Podcast Episode 144: The Murder Castle

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:H._H._Holmes_Castle.jpg

When detectives explored the Chicago hotel owned by insurance fraudster H.H. Holmes in 1894, they found a nightmarish warren of blind passageways, trapdoors, hidden chutes, and asphyxiation chambers in which Holmes had killed dozens or perhaps even hundreds of victims. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the career of America’s first documented serial killer, who headlines called “a fiend in human shape.”

We’ll also gape at some fireworks explosions and puzzle over an intransigent insurance company.

See full show notes …

Banishing Gloom

quin historical atlas

For his Historical Atlas of 1830, Edward Quin took a different approach than other cartographers: Rather than present history as a series of discrete moments, he illustrates the growth of knowledge by covering the earth in obscuring clouds that are beaten back from panel to panel.

“In Quin’s Historical Atlas, the world is shown first in darkness, with clouds obscuring everything outside the Garden of Eden,” note Anthony Grafton and Daniel Rosenberg in Cartographies of Time. “Gradually, as history reveals more of the world, the clouds roll back. Turning the pages of the atlas is a bit like riffling through a flip book, watching darkness recede and the world known to Europeans grow.”

Back Channels

In 1863 Union soldiers seized a bag of rebel correspondence as it was about to cross Lake Pontchartrain. In one of the letters, a woman named Anna boasted of a trick she’d played on a Boston newspaper — she’d sent them a poem titled “The Gypsy’s Wassail,” which she assured them was written in Sanskrit:

Drol setaredefnoc evarb ruo sselb dog
Drageruaeb dna htims nosnhoj eel
Eoj nosnhoj dna htims noskcaj pleh
Ho eixid ni stif meht evig ot

The paper published this “beautiful and patriotic poem, by our talented contributor.” A few days later a reader discovered the trick — it was simply English written in reverse:

God bless our brave Confederates, Lord!
Lee, Johnson, Smith, and Beauregard!
Help Jackson, Smith, and Johnson Joe,
To give them fits in Dixie, oh!

She had signed her name only “Anna,” but in the same bag they found a letter from her sister to her husband, saying “Anna writes you one of her amusing letters,” and this contained her signature and address. Union general Wickham Hoffman wrote to her: “I told her that her letter had fallen into the hands of one of those ‘Yankee’ officers whom she saw fit to abuse, and who was so pleased with its wit that he should take great pleasure in forwarding it to its destination; that in return he had only to ask that when the author of ‘The Gypsy’s Wassail’ favored the expectant world with another poem, he might be honored with an early copy. Anna must have been rather surprised.”

(From Hoffman’s 1877 memoir Camp, Court and Siege.)

Podcast Episode 141: Abducted by Indians, a Captive of Whites

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cynthia_Ann_Parker.jpg

In 1836, Indians abducted a 9-year-old girl from her home in East Texas. She made a new life among the Comanche, with a husband and three children. Then, after 24 years, the whites abducted her back again. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Cynthia Ann Parker, caught up in a war between two societies.

We’ll also analyze a forger’s motives and puzzle over why a crowd won’t help a dying woman.

See full show notes …

Desperate Measures

https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/trm114.html

From reader Jon Sweitzer-Lamme:

Pressed for materials during the siege of Vicksburg in 1863, the city’s Daily Citizen newspaper printed its last six issues on the back of wallpaper. Each of the issues for June 16, 18, 20, 27, 30, and July 2 was printed in four columns on a single sheet, as above; a reader who turned the sheet over would see this:

https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/trm114.html

The last issue, on July 2, is still defiant:

The Yankee Generalissimo surnamed Grant has expressed his intention of dining in Vicksburg on the Fourth of July. … Ulysses must get into the city before he dines in it.

But two days later, when the city finally fell, Union troops added a final paragraph:

Two days bring about great changes, The banner of the Union floats over Vicksburg. Gen. Grant has ‘caught the rabbit:’ he has dined in Vicksburg, and he did bring his dinner with him. The ‘Citizen’ lives to see it. For the last time it appears on ‘Wall-paper.’ No more will it eulogize the luxury of mule-meat and fricassed kitten — urge Southern warriors to such diet never-more. This is the last wall-paper edition, and is, excepting this note, from the types as we found them. It will be valuable hereafter as a curiosity.

More at the Library of Congress. (Thanks, Jon.)

Teaching by Example

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Scene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States.jpg

“Two great duties, I think, we owe to posterity: one is progress, the other history. Only the former can we share in. The fruits of progress often apply to the generation which bears them. But the records of that progress come closer to being pure charity than any form of charity I know.” — Richard E. Byrd

“An Interesting War Relic”

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Malaclemys_terrapinHolbrookV1P12A.jpg

A small highland terrapin was captured in 1884 by a Chattanooga gentleman that carries on the smooth surface of its belly the inscription, carved in distinct characters: ‘Union: Co. K, 26th Regt., Ohio Vols.; November 18, 1864.’ It is supposed that some straggling Union soldier, belonging to the command designated, captured the North Georgia quadruped and proceeded to make a living historical tablet of the hard-shell little creeper.

