Monday, October 31, 2011


First of all, I'd like to congratulate Ray from UK, DADD, and Judi, all of whom did really well in identifying Charles Dickens as this past weekend's Person-of-Mystery.

Charles Dickens

Some of you have become accustomed to me writing about the Person-of-Mystery after the contest, but Charles Dickens is really too well known to do that, so I'm going to talk about something that bothers me a little bit about Dickens, namely his use of the name Ebenezer for the central character in his Christmas Carol.

Ebenezer Scrooge

I'm sure authors put a lot of thought into their characters.  Often they're looking for an unusual name, but one that's still recognizable to their readers.  In 1843, when Dickens wrote Christmas Carol, Ebenezer was a name that was common enough that people would recognize it, but not one of the top ten names of the 1840s.  Dickens coupled Ebenezer with the last name Scrooge, which I'm not even sure is a real last name.  Doing a quick Internet search, I could only find one phone book listing for one surname Scrooge in the United States and Canada.  Of course, Ebenezer Scrooge was known for being a mean and miserly individual and someone whom no one would care to emulate until the very end of the story when he has a sudden change of heart.

Ebenezer Scrooge with Tiny Tim

My issue with Dickens is not that he chose a lesser known name to vilify, but that he chose a pretty nice name and ruined it.  Of course Ebenezer doesn't sound nice to us today, but this is only due to its near sole association with Scrooge.  The worst part about it is that Ebenezer Scrooge has a transformative change towards the end of the story, but it comes about so late, that readers remember the nasty parts of Scrooge and not as he would have been remembered by the Cratchit family or the community in later years had there been a continuing plot.

Ichabod Crane

Other authors have done this for a long time.  Take the character of Ichabod Crane from Washington Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  Ichabod is a superstitious and awkward character who becomes the eventual victim of the Headless Horseman.  I don't see anyone naming their kid Ichabod anymore.  So where did these unusual names come from?  Like many of the names in our culture, they came from the Bible, but there's a world of difference between the names Ichabod and Ebenezer, even though there is a Biblical connection.

Ark of the Covenant in battle

Ichabod means "the glory of the Lord has departed."  In ancient Israel, the Philistines (think of the stories of Samson or David and Goliath) were Israel's big enemy.  Israel had become prideful and wicked.  They believed that because God had chosen them as his special people, they would never lose in battle, so they were a little dismayed when they lost about 4,000 men in combat near Aphek.  Remembering how God had delivered them formerly, they brought out the Ark of the Covenant (the one that Moses placed the tablets of the 10 Commandments in), believing that God would never allow such a visible symbol of his presence to fall into enemy hands.

Eli, the High Priest of Israel, hears that the Ark has been lost

They were wrong.  Because of their sin, God allowed the Ark to fall into enemy hands and even allowed the two sons of the High Priest, who were carrying the Ark, to be slain.  One of the priests who was killed, Phinehas, had a wife about to deliver a child.  When news of the great loss reached her, she collapsed and gave birth to a son before dying who she named Ichabod in reference to the loss of the Ark.

Samuel raising his Ebenezer

A little later under the prophet Samuel, Israel gets their act together, sets aside their wickedness, and again goes to battle with the Philistines, at the same place.  This time Israel is victorious and Samuel erects a stone as a memorial to God's help.  This stone is called Ebenezer, which means "stone of help."  So the name Ebenezer, which actually flows off the tongue, has a very good and positive connotation.

Ebenezer Benton.  Thanks to Rob from Amersfoort for cleaning up the image.

A few days ago, I posted a photo of my ancestor, Ebenezer Benton (1800-1880).  I wonder what Ebenezer Benton thought when his name became so negatively associated with Ebenezer Scrooge.  It certainly had some bearing on the family.  His grandchild, who was named after him was named William Eben Benton (not William Ebenezer), although William Eben always hated having to explain that it was for his grandfather Ebenezer, so when he had a son, he was named William E Benton (the middle name being only the letter like Harry S Truman).

Harry S Truman (whose middle name was just S)

It must be hard to have a great name suddenly become ill associated during your own lifetime.  When I was younger there was an older fellow on my paper route, Charles Brown, that hated that a comic character had stolen his name.  I just hope no one ever associates my name in a negative or evil way.

