Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Internet of the Old West

Scams, advertisements and demands from “Prince Wants Your Money;” Sound like your e-mail? You’re close. Only back in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it was called the telegraph.  Not only did the telegraph create a quicker way to get junk mail, it changed the way Victorians lived, did business, received news and, yes, even fell in love.
In his fascinating book, The Victorian Internet, Tom Standage tells us that there really is nothing new under the sun.  Meetings, chat rooms, games, and illicit affairs were just as prevalent 150 years ago as they are today.  And what, for that matter is a text message but a telegram, the high cost of which forced people to be brief and to the point?
If you think acronyms are a modern concept, think again. Telegram security was an issue and secret codes were devised.  Government regulators tried to control this new means of communication, but failed. Sound familiar?
Though the telegraph was first conceived in the 1600s and an optical one developed in the 1700s, it took a tragedy to make the dream of fast communication over long distances a reality.
Samuel Morse: A Love Story
Samuel Morse was an artist commissioned to paint a portrait in Washington.
Photo: wikipedia
Upon receiving a letter informing him of his wife’s sudden death, he returned to his New Haven home as quickly as possible.  But he had already missed her funeral.  This had to be very much on his mind seven years later when in a chance conversation aboard a ship he learned that electricity could travel along any length of wire almost instantaneously.  Unaware that others had tried and failed to create a fast way of communications using this method, he immediately set to work.    
What Hath God Wrought?
It took Samuel Morse twelve years to perfect his invention and many trials and tribulations, but he was convinced that this new way of communicating would allow a husband to reach a dying wife’s bedside or save the life of a child.  He thought it might even prevent wars.  

His hard work and perseverance paid off.  On May 24, 1844, he sent the telegraph message "what hath God wrought?” from the Supreme Court chamber in the Capitol in Washington, D.C., to the B & O Railroad Depot in Baltimore, Maryland.
No longer was it necessary to communicate solely through trains, mail or messenger. Even Morse himself couldn’t have imagined how telegraphic communications could change society.
Boon and Bust for Outlaws
Esther Bubley [Public domain]
via Wikimedia Commons

Then as now, the first to embrace the new technology were criminals. The first telegrams sent were horse bets and lotteries.  A man named Soapy Smith opened a fake telegraph office in Skagway, Alaska during the gold rush of 1897. The wires went only as far as the wall. The telegraph office obtained fees for "sending" messages from gold-laden victims.
Though outlaws such as Butch Cassidy routinely cut wires or jammed telegraph keys to prevent lawmen from tracking them down, the telegraph eventually helped put an end to the train robberies that plagued the west. 
Western Union might have been the first equal opportunity employer; women telegraphers were prevalent.  The ratio of men to women in the New York office in the 1870s was two to one.
Wire romances bloomed and one couple even married by telegraph. However, not all online romances had a happy ending.  In 1886, The Electrical World magazine ran an article titled The Dangers of Wired Romances. That same article would no doubt be just as timely today.
Tom Standage wrote that time traveling Victorians arriving in today’s world might be impressed with our flying machines but they would be unimpressed with the Internet. They did, after all, have one of their own.

Did you or anyone in your family ever send or receive a telegram? 

There's a new sheriff in town and she almost always gets her man!


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Bayeux Tapestry

by Susan Page Davis

The Bayeux Tapestry is one of the world’s most curious art objects and historical records. It’s probably the most detailed and most complete existing account of the conquest of England by the Normans in 1066, and also gives an overview of life in England and France during the eleventh century. Although a few minor historical errors have been discovered in its content, it is extremely accurate as far as can be told, and therefore is generally accepted by historians.
This work of art has always been referred to as a tapestry, despite the fact that it is not really one at all. Tapestry is cloth made on a loom, with the design woven in. 

Photo—Norman Cavalry in tapestry: By Myrabella - Own work, Public Domain,
However, the Bayeux Tapestry is actually embroidery. On long strips of bleached linen, the story was stitched using the method known as crewel embroidery, in which woolen thread or yarn is used instead of floss.

The pictures were probably drawn lightly on the linen first. It was then given to teams of craftsmen (or women) who did the actual embroidery. The work is made of eight long strips of linen, which were probably worked separately and sewn together after the embroidery was completed. Done in eight bright colors, the finished tapestry is 230 feet long by 20 inches wide. It depicts fifty scenes.

The theme of the piece is Harold’s downfall and William the Conqueror’s subjection of England. The most important and detailed scenes are Harold’s sacred oath to support William in succession to the throne of England, the death and burial of Edward the Confessor, Harold’s coronation, the preparation of William’s invasion fleet, and the vast, finely detailed battle scenes with which the tapestry ends.
Captions in Latin help to explain some of the scenes and to identify some of the more important characters.
This scene shows Harold taking his oath on relics to William the Conqueror. Public domain photo.

For many years, the tapestry’s origin was shrouded in legend and romanticism. Many believed it was created by William’s wife Matilda and her ladies while their husbands were off conquering England. As her personal gift to her husband, Matilda had a special ship built and outfitted to carry William across the English Channel. This ship was called the Mora. It is depicted in the tapestry as the finest in the fleet of seven hundred or more vessels that transported the soldiers, armor, supplies, and horses to England.

After the Conquest, Matilda became Queen of England. Although it is now almost certain that she had nothing to do with the making of the tapestry, many people continue to believe the legend. In France, it is still referred to as La Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde, or “Queen Matilda’s Tapestry.”

