hradzka: (rex the wonder dog on skis)
So, I was thinking about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle today, as one does, and I remembered out of nowhere that, oh yeah, in addition to having the dinner with Oscar Wilde that led Wilde to go home and write THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, Doyle corresponded with Robert Louis Stevenson. Specifically, I remembered that Robert Louis Stevenson had written Doyle about Dr. Joseph Bell, who was a big inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Looking for the quote, my Googling led me to a citation to the obituary of Robert Scot Skirving.

The name Scot Skirving made me sit up and pay attention. Know why? Because Scot Skirving is the maiden name of Leila Maturin, who was the mutual friend of Robert Louis Stevenson and Joseph Merrick, a.k.a. the Elephant Man.

Read more... )
hradzka: (rex the wonder dog on skis)
[personal profile] doqz had a great post about Raynald de Chatillio, which prompted me to comment with a brief account of one of my favorite bizarrely wonderful life stories: Sir Jefferey Hudson. [personal profile] mendori and I were chatting one night, and she linked me that above-linked picture of what one presumes is his headstone; I said that a dwarf who was presented in a pie to King Charles I was cool, but he was no match for the dwarf I found mentioned in Paul Kirchner's book on duelling who fought a pistol duel on horseback, and won. We kibitzed about it a bit, and then the following exchange occurred:

[personal profile] mendori: omg
[personal profile] mendori: ... turns out
[personal profile] mendori: HE WAS the dwarf that fought the duel from horseback!
[personal profile] hradzka: FUCKING A
[personal profile] hradzka: HOW CAN ONE DWARF BE SO FUCKING AWESOME

He turned out to be even more awesome than that. Here is a brief summary of his life: born the son of a gamekeeper, taken into a ducal household as a novelty, presented in a pie to King Charles, then *given* to the King and Queen by their hosts; joined Queen Henrietta Maria's household as a novelty (again), served as a Captain of Horse during the English Civil War, killed a man in a pistol duel fought on horseback, got kicked out of the Queen's household for duelling, then was promptly *captured by pirates and sold into slavery in North Africa,* eventually was released from slavery after twenty-five years and returned to England, where he was sent to prison for being Catholic.

I did a Google search on him, just for curiosity, and discovered something glorious: there is a poem about him. God bless Google Books. So now I may share this wonderful delight with you. I had been toying with the idea of doing a poem about Hudson, but I can't, because I couldn't do a better one.


by William Jones

first published in 1866, in THE NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE, vol. 136, p. 479.

Now little men all, who may wish to be tall,
I will tell you a story worth knowing,
Of a well-figured man, who was merely a span,
But at forty found out he was growing.
Jeffery Hudson his name, a dwarf of some fame,
Who the court of King Charles once delighted;
So great was his merit, so dauntless his spirit,
That the queer little fellow was knighted.

In a cold pie one day, as the chronicles say,
He was served to the king and his nobles,
But vaulting too high, for ambition will fly,
He got in an ocean of troubles.
To France he was sent, on a state mission bent,
But was taken by pirates returning,
And lost all his wealth, and declined in his health—
How to eat humble-pie he was learning.

A turkey-cock once flew right at his sconce,
The size of the hero disdaining;
The battle wax'd hot, but the bird went to pot,
A woman Sir Jeffery sustaining.
Still brave to the bone, a real duel he won,
From a man who was constantly jeering;
Who came arm'd with a squirt, which could do him no hurt,
But the dwarf shot him dead as a herring.

For this he was banish'd, but care had not vanish'd,
His troubles were scarcely half over —
As ill luck would be, while crossing the sea,
He was seized by a wild Turkish rover.
So a slave he was sold, in a Barbary hold,
And fed upon dry bread and gruel,
And beat by the Moors, until covered with sores,
He escaped from a bondage so cruel.

Now all little men, if they shoot up again,
Should on no account be too elated,
Too sudden a rise will throw dust in the eyes,
And lead to misfortune ill fated.
If Sir Jeffery had known how to let well alone
In the garden that Nature disposes,
He would have found out, to his pleasure no doubt,
That small branches will bear the best roses.

A side note: as the poem mentions, Hudson claimed to have unexpectedly grown considerably during his 25-year period of slavery abroad. One could be forgiven for wondering whether the real Sir Jeffery died in North Africa and had his identity appropriated by a taller dwarf who knew an opportunity for social climbing when he saw one.
hradzka: Cassidy, from Garth Ennis's PREACHER. (Default)
Reading an interesting book: DAME MADGE KENDAL BY HERSELF. It's part of the Elephant Man kick I'm on of late; I'm toying with the idea of a novel featuring Joseph Merrick, so I'm trying to get a sense of some of the people around him, as potential sidekicks.

