April 18, 1945 Hoosier Vagabond

This was no rear-echelon scribe. Ernie Pyle was right out front with the infantry and the tankers, the Marines and the soldiers who fought and bled and died to put the murderous and totalitarian regimes of the 1940’s, on the garbage pile of history.

Earnest “Ernie” Taylor Pyle was born at the turn of the century, the only child of a tenant farmer and his wife, from the Vermilion County of rural Indiana. The boy disliked life on the farm, and looked for a life of adventure. Following high school graduation, Pyle enlisted in the US Naval Reserve, beginning training at the University of Illinois at Champaign–Urbana.

The Great War came to an end before he completed training, and Pyle enrolled at Indiana University.  He  wanted to write, it was in his blood, but IU offered no degree in journalism. He majored in economics and took every journalism course he could find, while writing for the student newspaper, the Indiana Daily Student.

539e30fa4ce853f5a8a0b0bc8beeb765During his junior year, Pyle and a few fraternity brothers dropped out for a year, to follow the IU baseball. The 1922 trip across the Pacific brought the group to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Manila and Japan, leaving the the young writer with a lifelong love of travel, and exploration.

Ernie Pyle met Geraldine Elizabeth “Jerry” Siebolds at a Halloween party in 1923, the year he moved to Washington to work for the Washington Daily News. Two years later, the couple were wed.

The year before the “Mother Road” became part of the national highway system, Ernie and Jerry Pyle quit their jobs to begin an epic, 9,000 mile trip across the United States.  In a Ford Model T, no less.

Though never himself a pilot, Pyle flew some 100,000 miles as a passenger between 1928-’32, writing one of the earliest and best-known aviation columns, in the nation. No less a figure than Amelia Earhart once said “Any aviator who didn’t know Pyle was a nobody.”

He wrote in an easy, conversational style, the way of the story teller.  Scripps-Howard newspapers editor-in-chief of G.B. (“Deac”) Parker found in his articles “a sort of Mark Twain quality and they knocked my eyes right out.”

Ernie Pyle went to work for himself in 1935, driving from South America to Canada with Jerry, “That Girl who rides with me,” writing human interest stories. His column appeared six days a week in Scripps-Howard newspapers, published under the name “Hoosier Vagabond”.

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The series continued until 1942, two years after Pyle began the most famous part of his career. The part for which he would give his life.

Ernie Pyle initially went to London in 1940 to cover the Battle of Britain, later becoming war correspondent for the Scripps-Howard newspapers.

Pyle’s travels read like a summary of the war itself: from North Africa to Europe, to the Asiatic-Pacific theater. Ernie Pyle traveled with the U.S. military during the North African Campaign, the Italian campaign, and the Sicily landing.  He went where they went, slept where they slept and ate what they ate.

He landed on an LST-353 with American troops on D-Day,  writing from Omaha Beach:

“The best way I can describe this vast armada and the frantic urgency of the traffic is to suggest that you visualize New York city on its busiest day of the year and then just enlarge that scene until it takes in all the ocean the human eye can reach clear around the horizon and over the horizon. There are dozens of times that many”.

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Pyle returned to the United States in the Fall of 1943 and again in 1944, badly in need of rest and recuperation from the stress of combat. This was no rear-echelon scribe. Ernie Pyle was right out front with the infantry and the tankers, the Marines and the soldiers who fought and bled and died to put the murderous and totalitarian regimes of the 1940’s, on the garbage pile of history.

l_if7lf662014101220AMWhat Bill Mauldin was with his cartoon characters “Willy and Joe”, Ernie Pyle was to the written word.  He was free to go anywhere and speak to anyone, from the commander-in-chief to the lowliest private soldier.  Harry Truman himself once said “No man in this war has so well told the story of the American fighting man as American fighting men wanted it told.  He deserves the gratitude of all his countrymen.”

