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Today is Armistice Day Armistice Day which marks the armistice signed on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 between the Allies of World War I and Germany to end World War I – the “war to end all wars.” It is also known as Remembrance Day and Veterans Day.

But 1918 was also the year of another kind of worldwide war against the Spanish influenza pandemic. There is no special day to mark this and I doubt that many Americans today know about it or think about it. You may have gone last month for your flu shot, but never thought about the fact that October 1918 was the deadliest month in United States history. 195,000 Americans died in that one month as a result of influenza.

Influenza ward at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington DC, 1918

By the time the pandemic had run its course, an estimated 500,000 Americans had died of the flu. It is hard to grasp that number. It is more deaths than the American combat fatalities in all the wars of the 20th century combined. And worldwide, the flu may have claimed as many as 100 million lives.

My mother was born in December of that year and it was feared that she or her mother might get the flu. The start of that flu season was in March with the first recorded case being a mess cook in Fort Riley, Kansas. There are still several hypotheses about how and where the flu pandemic began and no conclusive answer.

Though it became known as the “Spanish flu,” it did not originate in Spain. Spain seemed at the time to be particularly hard hit by the virus. I say “seemed” because the Spanish media covered it extensively, but the United States, the UK, France, and Germany deliberately underplayed the virus’ effect in hopes of keeping up wartime morale. Many Americans thought, as with many military wars, that it was something happening far from our shores.

Recent studies of the incomplete medical records from the time seem to show that this viral infection itself was not more aggressive than any previous influenza. Oddly, it seemed to affect healthy people more than would have been expected. Rather, factors such as malnourishment, overcrowded medical camps and hospitals and poor hygiene promoted bacterial superinfection which killed most of the victims after a prolonged period.

There was what was called a “second wave” that year of the same virus. We know it was the same strain because those who had survived a first infection had immunity in a second exposure. But after the lethal second wave struck in late 1918, new cases mysteriously dropped abruptly.

In Philadelphia, 4,597 people died in the week ending October 16, but by Armistice day influenza had almost disappeared from the city. No one is certain why. Did doctors get better at preventing and treating the pneumonia that developed after the victims had contracted the virus? Did the virus mutate extremely rapidly to a less lethal strain?

Could it happen again? That is the stuff of movies, like Outbreak, Contagion and World War Z, all of which make reference to the 1918 pandemic. Certainly our medical knowledge and treatments are much better today. Research done in 2007 reported that monkeys infected with the recreated flu strain has the same symptoms of the 1918 pandemic. They died from what is called a cytokine storm, which is when there is an overreaction of the immune system. That may explain why is may explain why the 1918 flu had a surprising powerful effect on younger, healthier people. A person with a stronger immune system would ironically have a potentially stronger overreaction than a less healthy person.

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eclipse from space

From space, the Moon’s shadow during a solar eclipse appears as a dark spot moving across the Earth. – NASA Earth Observatory

Get your t-shirts and protective eyewear because The Great American Solar Eclipse will arrive on Monday!

This Sea-To-Shining-Sea Solar Eclipse is rare in that it is visible across the country, although only total along a narrow path. The eclipse will begin over the Pacific Ocean at 8:46 am Pacific Time. Moving inland, it will reach the western border of Idaho at 10:10 am, Wyoming at 10:16 am, and Nebraska at 10:25 am local time. It will cross northeastern Kansas starting at 11:36 am local time), Missouri (11:46 am), southern Illinois (11:52 am), western Kentucky (11:56 am), Tennessee (11:58 am), northeastern Georgia (1:07 pm). It will pass over Charleston, South Carolina at 1:13 pm and then pass over the Atlantic Ocean.

Where I will be in New Jersey on Monday, which is north of the path of totality, the sun will appear partially eclipsed with about 73% of the sun being covered by the Moon which will still be an incredible sight. I will see the effect of the eclipse from 1:16 pm to 4:09 pm ET.

Here is a tool that will allow you to see how and when the eclipse will look based on your zip code.

The Moon will pass between Earth and the Sun, and blocking all direct sunlight. It will turn day into darkness in varying degrees depending on where you are viewing.

You probably have not seen a total solar eclipse if you have lived in the United States. The solar eclipses that were total in the past 100 years were either not visible here or only visible in a few locations.

But I certainly remember them occurring. One that stands out in my memory was on March 7, 1970. It wasn’t total where I was that day in New Jersey. From central Florida, the path went up the coast through Virginia’s Eastern Shore.  Two years later, Carly Simon referred to it in “You’re So Vain” when she sang  “You flew your Lear jet up to Nova Scotia – to see the total eclipse of the sun.”

