Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Funny Exchange

This is a photo of William Rockefeller, the younger brother of John D. Rockefeller.

As corporations became increasingly wealthy and could hire better lawyers, pleading the Fifth Amendment became increasingly common.  In one such case involving railroad rates, William had the following exchange with the prosecution:

"On the ground that the answer will incriminate you?"
"I decline to answer on the advice of council."
"Or is it that the answer will subject you to some forfeiture?"
"I decline to answer on the advice of council."
"Do you decline on the ground that the answer will disgrace you?"
"I decline to answer on the advice of council."
"Did your counsel tell you to stick to that one answer?"
"I decline to answer on the advice of council."

After Rockefeller provided this reply, the whole court, including Rockefeller, erupted in laughter.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Franksgiving (and the Republican Thanksgiving)

Yesterday's Person-of-Mystery was none other than a young Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Did you think it was a girl in the photo?

Young Franklin was dressed in Little Lord Fauntleroy fashion so prevalent at the time.

Here's another one I'm sure his mother pulled out whenever he had a date over...

I figured the one of him on the donkey was too ironic to pass up (the donkey being the symbol of the Democratic Party).

So, what's FDR's connection to Thanksgiving you ask?

From the time of Abraham Lincoln to FDR, Thanksgiving was always celebrated on the last Thursday in November.  Most of the time, November has four Thursdays, but occasionally it has five.  1939 was one of those five Thursday years meaning that Thanksgiving fell later than usual, so Franklin Roosevelt, who was not one to follow pesky tradition, decided that he would by presidential proclamation move Thanksgiving a week earlier so businesses would have more shopping days until Christmas.

Unfortunately, he really didn't think through the potential unintended consequences of this action.  Many people were irate.  Thousands of letters immediately arrived at the White House, most of them indignant.  Smaller businesses were hurt because people now had time to wait and shop at larger retailers.  Schools had already scheduled breaks that now wouldn't align with the holiday.  Printers had already published calendars and now their goods were obsolete.  Football teams had planned games and now had to figure out whether to switch - some did and some didn't.  About half the states outright rejected the switch and chose to celebrate on the fifth Thursday.  This created problems for families living across state lines.  In some places people had November 23 off and in states right next door people had November 30 off, so some families couldn't be together.

(sample angry letter to the White House)

Republicans were as a group upset, having fought him over things like packing the Supreme Court, they saw this as another example of executive impertinence.  Republicans out of principle continued to celebrate the last Thursday, so the net result was that you had one Thanksgiving for Democrats (some people called this Franksgiving) and another for Republicans.

1940 and 1941 saw Roosevelt declaring the second to last Thursday as Thanksgiving, making it those the only years that some celebrated on the third Thursday with about half the country continuing to celebrate the traditional "Republican Thanksgiving."  Some states like Texas and Colorado actually declared both Thursdays to be state holidays in these years.

In October of 1941, the House of Representatives passed a bill officially fixing the date of Thanksgiving as the final Thursday in November, but the Senate version offered a compromise fourth Thursday as the national date.  The compromise was agreed to and today all Americans, Republicans and Democrats, celebrate the fourth Thursday (even if some years there is a fifth Thursday).

Saturday, November 27, 2010


The photo theme for today is "Thanksgiving."  I'm not ready to move on to the next holiday yet.

Who could I be?  That's the mystery!  Go ahead and take a guess and then go enjoy your day.  Check back tomorrow and I'll reveal the answer.  The first correct post will be declared the winner.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Maskers

Congratulations to Rob, who correctly identified the archaic practice of Thanksgiving Masking!

Before Halloween became the de facto dress up day (really only in the 1930s), many parts of our country saw children dress up in rags and masks to make them resemble hobos or ragamuffins (or occasionally crossdressing or in blackface too).  These kids were often called Maskers.  They would go door-to-door pretending to beg for food, treats, or small change.