Exhausted, repeatedly hospitalized with “war neurosis” and subject to epic drinking binges, Ernie Pyle reluctantly accepted his final assignment in 1945, to cover the Battle of Okinawa. Somehow, he knew this would be his last. Before landing, Pyle wrote to his friend Paige Cavanaugh, and playwright Robert E. Sherwood, predicting his own death.

pyle1On April 17, 1945, the war correspondent landed with the U.S. Army’s 305th Infantry Regiment, 77th “Liberty Patch” Division on the island of Ie Shima.  The small island northwest of Okinawa had been captured by this time, but was by no means clear of enemy soldiers.

On this day in 1945, Ernie Pyle was killed by a Japanese sniper.  Traveling by jeep with Lieutenant Colonel Joseph B. Coolidge and three other officers of the 305th, the vehicle came under fire from a Japanese machine gunner. All five dove for cover, in a ditch. Let Colonel Coolidge take the story from here:

“A little later Pyle and I raised up to look around. Another burst hit the road over our heads … I looked at Ernie and saw he had been hit.”

The bullet entered the left temple, just below his helmet. Ernie Pyle was dead before his body hit the ground.

080203-ernie-pyle-hlg-1p.grid-6x2The best loved reporter of the second World War was buried wearing that helmet, between the remains of an infantry private and a combat engineer.

The men of the 77th Infantry Division erected a monument which stands to this day, inscribed with these words: “At this spot the 77th Infantry Division lost a buddy, Ernie Pyle, 18 April 1945.” Half a world away, General Eisenhower echoed those same sentiments: “The GIs in Europe––and that means all of us––have lost one of our best and most understanding friends.”

 

A Trivial Matter
Ernie Pyle rejected an offer to cover the D-Day landing from General Omar Bradley’s command ship, electing instead to wade ashore with the troops, on Omaha Beach.

April 2, 1722 The Silence Dogood Letters

“Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.” – Silence Dogood

The fifteenth child of Josiah and Abiah Franklin was born in a little house on Milk Street in Boston, across from the Old South Church.

The family moved to a larger house at Union & Hanover Street, when little Ben was six. As the tenth son, Benjamin Franklin was destined to be “tithed” to the church, but Josiah changed his mind after the boy’s first year in Boston Latin School. In light of the small salary, it was too expensive to educate a minister of the church.

The boy was sent to George Brownell’s English school for writing and arithmetic where he stayed until age ten, when he went to work in his father’s shop making tallow candles and boiling soap. After 1714, “Dr.” Benjamin Franklin’s education came exclusively from the books he picked up along the way.

By twelve the boy was “Hankering to go to sea”.  His father was concerned about his running away. Knowing of the boy’s love of books, the elder Franklin apprenticed his son to the print shop of James Franklin, one of his elder sons, where he went to work setting type for books. And reading them.  He would often “borrow” a book at night, returning it “early in the Morning lest it should be miss’d or wanted.”

benjamin-franklin-apprentice_1718By 1720, James Franklin began to publish The New England Courant, only the second newspaper to appear in the American colony.

Franklin often published essays and articles written by his friends, a group described as “The Hell-Fire Club”. Benjamin desperately wanted to be one of them, but James seemed to feel that sixteen-year-old little brothers should be seen, and not heard..

Sometime in March 1722, a letter appeared beneath the print shop door. “Sir, It may not be improper in the first Place to inform your Readers, that I intend once a Fortnight to present them, by the Help of this Paper, with a short Epistle, which I presume will add somewhat to their Entertainment”. The letter went on in some detail to describe the life of its author, Mrs. Silence Dogood.

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That first letter was published on April 2.  True to her word, Silence Dogood wrote again in two weeks.  And then again, and again.  Once every two weeks, for 28 weeks.  Her letters were delightful, cleverly mocking the manners of Boston “Society”, and freely giving advice, particularly on the way that women should be treated. Nothing was sacred.  One letter suggested that the only thing students learned at Harvard College, was conceit.

dogood_illustrationJames Franklin and his literary friends loved the letters, and published every one. All of Boston was charmed with Silence Dogood’s subtle mockery of the city’s Old School Puritan elite. Proposals of marriage came into the print shop, when the widow Dogood coyly suggested that she would welcome suitors.

