Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tripod Makes Me Happy

I've always liked musical comedy.  There's something about the combination of humor and song that I adore, so today I want to share one such song with you by an Australian group called "Tripod."

(Tripod: Gatesy, Yon, and Scod)

A number of their songs are about the nerdy, geek crowd.  This one is a love song called, "Gonna Make You Happy Tonight."


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Northwestern State Normal School, Alva, Okla, 1908

Northwestern State Normal School, Alva. Okla.

Postmarked Alva, Oklahoma, May 4, 1908, 7:30 PM
Rec'd Wichita, Kansas, May 5, 1908, 11:00 AM

Mrs. C. E. Burrows
1153 Univ. Ave.

Dear Folks, I spent the day here, & that's the reason I didn't get to write.  There were 21 of us here.  We've had a great time, just starting home.  I'll write as soon as I get time.  Be good & write.  Love to all - Jessie.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Another Reason Why I Can't Take TV Seriously

Long before we met and before she had settled on a college major, my wife desired to be a meteorologist.  (Side note here: does anyone else find it funny that we have the terms 'weatherman' and 'weathergirl?'  Why the age difference between the word genders?)  Anyway, as a result, I have ended up watching more Weather Channel and more weather reports on TV than just about anyone else in California.

Of course with Hurricane Irene in the news, and my wife with the remote, I watched more of the typical weather reporters braving the stormy elements, which to me all look like the same storm.  I always find it odd that they say things like, "This is a really dangerous storm!  We are not kidding!  Local authorities have ordered a mandatory evacuation of this entire area!"  Then to give you some kind of idea of how dangerous it is and the precautions you should be following, they ignore their own advice and send some poor sap to the most visually dramatic and probably dangerous area to start broadcasting.

Up until now, I thought it was more like watching a less-funny version of America's Funniest Home Videos, but this last weekend, WTTG reporter Tucker Barnes was sent to cover the hurricane down at the sea wall in Ocean City, Maryland, where he encountered a foul smelling, and according to him, bad tasting foamy goo.  (Again, why send a poor fellow, knee deep in toxic sludge, right where he could get swept out to sea and show it on national television, unless you were trying to encourage stupid college guys to do something equally foolish?)

Apparently, the Ocean City Wastewater Treatment Plant is just around the corner from where poor Tucker was sent and they had shut off the power to the plant, so in all likelihood, the fellow was being slapped with untreated raw sewage.

How Tucker, his crew, and the news anchors couldn't figure out that going down to the shore during a storm and standing in foul smelling (oh, and foul tasting, thanks again Tucker) sludge, maybe wasn't the best of ideas is beyond me.

If you have the stomach to see the video, you can watch it HERE.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Daniel Chester French

Congratulations to Robert, winner of yesterday's Person-of-Mystery contest!  He correctly identified Daniel Chester French as the unidentified person.  I had memorials on my mind after the cracking of the Washington Monument due to the earthquake and the posting of the Jackson Park post card a few days ago (connection to follow).

French is perhaps best known for designing the statue of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.  While this is certainly an impressive work, he made many other wonderful statues, some of which you may already be familiar with as well.

Although born in New Hampshire, Daniel Chester French was raised in Concord, Massachusetts, and was a personal acquaintance of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Alcott sisters (how cool would that be?).   Through Emerson's help, French was chosen to design the now famous Minute Man statue for Concord.

French produced some of the most beloved and iconic sculptures of the American Renaissance period including the famous centerpiece, Statue of the Republic, at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.  The fair was held in Jackson Park as per my earlier reference.

Although if you want my personal preference for French's best work, it would be his four statues of the Continents he made for the Old Custom House in New York City.  I can't do them justice in this post, so I recommend you check them out HERE.  Take time to click on the links at the bottom of the page and see shots from all sides of the wonderful statuary.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


I'm feeling generous today because I made it through the first week with students, so I'm giving you two photos of the same man, one as a younger man and a profile from later in life.

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, August 26, 2011

Children at Play in Jackson Park, Lake Michigan, Chicago, Ill.

Children at Play in Jackson Park, Lake Michigan, Chicago, Ill.