This practice traditionally occurred at Thanksgiving, but could also be found at Christmas or New Year's Day and was based upon an earlier practice where in groups of rowdy men (often tipsy) called Fantastics or Fantasticals, would dress up in rags or costume on holidays, parade in the urban cities (primarily in Pennsylvania and New York) and go house-to-house demanding to be treated.  At first it was nearly exclusively men, but over the 1800s, it became more of a kids' practice.

Encouraging kids to dress up in rags and go begging at other homes was considered bad form by the parents of the Progressive Era and the tradition began to fall into disuse.  When Thanksgiving became more of a national holiday as opposed to a regional celebration, masking dramatically decreased as Thanksgiving customs became more sanitized and standardized.

By the 1910s, Thanksgiving Maskers had pretty much disappeared although they continued to be found as late as the 1940s in Philadelphia and New York City.  Vestiges of the related practice can still be seen in Philadelphia's Mummers Parade.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks

To all my faithful readers (and even to the regular lurkers) here at Nate's Nonsense, I want to wish you all the happiest of Thanksgivings.  I hope your day is filled with good cheer and appreciation for life and its blessings.

Among the many things I am grateful for is you.  Thanks for the wonderful posts and encouragement!

As a token of my gratitude, I will provide the following bonus Persons-of-Mystery picture:

Who could they be?  That's the mystery!  Yet I ask not their identity.  Instead, explain their activity!

Go ahead take a guess and then go enjoy some turkey.  Check back tomorrow and I'll reveal the answer. The first correct post will be declared the winner.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

First Fake

Louis Daguerre is generally credited with creating the first photograph.  However, this is not entirely true.  Daguerre was actually, the first to patent a photographic process that he had improved based on the earlier work of his partner, Nicephore Niepce.  The French government even bought Daguerre's patent and then released it publicly as a gift "Free to the World."

There were others who claimed that they had created earlier images, but just hadn't patented their processes.  The most famous of these early photographers was Hippolyte Bayard who had created a process known as direct positive printing and had even held the first public exhibition of photographs.

Bitter over his lack of recognition as the inventor of photography, he staged the first faked photograph in 1840.  The image above (that depicts himself as a drowning suicide) was created by Bayard to express his frustration.  On the back of the image he wrote this explanatory note:

The corpse which you see here is that of M. Bayard, inventor of the process that has just been shown to you. As far as I know this indefatigable experimenter has been occupied for about three years with his discovery. The Government which has been only too generous to Monsieur Daguerre, has said it can do nothing for Monsieur Bayard, and the poor wretch has drowned himself. Oh the vagaries of human life....! ... He has been at the morgue for several days, and no-one has recognized or claimed him. Ladies and gentlemen, you'd better pass along for fear of offending your sense of smell, for as you can observe, the face and hands of the gentleman are beginning to decay.

Bayard was very much alive continued to photograph for years to come.  Who says artists haven't always been dramatic?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fashion Footnote

Today, I'd like to highlight a very short lived women's fashion, the "Deseret Costume."  Shortly after the Mormons arrived in Salt Lake City, Brigham Young set about the idea of designing an outfit that women in the religion should wear as distinctive attire that could set them apart from non-Mormon women.

The result was the outfit pictured above.  It consisted of a short dress falling between about halfway between the knee and ankle and worn with long pantalets, made of the same material as the dress itself.  Over this dress was worn a long, loose hiplength jacket (or sacque), of antelope skin.  To complete the look, Young added a hat, eight inches high with a narrow brim, that was expected to be worn when donning the attire.

Mormon women, except for the most devoted followers of Brigham Young, soon abandoned this recommendation and returned to less masculine attire.  However, in time, even the most devoted decided against this outfit.  It was said that the high hat was the most objectionable part for the women.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jimmie Rodgers

Congratulations to Al, winner of yesterday's contest!

Yesterday's Person-of-Mystery was Jimmie Rodgers, "The Father of Country Music."  After all the great discussion about classical music the other day (particular thanks to all who sent in suggestions - I've tried to reply to all on that post's comment page) and having Tea Week on OPOD (reasoning to follow), I figured that there would be no more appropriate person than Jimmie for the POM.

