Sunday, December 28, 2008

Who Is Shannon Berry and How Does She Know So Much About Franklin Pierce?

I have had way too much time on my hands today, as this record-setting fourth post in one day proves. While looking for new information on Franklin Pierce, I found this History Channel video on YouTube. The speaker, Shannon Berry, is identified as a Franklin Pierce biographer. She knows her subject, but I can find no evidence that she has authored a biography of our obscure 14th President.

The Awesome Power of Elektro

His brain is bigger than yours.


dys⋅to⋅pi⋅a: [dis-toh-pee-uh] –noun -a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.

Occasionally, I'll click on links in Feedjit to see how people landed on a particular post here. For instance, someone searched for "Sarah Palin grandchild" on AOL and got a list that included LD's post Naming Sarah Palin's Grandchild. Also in the list was a link to a site selling Republican-themed items. For real--this isn't satirical.

Magnolia and Mimi

I love this laughter.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Present

Among the Christmas cards in yesterday's mail was an envelope containing a check for the princely sum of $137.50 from History Magazine. I had sent them an article on the history of leprosy back in March. They accepted it, but then I didn't hear from them again till the check arrived. Last time they published an article of mine, they sent me galley proofs and then a copy of the magazine. This time I'll have to buy a copy to see how it turned out.

From the History Magazine web site:

In Our January 2009 Issue ...

The Christmas Truce of 1914
Ron Hunka looks at a historic day of peace in a time of war

Darwin Aboard the HMS Beagle
Phill Jones follows the trail of Charles Darwin's ground-breaking expedition

The History and Mystery of Leprosy
David A Cory, M.D., looks at a disease that has been misunderstood for centuries

American Hostages in the Middle East
John R. Herman examines an 18-th century hostage taking that took years to resolve

Merry Christmas

My first Christmas, 1952

Seated center: Jeannie, Dennis, Jim
Next to tree: Carl, Fred, Joan, Skip, Diane
Seated next to tree: Reta
Back row: Walter, Pauline, Donna, Arlene, Bernie (holding yours truly), Ed

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Elektro Passed Over Again

Time magazine's photoessay, "Cinema's Most Memorable Robots," overlooked Elektro's performance as Sam Thinko the campus computer in that classic of the silver screen, Sex Kittens Go to College.


glowing lava
crackling, cools
earth’s birth

Monday, December 22, 2008

Franklin's Fir a First--Fact or Fallacy?

With a great deal of trepidation, I bring up an aspect of the Presidency of Franklin Pierce heretofore not explored on this blog. Lugubrious Drollery is dedicated to stamping out misinformation wherever it rears its ugly head. With this in mind, the author has tirelessly posted righteously indignant comments at as many as three or four other blogs guilty of repeating the story of President Franklin Pierce running over an old woman (see also LD's previous post "Franklin Pierce Runs Over Woman--Not!").

I know I am risking my reputation as a champion of truth, justice, and the American Way by posting an unsubstantiated bit of Presidential trivia here. In this Christmas season, I feel I must point out that they say (ah, the omniscient, omnipresent they!) that Franklin Pierce was the first President to decorate the White House with a Christmas tree. There! I've said it! Let the Devil take the hindmost and Bob's your uncle!

I have searched high and low for contemporaneous documentation of this momentous event in holiday decorating, but so far this effort has come a cropper. Sometimes they say the tree was erected in 1853, but others say the date was 1856. Some accounts throw in a visit from a Sunday school class from a Washington Presbyterian Church for good measure.

Well, until someone can show me a shred of evidence, I remain skeptical that Handsome Frank decked the halls of the White House.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Perfect Woman

While standing on a ladder to put Christmas decorations atop a bookcase, what to my wondering eyes should appear on the top shelf but a row of old books inherited from my grandfather Lee Cory. Among them was The Perfect Woman, copyright 1915.

Book Cover

I can only speculate as to why he bought this book. It may be that before his marriage, he was beginning the perpetually futile attempt of men to understand the female of the species. Perhaps he bought it with the intent that he could mold his wife into a perfect woman. My grandmother, whom I dearly loved, was small in stature and mild-mannered, but I can't imagine her as a Pygmalion to anybody. Whatever the reason for my grandfather's purchase, the book has survived for almost a century.

Title Page

Here is a picture of "Perfect Womanhood," whatever that may be.

Here is the ideal female figure: the Venus de Capitolina. The caption states that "the waist will be found to be two-fifths the height and nine inches less than the measure at the top of the hips." So a woman 5 foot 5 inches tall should have a 26 inch waist and 35 inch hips. There is no mention in that pre-implant era of what the ideal bust size should be.

Here's a fun and healthful family activity suggested by the author--Mom should dress up in a toga and pose as various statues while the children photograph her.

