Monday, December 25, 2006

Republic of Ezo 1868

It was a short-lived state formed by former Tokugawa retainers in Hokkaido, the northernmost, sparsely populated island of modern Japan. In 1868, they set up the Republic of Ezo, based on the American model, and elected Enomoto as its sosai. (Sosai means, roughly, "president" or "director-general".) These were the first elections ever held in Japan. Through Hakodate Magistrate Nagai Naoyuki, they tried to reach foreign legations present in Hakodate (the Americans, French, and Russians), but were not able to garner any international support for their new government.

The Republic officially ceased to exist on June 27, 1869.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Tumbleweeds Began to Roll, Late 19th Century

From my writing journals:
Research for my Victorian era story led me to the former badlands around Nevada one year. With enough history for even the most jaded buff, I fell in love with its ghost towns and lineage from the Gold Rush.

I wasn’t jaded, yet, and couldn’t stop exploring. Nevada had a rich Victorian heritage, after all, intertwined with Wild West Lore. Whether wheedling my way into mayoral archives or librarians' secret stashes, I learned early on that there were more treasures hidden away in Nevada during the Victorian era than miner’s golden nuggets.

At last, I had to leave my Victorian research for more urgent matters. But, on the way out of one of the hilly regions, while admiring the view, a lone tumbleweed blew into my car. With nowhere to turn off of the narrow road, the colliding tumbleweed destroyed a tire and did some other damage, too. It took two days to find someone who could repair my car so I could leave the state.

I mused on that random tumbleweed for those two days. The years of the Victorian era are often synonymous with the era of the old-time Western. The tumbleweed has so often been merely the backdrop in Westerns set in the desert. Flashbacks from Spaghetti Westerns jumbled through my mind. In truth, the tumbleweed didn’t arrive in the West as we know it until around the late Victorian era, perhaps around 1870ish. Its seeds entered the West by piggybacking amidst the grains of some Russian immigrants.

I vowed, then, to watch closer for tumbleweeds, in real and in novelistic scenery...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Irish Emigration During the Victorian Era - Part II

Although the Irish immigrants arriving in America had come to escape hunger and oppression, they found that life for them didn't change all that much.
By the height of the potato famine, an Irish immigrant wrote home saying that, "My master is a great tyrant, he treats me as badly as if I was a common Irishman. Our position is one of shame and poverty."
Signs for employment were often followed by: "NO IRISH NEED APPLY". The new immigrants had to live in cellars and shanties. Their brogue and dress were ridiculed. They were also held up to scorn for their poverty and illiteracy.
The Irish held together and met intimidation with violence. Prayer and drink solidified them, helping them to survive life in the city. One newspaper was led to say about them, "The Irish have become more Americanized than the Americans."
"The Church played an integral part in their lives. It was a militant Church who fought not only for their souls but also for their human rights."
America needed the Irish. Men were needed for the heavy work of building bridges, canals and railroads. Women worked as maids, cooks and child caretakers. Irish immigrants needed these jobs to survive and they proved to be hard workers.
Although they never forgot their homeland, the Irish loved America. But they never lost their hatred of the English. This led them to rebel against anything they saw as oppression on the part of their new country. "In New York City during the Civil War, they rioted against the draft lottery after the first drawing showed most of the names were Irish."
The Irish, who'd suffered brutality back in Ireland at English hands were fierce warriors. They used brutal methods to fight back against the oppression of mine owners in Pennsylvania, forming a secret organization called the Molly Maguires. They also formed their own Irish Brigade during the Civil War.
As new immigrants of other nationalities later came to American shores, the Irish were finally hailed as an asset. They were fully Americanized. Hostility shifted to these new immigrants. The Irish finally found power and acceptance.
"In 1850 at the height of the Potato Famine, Orestes Brownson, a celebrated convert to Catholicism, stated, 'Out of these narrow lanes, dirty streets, damp cellars, and suffocating garrets, will come forth some of the noblest sons of our country, whom she will delight to own and honor.' "

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Victorian Christmas

In 1843 Charles Dickens (officially) published A Christmas Carol in England. All 6,000 copies sold out by the 22nd. That's the kind of sales I'd love to have. of course, the book was priced at 5 shillings, so profits were low. The story was originally written as a potboiler so he could pay off a debt, it's since become one of the most enduring Christmas stories.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker

Opened today in 1892 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. Tchaikovsky didn't like the ballet, considered it a less successful piece.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Victorian Secret Service Agents & Spies: Flip Sides of the Same Hollow Coin, Part I

Secret service agencies were sprouting up from spy networks, by 1866, as well as from protection service agencies. Although secret service agencies were around in some form as early as Shakespeare’s times, they were often private enterprises hired out to governments and private houses of distinction, alike.