I kind of feel like Al should be the one writing this post after his personal connection to Rodgers, but I'll fill you in on what I know.

Jimmie Rodgers was born in Meridian, Mississippi, into a railroad family.  Jimmie's father, Aaron, was a foreman on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad.  Unfortunately, Jimmie's mother died when he was a child and he was sent to live with various relatives until his father remarried.

(Jimmie Rodgers Monument in Meridian, Mississippi)

In his very early teens, Jimmy showed an aptitude for entertaining as he twice tried to leave home and start a road show only to be brought home by his father who got him a job as a water boy for his father's railroad crew.  It was here Jimmy learned to play guitar, frequently playing with black workers or hobos.

A few years later, his brother, who was a conductor for the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad, got Jimmie a job for that railroad as a brakeman, later he was also known as the "Singing Brakeman."  However, in 1924, he contracted tuberculosis.  As a result of the illness, he was unable to do the more physical labor on the railroad, so he organized a new show and took to touring the south.

Somewhere along the way, he heard Swiss yodel group singing at a church and decided that he wanted to incorporate that sound into his music, which was already a blend of blues, jazz, and folk music.  Rodgers was really responsible for creating a new sound that he liked to call the Blue Yodel that we recognize today as early country music.

Bouncing between entertaining and railroad work, he traveled throughout the southeastern and southwestern US, until finally landing up in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1927.  While in Asheville, Jimmie did a performance for a local radio show and later that same year cut his first records.

One song in particular, "Blue Yodel," better known as "T for Texas," became a runaway hit.  You can listen to it HERE.  Like I said earlier, having music in my head already it was only natural that I would select Jimmie as the POM with Tea in Texas running through my head.  This song is also responsible for another nickname, "The Blue Yodeler."

Rodgers became so popular that he made a movie, performed with other famous entertainers like Louis Armstrong and the Carter Family, and even joined Will Rogers for a Red Cross benefit tour.

(Jimmie with his manager and family)

By 1932, he had curtailed much of his touring touring (largely for health reasons), but had weekly radio show in San Antonio, Texas.  He eventually built the home Al spoke of in Kerrville, Texas, to attempt to treat his TB.  In 1933, he made a trip to New York City to make some new recordings, but was so weak, he had to record sitting down and take rest breaks between songs.  Two days after finishing these recordings, he died while staying at the Taft Hotel.  He was only 35.

(with a Model A in Kerrville, Texas)

(Jimmy Rodgers with wife Carrie and daughter Anita at their home in Kerrville)

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Who could I be?  That's the mystery!

Go ahead take a guess and then go enjoy your day.  Check back tomorrow and I'll reveal the answer.  The first correct post will be declared the winner.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Musical Musings

Today, I had a very interesting exchange with my students.  Before one of my classes one of my students asked me what kind of music I liked.  Before I had a chance to reply, another student blurted out, "Probably something stupid like classical music!"  It took me by surprise because I do like classical music, but it probably wouldn't have been the first thing out of my mouth.

After conversing with my students for a few moments, I began to realize that almost none of them knew any classical musical pieces.  I asked them if they could name any composers.  There was silence.  I mentioned a few: Mozart, Beethoven, etc. and they replied, "Oh, yeah, I've heard of them."

They then asked me who some of my favorite composers were.  I named a few and then I said, let's listen to a couple.

Today, I played Felix Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words, Op. 19, No. 1 for them.  You could have heard a pin drop.  I don't think any of them had ever heard it before.

If you've never heard it, you can listen to it HERE.

So what about all of you, do you have favorite composers or works?  If you give me some recommendations, I'll try and play some of yours for my students too.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Kinky Colorado

Colorado is typically considered a pretty square state (or at least rectangular), but upon reading some geography blog postings today (yes, there are those blogs), it turns out Colorado is rather kinky!