James was jailed at one point, for printing “scandalous libel” about Massachusetts Governor Joseph Dudley.  The younger Franklin ran the shop in his absence, when Mrs. Dogood came to his defense.  Quoting Cato, she proclaimed:  “Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.

And then the letters stopped, much to the dismay of the Courant and its readership. One wrote to the editor, saying the paper had “lost a very valuable Correspondent, and the Public been depriv’d of many profitable Amusements.”

On December 3, James Franklin ran an ad. “If any Person . . . will give a true Account of Mrs. Silence Dogood, whether Dead or alive, Married or unmarried, in Town or Country, . . . they shall have Thanks for their Pains.” It was only then that his sixteen-year-old brother fessed up.  Benjamin Franklin was the author of the Silence Dogood letters.

benjamin-james-franklin-grangerAll of Boston was amused by the hoax, but not James. He was furious with his little brother, who soon broke the terms of his apprenticeship and fled to Pennsylvania.

So it was that a future Founding Father of the Republic, the inventor, scientist, writer and philosopher, the statesmen who appears on our $100 bill, came to Philadelphia.  Within a few years Franklin had set up his own print shop, publishing the Philadelphia Gazette as well as his own book bindery, in addition to buying and selling books.

Benjamin Franklin’s efforts are in no small part a reason why literacy standards were higher in Colonial America, than among the landed gentry of 18th century England. Higher, I expect, than even today.

Franklin’s diplomacy to the Court of Versailles was every bit as important to the success of the Revolution, as the Generalship of the Father of the Republic, George Washington. Signatory to both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, it is arguably Ben Franklin who broke the impasse of the Convention of 1787, paving the way for ratification of the United States Constitution.

b66a0356-04ff-459f-8838-9f8438937061-bannerBy then too old and frail to deliver his own speech, Franklin had someone else read his words to the deadlocked convention.

“On the whole, sir, I can not help expressing a wish that every member of the convention who may still have objections to it, would, with me, on this occasion, doubt a little of his own infallibility, and, to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument”.

As I witness the disintegration of civil society, over politics, I cannot deny the wish that my countrymen might, each in his turn, doubt a little of his own infallibility.

 

A Trivial Matter
Despite ending his formal education at age ten, Benjamin Franklin is considered to be one of the great polymaths along with the likes of Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Schweitzer. A prolific inventor, Franklin never patented a single one, believing such innovations should be shared, freely. A brief list of Franklin’s inventions include bifocal glasses, the lighting rod and the Franklin stove.  The founding father’s personal favorite was a musical instrument which came to be played by the likes of Mozart and Beethoven: the Glass Armonica

December 27, 1913 The Devil’s Dictionary

“In our civilization, and under our republican form of government, intelligence is so highly honored that it is rewarded by exemption from the cares of office”.
Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce first appeared in Horse Cave Creek, Ohio, the 10th of 13 children born to Marcus Aurelius and Laura Sherwood Bierce, all with names beginning with the letter “A”.

Ambrose-Bierce-fun-quotesMarcus and Laura never had much money, but were both inveterate readers who instilled a lifelong love of books in their young son, Ambrose. At 15, Bierce left home to become a “printer’s devil”, fetching type and mixing ink, following in the footsteps of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and his own contemporary, Mark Twain.

Bierce enlisted with the 9th Indiana Regiment at the outbreak of the Civil War, where he developed map making skills. Bierce would frequently find himself in the hottest part of the front lines, while he drew out and mapped some complicated terrain feature. He would later say of the experience that “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography”.