As noted on the title page, a major topic is "The Diseases Peculiar to Women," including hysteria: ". . .an affection peculiar to women of a nervous or nervous-sanguine temperament, with cheerful, lively and ardent dispositions. It takes its name from the Greek word meaning the womb..." and "the patient bursts into a fit of weeping, soon to be followed by convulsive laughter." Treatment included ignatia, macrotin, and pulsatilla. Exercise, deep breathing, and outdoor life were also recommended.

The author advocates baths of various kinds, including the unpleasant-looking nasal bath below, for a variety of maladies. In an era when medications were largely ineffective and somethimes harmful, this may have been a good idea.

The book doesn't confine itself to perfection of the woman. One of a woman's duties is to produce perfect children. And so we have "The Perfect Boy." It seems the bar was set much higher for women.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Most Boring Book Ever Written

William James Sidis (1898-1944) was an enigmatic character and a child prodigy. He spoke his first word ("door") at six months and was reading the New York Times at 18 months. He mastered numerous languages and even created his own language, called Vendergood. At age 9, he lectured the Harvard math club about the fourth dimension and entered Harvard as a student at age 11. Although his IQ was never formally tested, it has been estimated it was in the range of 250-300. His father Boris, a psychologist, and his mother Sarah, who graduated from medical school but never practiced, claimed their child-rearing methods were responsible for their son's genius. Despite his early promise, after an abortive attempt at teaching math at Rice in Houston, William James Sidis avoided academia as an adult. His preferred job was operating a comptometer, a calculating machine at which he was quite adept, but which did not require significant mental exertion on his part. He refused to take a job with any potential for promotion, and lived alone in a modest furnished apartment in Boston. His story is fascinating, and I would refer the interested reader to the biography, The Prodigy, by Amy Wallace.

Sidis received a lot of negative press for his eccentricity and perceived lack of success in life. He did, however, write extensively, usually under pseudonyms, on a variety of topics, including cosmology, history, and language. Only two of his book-length manuscripts were published. The first, The Animate and the Inanimate, which was published with the author's real name, predicted the presence of black holes. The second book, Notes on the Collection of Transfers, is a 300-page tome about peridromophilia, Sidis' peculiar hobby of collecting street car transfers. Sidis used the nom de plume Frank Falupa when he wrote the book. In The Prodigy, Amy Wallace states, "This book is arguably the most boring book ever written." In it, Sidis describes in excructiating detail the principles behind transfers, their physical appearance, and even how to collect discarded transfers off the street. For instance, if the paper transfer is frozen in ice, it is better to chip out the ticket and surrounding ice and take it home to thaw out, rather than to risk damage by trying to peel the paper off the ice on site.

And so forth.

Wallace mentions a few other contenders for the honor of most boring book. Nothing, by Methela, consisted of 200 blank pages. The Feminin Monarchi, written by Charles Butler in 1634, was a history of bees in phonetic spelling.

And so forth.

Now, there is a book--a book that has already been hailed as having the the oddest title of the last thirty years--with soporific potential which may approach that of Notes on the Collection of Transfers. As The Guardian reported on September 5, 2008:

The people have spoken and the oddest book title of the past 30 years has been selected: Greek Rural Postmen and their Cancellation Numbers. The impenetrable-sounding book, a comprehensive record of Greece's postal routes, is published by the Greek Hellenic Philatelic Society of Great Britain, which "exists to encourage the collection of Greek stamps and to promote their study".

In previous posts, I have mentioned the Diagram Prize, awarded annually by Bookseller magazine for the oddest book title of the year. This year, Bookseller awarded the Diagram of Diagrams to the book with the oddest title of the last 30 years. While the cover of Greek Rural Postmen and their Cancellation Numbers looks equally as boring as the cover of Notes on the Collection of Transfers, I'm not sure the scant 72 pages of text of the newer book can seriously challenge the 300 pages of Sidis' work. If any readers of this blog have access to these books and the stamina to slog through both, please report back.

Click on this link to see a gallery of some of the past annual Diagram winners which were considered for the Diagram of Diagrams Prize.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


While going through a box of old snapshots, it occurred to me I should be scanning some of these old photos before they and I deteriorate any further. Here are a couple of undated photos of my grandfather, Lee R. Cory, farming with horses. This would have been before my time, when he was using two Ford tractors for farm work.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mr. Conrad

While catching up on some podcasts of The Writer's Almanac on the way to the dentist for a root canal today, I learned that December 3 is the birthday of Joseph Conrad, who coined the phrase "lugubrious drollery." Happy belated birthday, Joe, dead though you have been since 1924.

Joseph Conrad said, "My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything."