If you use Google Maps and journey around the border, you'll discover a bunch of kinks in the boundary line.  See one of many examples below...

The strange thing is there's actually a pretty major kink that wanders about 1.5 miles about 80 miles north of Four Corners between Utah and Colorado just south of the town of Paradox, Colorado.  See below...

So how did it happen?  In 1879, a survey was conducted to set the boundary and surveyors journeyed north from Four Corners placing mile markers along the way, when they got to the Wyoming border, they discovered that they were about a mile west of where they expected to be.  Unfortunately, by the time it was discovered where the errors lay, the ground boundaries had already been accepted by the various states, territories, and congress, so the error was fixed.

In reality Colorado is actually a polygon.  Go figure!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Smedley Butler

Yesterday's Person-of-Mystery was none other than Smedley Butler.

Smedley Darlington Butler was a Major General in the Marine Corps and one of the most courageous and patriotic Americans this nation has known.  At age 16 (almost 17), Butler lied about his age and joined the United States Marine Corps, so he could go fight in the Spanish-American War as a Second Lieutenant.  He got to Cuba too late to see fighting, but was transferred to the Philippines where he fought in the Insurrection.  Frequently bored in the Philippines, he had himself tattooed with a large Marine Corps "Eagle, Globe, and Anchor" emblem that ran down the front of his body from his neck to his waist (more on this later).

Before I begin the next portion of Butler's life, I should note that before 1913, Marine officers were ineligible to receive the Medal of Honor, so typically for actions that would warrant a Medal of Honor, an officer would receive a brevet promotion.  In the 1920s, a Brevet Medal was created to retroactively recognize these acts of valor for which only 20 were issued.

(Brevet Medal)

In 1900, Butler was transferred to China to help suppress the Boxer Rebellion.  At the Battle of Tientsin, he noticed a fellow officer had fallen wounded outside the lines, so Butler jumped out of his trench to retrieve the officer.  Butler was shot through and fell (losing the Central America portion of his tattoo), when a third man noticed this and went to their aid.  The third man was similarly wounded and Butler, who was wounded himself, managed to rescue the officer and the other fellow under severe fire.  For this action, Butler was awarded a brevet promotion to Captain.

(Butler in China - below the marked "x")

For the next phase of his life, Butler was an active participant of a series of US interventions in Central America known as the Banana Wars (fought primarily to protect American commercial interests).  In 1903, Butler was in Puerto Rico when he was ordered to defend the US Consel in Honduras.  While on this rescue mission, Butler developed some kind of tropical fever that turned his eyes bloodshot, giving him the nickname, "Old Gimlet Eye."

He returned to the states, married and was again assigned to a stint in the Philippines.  Taking sick leave from the military, he returned to the States in 1908 and worked for a few months as a coal miner.  However, he soon returned to the military and rom 1909 to 1912 was stationed in Nicaragua and Panama, seeing numerous actions in Nicaragua.

In 1914, Butler participated in a spying mission throughout Mexico to provide information to the US government in case revolutionary activities necessitated a military intervention.  However, plans for a full US invasion were scaled back in favor of an occupation of Veracruz, Mexico.  While at Veracruz, Butler earned the Medal of Honor (officers now being eligible) for leading his men in in battle on April 22.

(Butler (far right) with fellow officers at Veracruz)

The next year, Haitian rebels known as Cacos overthrew the government on the island.  The now Major Butler was conspicuous in numerous actions, frequently leading attacks on rebel positions, usually outgunned and out manned.  By November, the Marines had eradicated all the rebels with the exception of 200 holed up at the old French stronghold, Fort Riviere.  Many considered the Fort impossible to take with fewer than a regiment (700-1000 men) backed by artillery.  Butler asked for four Companies of 24 men, but was only given three and two machine guns.