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For Ambrose Bierce, the Civil War ended at Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia, when a severe head wound took him out of the war, for good. He later headed west, making the first usable maps of the Black Hills, before winding up in San Francisco.

Long hours spent in a boring job at the San Francisco mint gave my favorite “curmudgeon” plenty of time to read up on the classics, and brush up on his writing skills. He soon found himself in the newspaper business, one of the top columnists in San Francisco.

Today, any writer who wants to be the least bit controversial had better keep his lawyer’s number on speed dial. In Bierce’s day, he’d better carry a gun. Ambrose Bierce didn’t shy away from politics, he jumped right in, often employing a mock dictionary definition to lampoon his targets. One example and my personal favorite: “Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage”.

7-ExcellentQuotations.com-Ambrose-BierceBierce worked for the Hearst Newspaper San Francisco Examiner in 1896, when he was sent to Washington to cover a railroad bill at that time, working its way through Congress.

The Union and Pacific Railroad received $130 million taxpayer dollars (about $3 billion in today’s money) laundered through the Federal Government and lent to the railroad on extremely favorable terms. One of the Union & Pacific’s builders, Collis P. Huntington, had persuaded a malleable congressman to forgive the loan altogether, if only they could keep the measure quiet.

Bierce lampooned crony capitalist and politician alike. The offending bill was anything but quiet when an infuriated Huntington confronted Bierce on the Capital steps. When asked his “price”, Bierce answered “My price is $130 million dollars. If, when you are ready to pay, I happen to be out of town, you may hand it over to my friend, the Treasurer of the United States”. The bill went on to defeat.

We can only wonder how things would be today, if such a man were to replace the partisan lapdogs passing themselves off as a national press corps.

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Bierce’s biting satire would often get Hearst and his newspaper in trouble. Nothing was off limits. Politics was a favorite target: “CONSERVATIVE, n: A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal who wishes to replace them with others”, or “POLITICIAN, n. An eel in the fundamental mud upon which the superstructure of organized society is reared. When he wriggles he mistakes the agitation of his tail for the trembling of the edifice. As compared with the statesman, he suffers the disadvantage of being alive”.

1160915463-ambrose-bierce-journalist-cabbage-a-familiar-kitchen-garden-vegetableBierce’s mocking definitions became so numerous that they were compiled and published in 1906 as “The Cynic’s Word Book”. It is still in print today as the “Devil’s Dictionary”.

The topics are seemingly endless. On Motherhood: SWEATER, n.: garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly”. On the Arts: “PAINTING, n.: The art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather, and exposing them to the critic”.  Or “MARRIAGE, n: the state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in all, two”. And then there’s education, “ACADEME, n.: An ancient school where morality and philosophy were taught. Academy, n.: A modern school where football is taught”.

Bierce left San Francisco in October 1913 at the age of 71, to revisit his old Civil War battlefields. He then headed south into Mexico, which was at that time a whirlpool of revolution. He joined Pancho Villa’s army as an observer in Ciudad Juárez, arriving in Chihuahua some time that December. Bierce’ last letter was written to a close friend, Blanche Partington, on December 26, 1913. He closed the note by saying, “As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination.”

And then, he vanished.

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If you visit Sierra Mojada, in Coahuila, Mexico, they’ll tell you that Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce was executed by firing squad in the town cemetery.  It’s as good DSD488000an ending to this story as any, as one hundred and five years ago today is as good a day as any on which to end it. The fact is that in that 105 years, there’s never been a trace of what became of him, and probably never will be.

My favorite curmudgeon would have had a good laugh, on reading the monument erected in Meigs County Ohio, in his honor.

So many words to commemorate a life, when the Master’s own words would have done so well:  “MONUMENT, n: A structure intended to commemorate something which either needs no commemoration or cannot be commemorated.”

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

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December 19, 1843  A Christmas Carol

This quintessentially English tale is said to have drawn much from the work of Shakespeare, and others.  Perhaps the Old World drew inspiration from the New, as well. 

