Monday, January 26, 2015

Monday, January 19, 2015

World War I: The First Zeppelin Raid on Britan

Early Zeppelins
In January of 1915 the average British citizen read about the battles slogging on in France and Belgium in the daily papers with interest, doubtless worried for the well-being of their loved ones who were across the channel and, maybe, the future of the Empire. But the artillery and machine gun fire existed only in their imagination. Like the specters of an M. R. James Christmas ghost story, the horrors of war described by the papers haunted their nighttime hours and lurked at the edges of their minds in idle moments. That was until January 19, 1915 when the monstrosity of war became all too real.

In 1909 Count Zeppelin had started the world's first national airline. Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft (DELAG) was founded to promote the airship as a means of travel and potential military platform. Zeppelin airships operated like flying cruise ships, offering twenty well-healed passengers at a time a new-fangled pleasure cruise aboard a faddish, innovation. But travel by airship was a dicey affair. Occasionally a trip ended in unscheduled stop when inclement weather drove the huge aircraft into the ground. Zeppelin slowly improved its design and service and, by the outbreak of the war in August of 1914, the company's airships had carried over 10000 paying passengers on over 1500 flights. As war ravaged the European countryside, the German Army and Navy equipped themselves with Zeppelin's M Class airships, capable of carrying a payload of 20100 lbs. and travelling at a (then amazing) speed of 52 mph.

Early in the war, German war planners imagined the possibility of bombing London, but technology and logistics prevented their realizing this plan. Being filled with hydrogen, the airships tended to burst into flames when hit by ground-fire. It's also important to remember that in 1914 the bomb (as we understand it) hadn't been developed. Early raiders dropped artillery shells on their targets. On the August 5, 1914 a Zeppelin bombed the city of Liege, but it was damaged by small arms fire and destroyed after a crash landing near Bonn. On the March 20, 1914 two Zeppelins successfully bombed Paris, dropping 4000 lbs. of explosives, killing one, and injuring eight.

Zeppelin (at "The Fat Boy"): "I wants to to make your flesh creep!"
John Bull: "Right-O!"
Punch, November 4, 1914
The first raids on Britain would come on the night of January 19, 1915 when two Zeppelins dropped bombs on Great Yarmouth, Sheringham, King's Lynn, and the surrounding villages killing four, injuring sixteen. The Kaiser authorized raids on the London docks on February 12, 1915, but the raids were delayed until April 19 and 30th when the German Army received new P Class airships. Raids were conducted on Ipswich, Southendon, Dover, and Ramsgate in April and May killing six, injuring six, and on the last day of May the first raid against London proper resulted in 120 bombs being dropped in a line from Stoke Newington southward to Stepney and then northward toward Leytonstone.

The Funnies - Correct! (1900)

Teacher: What is memory?
Boy: The thing what you forget with!

Life Magazine, December 13, 1900

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Funnies - Vice Versa (1900)

1st Sharp Gent: I've had a strange life - I think of writing a book and calling it "Men I've known and Things I've done."
2nd Ditto: I should recommend, "Things You've Known and Men You've Done!"
Life Magazine, December 6, 1900

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Steampunk Saturday - A Flying Ocean Liner (1927)

In an era when the only way to travel across the Atlantic (or Pacific) was by ocean liner, the thought of intercontinental air travel seemed fantastic and far-off. In fact, the only thing designers could agree on was that air travel across the ocean would be facilitated by the ability to make a safe water landing. World War I had featured a few flying boats, showing that taking off and landing on water was a possibility and utilizing the ocean as a runway meant that the need for the construction of expensive infrastructure (like aerodromes, runways, roads, and so forth) could be avoided. Thus, the concept of trans-Atlantic tourism by flying ocean liner was born, but it was far from becoming a reality.

The first mock-ups looked a little like a cross between Nemo's Nautilus and a flying fish. The craft was a biplane (of sorts) with eight engines and two decks. The first real trial runs for trans-Atlantic flying boat service wouldn't take place until the 1930's when Pan AM and BOAC made runs between Newfoundland and Foynes and passenger service didn't start until the 40's.

The era of the flying boat was a short one, though. World War II stopped leisure travel almost as soon as the first successful passenger runs had been made. When the war came to an end and the mess it created had been cleared away, the availability of good air infrastructure meant there wasn't a big need for landing on water. The military had built runways and airports throughout continental Europe and the UK. Who wanted to take a flight to the coast, land offshore, take a tender to the port, and then catch a train to their final destination when you simply could fly there? We were entering the era of fast and air travel was fast. Ah, I guess there's no nostalgia when the thing you're nostalgic for hasn't been lost yet.