That was twenty years ago. In 1886 when a party of ex-Union captives from Ohio, who were making a tour of the South, passed through Chattanooga, the terrapin was shown them and they could not have shown more delight over the meeting of an old friend. ‘He was the pet of some of our boys,’ said one of the old soldiers, as he fondly patted the terrapin’s back, while the tears filled his eyes and rolled down his cheeks in great drops.

Rome [Ga.] Sentinel, reprinted in W.C. King and W.P. Derby, Camp-Fire Sketches and Battle-Field Echoes, 1886

An Empire’s Lamentation

wellington cortege

When the Duke of Wellington died in 1852, his funeral procession was watched by a crowd of 1.5 million people. To commemorate it, Henry Alken and George Augustus Sala painted a panorama fully 20 meters long, which was released the following year:

Wellington had certainly earned some distinction — his style was proclaimed in the London Gazette:

Arthur,
Duke and Marquess of Wellington,
Marquess Douro, Earl of Wellington,
Viscount Wellington and Baron Douro,
Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter,
Knight Grand Cross of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath,
One of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, and
Field Marshal and Commander-in-Chief of Her Majesty’s Forces.
Field Marshal of the Austrian Army,
Field Marshal of the Hanoverian Army,
Field Marshal of the Army of the Netherlands,
Marshal-General of the Portuguese Army,
Field Marshal of the Prussian Army,
Field Marshal of the Russian Army,
and
Captain-General of the Spanish Army.
Prince of Waterloo, of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Duke of Ciudad Rodrigo
and Grandee of Spain of the First Class.
Duke of Victoria, Marquess of Torres Vedras, and Count of Vimiera in Portugal.
Knight of the Most Illustrious Order of the Golden Fleece, and of the Military Orders
of St. Ferdinand and of St. Hermenigilde of Spain.
Knight Grand Cross of the Orders of the Black Eagle and of the Red Eagle of Prussia.
Knight Grand Cross of the Imperial Military Order of Maria Teresa of Austria.
Knight of the Imperial Orders of St. Andrew, St. Alexander Newski, and St. George of Russia.
Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Portuguese Military Order of the Tower and Sword.
Knight Grand Cross of the Royal and Military Order of the Sword of Sweden.
Knight of the Order of St. Esprit of France.
Knight of the Order of the Elephant of Denmark.
Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order.
Knight of the Order of St. Januarius and of the Military Order of St. Ferdinand and
of Merit of the Two Sicilies.
Knight or Collar of the Supreme Order of the Annunciation of Savoy.
Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Military Order of Maximilian Joseph of Bavaria.
Knight of the Royal Order of the Rue Crown of Saxony,
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Military Merit of Wurtemberg.
Knight Grand Cross of the Military Order of William of the Netherlands.
Knight of the Order of the Golden Lion of Hesse Cassel,
and
Knight Grand Cross of the Orders of Fidelity and of the Lion of Baden.

(Thanks, James.)

Podcast Episode 138: Life in a Cupboard

patrick fowler

In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell two stories about people who spent years confined in miserably small spaces. North Carolina slave Harriet Jacobs spent seven years hiding in a narrow space under her grandmother’s roof, evading her abusive owner, and Irishman Patrick Fowler spent most of World War I hiding in the cabinet of a sympathetic family in German-occupied France.

We’ll also subdivide Scotland and puzzle over a ballerina’s silent reception.

See full show notes …

The Harcourt Interpolation

Here are two transcriptions of a speech by Home Secretary Sir William Harcourt, reprinted in the London Times on Jan. 23, 1882. At left is the column as it originally appeared; at right is the same speech in a hastily issued replacement edition. What’s the difference between them?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Times_rogue_compositor.png

In the column on the left, about midway down, a disgruntled compositor has inserted the line “The speaker then said he felt inclined for a bit of fucking.”

The paper issued an apology and suppressed the offending edition as well as it could, but that only increased public interest, driving the price of a copy up from threepence to £5 in some areas (it would reach £100 by the 1990s). The Times’ quarterly index recorded the offense:

Harcourt (Sir W.) at Burton on Trent, 23 j 7 c
———Gross Line Maliciously Interpolated in a
Few Copies only of the Issue, 23 j 7 d — 27 j 9 f

The paper tried to rise above all this, but it made a new rule: If you sack a compositor, get him off the premises immediately.

(Thanks, Alejandro.)