Saturday, March 31, 2012


Welcome to the Person-of-Mystery Contest!  You've found the home of everyone's favorite weekend pastime, where a stylized photo of a somewhat famous person from history is provided for you to identify.

As you can tell from today's photo, it's all smiles here at Nate's Nonsense as I'm now officially on Spring Break from teaching!  And the rest couldn't come at a better time.  We had family come visit from New Mexico, then the younger two boys both had birthdays, more Boy Scout activities, and so much more.  Needless to say, I'm in a happy mood, and today it's another man with a walrus mustache, what fun.

So, who could this 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, March 29, 2012

San Timeteo Canyon, Redlands, California

13913.  San Timeteo Canyon from Smiley Heights, Redlands, Calif.

Another unwritten and unmailed post card from the collection of my great-grandmother.  Looks like it may have originally belonged with the previous one from Arrowhead Springs.  I like the view on this postcard.  It reminds me of the topography where I live now.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

George Dewey

Congratulations to M, winner of this last weekend's Person-of-Mystery Contest!  George Dewey was correctly identified as the man in the image.

Dewey during the Spanish-American War

Dewey is an interesting figure.  His big claim to fame was that he was the commander of the American naval force that smashed the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War.

A younger George Dewey

Today his name is not much recognized by the public and if you read a typical history book it would appear as though his victory was a foregone conclusion, but at the time of the conflict, it was far from certain that the Americans would be victorious against the Spanish.  Dewey's squadron arrived in Hong Kong en route to the Philippines at the wrong time of year, it was monsoon season and he could not keep his ships at sea for a long campaign.  Furthermore, when he docked his seven white ships for the purpose of painting them gray for battle, bubonic plague was ravaging the city.  The British believed the Spanish Navy, estimated at perhaps forty warships, would crush the Americans.  Just before the Americans left, the British Officers held a party for the Americans, and one English officer remarked to another, "A fine set of fellows, but unhappy we shall never see them again."  Three American newspaper reporters traveling with the fleet mailed farewell letters home before departing.

Battle of Manila Bay

When the Americans, arrived they did not find the Spanish Navy at Subic Bay and concluded they must be at Manila which they knew must be fortified with mines and protected by shore batteries.  Surprisingly, the Spanish had not prepared well, the entrance had not been mined and shore batteries were woefully inaccurate.  The Spanish for their part were well aware of the inferiority of their ships and guns and had spent little time preparing their men to meet a better trained adversary.  When they arrived, the Americans steamed right past Corregidor and into the bay itself.  Not only that, but the Spanish had anchored their ships off the fortified point of Cavite, in shallow water, reasoning that more of their sailors could swim ashore after the battle.  From his perch on his flagship, the USS Olympia, Dewey gave the command to his subordinate, "You may fire when you are ready, Gridley."

George Dewey (second from right) during the Battle of Manila Bay

The Americans destroyed or captured every Spanish vessel in one day without so much as losing a single man during the fight.  When news of the battle reached the States, Dewey became a national hero and merchants quickly placed his image on all manner of merchandise, towns erected statues, newborn children were named Dewey or George, and Congress quickly promoted him from Commodore to Rear Admiral and he hadn't even returned home yet.

The nation was disappointed to learn that Dewey's ship would take the long route back to America, sailing west and eventually reaching New York, but New York was going to be prepared.  They quickly went to work producing an ornate plaster triumphal arch at 5th Avenue and Broadway for the Admiral to journey through while parading through New York City and plans were made make a permanent marble version.

Dewey Arch in New York City

Dewey was feted everywhere he went with parades, gifts, and honors.  

He was presented a ceremonial sword by President McKinley, gifted a mansion in Washington DC courtesy of the American people, and them promoted to an altogether new rank, Admiral of the Navy (equivalent to a six-star general).

President McKinley honoring Dewey in Washington

Just as his rise to fame had been meteoric, so was his fall from public grace.  Everything was going smashingly until the elderly widower, Admiral Dewey, decided to take a new bride.  Dewey's first wife, Susie Goodwin Dewey, had died after giving birth to a son in 1872.  After returning to the States, he met and married the widow Mildred McLean Hazen, who was the daughter of the owner of the Washington Post.

Mildred McLean Hazen Dewey

The new Mrs. Dewey was openly ambitious for her husband and encouraged him towards seeking the White House.  The public however was rather less impressed with the Admiral's choice of a wife.  For starters, she was a Roman Catholic and a largely Protestant American public was wary of papal influence in government.  Then as a gesture of affection, Dewey transferred the title for the home he had been gifted into his wife's name.  Whispers of her undue influence became more common and the couple transferred the title into his son's name.