I know that this image from the January 1927 issue of Popular Science is more dieselpunk than steampunk, but it still gets my imagination going. It's got a real Hayao Miyazaki thing going, a style that makes me think of far-flung island kingdoms where diesel and feudalism coexist and adventure is on the air.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

What Were They Thinking? Operation Peace (1950)

Your government would never lie to you, would it? They'd never lead you into making a decision that could very well leave you dead in a foreign land, would they? Well, back in 1950, on the eve of the Korean War, they were selling the youth of America on the idea that signing up for the Army or Air Force meant hanging with your buddies, doing a little light office work, playing some basketball, and maybe doing a bit of hunting wild boar - just for the physicality of the whole thing, you know. No word about freezing to hold the commies at bay, rising life and limb, and all just to hold an imaginary line on a map. The good news, hey you'd be fighting in a forgotten war! It's just like it never happened! So sign up now!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Howard Johnson (1955)

Ah, HoJo's! I remember seeing the orange roof of Howard Johnson's from the backseat of my dad's Ford as we were bound for somewhere else. For some reason I always imagined that Howard Johnson's was a hotel, that there was a restaurant in the front and rooms somewhere in the back. Don't know why, nobody ever told me there were, it was just one of those things I assumed because we never went there. It wasn't until I started doing research for this blog post that I found I was right in my childhood assumption. Wikipedia describes HoJo as "a chain of hotels, motels, and restaurants located primarily throughout the United States and Canada..." Funny how instincts work sometimes.

Wollaston, Massachusetts resident Howard Johnson started the business back in 1925 with $2000 and an eye toward improving the profitability of the soda fountain he owned. He started by creating a new, high butter fat ice cream recipe which he parlayed into a line of 28 flavors, his trademark. Johnson started out selling ice cream, fries, and hot dogs from stands up and down the Massachusetts shoreline and eventually opened his first true restaurant in Quincy Square's Granite Trust Building in 1929. Apparently this establishment wasn't the highway-side, orange roof, that you might think of nowadays. A History of Howard Johnson's: How a Massachusetts Soda Fountain Became an American Icon describes it as "an elegantly appointed restaurant that served traditional New England fare throughout the day, with daily specials that attracted business people at lunchtime, diners in the evening as well as families." HoJo's might have stayed a Massachusetts thing if not for a famous playwright and a clique of prudish Bostonians with political pull.

The same year the Quincy HoJo opened, the mayor of Boston and the New England Ward and Watch Society banned Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude from being produced in Boston. The Theater Guild moved the production to the Quincy Theater directly opposite the restaurant. If O'Neill's play is known for anything, it is it's remarkable length of five hours, so long as to include a scheduled dinner break during which theatergoers walked over to Howard Johnson's for $1 dinner plate specials.

With the success of his Quincy venture and word of mouth being provided by influential Boston patrons, Johnson soon became one of the first businessmen to successfully franchise his name. Thus, Howard Johnson became daddy to the modern chain restaurant. Sometime after 1929 came the characteristic orange roof with its dormer and cupola.

The ad reminds me of some of the hotel postcards you see at antique stores from time to time. Fifties-era conformists finding their way inside or departing after tanking-up on fried clams, finned cars parked in the lot, an indeterminate landscape seemingly devoid of evidence of human habitation stretching off to the horizon. Yes, you're on the road and you've arrived at HoJo's, god knows what else is out there so you better enjoy hospitality while you can. In '55 when this ad ran in Life Magazine there were only 500 Howard Johnson's nationwide, by the mid-seventies there'd be over a thousand.

I like the "grilled-in-butter frankfurter", okay I actually just like the fact they call it a "frankfurter" instead of a hot dog. It makes me thing Howard had a thing about the term "hot dog". I also like the bullet bra ice cream scoop. Ice cream (among other things) shouldn't come in a shape that could put an eye out. It's just wrong.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

WWI - The Price of Neutrality (1915)

British Lion: "Please don't look at me like that, Sam. YOU'RE not the eagle I'm up against."