It’s hard not to love the traditions of the Christmas season.  Getting together with loved ones, good food, the exchange of gifts, and our favorite Christmas specials on TV.  I always liked a Charlie Brown’s Christmas, and of course there’s the Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol”, set against the vast brick factory buildings of Lowell, Massachusetts, along the Merrimack River.

Wait … What?

The 29-year-old Charles Dickens was already a well-known and popular author when he stepped onto the shores of Boston Harbor on January 22, 1842.  New Yorkers had literally lined the docks the year before, greeting ships bearing copies of the author’s latest, The Old Curiosity Shop.

“The Pickwick Papers,” “Oliver Twist,” “Nicholas Nickleby”; all were behind the young writer when he came to America, perhaps to write a travelogue, or maybe looking for material for a new novel.

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The “Mill Girls”, of Lowell

Dickens traveled to Watertown, to the Perkins School for the Blind, where Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan underwent their mutual education, a half-century later.  He visited a school for neglected boys, in Boylston.

Dickins must have thought the charitable institutions in his native England suffered by comparison, for he later wrote “I sincerely believe that the public institutions and charities of this capital of Massachusetts are as nearly perfect as the most considerate wisdom, benevolence, and humanity, can make them.”

In February, Dickens took a train north to the factory town of Lowell, visiting the textile mills and speaking with the “mill girls”, the women who worked there.  Once again, he seemed to believe that his native England came up short, in the comparison.  Dickens spoke of the new buildings and the well dressed, healthy young women who worked in them, perhaps comparing them with his own traumatic childhood experience of working in the mills back home, with his father confined in debtor’s prison.

v_Lowell_Offering_1The celebrity novelist enjoyed the finest sights of Boston and New York, and took in a steamship ride, down the Mississippi. He visited one of the great wonders of the natural world, the spectacular Niagara Falls.

And yet, the author described that visit to the industrial city of Lowell as “the happiest day” of his American vacation.

Dickens left the mill girls with a copy of “The Lowell Offering”, a literary magazine written by those same women, which he later described as “four hundred good solid pages, which I have read from beginning to end.”

More than a century and a half later, Natalie McKnight, professor of English and Dean at Boston University, noticed similarities between the two while preparing a talk for the Lowell Historical Society.

She read the same 400 pages as Dickens, and couldn’t help noticing parallels between the work of the mill girls, and “A Christmas Carol,” published about a year and a half after the author’s visit.  Chelsea Bray was a senior English major at the time.  Professor McKnight asked her to read those same pages.

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Marley’s Ghost, by John Leech, 1843

One story, “A Visit from Hope,” begins, “‘Past twelve!’ said a sweet, musical voice, as I was seated by the expiring embers of a wood fire. I turned hastily to see who had thus intruded on my presence, when, lo! I beheld an old man. His thin white locks were parted on his forehead, his form was bent, and as he extended his thin, bony hand toward me, it shook like an aspen leaf.”’

Makes it hard not to think of the ghost of Jacob Marley, Ebenezar Scrooge’s “dead as a doornail”, former partner.

Christmas,” another Lowell essay, describes Christmas as “the best day in the whole year” for what it brings out in people. The theme pops up again with Scrooge’s nephew, as in: “[T]he only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

Another piece, “The Blessings of Memory,” speaks of joyful recollections, too soon overridden by “unreal phantoms.” Scrooge’s redemption is all about Memory: Bray writes, “Scrooge’s conversion begins when the Ghost of Christmas Past makes him relive his memories and reconnect to past sorrows and joys.”

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The research performed by the two was published in the form of a thesis, and later fleshed out to a full-length book:

“Dickens and Massachusetts
The Lasting Legacy of the Commonwealth Visits
(University of Massachusetts Press, 2015)

The book describes a number of similarities between the two works, making the argument that Dickens’ familiar story draws much from his experience in Lowell.  The authors specifically reject any accusation of plagiarism.  The Lowell essays possess neither the character development nor the linguistic richness of Dickens’ masterwork.