Postmarked Chicago and Milwaukee Avenues, R.P.O., September 28, 1907

Miss Jessie Burrows

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Skinny Nickels

I heard a person younger than I talking today about America and our society.  He said it feels like the country has some kind of malaise.  Boy this took me back!  I hadn't heard anyone describe our country this way since Jimmy Carter was president, but I have to agree with him.  There seems to be the feeling that there's something off with the way our country is going and that our leaders, if not the cause of the trouble, certainly don't have any ready solutions.

Sometimes it's the little things that make me feel this most acutely.  The other day, I received some change and without looking something didn't feel quite right.  When I was a kid, I collected coins and I'm very familiar with the way they should feel and sound, so I immediately took a look.  What caught my attention was that this particular nickel felt concave.

The US Mint has been experimenting with our money for a few years now.  Part of the problem is that our money is worth less and they keep having to look for cheaper metals.  For example, silver was used in dimes until 1964, but pretty soon having dimes that were 90% silver made them cost more to make than a dime.  That's why you rarely find a dime in circulation older than 1965.  A 1965 dime which is mostly copper (and some nickel) is worth 10¢.  A 1964 dime is worth about $3.05 for it's silver alone.  This is melt value of the coins, not the collectible value (or what would the metal be worth if we melted the coin).

The nickel, although made from common metals (75% copper, 25% nickel) is now worth about 6¢ to 7¢ in its metal content which is putting it in danger of metal substitution.  They did this with pennies back in the 1980s.  Until 1982, pennies used to be made of 95% copper.  That means if you melted a pile of pre-1982 pennies, you'd be getting about 3¢ of copper per penny melted.  After 1982, they switched to zinc which costs about a penny.  If you scrape a modern penny across the sidewalk, you can see it's zinc inside.

I have some French coins from right after World War II and they are so lightweight they appear to be made out of aluminium.  Every time I hold one, it gives me the feel of an economy in ruins.  This is the same feeling I got holding the skinny nickel, that something was just a little less right.  It still seemed to weigh the same, but something is different.

There may be good reasons for making the coin slightly concave.  Maybe they're trying to preserve the relief image stamped on the coin and make them last longer.  I like Thomas Jefferson on the old coins, he looked confident, well fed, and cheerful.  The new image, where he's looking straight at you, he looks tired, gaunt, and forlorn.

Well, I'm not going to lose sleep over it, but it's just another minor annoyance of mine.  If I was in charge of the nickel design, as much as I admire Jefferson, I'd go back to the buffalo nickel anyway.

Monday, August 22, 2011

George Washington Parke Custis

Congratulations to Robert, winner of this last weekend's Person-of-Mystery contest.  He not only correctly identified George Washington Parke Custis, but he also gave additional information which directly related to the reason I picked him.

Custis was the son of John Parke Custis, the son of Martha Washington by her first marriage and later the adopted son of George Washington.  George Washington Parke Custis' father died at the Siege of Yorktown when he was only a few months old.  After the Revolution, George Washington, adopted his grandson, so George Washington Parke Custis became the adopted son of his grandfather.

(George Washington's family, G.W.P. Custis on far left)

Later in life, George Washington Parke Custis became by default the keeper of the largest collection of our first President's memorabilia and memory.  He lived at Arlington House across the Potomac from  Washington, DC.  If you are not aware, his home is at the top of what is now Arlington Cemetery.

(Arlington House)

Visitors to Washington City, used to come by Arlington House to visit George Washington Parke Custis, see his father/grandfather's momentos and hear stories of Washington's life from a man who lived with the first president during his time in office.

Only one of Custis' four children survived to adulthood, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, who married Robert E. Lee.  Upon Custis' death in 1857, Robert E. Lee, became executor of his father-in-law's estate and took possession of Arlington House.  It was the Lee family home until the Civil War, when Federal authorities seized the home and started burying soldiers there to prevent the family from ever returning to a working home.  By doing so, the Federal government unwittingly turned the highest point in the cemetery into a future shrine to Robert E. Lee.