After scouting the fort, he discovered a hole in the southern wall of the fort and led charge through the opening.  Heavy hand-to-hand combat ensued, but at the end of the fighting, the result was 200 dead Cacos and 1 injured Marine.  For this action, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Roosevelt was so impressed that he took the unusual step of awarding Butler a second Medal of Honor.  Remember, this may have been his third had the medal been available to him in China.  Following this action, Butler was responsible for restoring order in the nation of Haiti.

(Butler at Fort Riviere)

During World War I, Butler was disappointed to not receive a combat command in France despite repeated requests.  Instead he was placed in charge of an unsanitary disembarkation camp in Brest, France (the largest of the war).  Within short order, Butler had cleaned up the camp largely through his use of duckboards to solve the ever present mud issue.  For his able administration, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal by both the Army and Navy and Pershing authorized a duckboard shoulder patch for units under Butler's command.

(Camp Pontanezen shoulder patch)

After the war, Butler was placed in command of the Marine Barracks at Quantico, Virginia.  In 1921, during an exercise in the countryside, he was told by a farmer that Stonewall Jackson's arm was buried nearby.  Not believing the farmer, he took a squad of Marines and dug up the area the farmer had indicated the limb was buried.  To Butler's surprise, he found the limb and feeling ashamed, reburied the arm in a new box and left a plaque commemorating the spot.

In January of 1924, the newly elected Mayor of Philadelphia asked the now famous General Butler to leave the Marines to take over the role of Director of Public Safety (head of the police and fire departments).  Butler declined the offer, but the mayor petitioned President Coolidge, saying the city was too corrupt and in need of Butler's services.  Butler took a leave of absence from the Marines to help enforce Prohibition in Philadelphia.  The mayor soon learned that Butler was too good and within his first 48 hours had conducted raids on over 900 speakeasies.  Butler also attempted to eliminate not just alcohol, but also prostitutes, gambling, and police corruption.  Unfortunately, he also raided the Ritz and other highbrow places angering city elites.  Although he cleaned up Philadelphia, he was forced to resign in December of 1925.

Although a favorite of some, President Hoover was not a fan of Butler.  He was passed over for promotion as Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Hoover then pressed for a court marshall of Butler after Gen. Butler publicly insulted the Fascist Dictator Benito Mussolini.  Butler was instead issued a reprimand and retired from the military.

At this point in his life, retired from the military, Butler became an outspoken public figure and supported the Bonus Army march on Washington.  He was a vocal opponent of Hoover, war profiteering, military interventionism, and fascism.  His outspoken beliefs gained him the admiration of many veterans, but also the ire of many in the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations.

(Butler speaking to crowds)

In 1934, Butler came forward with allegations that he had been approached by a group of wealthy industrialists who had pooled $3 million dollars and planned on assembling 500,000 men that Butler would lead with the intention of overthrowing FDR and replacing him with a fascist dictatorship to be headed by Hugh S. Johnson.  At first this plan was widely mocked in the press as a hoax, but after a Congressional investigation, it was revealed that the plan was essentially true.  No charges were ever pursued as the publicity had crushed plans for the potential coup.

In 1935, Butler authored the book, War is a Racket, in which he criticized the use of the military to further business interests, echoing later calls against the military-industrial complex.  Butler died in 1940.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Who could I be?  That's the mystery!

Go ahead take a guess and then go enjoy your day.  Check back tomorrow and I'll reveal the answer.  The first correct post will be declared the winner.

Lots of speculation today if there would be a regular contest considering Die Nemesis' attempt to renew some kind of spat.  I don't know what you're worried about, everything is normal.  I checked the local newspaper in Christoval and it looks like it was an uneventful weekend, save the small community gathering pictured below.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fear Mongering

Okay, some people were still not satisfied that I had researched PJM thoroughly enough, just taking a school photo as evidence of his peaceful intentions.  So I conducted a quick Internet property search and I only came up with two properties that are owned by him, his compound in West Texas and a vacation home in Neuschwabenland.

I used Google Maps to zoom in on the cabin and it seems quite lovely and even shows the porch light on...