Permission to use granted under the GNU free documentation license: Copyright (C) 2000,2001,2002 Free Software Foundation, Inc., 51 Franklin St, Fifth Floor, Boston, MA 02110-1301 USA

The prevalent belief today is that Bishop Odo, half-brother of William, ordered the tapestry made for display in his new cathedral at Bayeux, a small town near the sea in Normandy. Nothing is known about the designer, except that he or she was highly gifted and skilled and probably a Norman, since the entire story is told from the Norman point of view, with Harold’s breach of his sacred oath emphasized. Also, a great deal of Nordic detail and mythology is seen throughout the tapestry.

Strangely enough, most historians now believe the tapestry was constructed by English needle workers at the School of Embroidery at Canterbury, in Kent. One reason for this is that Bishop Odo was made Earl of Kent after the Battle of Hastings. The promise of lands for all was the main incentive used by William in raising his army.

The tapestry was completed after the Norman Conquest, probably between 1070 and 1080. Much of the truth about the events portrayed may have been lost, since the work was probably based on the reports, rumors, and gossip that followed the invasion.
 This portion of the tapestry portrays Harold as he arrives to inform William that he is the successor to King Edward. Public Domain.
After its completion, the tapestry was taken to Bayeux, where it was hung around the nave of Bishop Odo’s new cathedral, which was consecrated in 1077. There, all could see Harold’s sin and downfall, followed by the glorious triumph of the Normans. A treasured item at Bayeux Cathedral, the tapestry was displayed mainly on feast days and holidays. For hundreds of years, it was reverently cared for and cherished there, with little notice taken of it by the outside world. 
During the French Revolution, it received some damage, but was saved from destruction. It was carefully and meticulously restored. Later it was exhibited in Paris, and after that it was moved many times and incurred damages which again had to be repaired. It is now permanently on display at the former Palace of the Bishops of Bayeux, in a special hall.

Bishop Odo himself is depicted a number of times in the tapestry. It is assumed that, since he commissioned the work, it was considered polite to mention him as often as possible.

Susan Page Davis is the author of more than seventy published novels. A Maine native, she lived for a while in Oregon and now lives in western Kentucky. Visit her website at: , where you can sign up for her occasional newsletter, enter a monthly drawing for free books, and read a short story on her romance page.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Let's Go to the Diner!

photo by Jim Brueckner

By Marilyn Turk

Have you ever been to a diner?
These nostalgic restaurants were popular from the 1920’s to the 1950’s, but today’s fast food restaurants replaced them. Some of you may remember the diners in TV shows like “Happy Days” and “Alice.”  Norman Rockwell’s 1958 painting, The Runaway, shows a young boy and a protective highway patrolman at the counter of an anonymous diner.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, a diner is “a restaurant in the shape of a railroad car,” and was nicknamed from the term “dining car.”
In 1858, Walter Scott of Providence, Rhode Island, began selling sandwiches and coffee to night workers. His business grew so well that in 1872, he quit his day job and started selling food from a horse-drawn covered express wagon, credited as being the first diner. Soon, others copied his idea and set up wagons that served workers and pedestrians at night, since most restaurants were closed by 8:00 p.m.

Photo courtesy Flickr by Liz West
When the wagon vendors joined the lunchtime business, their inexpensive, fast meals gained popularity, and the wagons began to crowd the streets. Towns and cities passed ordinances to restrict their hours of operation. This prompted some owners to park their wagons in semi-permanent location to circumvent the law.

As horse-drawn street cars were replaced by new electric ones, wagon vendors bought the old cars and converted them into diners. During this time, diners gained the reputation of “greasy spoons,” and many were open 24 hours a day.

After women gained the right to vote in 1920, diner owners began to clean up their image to attract the women’s business. They spruced up their businesses with a fresh paint, added flowers and shrubs outside, and booth service inside.

Diner menus typically featured American classic fare like hamburgers, French fries, and sandwiches. In addition, many served hand-blended milkshakes and desserts like pies, displayed in glass cases.
Prefabricated diners entered the scene in the 1920’s with innovations such as indoor bathrooms, tables, and longer dimensions. The 1930’s saw more streamline versions, made to symbolize speed and mobility.

Diners maintained their popularity during the Depression because they offered inexpensive places to eat. After World War II, the demands for diners increased. Servicemen eligible for G.I. loans saw diners as an easy way to make an income. In 1948, a dozen diner manufacturers competed for business. New materials such as Formica, Naugahyde and terrazzo floors made their entrance into diner design. All stainless steel exteriors and large windows were added to attract motorists as populations became more mobile.

The introduction of new fast food restaurants caused diners to lose popularity during the 1960’s until a revival began in the late 1970’s.

Interest in the American diner continues today. People intent on preserving the diner atmosphere where people from all walks of life gathered for inexpensive meals prompted a number of vintage diners to be rescued from demolition and relocated to new sites. The Massachusetts Historical Commission has placed all vintage functioning diners on the National Register of Historic Places.

Did you have a favorite diner? What did it look like? What was your favorite food there?

Marilyn Turk loves to study history, especially that of lighthouses and the coast of the United States. She is the author of Rebel Light, a Civil War love story set on the coast of Florida, A Gilded Curse, a historical suspense novel set on Jekyll Island, Georgia, in 1942, and Lighthouse Devotions - 52 Inspiring Lighthouse Stories, based on her popular lighthouse blog. (@