Lee for his part, was a big admirer of George Washington and absorbed many of the memories that his father-in-law related to him.  Lee's father, Harry "Lighthorse" Lee was himself a close personal friend of General Washington and was the man who famously eulogized him as "First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen."  This connection is just one of the many reasons that the Civil War is so fascinating to me.

George Washington Parke Custis is buried at what is now Arlington Cemetery at the old family plot.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Well, I'm almost ready for students on Monday, but I'm out camping with the Scouts again this weekend, so I cannot guarantee I'll have the ability to check in on the contest.  Good luck!

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.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Goodbye Summer!

Today I say goodbye to probably the shortest summer in memory.  It's back to work for me.  For our last hurrah, we took a day and drove from our home up Highway 1 to Monterey, California, seeing the sights along the way.  I'll post pictures soon.

(I'm going to miss these guys)

We packed a picnic basket and headed up along the coast, stopping as we wanted to along the way.

There was a little fog here-and-there, but nothing that would spoil the day.

So long summer!  Hope to see you again next year!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Chicago, Ill., Logan Monument. Lake front.

An unwritten post card from the collection of my great-grandmother, Jessie Burrows Benton.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

George Washington Rains

Yesterday's Person-of-Mystery was George Washington Rains, younger brother of the better known Gen. Gabriel Rains.  Together, these two were known as the "Bomb Brothers" of the Confederacy.

(Col. George W. Rains)

When the Civil War broke out, the South was unprepared for war.  Unbeknownst to most, was the glaring lack of saltpeter or sulphur mines anywhere in the Confederacy.  Potassium nitrate (commonly called saltpeter or niter) mixed with sulphur and charcoal was the primary method used to produce explosives before the war and the South was deficient in two of these critical areas.  With the North employing embargo and blockade, the Southern Armies were facing a critical shortage of gunpowder and with a tightening naval blockade, supplies were becoming increasingly difficult to obtain.  At one point, Jefferson Davis, was even quoted as saying the army only had enough powder for one month of light fighting.  Under the authorization of President Davis, Rains scoured the South looking for new sources of niter.  Utilizing his chemistry background, Rains discovered soil found in the limestone caverns in Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia could suffice and to make up the shortfall in production, he even employed systems of trenches to collect human waste latrines in larger cities.

Raines converted factories in Nashville and Richmond into small powder works, but his greatest achievement was in constructing from scratch the Augusta Powder Works in Augusta, Georgia.  At its peak, the factory produced 7,000 pounds of powder in a day for a wartime total of 2,750,000.  Rains revolutionized the gunpowder industry and instituted safety reforms that dramatically reduced injury at his factory.

(Sibley Mill, Augusta, Georgia, after the war.  The chimney was part of the original Confederate Powder Works and survives today.)

The Augusta plant was the only official government structure constructed by the Confederacy and it continued to produce gunpowder until the very end of the war.  Following the war, Federal officials deemed confiscated Confederate powder to be of the finest quality.

George Rains stayed in Augusta and served as professor of chemistry and pharmacy at the Medical College of Georgia until 1884 and eventually moved to New York State to start a new business in 1894 before dying there in 1898.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Apologies for the lack of posts.  We've been spending time as a family enjoying the last few days of summer and hanging out with the visiting family of a local exchange student, going to the beach and doing the local things.

Today, I'm out camping with the Scouts again this time at a Shoot-o-Rama at our local rifle range, but I'm posting a picture for today's contest.  Can't say whether I will be able to check in or not, but best of luck either way.  I've been impressed how you've gotten my recent difficult people, so I'm taking it up a notch again today.  Have a blast!

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, August 12, 2011

Paul Morphy

Congratulations to Unknown who correctly identified Paul Morphy in last week's Person-of-Mystery contest.

That makes to anonymous winners in a row now.  I'm starting to think there's a mystery behind the Person-of-Mystery contest!  I picked Morphy last week because it was just announced that Boy Scouts of America will be adding a new merit badge – chess.  At first I didn't know how I felt about adding a Chess Merit Badge.  It just didn't seem to fit with the overall Boy Scout image, but Scouting is all about building the body, spirit, and mind, so who knows.  As I was mulling this over, I started thinking about chess and the cultural significance behind the game of chess.