In Europe during Queen Victoria’s reign, protecting Prussia’s King Bismark became a concern. The Prussians used a Saxony intelligence master during the Victorian era, Wilhelm Stieber (1818-92) to set up the precursor to modern secret service agency models. He formed the Secret Field Police. Stieber had been operating as a spy to earn money for his education; he’d posed as an editor during the Great Exhibit or the World’s Fair of 1851. He effectively moved about many European countries, setting up and then taking down any number of spy networks, covering his tracks.

Prior to the Secret Field Police, Stieber had already masterminded intelligence networks in unheard of ways. In the 1850s, he noticed that certain men of high power and societal positions were frequenting prostitutes. He determined by surveillance that a great number of the prostitutes were spying on these men as they’d historically been noted to do, and some of the prostitutes had even garnered higher educations by the men who patronized them. Opportunistically, Stieber organized those spying prostitutes in his favor, ensuring they became police informants instead of underworld spies.

Another claim for Stieber’s genius in Victorian era intelligence work was his credited prediction of the rising power and influence of newspaper editors. An underpaid but powerful class, the editors were always short of cash to operate effectively in their field. By organizing editors worldwide to become informants for pay, Stieber had set up yet another unexpected resource for information gathering and spying.

No Saint, Stieber took full advantage of human depravity as prior to WWI, he set up at least one high-class bordello, himself, which only invited people of consequence. Once there, they where spied upon and oft times blackmailed if they stepped out of line with government objectives.

The EnemyWithin: A History of Espionage, by Terry Crowdy, ISBN 1841769339

What do you do...?

During the Holiday season, what do you do? Do you write? Do you even have time? Or do you take a 6 week break to get things ready? Does January 2 begin your writing year and November 20 end it?

I don't have to do much during the holidays that doesn't involve shopping and wrapping. OK, putting up decorations, too, though this year I'm behind on that. (One Snoopy Christmas dish and a bunch of neat looking, but lonely, icicles.) Luckily, no one wants my cooking, which is great for me, since I don't cook. I pick up my grandmom for our family gatherings, and bring myself and her. Everyone’s happy. No cleaning house, no baking and cooking and the frantic-ness that those who have to host go through.

Usually, I write, just like I normally do. This year, I'm lucky I can find time to sleep. And trust me I'm not getting enough of that, either. Six hours of sleep before heroically handling the hoards. I’m doomed.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Glasgow Subway

It opened in 1896, and is the third oldest subway system after the London Underground (January 1863) and the Budapest Metro (May 1896). Originally, it was a cable railway, but was later electrified. However, its one circular line has never been expanded. To this day, it is one of only three underground railways in the UK outside London. The other 2 are the Tyne and Wear Metro and Liverpool's Merseyrail. Unlike the London Underground, Glasgow Subway is not policed by British Transport Police.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Great Hunger (an Gorta M’or): Ireland 1845-1850

There are many fallacies about the Irish Famine. One of them is that there was no food to be had in Ireland at this time.

In truth, there was plenty of food in Ireland at the time. Many Irish families existed on little but the potato, mixed with a little milk or buttermilk and a few wild onions. But the other crops they grew, which included corn, rye, wheat, etc., was harvested and given to the landlords to pay the rent on their tiny cottages. Failure to do that resulted in their being evicted and their cottages “tumbled” (the thatch was pulled off and the walls knocked down).

Livestock also thrived during the Irish Famine. Aside from corn and grain, the other major export of Ireland during the Famine was livestock.

In Ireland Before and After the Famine, author Cormac O’Grada documents that in 1845, a famine year in Ireland, 3,251,907 quarters (8 bushels = 1 quarter)) of corn were exported from Ireland to Britain. That same year, 257,257 sheep were exported to Britain. In 1846, another famine year, 480,827 swine, and 186,483 oxen were exported to Britain.

Dr. Christine Kinealy, a fellow at the University of Liverpool and the author of two scholarly texts on the Irish Famine: This Great Calamity and A Death-Dealing Famine, says that 9,992 calves were exported from Ireland to England during "Black'47", an increase of thirty-three percent from the previous year. In the twelve months following the second failure of the potato crop, 4,000 horses and ponies were exported. The export of livestock to Britain (with the exception of pigs) increased during the "famine". The export of bacon and ham increased. In total, over three million live animals were exported from Ireland between 1846-50, more than the number of people who emigrated during the famine years.