As for Ebenezer, although I like the name and its meaning, I'm afraid that Christmas Carol is just too popular to reverse that one.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Welcome to Cipher Saturday!
It’s my birthday today, so I may take a holiday and be off the computer, but my gift to you is a new mystery to solve.  If you recognize the stylized picture of the person, you can go ahead and guess who it is or if you think you know, you can crack the cipher for bonus points if you can identify the person in the riddle.

The riddle might help you solve the picture or the picture may help you crack the rhyme.
Today’s cipher:
26 24 11     23 24 6     22 25 10 15     7 25     1 10 23 1     10     3 24 12
6 9 3 25 1 1     14 12 1     7 25     11 26 24 1     5 25 14 9 19     12 10 6 19 26 12
8 22 25 25     12 24     22 25 8 3 25 2 12     24 9     15 10 23 1     19 24 9 25     5 23
8 22 25 25     12 24    2 26 10 9 19 25     24 22     10 12     3 25 10 1 12     12 24     12 22 23
10     5 25 12 12 25 22     7 10 9     14     26 24 4 25     12 24     5 25
7 24 22 9 14 9 19     11 10 17 25 1     10     5 22 10 9 15     9 25 11     7 25
Here are a few to start you off:  C=2 / D=15 / H=26 / J=13

So, 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, October 28, 2011

The Albert Memorial

F.G.O. Stuart. 867 The Albert Memorial

Postmarked Stratford-on-Avon, England, July 4, 1908, 6:15 PM

Miss Jessie Burrows
1153 Univ Ave

Visited Westminster Abbey today and must say it is the finest thing I have seen since I left America.  Words fail to express the grandeur and sublimity of such a place.  Attended services in St. Paul's Cathedral this AM.  I would rather attend church in Stella Academy by far.  Write Later, S.A.C.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ebenezer Benton

Today, I'm featuring a photo of my Great-great-great-grandfather, Ebenezer Benton.  He was born January 6, 1800, in Livonia, New York.  His father died when he was only three and when he was a young boy, he was sent to live with his aunt in Litchfield, Connecticut.  He married Lovinia Freeman in 1824 and they lived in Franklinville, Hemlock Lake, and later in Andover – all in New York State.  In August of 1859, Ebenezer fell from a load of hay and so severely injured his neck and back, he was nearly invalid for the rest of his life.

Ebenezer and Lovinia had four boys and six daughters, however the Civil War was particularly hard on them, losing two of their boys to the war.  The youngest son died at Deatonsville Road, April 8, 1865, the day before Lee surrendered.  The parents later received a pension from the government for the loss of their son.  Ebenezer died, September 16, 1880, and is buried in Livonia.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

RMS Majestic

"R.M S. Majestic.'

Postmarked New York, New York, Station P, June 8, 1908, 9:00 AM

Miss Jessie Burrows
1153 Univ Ave

Just pulling out of N.Y.  Got your letter and say I could have jumped over the ship when I rec'd it.  I am not going to read them only as you suggest.  Rec'd several from students.  Be good.  I will have a big letter from England.  S.A.C.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ub Iwerks

Congratulations to Rob, winner of this weekend's all new Person-of-Mystery Contest!  He correctly deduced that the man in question was Ub Iwerks, an early Walt Disney animator and the creator of Mickey Mouse.

(Ub Iwerks drawing Mickey Mouse)

Ub was born as Ubbe Iwwerks in Kansas City, Missouri, and was probably Walt Disney's earliest animator friend, meeting in 1919 when Walt was hired at the Pesmen-Rubin Commerical Art Studio where Ub worked in Kanas City.  The next year the two started their first venture, Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists.  Iwerks-Disney was dissolved when Disney went to go work for the Kansas City Film Ad Company, but their friendship was revived when Disney convinced the company to hire Iwerks.

(Very young Iwerks on left and Disney on right)

Iwerks was the quiet and serious friend to Disney's outgoing and extroverted personality, but the two remained fast friends.  Disney would start several companies and bring Iwerks along on each venture.  Eventually, Iwerks was convinced by Disney to join him out in California, where he had started Disney Brothers Productions.

(Disney and Iwerks in Calfornia)

Walt was the businessman and dreamer and Ub was the productive illustrator.  When looking for new characters, Ub created the mouse who would later be known as Mickey.  Walt would come up with the story ideas and Ub would animate them and finally Walt would do the voiceovers.  Iwerks was also training new animators for Disney to help him keep up with the volume of work.