The modern fame of Joseph Merrick owes a lot to Bernard Pomerance's 1979 play (and David Lynch's 1980 film, which was not based on the play but may well have been greenlit given the play's considerable success). In the play, Madge Kendal features heavily: she meets with Merrick several times and is essentially his romantic interest. In Lynch's film, the same role is filled by "Fanny Kemble;" it's not clear if the writers deliberately changed the name or simply muffed it. In any event, if one were to write a novel about the Elephant Man, Madge Kendal would be the logical choice for a sidekick. Or so I thought.

So I started looking into Kendal. )
hradzka: (plane)
Yesterday, May 6, was the 66th anniversary of the fall of Corregidor. I meant to post this then.

A while ago, I found a recording and translation of the Morse Code message sent out by Corporal Irving Strobing as the Japanese took the island. It's one of the most harrowing things I've ever heard. Corporal Strobing was clearly freaking the hell out, and while he held it together enough to send the message and report on the condition of affairs, the effects of the constant bombardment and the pressure of the moment are evident in the tone and content of his reports. He also asks that the receiver of the message send his love to his family.

Strobing lived, and was taken as a prisoner of war by the Japanese. He stayed a POW until the end of the war, but he survived his captivity and made it home.
hradzka: (han)
On this day in 1836, Samuel Colt was issued the first patent for his revolving pistol.

Way to go, Sam!

I have a Colt revolver -- not one of the really old ones; they go for five figures, these days, but an Army Special. It was my first gun, and it's not a bad gun to learn shooting with. I need to get more revolvers. Also, more semi-autos. Also, more rifles -- LOOK I CAN QUIT ANY TIME OKAY.
hradzka: Cassidy, from Garth Ennis's PREACHER. (Default)
Stumbled across this page on the history of mixed-race players, particularly Cubans, in American major-league baseball. (Did you know that Babe Ruth's features led many to suspect that he had some black ancestry, and even accuse him of it? I didn't.) Particularly of note: Roberto (Bobby) "Tarzan" Estallella, who played nine seasons between 1935 and 1949 and came in 26th for most valuable player in 1945. Estallella was visibly of mixed race, but he was white on paper, and managed to play all over the country. The site author thinks that Estallella's career paved the way for Jackie Robinson's shattering of the color line, by giving Branch Rickey the idea that it could be done. There were some hiccups along the way, though. My favorite:

Another Cuban baseball legend is the story of Branch Rickey and black Cuban player, Silvio García. If we are to believe many Cuban stories of the times, Branch Rickey started to seriously consider that the best strategy to break the color barrier would be by bringing a black Cuban player to the major leagues. His initial choice was a very good Cuban shortstop, Silvio García. According to Edel Casas, the noted Cuban baseball historian, Rickey met with García in Havana in 1945 to explore the possibility of bringing Garcia to the Dodgers. As he would later do with Robinson, Rickey interviewed García and asked him: "What would you do if a white American slapped your face?" García's response was succint and sincere. "I kill him," he answered. Needless to say, García was never a choice after that.
hradzka: (giant alien robot semi truck)
BoingBoing linked to the internet archive's posting of "The Middleton Family at the New York World's Fair," an hour-long Westinghouse commercial cum story of young love. BoingBoing focuses on the human interest story -- an Indiana girl's family comes to New York for the World's Fair and meets the girl's new boyfriend, a leftist art teacher, whose sneering at American free enterprise hints at his deeper defects of character -- but for me the coolest thing is that *you get to see a good chunk of the Westinghouse exhibits at the 1939 World's Fair.* In full Technicolor.

Including Electro.

A word about Electro: he was a mechanical man widely acclaimed to be the marvel of the Fair. He could speak, count on his fingers, walk, and smoke. In popular books that mention Electro, these abilities are taken pretty much at face value, without any mention of the fact that Electro's ability to do them beggars credulity. Remember: 1939, folks. Seventy years ago. Even given Electro's hulking frame, it's hard to imagine that 1939 technology that could fit inside him could actually make him do any of that stuff -- okay, *maybe* smoking. If somebody lit it for him, and only if he didn't take it out of his mouth. But when I was a kid, I had a book on robotics, and it had a section on Electro. And I was blown away. But, of course, 1939. Not like I'd ever get a chance to see Electro.