Merry Christmas, Mr. President

I just got a new macro lens and was playing around with it today. Here are a couple pictures of the official White House Christmas ornament for 1997, commemorating Franklin Pierce.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Giant Fruit in Southern Indiana

In an earlier post, I wrote about the Big Peach, a peculiar roadside landmark along US 41 near Bruceville, Indiana.

I would like to add a picture of another monument to fruit further south on 41, in Gibson County--the Giant Strawberry. It looks forlorn and sits among a patch of weeds in a field. I think it once marked a strawberry farm, but now just sits there with no indication of its history.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Yellowstone Moose

Many years ago, on a family vacation out west, I took this picture of a moose in Yellowstone National Park. Mary showed me the print the other day, and I decided to use it as an exercise in my continuing attempt to learn to use Photoshop Elements. I imported the print with a flatbed scanner, and using layers, converted the background to black and white, and adjusted the color and lighting of the moose. The moose was covered with lots of white specks on the original. I clone stamped out some, and left some, to maintain the antique look of the picture.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Hall of Mirrors

During a recent trip to Chicago, my photography tended toward a theme of reflections.

Self Portrait #1 in Funhouse Mirror - Navy Pier

Self Portrait #2 in Funhouse Mirror - Navy Pier

Cloud Gate, Millenium Park

Mary at Cloud Gate

Cloud Gate Reflection

Photographer and Ice, Cloud Gate, Millenium Park

All this reminded me of a shot I took at Harlaxtan Manor, Grantham, England in October:


Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Great Pierce Barbecue of 1852

The occasion of Franklin Pierce's 204th birthday on November 23, 2008 prompted me to take to the Misinformation Superhighway, otherwise known as the internet, to see what new facts or fallacies I might learn about our obscure yet intriguing fourteenth President. A search on his name led me to the Voir Dire Blog, which regularly features "This Day in Presidential History" articles. The entry for the 23rd included the following about the "Pierce Barbecue Pit" in Hillborough, NH, Pierce's hometown:
Located just beyond the famed Kemps Truck “museums” (open exhibit, and can be found on River Street, the first right). The remains of this stone pit were used for Benjamin Pierce’s annual barbecue, and to stage a huge celebration to send Franklin off to Washington.
Clicking a link to the source of the quote, I found that these words were from a pdf file, "The Franklin Pierce Highway: NH 9," published by the Franklin Pierce Bicentennial Web Site. This brief, ambiguous, poorly-written paragraph left me with more questions than answers. What is the meaning of "open exhibit, and can be found on River Street, the first right?" Did Franklin's father Benjamin really have an annual barbecue? Or did some other Benjamin Pierce have an annual barbecue in the remains of the stone pit? Was there really a huge celebration to send Franklin off to Washington? Which time--when he went to Washington as a Congressman, a Senator, or President? He left New Hampshire for Washington in Febuary 1853 to prepare for his March inauguration, and it seems unlikely that a barbecue would be a popular event in the dead of a New England Winter.

My first task was to find out about the Kemp Truck Museum. I had the great good fortune, via Google, of finding Steve Davidson's blog, Crotchety Old Fan. The main focus of Steve's blog is science fiction, but he happened to write about a collection of antique radios and televisions in his hometown of Hillborough, NH, and at the end of the article he also mentioned a Linn van parked at the Kemp Truck Museum, which, Steve stated, was about two blocks from his house. Incredible!

I promptly emailed Steve to see if he would take a picture of the barbecue site for me. He was very accommodating and agreed to take pictures, although he had never seen the remains of the barbecue. More Googling on my part ensued. I was able to find a panoramic map of Hillsborough in 1884. The final item (circled in red below) in a list of 28 local features on the map was "Old Oven Built for Pierce Barbecue 1852." Bingo!

I was also able to locate, at Google Books, a digital copy of The History of Hillsborough, New Hampshire, 1735-1921, Vol. 1, by George Waldo Browne. There I found not only a description of the barbecue, but a picture of the oven, which at some point between the 1852 event and the publication of the book in 1921 had been restored by the local chapter of the DAR.

Further investigation revealed that the barbecue was not held to celebrate Franklin Pierce's departure for Washington, but was a campaign rally held on August 19, 1852. As many as 25,000 people attended the event, although opposition newspapers estimated the crowd at 10 to 12 thousand. A stage 60 by 120 feet and five feet high was built for the numerous speakers who appeared, a large tent was erected, and arrangements were made to provide the attendees with plenty of food and drink. Three thousand pounds of bread were ordered to feed the crowd. At least one, and possibly more, cattle were slaughtered to be cooked in the oven, which, according to the panoramic map description, was specially constructed for the event, and according to one biography of Pierce, was not used again. I could find no documentation that Benjamin Pierce had anything to do with the construction or use of the oven.

