Category Archives: history

11.

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50th anniversary of the week of the Apollo 11 moon landing

I was 11

on the cusp of everything 

we went over

to my parents’ friends’ house

everyone was transfixed

air was electric

all gathered around the tv

watching

silent and awestruck

gobsmacked

as the first man walked on the moon

spoke his first words on the moon

 lots of emotion in the house

I ran to the window to look at the moon 

hoping I would see him up there

right in the middle of all of this

the hostess

left to go to the hospital

to have her baby

she named him neil

after that man on the moon.

“we ran as if to meet the moon.” 

― robert frost

 

 

image credit: Ann Arbor district library archives

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speakeasy.

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whenever I’ve visited my friends’ lake house in the irish hills of michigan, there has never been a shortage of lakes and trees to be enjoyed. on one recent visit they took me on a walk through a very special place that I’d been wanting to see since hearing about it. at first impression it appears to be a beautiful, rolling, wide open natural space, but there is much more to it than first meets the eye.

once known as aiden lair, and now known as mccourtie park, it was formerly the 42-acre estate of herb mccourtie, a cement magnate. its trademark is its concrete bridges artistically handcrafted to resemble wooden structures. a visionary who loved architecture for art’s sake, mccourtie showed the versatility and beauty of the product he manufactured in 17 bridges that he commissioned to be created on his property using the 19th-century lost art of “el trabajo rustico” (the rustic work) in faux bois (imitation wood).

for more than 10 years, two mexican artists, george cardoso and ralph corona, created the bridges that span the creek on the property, as well as two concrete trees that cleverly hide the chimneys to his rathskeller. the bridges were individually created from wet mortar to resemble ropes and logs simulating native trees, such as oak, walnut, cherry, birch and beech. the intricate details include knots, insect holes, saw cuts, wood grain and even moss, lichen and beetle holes. an elaborate system of underground wires provided lights on and under some of the bridges. in addition, he created two huge pools, one for use as a swimming pool and the other as a fishing pond for his guests’ enjoyment.

(stills hidden in the cement ‘trees’ mixed among the natural trees)

known for giving lavish parties, he hosted a homecoming celebration every year that drew thousands of people to aiden lair to witness stunt flyers and enjoy baseball, local musicians, dancing and free refreshments. in the underground garage and rathskeller he created, he threw all-night poker parties that were attended by the likes of detroit auto baron henry ford.

throughout its history, the park has been the subject of rumors and legends. mccourtie’s rathskeller, which features a large bar, fieldstone fireplace, and vault, is rumored to have been a speakeasy during prohibition and a stopping point for al capone and other gangsters who bootlegged whiskey from chicago to detroit on U.S. 12.

it’s also been rumored that there are tunnels under the park property that served as stations for runaway southern slaves on the underground railroad. some people have reported sightings of a ghostly “lady in blue” strolling the grounds in old-fashioned clothing.

(a peek into the window of what used to be the ‘rathskeller’ – a bit creepy now)

in 1991, mccourtie park was named to the state register of historic sites by the michigan historical commission. the next year, it was added to the national register of historic places by the national park service.

 

 

“prohibition has made nothing but trouble.”

-al capone 

 

 

 

 

 

source: mlive

smithsonian.

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Happy Birthday, Smithsonian!

The Smithsonian was officially created on August 10, 1846,

and one of the first things on the to-do list was constructing a building.

The 1850 glass lantern slide above

is the earliest-known photo of the Smithsonian Institution Building,

known as the Castle, and the only image of it under construction.

Smithsonian Explorers, c. 1862-63, Smithsonian Institution Archives

From the enchanting to the eccentric, the Smithsonian has an extremely rich past. There was even a group of rowdy scientists who used to live in the Smithsonian Castle. In 1857, a zoologist named William Stimpson formed a club of young naturalists aiming to build the Smithsonian’s collection. Their meetings were held in the Smithsonian Castle, and many of the members lived there.

Stimpson named the group the Megatherium Club, after the giant extinct sloth that once roamed South America. Over the years, the club developed somewhat of a rambunctious reputation among neighbors (they were known to drink beer late at night, and had sack races down the Castle halls). They called themselves “great beasts,” much like the sloth that they named themselves after.

Despite their mischief, these men were a dedicated group of naturalists, and we owe them a great deal for contribution their descriptions, classifications and specimens to American science, the Smithsonian, and many other institutions in the U.S.

 

“science doesn’t have all the answers,

but it is good at spotting the important questions

when they are camouflaged against a background of common sense.”

-richard dawkins

 

 credits: smithsonian museums, smithsonian institution archives, smithsonian magazine

copper, clay, and complaint.

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Among the artifacts at the British Museum in London is this ancient Babylonian customer service complaint that was inscribed on a clay tablet sometime around 1750 B.C. The complaint is regarding problems with two shipments of copper ore, as the museum notes in their description:

Clay tablet; letter from Nanni to Ea-nasir complaining that the wrong grade of copper ore has been delivered after a gulf voyage and about misdirection and delay of a further delivery; slightly damaged.

A full translation from the book Letters from Mesopotamia by Assyriologist A. Leo Oppenheim has provided a view into the customer’s complaint.  Turns out Nanni was pretty angry:

Tell Ea-nasir: Nanni sends the following message:

When you came, you said to me as follows : “I will give Gimil-Sin (when he comes) fine quality copper ingots.” You left then but you did not do what you promised me. You put ingots which were not good before my messenger (Sit-Sin) and said: “If you want to take them, take them; if you do not want to take them, go away!”

What do you take me for, that you treat somebody like me with such contempt? I have sent as messengers gentlemen like ourselves to collect the bag with my money (deposited with you) but you have treated me with contempt by sending them back to me empty-handed several times, and that through enemy territory. Is there anyone among the merchants who trade with Telmun who has treated me in this way? You alone treat my messenger with contempt! On account of that one (trifling) mina of silver which I owe(?) you, you feel free to speak in such a way, while I have given to the palace on your behalf 1,080 pounds of copper, and umi-abum has likewise given 1,080 pounds of copper, apart from what we both have had written on a sealed tablet to be kept in the temple of Samas.

How have you treated me for that copper? You have withheld my money bag from me in enemy territory; it is now up to you to restore (my money) to me in full.

Take cognizance that (from now on) I will not accept here any copper from you that is not of fine quality. I shall (from now on) select and take the ingots individually in my own yard, and I shall exercise against you my right of rejection because you have treated me with contempt.

“if you make the customer a promise, make sure you deliver it.”

-merv griffin

credits: british museum, laughing squid, e. lynch, reddit