Until today. Because the Westinghouse feature includes a bit of Electro's routine. And, wow.

*What a carny fake.*

Watch it for yourself. Electro comes up at about 33:56, and you get to see him walk, talk, take orders, all that. It's just *painful* to watch, especially if you had an image based on what you read in a book as a little kid. His speech is clearly some guy offstage with a microphone -- obvious, given the time, but still sad. His jokes are corny, the kind of thing you'd see in a ventriloquist's act. He's pretty clearly operated by offstage technicians; when the barker gives Electro commands using the special microphone, a light blinks to show Electro is "listening," but it's just a gag. He counts on his fingers by moving them back and forth. And my prediction on Electro smoking was dead on. But the worst part is the walking. Electro, as you've probably guessed, doesn't walk. One leg is stiff and straight, and is on a track in the floor. (That's probably where his control equipment goes -- Electro appears on a balcony above the crowd, and there's pretty clearly a good-sized room immediately below him.) The other leg moves, jerkily, as Electro's stiff leg slides along the track. At its best, it looks sort of like he's skateboarding, like the moving leg is kicking him along the track. But you know it's not.

And that's Electro.

I feel like I just watched the Hell's Angels beat the crap out of Santa Claus.
hradzka: Cassidy, from Garth Ennis's PREACHER. (Default)
From 1940 to 1956, singing cowboy star Gene Autry had a radio show. It was incredibly popular with children -- how popular was it? Gene Autry's horse got his own radio show. And comic book. -- and Autry found himself a role model for millions of America's youth. Especially the boys.

His response to this situation shows you the kind of man he was: Autry devised a "Cowboy Code," so the boys of his day could have something to try to live up to. We can't all be radio stars, or sheriffs on the range, but Autry told his listeners that they could all be cowboys.

All they had to do was follow the Cowboy Code.

1. The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.

2. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.

3. He must always tell the truth.

4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.

5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.

6. He must help people in distress.

7. He must be a good worker.

8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.

9. He must respect women, parents, and his nation's laws.

10. The Cowboy is a patriot.

I find the Cowboy Code to be quite touching, and Autry's creation of it even more so. It's also a little depressing, because I can't imagine any modern celebrity even thinking of the idea, much less, you know, *trying* to be a role model. Celebrities of Autry's day had a press that concealed the weaknesses and foibles of the famous; today, we celebrate celebrity decadence. I can't even imagine what a modern celebrity's code of behavior would look like.

Maybe there's a plot bunny in that for those who write fanfic about celebrities. I can't imagine what Pete Wentz's Rocker Code would look like ("4. You must post online pictures of your genitals."), but it's a thought.
hradzka: (jim with pipe)
via BoingBoing, I was alerted to the existence of Vampire Hunter Kits. According to Wired's blog (which has a picture of one such kit),

Auction hounds are snapping up "vampire killing kits" and "vampire hunting kits" manufactured by a nineteenth century quack named Ernst Blomberg. The kits, which have been found in Australia and sold by at least two auction houses (including Southebys, reportedly for $12,000), include silver bullets, a wooden stake, holy water, and other important vampire-destroying items.

The contents of the kit also included a pistol, powdered garlic, "flour of brimstone" (powdered sulfur?), an ivory crucifix, and "Professor Blomberg's New Serum."

You may, or may not, have the same gut reaction I did: "Hey, wait a minute." That's what a modern vampire hunter might pack (with the silver bullets in case you run into a werewolf), but it's not what a 19th-century vampire hunter would carry. Dracula met his death by bowie knife, Carmilla was hacked up with an axe (I think), Varney threw himself into Mount Vesuvius, and Lord Ruthven got clean away when Polidori got writer's block. If you go back to the lore (Montague Summers's fascinating THE VAMPIRE IN EUROPE is a wonderful source), you'll see that the way we think of vampires, and killing them, is most strongly based on 1) Stoker's novel and 2) the movies it inspired. My immediate strong suspicion was that the kit was a modern hoax.

WIRED mentioned that a kit had been auctioned on a few years ago, and included a link to the Survival Arts thread about it. What they didn't mention was that in that thread, a commenter named Michael de Winter claimed not only that the vampire killing kits were a hoax, but that he'd started the whole thing.