I had a little time to turn my attention back to the Great War this morning, fortunate since I had a cartoon that is exactly 100 years old today! As of this day 100 years ago, the US was still a neutral party to the growing European conflict. Woodrow Wilson had sent out an appeal to the US people on August 17, 1914 to be "impartial in thought as well as action", a plea meant to stave off attacks from pro-war pundits within the country while he tried to beat back British encroachments against neutral trade with their enemies, Germany and Austria-Hungary. Understandably, his efforts were less than acceptable and in December of 1914 he was forced to give up the effort to use the 1909 Treaty of London as a guarantee of safety for American merchant ships and fall back on much more ambiguous international law.

On February 4, 1915 the German government announced that it would begin a submarine campaign against the allies overwhelming naval power and that, because submarine commanders would find it hard to differentiate neutral ships from those of the allies, no vessel would be safe from being torpedoed within the war zone. This move prompted a warning that Berlin would be held accountable for any US losses from Wilson, but it was vague and Washington wasn't really sure how it would handle any transgressions.

The political cartoon from the January 6, 1915 issue of Punch depicts the British Lion giving Sam the Eagle an assurance that the British rejection of US neutrality shouldn't be taken personally. It's a bit paternalistic in tone, if you ask me, but it's coming from London's perspective in a time when Empire was a real thing. The cartoonist, John Bernard Partridge, was the London born nephew of John Partridge, portrait painter to Queen Victoria. Partridge started his career as an architect before beginning a career as an illustrator. He came to Punch in 1910, replacing the magazine's chief cartoonist. The year this cartoon ran, Partridge also was designing war posters including his famous Take Up the Sword of Justice .

In 1925 Partridge was knighted. He died at the age of 84 in August of 1945.

The Cold Feet Rag

Really posting this one for no other reason than it's January, well and we're having our first real bout of winter weather here in Indy. Here's a (far too MIDI feeling) version of Cold Feet Rag by Mamie Williams.

I wish I could find some more information about the composer, but the internet doesn't seem to have been kind to her legacy. Mamie Williams penned seven ragtime tunes that I can find, mostly published in St. Louis, so I'm guessing there's a connection there. Unfortunately I can't confirm anything. If anyone knows something about her I'd love to hear what you've got!

Monday, January 5, 2015

January Full Moon - In the Glory of the Moonlight (1915)

Here's a little recording to celebrate the full moon. In the Glory of the Moonlight was released in 1915, a time when World War I was just getting wound up and it'd become clear that the boys weren't going to march in, kick the kaiser's butt, and march home again. The music-buying public had turned to sappy sentimental strolling songs that depicted a simpler time, a time when a fellow could walk along the canal with his best girl in the moonlight.

Percy Wenrich composed ragtime and pop music at the turn of the last century. He was a native of Joplin, MO and came to New York to work the Tin Pan Alley scene in 1907. Unless you're a ragtime or vintage music enthusiast you probably wouldn't recognize many of Wenrich's compositions. The two exceptions might be Put on Your Old Gray Bonnet (1909) and When You Wore a Tulip and I Wore a Big Red Rose (1914). My personal connection with Wenrich? In 1911 he wrote his hit Red Rose Rag for his wife, Dolly Connolly, the lyrics to which were penned by Edward Madden. Now, I'm sure Ed and I aren't really related, but you never know.

Wenrich and other stars of the ragtime era had a bit of a comeback in the late 30's with the release of The Songwriter's Parade, a review that toured the eastern seaboard on the Loew's and Keith circuits. Eventually, Percy faded from the scene and he died in 1952 at the early age of sixty five.

In the Glory of the Moonlight is a nice slow ditty for a walk in the park. Of course if you'd probably need a parka tonight, but the sentiment is there. Here's the recording from the Library of Congress. The volume leaves something to be desired and the player's nothing to look at, but you get to hear the song none the less.

The Funnies - Aftermath

The Pig: I must say I'm glad I'm just an ordinary hog.
Life Magazine, December 6, 1900

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Bonus Funny - A True Son of the Soil (1904)

A True Son of the Soil
Life Magazine, July 28, 1904

Pouring through the old magazines this morning I came across a little tribute to the Hoosier poet, James Whitcomb Riley, and wanted to get it posted. This illustration comes from the July 28, 1904 issue of Life Magazine and I did a little looking for anything Riley corresponding to that year, but came up empty. In 1905 Riley published Little Orphan Annie and the next closest publications are Rhymes of Childhood in 1890 and Knee Deep in June in 1912.