Their first big hit came in Steamboat Willie, but shortly thereafter, Disney became more demanding and Iwerks started believing that he was being overworked and under appreciated.  Iwerks took a job with Pat Powers, a man who had withheld money from Disney, and the friendship between the two was damaged. Disney bought out Iwerks 20% ownership in Disney Brothers in 1930 and the two moved apart.

Powers bankrolled the Iwerks Studio, but the animators that Ub had trained for Disney started to take over his former duties and the Iwerks Studio never achieved great success, despite such characters as Flip the Frog.  After animating a number of works and even creating some Looney Tunes for Leon Schlesinger, Iwerks returned to Disney Studios where he was most noted for creating the ability to combine live-action and animation as seen in Song of the South.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


In case you’re not aware, the mystery photo world was shaken recently by the revelation that Google Images now has a pretty good image search.  This was news to me.  I was aware that technology existed that could identify some images, but I was not aware that it had gotten so good.
After much thought, I came close to abandoning the Person-of-Mystery contest altogether.  However, I would hate to have to do this, so I’m going to try and modify the contest by providing a stylized photo that you will be able to recognize from other online images if you crack and solve the cipher (or just plain recognize the image).
The game will just have to stay one step ahead of the technology:

zpv tpmwfe uif dzqifs gps uijt ujnf,
cvu dbo zpv dsbdl nz mjuumf siznf?
uijt nbot xpsl jt opu ijt pxo
boe uispvhi bopuifst obnf ift lopxo.
dbo zpv tpmwf uijt tdsfxz ubmf
ps epft uijt sjeemf mfbwf zpv qbmf?

So as always, take a guess and then check back tomorrow for the answer.  The first correct post will be declared the winner!

Thursday, October 20, 2011



Die schönste Jungfrau sitzet
Dort oben wunderbar.
Ihr gold'nes Geschmeide blitzet
Sie kämmt ihr goldenes Haar,
Sie kämmt es mit goldenem Kamme
Und Singt ein Lied dabei,
Das hat eine wundersame
Gewaltige Melodei.

[Lorelei is rock about 400 feet high on the eastern bank of the Rhine River near St. Goarshausen, Germany.  It it is known for its many shipwrecks due to strong currents around the bend near the rock.  A waterfall nearby with a strong echo produced a murmuring sound that created myths about this rock.  The best remembered is probably Heinrich Heine's 1824 poem, Die Lorelei, that was later set to music.  Heine's poem talks about a golden-haired siren who lures sailors towards the rock.  The middle part of the poem is repeated on the front of the post card here, but the poem continues about a boatman in a skiff about to meet his demise.]

Unreadable European postmark with stamp removed.

Miss Jessie Burrows
1153 Univ Ave

Aug 10 –

Just passed the famous Loreley on the Rhine and stopped at St. Goar for the remainder of the day.  This is a most beautiful river and castles are built on both sides of it.–  S.A.C.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Who is buried in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania?

Back in the 1950s, there was a game show hosted by Groucho Marx called You Bet Your Life. where contestants would earn money by answering questions.  If a contestant did really poorly, Groucho would ask them an easy consolation question like the famous "Who is buried in Grant's Tomb," so that the contestant would go home with at least a little money.

(You Bet Your Life)

Interestingly enough, when Grant died, there was a little controversy over where his remains should be placed.  Many in the public wanted his body to be placed in Washington, but Grant's widow wanted them to remain in New York City where they had been living.  Julia Grant would not budge and a grand mausoleum was constructed in New York with fervent support from State officials.

(Grant's Tomb)

Jim Thorpe's widow had the opposite problem.  When the great olympian (winner of the gold medal in both the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympics) died in 1956, the State of Oklahoma was not quick to erect a monument to their native son, so Thorpe's widow cut a deal with some publicity seeking Pennsylvanians.  In exchange for changing their name to Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, and building a monument to Thorpe, the towns of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, would receive the remains of the athlete.

(Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania)

So today, Jim Thorpe, now rests in a town that he never visited during his life, but one that bears his name.  His tomb is surrounded by a statue commemorating his football skill and a modern art sculpture titled, "Spirit of Thunder and Lightning," as well as several plaques commemorating his life and accomplishments.  Thorpe's remains are interred above soil from Oklahoma and the Olympic Stadium in Stockholm (site of the 1912 Olympics).