In later years, the Great Hunger has been referred to as a” planned starvation,” an attempt by the British government to rid itself of the Irish population.'s%20Famine/bibliography.htm

First Atlantic Wireless Transmission 1901

Guglielmo Marconi, Italian physicist and radio pioneer, succeeded in sending the first radio transmission across the Atlantic Ocean. By doing so, he disproved detractors who believed that the curvature of the earth would limit transmission to 200 miles or less.

His all important record setting message? The Morse Code signal for the letter s. A little disappointing isn’t it. Eh, all in all, still impressive. The message did travel more than 2,000 miles from Poldhu, Cornwall, England, to Newfoundland, Canada.

Paradoxically, Marconi’s detractors were right. Radio waves could not follow the curvature of the earth. As it happened, Marconi's transatlantic radio signal had been headed into space, but reflected off the ionosphere and bounced back down toward Canada.

More experiments were needed, and much about the laws of radio waves and the role of the atmosphere in radio transmissions still remained to be learned. However, Marconi continued to play a leading role in radio discoveries and innovations during the next 30 years.

In 1909, he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in physics with the German radio innovator Ferdinand Braun. On the day of his funeral in 1937, all BBC stations were silent for two minutes as a tribute to his contributions to the development of radio.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback, Governor 1872

P. B. S. Pinchback was the first African-American to become governor of a U.S. state. Pinchback, a Republican, served as the governor of Louisiana from December 9, 1872, to January 13, 1873. He was sworn in today, 1872

Not a very long term, 27 days, but all things considered, a first is a first. An immutable rule of marketing is ‘it’s better to be first than to be best’.

He was became the first elected African-American lieutenant governor at the death of Oscar Dunn. Upon the impeachment and removal from office of his predecessor, Republican governor Henry Clay Warmoth, for political corruption and for allegedly "stealing" the governor's office from the Democrat John McEnery, Pinchback was promoted to governor.

He was elected to both the House and Senate, but his elections were contested, and his white Democratic opponents were sworn in instead.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

La Fronde (The Sling) 1897

Activist Marguerite Durand founded the feminist newspaper, first published in France. Using her high profile name, she attracted notable Parisian women to contribute articles to La Fronde which was run and written entirely by women. Equality was an important message, so the current day was displayed according to calendars such as the French Revolutionary calendar, the Jewish calendar, and the Gregorian.

Extensive coverage on a broad range of feminist issues, including the rights of women to practice the profession they desired was the hallmark of the paper. Among those profiled were Jeanne Chauvin who demanded of the French government that they grant her the right to practice law, and Madeleine Pelletier who argued for the right to become a psychiatrist.

Circulation briefly reached a peak of 50,000, however, in September 1903, financial problems forced the paper to cut back to a monthly publication. It closed in March of 1905.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Irish Emigration During the Victorian Era - Part I

Since both my works in progress, Erin's Rebel and Katie Rose feature Irish immigrants at the time of the Civil War, and many Irish fought on both sides of this conflict, I've done research into why so many left Ireland both before and during the war years.
Both England and America experienced a large influx of Irish immigrants during the Victorian era. While some of this was due to the potato famine, a great deal of the problem began back in the mid-17th century, when Oliver Cromwell invaded Ireland. Landowners who refused to give up Catholicism had their property confiscated and given to members of the English Army.
"Between 1841 and 1851, Ireland's population of 8 million had dwindled down to 6 million. An estimated half of these people left the country while the other million died."
One million emigrated to England and America, overwhelming both countries. American saw this surge of immigration between 1815 and 1845. The Irish had few technical skills, but were healthy and strong. They became a much needed source of cheap labor.
In England ". . . The Irish lived on the absolute fringes of Victorian society . . ." They became unskilled day laborers and street peddlers.
" . . . Thomas Malthus, noted English economist explained the earlier famines and starvation in Ireland as God's answer to overpopulation of those who refuse to show constraint . . ."
" . . . emigrating to America was not a joyful event . . . They left in droves on ships that were crowded, with conditions so terrible, that they were referred to as Coffin Ships."
English oppression had made their country unlivable for them. Their only hope was to escape. Poor immigrants were forced to settle in their port of arrival, having no means of moving on.
The offers of free land out west during this time period meant little to the Irish. The land back in Ireland had failed them, so they looked to other means of making a living in their new country.
In Part II, I'll talk about the ways the Irish found to not only survive, but to prosper in the new world.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

New York Philharmonic Orchestra 1842

The first concert by the Philharmonic Society of New York took place today in 1842. Ureli Corelli Hill, was its first president, first conductor (1842–47) and a violinist.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Washington Monument completed 1884

The Washington Monument is a 550-foot obelisk and still stands in the middle of Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Mall.