As promised, armed with the map, Steve was able to locate the Old Oven, on the banks of the Contoocook River, right next to the Kemp Truck Museum.

Photo Credit: Steve Davidson

The moral of our story: The internet is an uncontrolled mishmash of misinformation, but also a tool for discovery of the truth. Use it wisely, and you will be rewarded.

Hair Force One, Part 3 or Hair to the Chief

Statue of Franklin Pierce, prior to installation on the statehouse lawn at Concord, NH

In previous posts, I have discussed Franklin Pierce's hair, a topic which has fascinated historians and sparked spirited debate among cosmetologists for decades. I can't take full credit for the title of the current post. An occasional reader of this blog, Daniel P. Cory JD (an abbreviation which once may have stood for juvenile delinquent, but now indicates he is a full-fledged lawyer), suggested the title "Hair to the Chief" when commenting on one of the said previous posts. I was conflicted as to whether to use that as the title of the current missive, or to use "Hair Force One, Part 3," since two previous posts were "Hair Force One" and "Hair Force One, Part 2." I have gotten some hits to the blog via Google from people searching for Hair Force One. I assume most of them are looking for a heavy metal band by that name. Unfortunately, I just made a disturbing discovery by Googling "Hair Force One 3" myself. Topping the list of links is a site selling a series of adult movies entitled "Hair Force One." So maybe some of those people who land here via Google are looking for something other than loud music. Whatever. If it means more page views, I'll continue to use the phrase.

But, as usual, I digress.

I decided to follow the shining example of the writers of the 1960s cartoon, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and use both titles, as they frequently did. Examples include:

Axe Me Another or Heads You Lose!
Avalanche is Better Than None or Snows Your Old Man
The Deep Six or The Old Moose and the Sea

And on and on. Brilliant!

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, the hair of Franklin Pierce, 14th President of the USA. While researching another Pierce topic, soon to be revealed in a separate post, I found an article in the May 19, 1900 Fitchburg (Mass) Daily Sentinel in which F.C. Currier writes about meeting Franklin Pierce during the Presidential campaign of 1852. Currier described Pierce as follows:

He was tall and of slender build, with erect, military bearing, black hair, standing up somewhat in curls.
So there you have it. Another foray into the obscure. Hair today and gone tomorrow! Hey wait a minute! It's another title. . .

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Happy Birthday, Franklin Pierce

Almost let the day get by without mentioning Franklin Pierce was born November 23, 1804 in a log cabin in New Hampshire. The house above is the one in Hillsborough where the family moved shortly after Franklin's birth.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Hawthorn Berries

Heavy Laden

Snow on the Nose

Squirrel Waiting on the Peanut Feeder

Titmouse and Female Junco

Tufted Titmouse

Where Did I Hide That Nut?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Autumn Images


Hawthorn Berries

Backyard Pond

Squirrel in a Kousa Dogwood

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sarah Palin Progresses Her Political Ambition at the Expense of the English Language

PALIN: It would be my honor to assist and support our new president and the new administration, yes. And I speak for other Republicans, other Republican governors also, they being willing also to, again, seize this opportunity that we have to progress this nation together, a united front.

Thus spake Sarah Palin (pictured above in Kuwait in 2007 after she acquired her first honest-to-goodness U.S. Passport) in a recent interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. Sarah, please, PROGRESS IS AN INTRANSITIVE VERB! Please, please, please, just shut up and go back to Alaska!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Portrait of the Artist as a Middle-Aged Man

For some unknown reason, I have been thinking I should post this self portrait dated 12/28/99 (my flatbed scanner isn't big enough to get the date in the image). This drawing has been languishing in a sketchbook I bought back when I was reading Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I didn't get beyond this part of the book. Maybe some day I'll try it again.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Earliest Recorded Use of "Yada Yada Yada?"

The phrase "Yada Yada Yada" was popularized by an episode of the TV series Seinfeld in 1997, but several sources say it can be traced back to the comedian Lenny Bruce in the 1950s, and probably goes back to vaudeville days. This morning, with the iPod on shuffle, I heard "In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree" recorded on Decca by Louis Armstrong and the Mills Brothers in 1937. At 1:44 into the song, as Louis takes a solo, the Mills Brothers break in with "Yada Yada Yada." OK, it's just a nonsense filler, and not used as a substitute for a detailed description of something, as it was in the Seinfeld episode, but there it is.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Lowly Burdock

Here's a picture taken this past summer in a patch of burdock at the edge of the woods behind our house. The deer are not interested in eating the plant, so it thrives. A tiny spider spun its web on one of the plants, casting its shadow on a leaf below.

And now the large leaves have fallen from the burdock, and the prickly seed pods are left.

For a very cool digital image of the microscopic structure of a burdock seed pod, check out Dennis Kunkel's Microscopic World.


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