However much damage his new wife had done to his reputation, Dewey himself sunk his own presidential aspirations with his own words.  When questioned by reporters as to a potential run, he replied, "If the American people want me for this high office, I shall be be only too willing to serve them."  Then he continued, "Since studying this subject, I am convinced that the office of the president is not such a very difficult one to fill."  He explained that being president was pretty much just following the orders that Congress gives and then carrying them out.  The public was less impressed.  On another occasion, he gave an quick aside to a reporter that, "Our next war will be with Germany."  He would turn out to be correct, but no one knew it at the time.  And finally when asked about his prior political leanings, he let it be known that he had never voted in a presidential election – even once!  It soon became apparent that the public liked the image of Dewey more than the actual man and Dewey ended the whole matter a short time later by endorsing McKinley for reelection.

Needless to say, the marble version of the Dewey Arch was never built, the plaster version weathered, crumbled and then was removed.  Perhaps some may not be aware, but Dewey's flagship, the USS Olympia still exists, the oldest steel warship in the world is now a museum ship moored in Philadelphia.  See it soon, critical repairs are urgently needed and there's been talk of scrapping it for lack of funds.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Welcome to the Person-of-Mystery Contest!  You've found the home of everyone's favorite weekend pastime, where a stylized photo of a somewhat famous person from history is provided for you to identify.

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.

If you'd like to make sure that your guess is right, enter a name into Google Images and this photo will be found on the first page of image results if you are correct.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Art Archaeology

It probably doesn't come as news to many since it was picked up by the associated world news organizations, but I figured I'd repeat the story here in case you missed it, but last Thursday, researchers from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam declared that a painting, "Still Life with Meadow Flowers and Roses," in the Kröeller-Müeller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands, formerly believed not be a Van Gogh was indeed a work by the painter.

Van Gogh's "Still Life with Meadow Flowers and Roses"

The painting was purchased by the Kröeller-Müeller Museum in 1974, but skeptics pointed said the composition was too busy, the canvas was too large, and the signature was in an unusual location, so the painting was removed from their Van Gogh section and displayed elsewhere.

In 1998, the painting was subjected to X-ray analysis and it was revealed that there was an image below the visible one, but this last year, an even more detailed X-ray was taken and it clearly shows an image of two wrestlers.

After more closely examining the underpainting, experts are now convinced that the strokes and pigments used in the wrestlers match Van Gogh's style.  Experts can place the larger canvas at Van Gogh's time in an Antwerp art academy where he studied in 1886 and the image corresponds to a letter between Vincent and his brother Theo where mention is made of the two wrestler image.  So, for now, the case is closed and the still life has been returned to the museums' Van Gogh section.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Arrowhead Springs Hotel

70403.  View from Hotel Veranda, Arrowhead Hot Springs, California.

Today, I'm featuring an unwritten and unmailed post card from the collection of my great-grandmother.  It seems as though relatives and friends would pick up blank post cards from their trips and give them to Jessie upon return and that she picked some up on her own.  I don't know which way it ended up in her collection, but I sure wish I could travel back in time and enjoy California in its less developed state.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Peter Newell

Yesterday's Person-of-Mystery was none other than Peter Newell (1862-1924).

Peter Newell

Newell was one of the most popular illustrators of his day and his style helped define the turn of the century era.  His work appeared in all of the most popular magazines (Harper's, McClure's, Collier's Saturday Evening Post, Scribner's, etc.) and graced the novels belonging to authors like Lewis Carol, Mark Twain, and Stephen Crane.

Newell's Humpty Dumpty from Carroll's Through the Looking Glass

Newell's humor was evident in so much of his poetry and illustration.

"Of what are you afraid, my child?"
Enquired the kindly teacher.
"Oh, Sir, the flowers, they are wild!"
Replied the timid creature.

Newell's "Wild Flowers," Harper's Monthly, August 1893

He couldn't make up his mind,
And she couldn't make up hers;
But finally they put their heads together,
And it was all right.

Newell's "The Solution," Harper's New Magazine, June 1898

Newell also authored a number of popular novelty children's books.  Among these were Topsys and Turvys in which pictures could be viewed from either right side up or upside down.