If you are in the path of totality or off to the side and planning to watch the Sun, you will need eye protection. According to NASA, it is safe to look at a total solar eclipse with the naked eye only when the face of the sun is totally obscured by the Moon. Check out this article on space.com for more information.

I am fascinated by the records of historical eclipses. They are often used to try to more accurately date events.

A solar eclipse of June 15, 763 BC mentioned in an Assyrian text is important for the Chronology of the Ancient Orient.

The ancients interpreted all eclipses, lunar or solar, as omens or portents. But the solar eclipses are certainly more dramatic and jarring and enter the mythology of many cultures.

Who was eating the Sun? In Vietnam, people believed that a solar eclipse was caused by a giant frog devouring the Sun. Norse cultures blamed wolves, in Korea it was dogs, and in ancient China, it was a celestial dragon. The Chinese word for an eclipse, chih or shih, means to eat.

In Hindu mythology, the deity Rahu is beheaded by the gods for capturing and drinking Amrita, the gods’ nectar. Rahu’s head flies off into the sky and swallows the Sun causing an eclipse.

Greek historian Herodotus wrote that Thales of Miletus predicted an eclipse that occurred during a battle between the Medes and the Lydians. Both sides put down their weapons and declared peace as a result of the eclipse. That exact eclipse remains uncertain, but a candidate is one on May 28, 585 BC.

Historians trying to establish the exact date of Good Friday have tried using the darkness described at Jesus’s crucifixion as a possible solar eclipse. This has not been successful since Good Friday is recorded as being at Passover, which is held at the time of a full moon and solar eclipses are connected to a New Moon like the one on Monday. Also, the Bible says that the darkness lasted from the sixth hour to the ninth, and three hours is way too long a time. Totality maxes out at about 8 minutes, although the partial darkness can last much longer.

We don’t have many reliable records of eclipses before 800 AD. The recording begins with Arab and monastic observations in the early medieval period.

The first recorded observation of the corona was made in Constantinople in 968 AD. The first known telescopic observation of a total solar eclipse was made in France in 1706. English astronomer Edmund Halley accurately predicted and observed the solar eclipse of May 3, 1715.

Black Sun

Totality’s end in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway – photo by György Soponyai via Flickr

The Black Sun was the name given to a solar eclipse in Mesoamerican mythology. It had mystical meanings and was connected to the god Quetzalcoatl and his entry into the Underworld. For these ancients, there were two suns, the young Day Sun and the ancient Dark Sun. Some scholars regard the mythological Black Sun not as not only a thing to fear, but as the ancient female origin of all. It is both tomb and womb and its oneness integrates death and the expectation of birth.

If you get to observe this solar eclipse in person, you’ll have something to tell the next generation. And you will be able to perhaps understand in some small way the wonder that must have filled ancient observers.

map

Portion of map including Roanoke Island, drawn by John White during his initial visit in 1585

There are lots of stories in history of people disappearing with a trace. There are even tales of groups of people, ships, and airplanes vanishing and never being found. I am fascinated by things like “ghost ships.”  A ghost or phantom ship has no living crew aboard. I have read about the fictional Flying Dutchman and a real ghost ship found adrift with its crew missing or dead, like the Mary Celeste.

But there are few cases of entire lost cities,. I have read about lost cities in South American jungles suddenly and inexplicably being abandoned with no sign of where the inhabitants went. But what about one closer to Paradelle? That is the story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke  .

The story begins in 1584 when Queen Elizabeth I granted Sir Walter Raleigh a charter for the colonization of the area of North America. For the purposes of history’s timeline, let’s look back at that time. The year before, The Queen’s Company of actors was formed in London. In 1584, playwright Christopher Marlowe received his a bachelor’s degree. The year after the Virginia colony of Roanoke Island was established by Sir Walter Raleigh, the twins, Hamnet and Judith, were born  to Anne and William Shakespeare.

That royal charter specified that Raleigh needed to establish a colony in North America, or lose his right to colonization. They were hoping to “discover, search, find out, and view such remote heathen and barbarous Lands, Countries, and territories … to have, hold, occupy, and enjoy” and establish a base from which to send privateers on raids against the treasure fleets of Spain

Raleigh dispatched an exploratory expedition that arrived on Roanoke Island on July 4. They established relations with the local natives, the Secotans and Croatoans. Two Croatoans returned with the crew and based on the information given, Raleigh organized a second expedition, to be led by Sir Richard Grenville.