My story starts in or around 1970 when I was employed in the printing industry. My hobby was buying, selling and refurbishing antique guns. I sold mainly at the famous Portobello Market in London. My usual stock of guns for sale was only 10-20 at any one time and these tended to be of superior quality. I had a number of regular clients who arrived every week to see if I had any new stock. One of my regulars wanted a fine flintlock pistol and asked me to take in part exchange a Belgian percussion pocket pistol. I grudgingly agreed and allowed him £15.00 off the price of the flintlock.

So, here it is, a poor quality pocket pistol in mediocre condition! What to do with it? That was my question. Having an extremely fertile imagination and being an avid reader, I was inspired. It occurred to me that I could produce something unique that would be a great advertising gimmick and would attract people to my stall. The Vampire Killing Kit was on its way. . . .
I hand set the label myself and the copy I used was printed on a hand operated press using the fly leaf of a book printed in 1850.

He noted that the other kits out there use the names he invented and much of the text. "What this shows of course, is that they are all copies of my original and that includes the kit which fetched $12,000 at Sothebys and the kit which fetched $21,000 in the States."

Caveat emptor! (But a great story, if true.)
hradzka: (plane)
Today is the 150th anniversary of the US Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision, which concluded that one Dred Scott, a slave who had lived in free states with his owner, did not become free by virtue of having entered places where slavery was illegal. Also noteworthy was the court's rationale for holding that even free blacks could not be citizens of the United States.

For if they were so received, and entitled to the privileges and immunities of citizens, it would exempt them from the operation of the special laws and from the police regulations which they considered to be necessary for their own safety. It would give to persons of the negro race, who were recognized as citizens in any one State of the Union, the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, singly or in companies, without pass or passport, and without obstruction, to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they pleased at every hour of the day or night without molestation, unless they committed some violation of law for which a white man would be punished; and it would give them the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went. And all of this would be done in the face of the subject race of the same color, both free and slaves, and inevitably producing discontent and insubordination among them, and endangering the peace and safety of the State.

It is impossible, it would seem, to believe that the great men of the slaveholding States, who took so large a share in framing the Constitution of the United States, and exercised so much influence in procuring its adoption, could have been so forgetful or regardless of their own safety and the safety of those who trusted and confided in them.

Scott died of tuberculosis in 1858, and didn't live to see the abolition of slavery. Except, that is, for himself and his family. While Scott lost his case, the sons of his first owner bought the Scott family's freedom. The 150th anniversary of Dred Scott's emancipation comes a little over two months from now, on May 26th.
hradzka: (plane)
Thanks to Robert Shaw's mesmerizing delivery of the famous speech in the movie JAWS, everybody, including those not inclined to military history, has heard of the USS Indianapolis. On July 30, 1945 (not the 29th of June, as Shaw says in the film), the Indianapolis was sunk by a Japanese submarine. The surviving crewmen floated along in the water and waited for rescue.

As Shaw's character put it, "Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin'."

1,196 men were on the ship; about 900 survived the sinking, and the sharks took almost six hundred of them. The survivors had no, or almost no, provisions, and many of them suffered injuries, including painful burns, during the sinking of the ship. I think what makes the Indianapolis story such a shocker is that it combines horrors you wouldn't think go together: war and predatory animals. It sounds like an implausible nightmare, but it really happened.

File under "things you randomly find online:" I didn't know that the Japanese Army suffered its own Indianapolis-type event during World War II. The horrors were of a shorter duration, but many more men died. Enough to put in it the Guinness Book of World Records:

Most Deaths Caused By Crocodiles
The crocodile attack to claim the most human lives took place on February 19, 1945, when an Imperial Japanese Army unit guarding a stronghold on the Burmese island of Ramree was outflanked by a British naval force. The soldiers were forced to cross 16 km (10 miles) of mangrove swamps to rejoin a larger battalion of the Japanese infantry. The swamps were home to thousands of 4.6-m (15-ft) saltwater crocodiles. Come the next morning, only 20 of the 1,000 Japanese soldiers had survived.

Think about that sometime, when you're trying to get to sleep at night. If, you know, you don't *want* to sleep. Or if you're trying to come up with an idea for a horror movie.

UPDATE: More info here; apparently there's some controversy over whether it's true. That settles it: this *should* be a horror movie.


hradzka: Cassidy, from Garth Ennis's PREACHER. (Default)

November 2014



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The collected poems from my descent into madness year spent writing daily poems are now available from Lulu as the cheapest 330-page book they would let me make ($16.20). If that's too pricey, you can also get it from Lulu as a free download, or just click on the "a poem every day" tag to read them here. But if you did buy one, that'd be awesome.

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