This quintessentially English tale is said to have drawn much from the work of Shakespeare, and others.  Perhaps the Old World drew inspiration from the New, as well.   Charles Dickens’ masterpiece, A Christmas Carol, was published for the first time 175 years ago today, December 19, 1843.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

December 6, 1768 The Murderer’s Dictionary

Among the entire catalog of works there is no tale so queer as the Oxford English dictionary, and the convicted murderer who helped to bring it into being.  From an insane asylum, no less.

For the great reference works of the English language, the beginnings were often surprisingly modest. Encyclopedia Britannica was first published on this day in 1768 in Edinburgh, Scotland: part of the Scottish enlightenment. Webster’s dictionary got its beginnings with a single infantrymen of the American Revolution, who went on to codify what would become the standardized system of spelling for “American English“.  In Noah Webster’s dictionary, ‘colour’ became ‘color’, and programme’ became ‘program’, a novel concept at a time when the thought of a “correct“ way of spelling, was a new and unfamiliar idea.

Among the entire catalog of works there is no tale so queer as the Oxford English dictionary, and the convicted murderer who helped bring it into being.  From an insane asylum, no less.

Dissatisfied with what were at that time a spare four reference works including Webster’s dictionary, the Philological society of London first discussed what was to become the standard reference work of the English language, in 1857. The work was expected to take 10 years in compilation and cover some 64,000 pages.  The editors were off by sixty years.  Five years into the project, the team had made it all the way to “ant“.

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Dr. William Chester Minor

William Chester Minor was a physician around this time, serving the Union army during the American Civil War.   

The role of this experience in the man’s later psychosis, is impossible to know. Minor was in all likelihood a paranoid schizophrenic, a condition poorly understood in his day.

As a combat surgeon, Minor saw things that no man was ever meant to see.  Terrible mutilation was inflicted on both sides at the 1864 Battle of the Wilderness.  Hundreds were wounded and unable to get out of the way of the brush fire, burning alive those sufferers too broken to move, before the horrified eyes of comrades and enemies, alike.  One soldier would later write:  It was as though “hell itself had usurped the place of earth“.

Dr. Minor was ordered to brand the forehead of an Irish deserter, with the letter “D”.  The episode scarred the soldier, and left the doctor with paranoid delusions that the Irish were coming to ‘get him’.

As a child born to New England missionaries working in Ceylon, Minor was well adjusted to the idea of foreign travel, as a means of dealing with travail. He took a military pension and moved to London in 1871, to escape the demons who were by that time, closing in.

One day, Minor shot and killed one George Merritt, a stoker who was walking to work.  He believed the man had broken into his room.  The trial was published widely, the “Lambeth Tragedy” revealing the full extent of Minor’s delusional state, to the public.

Minor was judged not guilty on grounds of insanity, and remanded “until Her Majesty’s Pleasure be known”, to the Broadmoor institution for the criminally insane. Victorian England was by no means ‘enlightened’ by modern standards, and inmates were always referred to as ‘criminals’ and ‘lunatics’. Never as ‘patients’. Yet Broadmoor, located on 290 acres in the village of Crowthorne in Berkshire was England’s newest such asylum, and a long way from previous such institutions.

Minor was housed in block 2, the “Swell Block”, where his military pension and family wealth afforded him two rooms, instead of the usual one. In time, Minor acquired so many books that one room was converted to a library.  Surprisingly, it was Merritt’s widow Eliza, who delivered many of the books.  The pair became friends, and Minor used a portion of his wealth to “pay” for his crime, and to help the widow raise her six kids.

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Broadmoor asylum for the criminally insane

Dr. James Murray assumed editorship of the “Big Dictionary” of English in 1879, and issued an appeal in magazines and newspapers, for outside contributions. Whether this seemed a shot at redemption to William Minor or merely something to do with his time is anyone’s guess, but Minor had nothing but time. And books.