After a rather questionable start on the island, Grenville still decided to leave 108 men to establish a colony at the north end of Roanoke Island and promised to return in April 1586 with more men and fresh supplies.

April 1586 passed and there was no sign of Grenville’s relief fleet. In June, after the colonists stupidly avenged a minor theft by the natives by destroying their village, there was an attack on the fort by the local Native Americans. The colonists were able to repel the natives, and soon after the attack, Sir Francis Drake on his way home from a successful raid in the Caribbean, stopped at the colony and offered to take the colonists back to England.

Several colonists took the offer and returned along with a cargo of new world new things: tobacco, maize, and potatoes. Grenville arrived shortly after Drake’s departure. He found the colony abandoned with no explanation.

Grenville returned to England, leaving behind a small detachment of fifteen men both to maintain an English presence and to protect Raleigh’s claim to Roanoke Island.

In 1587, Raleigh sent a new group of 115 colonists to establish a colony on Chesapeake Bay led by John White who was appointed governor of the colony. They were ordered to stop at Roanoke to pick up the small contingent left there by Grenville the previous year. But when they arrived on July 22, 1587, they found nothing except a skeleton that may have been the remains of one of the English garrison.

The master pilot of the fleet refused to let the colonists return to the ships, insisting that they establish the new colony on Roanoke rather than the Chesapeake Bay destination. The new colonists re-established relations with the Croatoan and other local tribes – except for those with whom the earlier colonists had with.

The colonists persuaded their Governor White to return to England to ask for help. Left behind were about 115 colonists. This had been the first group of colonists that consisted of men and women. White left behind his newly born granddaughter Virginia Dare, who is the first English child born in the Americas.

 

White was unable to find a ship to return to the colony because England was at war with Spain, and every seaworthy ship was claimed to fight the Spanish Armada.

White didn’t return to Roanoke Island for nearly three years. When he returned in 1590, he found the settlement deserted, and all the buildings taken down.

Where did they go? The only clues were the letters CRO carved into a tree, and the word CROATOAN carved into a stockade post.

There were no signs of sickness or violence. White had instructed them that if anything happened to them, they should carve a Maltese cross on a tree nearby, indicating that their disappearance had been forced. There was no cross.

The crew interpreted the message left to mean they had moved to Croatoan Island (now known as Hatteras Island). That made sense because they had already lived there and had a strong relationship with the natives.

Hatteras or  Croatoan Island is a barrier island located off the North Carolina coast. It is part of North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

White was unable to conduct a thorough search due to a massive storm that caused his crew to refuse to go any further. The next day, they left without looking further for the colonists.

There are several theories about why the Roanoke Colony became the Lost Colony. One theory is the colonists were slaughtered by Chief Powhatan. But no bodies were found and no archaeological evidence has been found to support this claim, though the massacre described by Powhatan might have been of the 15 people left behind by the first Roanoke expedition.

Another theory is that the colonists migrated with the Indians toward the interior of North Carolina.

One that seems to have good evidence is that the colony’s remaining survivors sought shelter with the Chowanoke tribe to survive. That tribe was attacked by another tribe that has been identified as the “Mandoag” (an Algonquian word that was generically used to identify an enemy nations) or the Tuscarora (Iroquois-speaking) or the Eno, also known as the Wainoke. Evidence for this theory points to the “Zuniga Map” drawn about 1607 by the Jamestown settler Francis Nelson. The map says “four men clothed that came from roonock” were living in an Iroquois site. A history written by another Jamestown colonist reported that the Indian settlements of Peccarecanick and Ochanahoen had two-story houses with stone walls that were designed by Roanoke settlers.

The Hatteras Indians spent a good amount of time living on “Ronoak-Island” and told stories that their ancestors were white people. The Hatteras were found to have gray eyes which does not occur with other Native Americans.

Another possibility is that the colonists tried to return to England on their own using  a pinnace and several small ships they were left for coastal exploration. They were ill-prepared for an ocean crossing and perished.

Less likely theories include that the Spanish destroyed the colony. Earlier the Spanish had destroyed French colonies at Fort Charles (South Carolina) and Fort Caroline (Florida) but the Spanish recorded that they were looking for the location of England’s failed colony as late as 1600, ten years after the colony was reported to be missing.