(Jim Thorpe Memorial)

Interestingly enough, last year, Thorpe's son, Jack Thorpe, sued Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, to have his father's remains reinterred in Oklahoma.

(Spirit of Thunder and Lightning)

Monday, October 17, 2011


I don't usually repost funny things I see online, but I couldn't help it this time.  A friend of mine posted this adorable photo a girl and a camel.  I can't figure out where it originally came from or the context, but I can't help but smile when I look at it.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Edwin Booth

Congratulations to DAG, winner of yesterday's Person-of-Mystery contest.  He correctly identified Edwin Booth as the unknown person in the photo!  I was up in the hills completing a Wilderness Medicine course, so I couldn't check in yesterday, but Edwin Booth was on my mind.  Why?  Well, things like first aid and saving people were in my head and then I stumbled upon a photo of Edwin Booth and his daughter.

(Edwin Booth)

So who was Edwin Booth?  At one time, he was considered the foremost actor in the United States and considered by many the best Hamlet of all times.  Certainly he was more famous than his actor brothers and eclipsing the fame his father (also an actor) had during his lifetime.

(John Wilkes Booth, Edwin, and Junius Jr. in the play Julius Caesar)

Just like a good Shakespearean tragedy, the Booth family had its own internal conflict.  Edwin was a strong unionist and John Wilkes was an ardent secessionist.  As the war progressed, the two frequently quarreled over politics.

Then when his brother assassinated President Lincoln, Edwin's life took a terrible turn.  He believed that everything he had worked so hard for, his family name, his career, and his reputation would be forever tarnished by his brother's actions.  Actually, history has proved his fears true as today, Edwin is chiefly remembered as the brother of Lincoln's assassin.

(Robert Todd Lincoln)

The interesting thing is that Edwin Booth at one time personally saved Lincoln's son from harm.  It happened at a train station in Jersey City, New Jersey, during the Civil War when Robert Todd Lincoln, the president's oldest son and the only one to reach adulthood, was traveling from New York to Washington.  Edwin Booth was on his way to Richmond with his friend John T. Ford (owner of Ford's Theater where the president would be later shot).  Robert Lincoln was pressed by a crowd towards a train and fell helpless between the train and the platform when the train began to move.  Instantly a man forcefully pulled the helpless Lincoln up by his coat, saving him from certain injury and possible death.  Turing to thank the man, Lincoln recognized it was the famous Edwin Booth and thanked him by name.

(Edwin Booth with daughter Edwina)

Following the assassination, Edwin was personally heartbroken, despondent, and feared for his life and the lives of his family.  Friends raced to be with Edwin to prevent a relapse into alcoholism or worse.  For years, his career was impacted as theater owners would not permit him to preform.  Eventually as part of his rehabilitation, Edwin wrote an autobiography in the form of letters addressed to his daughter Edwina and performed in Europe for a time, but interestingly enough he never wrote of saving Lincoln.  Robert Lincoln would however and reported the incident at least three times in writing and spoke about it on at least two occasions.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Another weekend and I'm back to the hills for the second part of the Wilderness Medicine course with the Boy Scouts.  Like last week, I'll have no phone reception and won't be home until late tonight, but because I care about you all, I've pre-posted the contest for today.  Best of luck!

Who could we 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 to name either one of these two will be the winner.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Oklahoma Party

Unknown Oklahomans on an unknown ship.  An unsigned, undated, and unmailed post card from the collection of my great-grandmother, Jessie Burrows Benton.

This is the Oklahoma party.  Don't you think they are a fine looking bunch?  Mrs Key is not in the picture.  Don't lose this and I will tell you all about them when I get home.  This was taken on the aft of the ship.  You see the life boats don't you?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

After the Storm

After the Storm. 5613

Postmarked Pond Creek, Oklahoma, July 27, 1908, 6:30 PM

Miss Jessie Burrows
Sta. A.

July 27,

Best wishes
from Adelia.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Could Blurry Photos Be History?

I love photography, history, and technology.  And while some might find that technology incongruous with my other interests, I believe that advancing technology often helps the historian better understand the past.  Think for a moment about what satellite or multispectral imaging has done for archaeology.