The Elephant leans o'er the fence and wonders why it is

The Ostrich has a longer neck and smaller mouth than his.

Another creative book was Newell's Slant Book which was produced a rhomboid shape with pictures and text to match.

Newell's ingenious Shadow Book contained blank images with a silhouetted shape that seemed recognizable, however when held to the light with the image on the next page, the silhouette in the oval would change into another form altogether.

One of my favorites was his Hole Book where a physical hole was drilled through the book and a travels of a bullet accidentally fired by a boy are detailed.

If you've never seen the book, it may be viewed online HERE, but it's far more fun for a kid to see the actual hole and place a finger in it.

A younger Newell at work

Self Portrait

Saturday, March 17, 2012


Welcome to Cipher Saturday!  You've found the home of everyone's favorite weekend pastime, where a stylized photo of a somewhat famous person from history is provided here for you to identify.

Additional clues may be found in the cipher below:


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.

If you'd like to make sure that your guess is correct, enter his name into Google Images and the this photo will be found on the first few pages of image results.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Philatelic History of Bhutan

Bhutan is a remote and tiny nation of about 700,000 persons located between India and China in the Eastern Himalayas.  The nation was so remote, that until 1961, the only way to access the country from the rest of the world was to travel from India on foot to the border town of Phuntsholing and from there by mule or horse into the interior of Bhutan.

Taktsang Monastery, Bhutan

After World War II, the royal family of Bhutan sent the future queen, Ashi Kesang Choden Dorji, to study at Oxford University.  It was there she came into the acquaintance of a fellow foreign student, Burt Todd, an American from Pittsburgh.  Todd was an adventurous son of a wealthy steel and glass family.  Based on his friendship with the future queen at Oxford, Todd was invited to come visit Bhutan for the royal wedding, so with a couple friends he hitchhiked across the Europe and Asia and by foot and mule into Bhutan eventually became the first American to visit the country in 1951.  To give you an idea of how primitive it was, the king who married Todd's Oxford friend would be the one to introduce wheeled vehicles to Bhutan during his reign.  Todd was so taken with the country and its people, that after returning to the States and getting married, he convinced his wife to honeymoon with him in Bhutan in 1954.

Burt Todd and Wife in Bhutan in the 1950s

Todd's wife, Susie, also fell in love with the country and they desired to improve the economic conditions in the kingdom.  Todd was retained by the government as an economic adviser and in 1962, under his suggestion, the nation printed its first postage stamps.  At first, sales were sluggish for stamps from a country few people recognized, but ever the entrepreneur, Todd hit on the idea of increasing sales by making the Bhutanese stamps unlike any others.  Todd traveled the world looking for new materials and production processes to create unique stamps for a fascinating country.

Bhutan's Haa Valley

Bhutan's first stamp in 1962 was a normal stamp picturing a postal runner.  Curiously enough mail in remote parts of Bhutan is still delivered by barefoot couriers today.

1966 was the first year that Bhutanese stamps really made a unique mark on the stamp collecting scene.  That year, a circular embossed gold foil series was issued and also a triangular stamp series featuring the mythical yeti of the Himalayas.

Bhutan issued the world's first lenticular stamps in 1967 depicting space exploration.  The stamps appeared to move and have depth as you rotated them, much like the prizes found in Cracker Jack boxes.

The world's first steel stamps (actually steel foil) were issued by Bhutan in 1969.  The designs were created by the Walt Disney Company and produced by the United States Steel Corporation (who Todd worked for).

Bhutan also produced the world's first silk stamps the same year.  The self-adhesive stamps were printed on silk and showed traditional Buddhist thangkas.

The world's first scented stamps were issued by Bhutan in 1973.  Rose oil was embedded below the top sheet and they smelled like the roses represented.

My personal favorites are the talking stamps also released in 1973.  They were a tiny vinyl records that could actually be played at 78 rpm.  The stamps held recordings of the Bhutanese national anthem, folk songs, or Burt Todd giving an oral history of the country.

At its height in the 1960s, stamps were the leading source of revenue for Bhutan, netting the kingdom $500,000 annually and have provided the nation the money necessary to build an airport, hospitals, roads, and electricity.  Bhutan continues to produce stamps, but also receives tourism revenues also largely due to the increased visibility brought by the unusual stamps.  In 2008, Bhutan fused its stamp program with a tourism push by producing the world's first CD-ROM stamp.  The stamp was a disc containing a documentary about the country and celebrated the 100th anniversary of the monarchy.