And quick Zillow search revealed the interior, which seems to have been decorated according to his tastes...

So keep calm and carry on people.  Nothing to worry about.

Condemned to Repeat?

George Santayana once wrote in, The Life of Reason, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Recently, I was alerted by my readers to an apparent alarming development arising in West Texas.  Yes, my old nemesis, PJM, who for a time had seemed to have resolved himself to a life of quiet super villainy, has crawled out of his bunker printing libel on his blog and sending electrons of hate around the World-Wide Web.

If you've been following the Old Picture of the Day blog, you may have noticed his anti-Weimar Republic rant this week.  Perhaps you were like myself wondering why anyone would hold so much hatred for the Weimar Republic.  I'd like to remind my readers here that this was the short-lived parliamentary republic that fell between Imperial Germany and the Fascist State that followed.

Being a student of history, I started to think to myself, was there anyone else who expressed a similar distain for the Weimar Republic?  Then I recalled a little nut-job who ran Germany from 1933-1945.  Now, I know it's not popular to run around saying people are like Hitler, and just because both of them hate the Weimar Republic doesn't mean that they're identical, so let's look at the obvious differences between Der Führer and Die Nemesis:

Der Führer liked parades, thought his country was too crowded and needed personal living room, thought technology was vital for national glory, built laboratories for scientific research, published his thoughts in a book, marginalized groups he didn't like and called them "evil," felt an obligation to instruct the youth of his nation, feared Communism, believed that modern art was garbage, owned tractor-tanks, held a fascination with polar exploration, had a keen eye for personal attire, and wore a moustache.

Die Nemesis is not like this at all, he writes his thoughts down on a electronic blog not in a book.

So, I'd like to implore all of you not to worry about the apparent threats on OPOD.  To my knowledge things are quite normal in West Texas as PJM's classroom photo can attest...

In unrelated news (see HERE), I don't know if you heard, but last year, the Russians had Hitler's skull fragment tested and it turned out that what they thought were Hitler's remains belonged to a woman instead, so the world really doesn't know what happened to him (or if he was able to have himself cryogenically frozen in order to reemerge at a later date like he claimed he would).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

More Musical Genealogy

Mark Twain once wrote a humorous sketch titled, "I'm My Own Grandfather."  It went like this:

"After long years as a bachelor I was tired of being alone and married a widow with a grown daughter. My father fell in love with the daughter and took her as his wife. This made me my own son-in-law and my stepdaughter became my mother. After a year my wife gave birth to a son. Now, my son was my father's brother-in-law and at the same time my uncle, since he was my stepmother's brother. But my father's wife also gave birth to a son. So this was my brother and also my grandson, since he was the son of my daughter. This meant I'd married my grandmother, since she was the mother of my mother. As my wife's husband, I was also her grandson. And since the husband of a grandmother is always a grandfather, I am my own grandfather."

In the 1930s, Dwight Latham had a radio show and was reading Mark Twain when he came across the above story and decided to (with the help of Moe Jaffe) put the piece to music.

The result was song, "I'm My Own Grandpa."  It has been covered by lots of musicians over the years.  Probably the first person to receive wide acclaim for performing it was Guy Lombardo in 1948.  His version can be heard HERE.  Another popular version is one sung by Ray Stevens.

Anyone know of another musical genealogy song?

Monday, November 08, 2010

Musical Genealogy

For those of you who have read this blog (or know me personally), you may have noticed that I enjoy history and genealogy.  I also like reading the Bible and learning about Jesus.  And I also like music.

The other night, I stumbled upon what I think might have been one of only two genealogy songs I have ever heard.  It's a Christmas song about the genealogy of Jesus.  For those of you who have read the Bible, you may have noticed the somewhat dry passage found in Matthew 1:2-16.  Andrew Peterson sings a wonderful folk song using a good portion of this very text and turned it into a surprisingly good tune (with some very creative rhymes to boot).

The song is called "Matthew's Begats" and can be seen HERE.  Check it out!