Worst Idea Ever - Headlights (1920)

Ah, the twenties, when everything went electric. Neon came to Times Square, tinging the night with gaudy colors, (somewhat) modern appliances became available to the average homeowner, Let's Misbehave called out across the airwaves, and everyone was doing the Charleston. The world was filled with verve and enthusiasm for what could be done. Notice I didn't say should be done.

The October 1920 issue of Popular Science Magazine gives us the worst idea ever for January. The wearable reading lamp-hat really isn't all that different from the eyeglass flashlights you sometimes see. Well, except for the fact the wearer would have to be tethered to a wall by a cord. Oh yes, and there is the matter of heat.

Just try touching the shade of an old-fashioned banker's lamp after it's been running for a half hour. I take that back, don't. The simple reason is heat, of course. Wear a sixty watt light bulb affixed to your noggin for more than a few seconds and you'll have second degree burns in a place that will give clear indication to the opposite sex that the lifeguard of common sense has asked you to leave the gene-pool. Still, Burton patented his gizmo, not to say it paid the bills.

Charles S. Burton of Oak Park, IL seems to have been a serial inventor, he held multiple patents. He patented children's blocks, a table lock, as well as one for a music roll container that bears a striking similarity to his reading light hat. I'm not sure whether he struck it big or not, but something tells me the electric hat didn't turn the trick. Still, you got to admire the guy for trying!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Longing for the Past - Green Ghost

I know I’m getting old. The first sign was a strong desire to roll my eyes at the younger generation’s version of pop-culture. Even though I own an iPod, I can’t manage to say iAnything without sarcasm coloring my voice and a strong urge to explain how things were “when I was your age.” I've resigned myself to the constant battle against becoming the old man with a cane, chasing delinquent kids off his lawn. To distract myself, I’m writing about the first sign of my impending decrepitude, nostalgia.

I remember a lot of things from my childhood with what's probably, I admit, undeserved fondness. I mean, come on, I come from the era of parachute pants, Poison, and the Cabbage Patch Kids. The seventies and eighties were filled with, well, crap that I'd sooner deny any connection with than defend. But there are those odd-ball markers that I can't think of without a deep, longing sigh. Sure, I could go on about all the easy, cultural markers. It'd be safe to wax on about Star Wars, GI Joe, and the pre-Michael Bay Transformers, but there’s more than enough chatter about them. Instead I thought I'd wax nostalgic over the outliers, the things time has almost obliterated from cultural memory.

In 2015 I'll be visiting the toy box of the ages and dragging out a few things that'll I hope with bring back a few memories for you too. Either that or they'll prove that I'm not only turning into an old crank, but possibly teetering on the edge of my generation's norms. Only one way to find out, I guess, and that's kick this thing into gear with the first of the toys from the past: The Green Ghost. 

I remember my mother bringing the Green Ghost home after one of her frequent garage sale trips. It was released by TransoGram Company in 1965, two years I was born. The box pretty much looked like this picture, 1950's nuclear family gathered around the soft, radium glow of the game board with looks that don't occur in nature plastered on their doughy faces. Unpacking the box, it was a simple racetrack board with a few plastic pieces for atmosphere and a gelatinous-looking ghost spinner with a rubberized finger pointer.

My brother and I would retreat to the garage and turn out the lights, then play would begin. I don't know if we ever finished a game, but if we did it must not have been very impressive because I don't remember the rules. I do remember the creepiness of sitting in the dark, with only the poisonous glow of the spinner to read by. With each spin we became more and more convinced there really was a green ghost and that it probably was inside the house just waiting for a chance to spring. Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's why I don't remember the rules - we never finished a game.

Back to the box, I'm not exactly sure what the mystery was, you moved your pieces around the board and drew cards that either helped or impeded your getting to the end goal. Never really thought of that at the time though, because that damned green ghost was lurking out there somewhere, oozing along the ceiling, getting ready to drop on your head at any moment...yeah, I better put the game up now. I mean shouldn't we be playing outside in the sun, the healthy, bright, sun?

Quote for January

January, month of empty pockets! let us endure this evil month, anxious as a theatrical producer's forehead.

- Sidonie Gabrielle Colette

Poem for January

Here's to thee, old apple tree
Whence thou mayest bud
Whence thou mayest blow
Whence thou mayest bear apples enow.

Wassailing Song

Philosophy for Dieting by Sophie Tucker

With all the resolving going on today, much of it revolving around self-loathing, losing weight, toning up, and going on a this or that diet, I figured I'd offer you a look at the other side of the coin. Here's I Don't Want to Get Thin from red-hot Sophie Tucker.