In the late 1930s, a series of stones were “discovered” that claimed to have been written by Eleanor Dare, mother of Virginia Dare, telling about where the colonists traveled and their end. But most historians believe that they are a fraud.

Unfortunately, there is not much archaeological evidence due to shoreline erosion on the island.  A fort was found on the north shore and the settlement was assumed to be nearby. The northern shore, between 1851 and 1970, lost 928 feet because of erosion. Assuming erosion to have been similar in the time leading up to and following the brief life of the settlement,  the site of any dwellings is under water.

But we don’t know for sure.

Earlier I read  A Brave Vessel which inspired me to write one of my daily poems about the anniversary of the landing of the settlers who would found the Jamestown settlement. The age of exploration is one of my favorite periods of history.

Today, Hatteras Island is known for sport fishing, surfing, windsurfing and kiteboarding, and is known as “the blue marlin capital of the world.”

Have we given up on the Roanoke mystery? No, the Lost Colony of Roanoke DNA Project was founded in 2007 to try to solve the mystery of the Lost Colony using historical records, migration patterns, oral histories and DNA testing. As of 2016, they have not yet been able to positively identify any descendants of the colony.



The finding of Raleigh’s lost colony (1907)

Finding the Lost Colony of Roanoke

rioters

A drawing from a British newspaper showing armed rioters clashing with Union Army soldiers in New York City.

The Writers Almanac taught me that during this week in 1863 the New York City Draft Riots began. I will admit to not even knowing such an event had occurred. It was the bloodiest riot in American history.

Hearing about these riots that happened more than 150 years, a lot of the details seemed much more modern, even contemporary.

The rioters were working-class white men against a new draft law put into place by President Lincoln. The draft was the visible reason for the riot, but there was more going on.

There is something about a long, hot summer that seems to feed riots.

The only riots I have ever experienced were the 1967 Newark, New Jersey riots. They happened this same time of summer (between July 12 and July 17). It was four days of rioting, looting, and destruction. It left 26 dead and hundreds injured.

The Newark riots took place in a time of police racial profiling, redlining, and lack of opportunity in education, training, and jobs. That sounds contemporary.

On that 1863 hot summer during the height of the Civil War, the richest New Yorkers were making money off the war. Poor people were poorer than usual. There was huge inflation.

A good number of working-class immigrant New Yorkers had signed up to serve in the Union Army. Unemployment was high. Workers kept going on strike, but the strikes were broken.

There were many “sensational” newspapers then and their stories heaped the blame for everything bad on Lincoln, black people, and the new Emancipation Proclamation. With the kinds of stories that always occur before war and revolution, newspapers warned working-class white people that black people would now be moving up from the South in huge numbers and stealing their jobs. They claimed that black men were breaking the strikes.

But the Union Army needed more soldiers. Congress authorized the nation’s first draft law, and on Saturday, July 11th, the lottery began, with a blindfolded clerk pulling names out of a hat.

But the wealthy had an out. For $300 you could buy your way out of the draft. In a time when the average New York City worker earned 85 cents per day, it was the 1% versus the 99% of its time.

A group of  firemen who were drafted decided to protest. They showed up at the draft office with their firetruck full of rocks and threw them through the office windows, burned the draft records, and attacked the officers who worked there. Thousands gathered around the firemen and mob mentality took over.

They pulled up railroad and streetcar tracks, knocked down telephone poles, cut telegraph lines, lit buildings on fire, targeted Lincoln supporters, abolitionists and attacked the offices of The New York Times and The New York Tribune. 

Most of all, the mob targeted African-Americans and their businesses and homes owned by blacks and places associated with them, including the Colored Orphan Asylum. At least 11 black men were murdered.

The Battle of Gettysburg had ended just 10 days before the riots began, and on July 15th, troops were hurried from Gettysburg to New York City to put down the rioting. About 6,000 federal troops were eventually there and the riot ended.

The official death toll was conservatively listed as 119. About 20% of  African-Americans left New York City for Brooklyn or beyond the boroughs because of the riots.

That long, hot summer of 1967 caught fire in Newark when two white Newark policemen arrested a black cabdriver. The cabbie was beaten by the officers and taken to the 4th Police Precinct where he was charged with assaulting the officers and making insulting remarks. Local residents saw the cabbie being dragged into the precinct. A rumor started that he had been killed while in police custody.