Today, chess is largely viewed as a highbrow brainy pursuit for nerds and aspiring intellectuals.  However, this wasn't always the case.  Back in the 1800s, chess was also considered a game for the intellectual, but unworthy of as a professional pursuit.

Born in New Orleans, Morphy early gained a reputation for being a chess prodigy.  One night at age nine, Morphy beat a visiting General Winfield Scott in two quick games after the general asked his hosts to set him up with a strong local opponent.  At age 12, Morphy had beaten a visiting Hungarian chess master, Johann Lowenthal.

(A young Morphy, left, with friend)

Morphy spent the next few years in serious schooling studying mathematics, philosophy and law.  After earning multiple degrees, he was at age 19, still too young to practice law.  So, to kill some time, he traveled first to New York and later touring Europe challenging and soundly defeating most recognized chess masters (or at least all those who were willing to play him).  At a number of exhibitions, he would play blindfold chess with eight opponents at a time, winning most of those games as well.

(Morphy playing blindfold against multiple opponents)

Morphy's fame grew and he was widely hailed at the time as the best player in the world.  He was hosted by royalty and the famous everywhere he went.

Having defeated nearly every highly regarded opponent who would dare play him, he began only playing by giving his opponents the advantage of pawn and move.

Desiring to be regarded for the more serious pursuit of law, he announced at age 21 that he was retiring from chess play.  He began a law practice, but the onset of the Civil War, coupled with his fame in chess damaged his legal practice.  It seemed as though every client was only interested in discussing chess.  His legal career stalled, he became frustrated and idle.  He died of a stroke at the age of 47 after entering a cold bath on a hot day.

Saturday, August 06, 2011


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.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

William and Adella Benton

Today, I'm featuring an image of my great-great-grandparents, William R. Benton and his wife Adella Fowler Benton.  They were born and raised in the town of Livonia, New York.

Before the Civil War, William had gone to Illinois, where he worked as a school teacher.  When the war broke out, he volunteered in the 62nd Illinois Infantry and was at the Siege of Vicksburg.  He was captured at Holly Springs, but he was later paroled and rejoined his unit.  He was weakened by his imprisonment and suffered complications for the rest of his life.  After the war, he returned to New York State and worked for a time with his brother at his drug store.  He married Adella and after a few years, he homesteaded a piece of land in Pottawatomie County, Kansas.  There he also taught in the schools and was twice elected to the Kansas State Legislature.  They had four daughters and two sons, although one daughter died very young.  Eventually, his health again weakening, they retired to a suburb of Topeka, Kansas, where William died in 1894 at the age of 57.  Adella lived a few more years, but died in 1899 at the age of 53 of a flu she caught while caring for her ill sister-in-law and their family.

I believe this photo was most likely taken after the family moved near Topeka.  I think the backdrops are fascinating, particularly the fireplace and mantle items.  Look closely and see if you can tell if they're real or not.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Chicago, Ill, South Water St

An unwritten post card from the collection of my great-grandmother, Jessie Burrows Benton.

Monday, August 01, 2011

National Park-to-Park Highway

I don't know how many of you noticed last Thursday's post about the Park-to-Park Highway in Montana.  Before seeing the post card, I had never heard of the road.  I did a quick Internet search expecting to find mention of some tiny road.  Boy was I wrong!

The National Park-to-Park Highway came to fruition through the efforts of Stephen T. Mather, the first Director of the National Park Service.  It was an automobile trail originally designed to connect a few parks, but eventually formed a grand loop through twelve National Parks in eleven western states, a drive of about 6,350 miles.

Even today, this would be a colossal road trip, but the highway was completed in 1920 when roads were mostly dirt and gravel.  To plan the roadway, the National Park Service partnered with the American Automobile Association (AAA) and in 1920, a group of twelve men set out on an inaugural trip.

(Anton Westgard, a AAA pathfinder, drove the lead car)

The trip was rather sketchy, adventuresome journey, through often muddy roads and bad conditions, the journey departed from Denver and completed the counter-clockwise loop in 76-days.

The publicity from the 1920 tour, brought many new visitors to the park and seeing America's National Parks by road became a new pastime.