There are two new technologies currently being developed that should dynamically change the way people enhance photos and in my mind have plenty of applications for historic photos.  The first technology which has more modern application can be found in Lytro cameras (not yet available) under development.  A company called Lytro has announced that they have developed a technology they call "light field" where the camera will not just capture the light and focal information for a specific point, but all the points within view of the camera lens.  What this means is that after a shot is taken, you'll have the ability to change the focal point of the shot after it's taken.  The camera will store all possible shots you can take and then allow you to tell it what part of the picture you want to be in focus.

(A single shot with Lytro technology focused on the foreground or background)

If you'd like to see a simulation of Lytro light field technology, see HERE.

And while this all sounds wonderful for the future, what about those photos in the closet that are already wrongly focused?  Well, the latest thing to hit the digital photography world has been the rapid development of improved de-bluring algorithms for digital enhancement.  That's why I was very excited to see a YouTube clip from the Adobe MAX conference last week, where a new unblur Photoshop tool in development was previewed.  People already use Photoshop for photo retouching and enhancement, but I can see that slightly blurry historic photos might greatly benefit from this technology.  For example, Virgil asked last week what the blurry words above the mantle in the Goodner family photo read.  Maybe with this technology, I could know.

Check out the video below.  The resolution is not great, but it does give you a good idea of what's coming:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pigeon Poop

I was speaking with a city maintenance worker recently when the conversation somehow turned to the trouble with keeping structures free of bird droppings.  He provided me an interesting statistic:  A single pigeon produces its weight in poop every eight days.  Skeptical, I googled this when I returned home and it appears he might be correct.  No wonder the cleanup is such an ongoing process.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Crawford Long

Congratulations to Michael, winner of this weekend's Person-of-Mystery Contest!  He correctly identified Dr. Crawford Long, who is best known for being the first surgeon to use ether as an anesthesia.

Dr. Long was on my mind as I was about to attend a course in remote medical care and it made me think about what it would have been like in the earlier days of medicine.  Dr. Long is also one of those people from history that I'd love to somehow have back for an afternoon to sit around and talk with for a spell.  Imagine what it must it have been like to try and remove a tumor from someone in the days when you just had to start cutting with the patient awake!

(Surgery before anesthesia)

Crawford Long was born in Georgia and attended Franklin College (now the University of Georgia) in Athens, Georgia, where he was a roommate of Alexander Stephens who would later become the Vice President of the Confederate States.  In fact, he and Stephens stayed lifelong friends.

(Alexander Stephens)

Stephens was not the only later-to-be-famous person Long would know.  Crawford Long was also a cousin of Doc Holliday and reputedly performed surgery on Doc Holliday before Holliday ventured west.

(Doc Holliday)

Graduating from Franklin College in 1835, he continued his education first at Transylvania College in Lexington, Kentucky and a year later transferred to the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia.  While a student, he was witness to hypnotists, traveling showmen of all sorts, and youthful parties where people would inhale nitrous oxide or sulfuric ether.  Although he was skeptical of the hypnotists, he did take notice that at the gas parties, people using these inhalants seemed oblivious to pain while under the influence.

("Ether Frolics")

In 1841, Dr. Long returned to Georgia and started his medical practice in rural town of Jefferson in Jackson County.  Remembering his earlier observations, he began careful experiments with sulfuric ether. He finally performed the first ever surgery using ether on March 30, 1842, when in the presence of several witnesses he removed a tumor from the back of James Venable's neck.  Long went on to remove a second tumor at a later date.  He continued to experiment with ether on other patients and used it to remove cysts and amputate toes and fingers.  Eventually Long would also use ether for dental extraction and to assist in childbirth, even using it on his own wife on the occasion of their second child.

(Dr. Long's first surgery from contemporary accounts)

Dr. Long did not publish his results, but performed his experiments carefully and in controlled environments with multiple witnesses.  In 1846 a Boston dentist named William Morton performed a public demonstration of surgery using ether and published his results.  However, it wasn't until Morton petitioned Congress for $100,000 in recognition of his supposed accomplishment and then later sued the government to speed remuneration, that Long finally published his results.  Long never sought monetary gain and medical experts eventually recognized Long as the first to use anesthesia for surgical purposes.

(Crawford Long's statue in the Capitol Building in Washington, DC)

He worked right up until the end of his life.  In 1878, at age 62, he had just administered ether to a woman about to have a child, when he suffered a stroke.  When the attending physicians recognized that he was in trouble, they rushed to Dr. Long's aid.  His last words were, "Care for the mother and child first."