William Minor collected his first quotation in 1880 and continued to do so for twenty years, always signing his submissions: Broadmoor, Crowthorne, Berkshire.

The scope of the man’s work was prodigious, he himself an enigma, assumed to be some country gentlemen.  Perhaps one of the overseers, at the asylum.

In 1897, “The Surgeon of Crowthorne” failed to attend the Great Dictionary dinner.  Dr. Murray decided to meet his mysterious contributor in person and finally did so, four years later.  In his cell. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall, when this Oxford don was ushered into the office of Broadmoor’s director, only to learn that the man he looked for, was an inmate.

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Dr. “Murray at work in his scriptorium, a dedicated room filled with books, at Oxford University (date unknown)”. H/T allthatsinteresting.com

Dr. Minor would carefully index and document each entry, which editors compared with the earliest such word use submitted by other lexicographers. In this manner, over 10,000 of his submissions made it into the finished work, including the words ‘colander’, ‘countenance’ and ‘ulcerated’.

By 1902, Minor’s paranoid delusions had crowded out his mind.  His submissions came to an end.  What monsters lurked inside the man’s head is anyone’s guess.  Home Secretary Winston Churchill ordered Minor to be removed back home to the United States, following a 1910 episode in which Minor emasculated himself, with a knife.

The madman lived out the last ten years of his life, in various institutions for the criminally insane. William Chester Minor died in 1920 and went to his rest in a small inauspicious grave, in Connecticut.

Over seventy years in compilation, only one single individual is credited with more entries to the greatest reference work in the history of the English language, than this one murderer, working from a home for lunatics.

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Oxford English Dictionary

Feature image, top of page:  Dr. Murray and his Oxford University editorial team, 1915.  H/T allthatsinteresting.com

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

November 5, 2004 I Did not Die

For nigh on seventy years, few knew from where this little known bit of verse, had come.

In the early 1930s, Mary Elizabeth Frye was a Baltimore housewife and amateur florist, the wife of clothing merchant, Claud Frye.

A young Jewish girl was living with the couple at this time, unable to visit her sick mother in Germany, due to the growing anti-Semitic violence of the period.  Her name was Margaret Schwarzkopf.

Margaret was bereft when her mother died, heartbroken that she could never “stand by my mother’s grave and shed a tear.” Mrs Frye took up a brown paper shopping bag, and wrote out this twelve line verse.

She didn’t title the poem, nor did she ever publish it, nor copyright the work.  People heard about it and liked it so Frye would make copies, but that’s about it.

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For nigh on seventy years, few knew from where this little known bit of verse, had come.

Over the years, there have been many claims to authorship, including attributions to traditional and Native American origins.

The unknown poem has been translated into Danish, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Ilocano, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog and other languages, appearing on countless bereavement cards and read over untold funeral services.

The English translation of one Swedish version reads: “Do not weep at my grave – I am not there / I am in the sun’s reflection in the sea / I am in the wind’s play above the grain fields / I am in the autumn’s gentle rain / I am in the Milky Way’s string of stars / And when on an early morning you are awaked by bird’s song / It is my voice that you are hearing / So do not weep at my grave – we shall meet again.

Many in the United Kingdom heard the poem for the first time in 1995, when a grieving father read it over BBC radio in honor of his son, a soldier slain by a bomb in Northern Ireland. The son had left the poem with a few personal effects, and marked the envelope ‘To all my loved ones’.

For National Poetry Day that year, the British television program The Bookworm conducted a poll to learn the nation’s favorite poems, subsequently publishing the winners, in book form. The book’s preface describes “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” as “the unexpected poetry success of the year from Bookworm’s point of view… the requests started coming in almost immediately and over the following weeks the demand rose to a total of some thirty thousand. In some respects it became the nation’s favourite poem by proxy… despite it being outside the competition.”