Actually the driver, John Smith, had been released in the custody of his lawyer. But police rushed out of their station wearing hard hats and carrying clubs and residents gathered there in protest began to throw bricks, bottles, and rocks. The protest moved to City Hall and after midnight false alarms caused fire engines to concentrate on an area along Belmont Avenue in one of the poorest areas of the city. Looters began smashing windows, and threw merchandise onto sidewalks and particularly looted liquor stores.

During this same period, rioting erupted in Plainfield, New Jersey, a city about 18 miles southwest of Newark, that also had a large African-American population and similar conditions.

The riots didn’t improve conditions in Newark, as the NYC riots didn’t stop the draft or improve conditions. The Newark riots began a deeper decline of Newark and its neighboring communities. In the remaining 1960s and continuing into the 1970s, businesses, industry and the white middle class left the city.

I noted that yesterday was the day in 1613 that Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre burned to the ground. It wasn’t arson. The thatched roof caught on fire after a theatrical cannon misfired during a production of Henry VIII. No one died, but the home of Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, was gone.

That’s history, but what felt more contemporary to me in that story is that after it was rebuilt in 1614, it was closed down in 1642. The Puritans closed all the theaters in London that year. I thought about that and the recent controversy over a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in New York’s Central Park. Caesar was portrayed as a Donald Trump character and, of course he is assassinated by his own senators.

Thankfully, though there were protests, no one burned down the theater. But the media was afire with the topic. Some people pointed out that this updating of Caesar in portrayal without changing the play’s text is not new. Orson Welles did a famous production with Caesar as Hitler. A few years ago a production had a clearly Barack Obama lead and last year a Hillary Clinton female Caesar walked the stage in a white pantsuit and was assassinated. Those two productions didn’t get much media attention.

The Puritans were a Protestant religious faction and another kind of reformed, plain church, strict religious view. At the end of the Elizabethan era, this conservatism went beyond religion to many social activities within England. The Puritans hated theater.

That they were able to close all the theaters should be more shocking to us than it probably seems to most people today. Imagine if the government, pressured by a religion, was able to shut down the theaters for plays (and films?) today. Is it possible?

There is too much anger and ugliness in American politics today, but we still say we value freedom of speech and expression.

Sometimes it feels like our globe is on fire with wars, terrorism and tragedies manmade.

The Globe Theater was pulled down two years after it was closed. It was rebuilt much like its earlier incarnation (with concessions for current safety) more than 350 years later. It operates today and we are still seeing updated productions of Shakespeare’s plays that resonate with issues of the day. That is how it should be.

The Assassination of Julius Caesar

Vincenzo Camuccini (1771–1844) The Assassination of Julius Caesar

Apples – there are 7,500 varieties in an assortment of colors and tastes and textures. They are standard fruits in our stores and enter figuratively into our literature and culture. Thor and the other Asgardian gods relied on apples. They have been found in prehistoric graves and in the middens of bronze age settlements. The Greeks, Romans and Egyptians were all early cultivators. The Tudors had apple cultivators in their royal orchards.

What is the apple’s origin? Some might guess that they emerged from some Garden of Eden. Most scholars of the Bible agree that “apple” is a translation and other fruits or even just the generic “fruit” is closer to the original meaning. Very few people would say the origin is in Kazakhstan.

The plant is Malus sieversii. It is a wild apple, of which there are few left in the world. Kazakhstan is still pretty undeveloped but new development now threatens these wild apples with possible extinction. Not only building, but using the tree’s wood for that building is a threat.

 

The Turkish word for apple is “alma” and the fruit is strong in their culture. One of their biggest cities is named Almaty, and you will find apples abundant in their grocery stores and at roadside stands.

The range for  M. sieversii is sometimes known as an “Eden of Apples” and covers Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan,  Uzbekhistan (former Soviet republics) and a narrow area of China. Wild apples evolved in the “Fruit Forest” that once was a vast tract of land covering nearly all of what is now Eastern Europe and into Asia.

These wild apples, like most heirloom fruits and vegetables, aren’t what Americans want and find in their supermarkets. One clear difference. They are small, unlike the ones we tend to buy that have been bred to be big. In Turkish stores, they are sold fresh and often have leaves intact on their stems.

Traditionally, apples were used fresh, preserved and used for cider, and the “windfalls” (those that fall and are not eaten by humans) are common feed for pigs.

 

M. sierversii along with  M. sylvestris, another variety that is not very tasty and rarely eaten by anyone but deer, are probably the two varieties that started things off. More than 3,000 years ago, the European crab apple and the wild Kazakh apple were crossbred and led to the many varieties we know today.

 

 

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