipment, and was often rented by the day for family reunions, company picnics, church functions, and other large gatherings.

Burlington - 1949
The place was paradise for a young boy. A creek bordering the camp offered hours of fun. Woods and fields provided plenty of opportunities for exploration but camping there was by no means a wilderness experience. We were fortunate to use a cottage that had every comfort of home.Frequent social events made the playground a great place to meet new friends. There was a drive-in theater next door where I enjoyed the snack bar as much as the movies. Across the road was a small airfield with several Taylorcrafts and Piper Cubs, and a hangar that gave birth to many "homebuilts" over the years.  I can say with confidence that Burlington was never boring.

Burlington - 1959

Through the summer of 1974, I spent many weeks at the camp every year, including several weekends of "cold camping" in the off-season. Opening the cottage and grounds for the summer was always exciting but not especially memorable. Freezing temperatures lingered into May, so the campground usually opened on Memorial Day weekend. On the other hand, winterizing the place was like saying "Goodbye" to an old friend. Thoughts of family, friends, the big fish, fireworks, that scary movie, the old biplane, all those memories accumulated over the past six months filled my mind. 

Hulling black walnuts - 1972

Amid the blazing gold sycamores, brilliant fire oaks and maples, the smell of wood smoke, and a harvest of black walnuts, we went through the year-old closing procedure until the last item - pouring anti-freeze into sink traps - was checked. At that point, it was time to load the car, proceed with all those repetitive tasks one does "just to be sure," then close and lock the big red door until Spring.

As American society changed, lodges fell out of fashion. Their members grew old and passed away. In 1974, the lodge itself and all its assets were dissolved and proceeds were divided among the surviving members. I haven't locked that big red door for 42 years now, but I still have the key and a remarkably detailed mental picture of the cottage and landscape that I loved. In many ways, Burlington is with me every day, for my experiences there helped shape my values and define my career, hobbies, and general interests. The impact has been so profound that I have asked my children to do their best to provide the same opportunity for their own families.  And so in weaving all of the memories about this weekend, I ask you, my readers, to do the same: Find a nearby paradise and escape to it often while your children - even your grandchildren - are young. There will be no sorrow there. The bracing change that life throws at all of us will soften in the face of the warmth of the Burlingtons in our lives.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Chuck Yeager Finds The Perfectly Paved Supersonic Speedway

Capt. Chuck Yeager poses with his Bell X-1, "Glorious Glennis," 1947

October 14, 1947:

... Bob Cardenas, the B-29 driver, asked if I was ready.
"Hell, yes," I said. "Let's get it over with.
"He dropped the X-1 at 20,000 feet, but his dive speed was once again too slow and the X-1 started to stall. I fought it with the control wheel for about five hundred feet, and finally got her nose down. The moment we picked up speed I fired all four rocket chambers in rapid sequence. We climbed at .88 Mach and began to buffet, so I flipped the stabilizer switch and changed the setting two degrees. We smoothed right out, and at 36,000 feet, I turned off two rocket chambers. At 40,000 feet, we were still climbing at a speed of .92 Mach. Leveling off at 42,000 feet, I had thirty percent of my fuel, so I turned on rocket chamber three and immediately reached .96 Mach. I noticed the faster I got, the smoother the ride. Suddenly the Mach needle began to fluctuate. It went up to .965 Mach - then tipped right off the scale. I thought I was seeing things! We were flying supersonic! And it was as smooth as a baby's bottom: Grandma could be sitting up there sipping lemonade. I kept the speed off the scale for about twenty seconds, and raised the nose to slow down. I was thunderstruck. After all the anxiety, breaking the sound barrier turned out to be a perfectly paved speedway. 
I radioed Jack in the B-29,
"Hey, Ridley, that Machmeter is acting screwy. It just went off the scale on me."
"Fluctuated off?""Yeah, at point nine-six-five."
"Son, you is imagining things."
"Must be. I'm still wearing my ears and nothing else fell off, neither."
 .  .  . 

And so I was a hero this day. As usual, the fire trucks raced out to where the ship had rolled to a stop on the lakebed. As usual, I hitched a ride back to the hangar with the fire chief. That warm desert sun really felt wonderful. My ribs ached.

The flight didn't hurt his ribs. He cracked two of them in a horseback riding accident a day and a half earlier but he wasn't about to let the issue keep him from an important mission. 

Chuck Yeager rode into the history books on the shoulders of scores of aerospace pioneers who helped him reach that speedway in the sky. Today, Yeager is 93 years old. He lives in Penn Valley, California, and continues to lead a very active life flying, fishing, and managing the General Chuck Yeager Foundation.

Interested readers can learn more about the man and 
the early years of the nation's aviation and aerospace history in Yeager: An Autobiography, an outstanding read originally published in 1985. A valuable companion book providing context and additional history on the nation's early manned space program is Tom Wolfe's  1979 classic, The Right Stuff.


Photos and Illustrations:
Yeager with Bell X-1, U.S. Air Force,


quotation, Yeager: An Autobiography, General Chuck Yeager and Leo Janus, Bantam, 1985.

Monday, October 10, 2016

What Difference Does It Make, Admiral Columbus?

Seven years ago I blogged about this interesting Columbus Day post by James C. Bennett on some surprising complexities regarding the holiday. Here's my summary paragraph from that post:

Caboto? Cabot? Yes, it's the same explorer. John Cabot, often identified as the "English" navigator, was really an Italian who financed his "discovery" of North America in 1497 - not just a few islands as Columbus did in 1492 - with English money. Leave it to those crafty English to Anglicize him and create mass confusion among school children and armchair authorities for centuries to come.

Cabot in his Venetian robes       Guistino Menescardi, 1762

Putting aside Bennett's Calvinist Puritan "depravity of man" talk, readers know full-well my opinion on the superlatives and "firsts" regarding the exploration and occupation of the planet. Whether it's Leif Erikson, Christopher Columbus, John Cabot, Kennewick Man or whomever, we should know by now it's the politics that matters. Given that, Glenn Reynolds contributes a fine recommendation for this day. He suggests we read Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus, a superb biography by the renowned writer and maritime historian, Samuel Eliot Morison. See the link for a brief excerpt and segue into Bennett's opinion. 

Enough said. May you have an enjoyable Columbus Day holiday and thank Bjarni Herjolfsson for staying out to sea.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

National Poetry Day 2016

Being that it's National Poetry Day, here is a poem for our time by a poet/writer who tells us so much about the reality of human nature, but has suffered under the wave of relativism and political correctness that surrounds us. 


AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshiped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

The British writer, Rudyard Kipling, was a product of England and India. He infused his writing with the essence of Victorian times and the adventure of empire. Eighty years after his death he remains a popular writer, a beacon of reason and rhetoric, among political centrists and conservatives. His works for children, including the Jungle Books and Just So Stories, have never lost their popularity among young readers. It is so unfortunate that cultural relativism over the last forty years has sadly pushed Kipling into literary obscurity in most of academia. Although he may be out of fashion he still reaches across a century into an age of moral relativism and leftist ideological fantasy to remind us that ancient virtues and wisdom will hold us accountable in the end.

"The Gods of the Copybook Headings" is one of Kipling's most quoted poems. Many OTR readers have inquired about it since its first appearance in this blog some years ago. I am pleased to present it on National Poetry Day for the uninitiated and for those in need of a Kipling booster.