All this at a time when the name and even the nationality of the author, was unknown.

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Abigail Van Buren, better known as “Dear Abby”, researched the history of the poem in 1998, and determined that Mrs. Frye was, after all, the author.

Mary Elizabeth Frye passed away in Baltimore Maryland on September 4, 2004. She was ninety-eight.

The Times of Great Britain published her untitled work on November 5, as part of her obituary. ‘The verse demonstrated a remarkable power to soothe loss”, wrote the Times. “It became popular, crossing national boundaries for use on bereavement cards and at funerals regardless of race, religion or social status”.

I Did Not Die”
by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft star-shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

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August 27, 1955 Guinness Book of World Records

The free reference book once intended to inform barroom squabbles has spawned a franchise including museums and television programs, becoming the leading  international authority for the certification of every world record you can think of, from the longest fingernail (2 feet, 11 inches), to the longest mustache (14 feet), to slam dunking basketball bunnies.

Hugh Campbell Beaver was a British engineer and industrialist and, at the time of this story, Managing Director of the brewery founded by Arthur Guinness, about two hundred years earlier. Beaver was on a hunting trip in County Rexford in Ireland, when a friendly argument broke out among the group. Which is the fastest game bird in Europe, the golden plover, or the grouse?

StjamesgateThe information was surprisingly difficult to find, and no reference book was available to settle the matter.

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Julia Gnuse, Guinness World Record most tatooed woman H/T IrishCentral.com

At that time, there were some 81,400 pubs in Great Britain and Ireland. What if they all had a reference book to settle such weighty matters, while enjoying a Guinness Draught, of course.

Beaver turned out to be more correct, than he realized.

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H/T Today.com

At that time, Norris and Ross McWhirter were running a fact-finding agency in London “to supply facts and figures to newspapers, yearbooks, encyclopedias and advertisers” and working as sports reporters, on the side. One of the athletes they covered was the middle and long-distance runner Christopher Chataway, who just happened to work for the Guinness Brewery.

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“Chandra Bahadur Dangi, from Nepal, left, the shortest adult to have ever been verified by Guinness World Records, poses for pictures with the world’s tallest man Sultan Kosen from Turkey, in London on November 13, 2014, to mark Guinness World Records Day.” H/T Today.com

Chattaway introduced the pair to Beaver in 1954. Guinness’ directors were impressed with the encyclopedic knowledge possessed by the McWhirter twins, when it came to facts and figures. The brothers agreed to take up work and, on this day in 1955, the 198-page Guinness Book of Records was first published in Great Britain.

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“Guinness World Records Day: The world’s shortest married couple”  H/T Express.co.uk

The book was intended to be given out for free, but proved to be far more popular than anyone had expected. The company began selling it that fall. Within four months, the book was non-fiction best-seller, in all the United Kingdom.

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“Norris McWhirter holding a copy of the largest diamond in the world (1977)” HWikipedia

Soon, the McWhirter brothers were traveling the world over, to research and verify records. The first American edition was published in 1956, followed by editions in other countries.

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Largest human image, of a camera. H/T Nikon

In the early 1960s, the McWhirter twins became involved in British Conservative party politics, bringing the pair into conflict with the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Ross was hunted down and murdered in front of his home in 1975, by IRA gunmen. His brother Norris continued to serve as the book’s editor until retiring, in 1986.

Guinness-World-Records-2017-stars-main_tcm55-443157The free reference book once intended to inform barroom squabbles has spawned a franchise including museums and television programs, becoming the leading  international authority for the certification of every world record you can think of, from the longest fingernail (2 feet, 11 inches), to the longest mustache (14 feet), to slam dunking basketball bunnies.

As of this year the book is in its 63rd year of publication, published in 100 countries and 23 languages and itself holding a world record, as the best-selling copyrighted book of all time.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.