Washington died in 1799. Ten days after his death, Congress began discussing a fitting and permanent tribute to the nation’s beloved first president. Their proposal to have Washington’s body entombed at the Capitol was firmly rejected by his widow, Martha. Finally, in 1835, the Washington National Monument Society sponsored a competition for potential monument designs. They wanted a memorial that would reflect Washington’s "stupendousness and elegance."

In 1848, South Carolinian architect, Robert Mills’ design was chosen. The site for the monument was chosen for its visibility from all vantage points around Washington, particularly from Washington’s grave at his estate, Mount Vernon, in Virginia.

The cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1848 by the Brotherhood of Freemasons. Construction began in 1848 and took 30 years to complete. Work was interrupted by the Civil War (1861-64) and at various points due to lack of federal funding.

Robert Mills died in 1854 and never saw the completion of his project. The monument officially opened to the public in 1888.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

1892 Sir John Thomas becomes PM of Canada

He was a lawyer and judge, from Nova Scotia, as well as Premier of Nova Scotia, and became the 4th Prime Minister of Canada. He was a Conservative who made his mark, as the Minister of Justice, in 1885 with his sentencing of Louis Riel. Riel was sentenced to hang for leading the 1885 North-West Rebellion. Ill with kidney stones at the time of Riel's execution, Thompson made his first major speech to parliament during the subsequent debate, arguing that anyone who encouraged aboriginal Canadians to act against the state could not escape justice.

Sir John had been Prime Minister of Canada for only 2 years when he died suddenly of a heart attack at Windsor Castle. He was in England because Queen Victoria had just made him a member of her Privy Council. He was the second of two Canadian prime ministers to die in office, and the first of three who did not die in Canada.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Whatever happened to the Mary Celeste?

The Dei Gratia spotted the Mary Celeste. She was sailing erratically but at full sail, though they were slightly damaged, near the Azores Islands. The ship was seaworthy with several feet of water in the hold, and the lifeboat and navigational instruments missing, with stores and supplies untouched. No one was on board.

On November 7, Mary Celeste sailed from New York harbor for Genoa, Italy, carrying Captain Benjamin S. Briggs, his wife and two-year-old daughter, a crew of 8, and a cargo of some 1,700 barrels of crude alcohol. The last entry in the captain's log shows that the Mary Celeste had been 9 days and 500 miles away from where the ship was found by the Dei Gratia. Captain Briggs, his family, and the crew were never found. The reason for the abandonment has never been determined.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

TR: Ardent Trust-Buster? Or moderate?

Classifying Teddy Roosevelt as moderate at anything is laughable, especially with the nickname: "Bully" Activist. Yet during his 1901 20,000-word speech on business conglomerations, he called on Congress to curb the nation's trusts. "[W]ithin reasonable limits." From a wealthy family, he wanted more conservative approaches to business, with policy that balanced free market principles with the "best interests" of the American public. Trusts could exist, but with carefully placed limits.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Battle of Tirad Pass or The Filipino Thermopylae 1899

A battle in the Philippine-American War, and fought in northern Luzon, Philippines. Commanded by a 23 year Tagalog, Brigadier General Gregorio del Pilar, a 60-man Filipino rearguard surrendered to the 500 Americans of the 33rd Infantry regiment under Major P.C. March. The Philippinoes were trying to ensure President Aguinaldo's escape. A Filipino soldier eventually betrayed them, revealing the secret passage to the mountain top from the rear.

Aguinaldo was able to elude arrest until March 23, 1901. He was captured at Palanan, Isabela.

Friday, December 01, 2006

I’m a Pepper, she’s a Pepper, wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too? 1885

Though the exact date is unknown, but the US Patent office recognizes today December 1, 1885 as the official day Dr Pepper was served in Waco, Texas. It was formulated by pharmacist Charles Alderton in Morrison's Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, but wasn’t introduced nationally until the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition (The Saint Louis World's Fair).

You can visit the Dr Pepper museum in Waco, TX: