Posts Tagged ‘history’

Pleb Summer: Pink Lemonade

Thursday, August 10th, 2017

It’s summertime, which means it’s time for trips to the beach house, a cross-country road trip, or travel to exotic vacation destinations.

But for those of us who can’t spare the time or the money to make a getaway, it’s PlebSummer! We’re posting this summer about summer for the rest of us.

Pleb summer is all about finding cheap and relaxing ways to escape the heat. One of the most popular ways to do this (and one of the least expensive) is to pour a nice, cold glass of lemonade. But if you find yourself reaching for the pink lemonade (c’mon millennials – we’re looking at you), it may interest you to know the history of this beverage.

While traditional lemonade can trace its start in America back to the 17th century, the pink variety dates to the 19th century. Though it is hard to confirm the exact origin; most stories place the genesis of this beverage in the circus. One story claims that Henry E. Allot (a man who actually ran away to join the circus) accidentally dropped some red cinnamon candies into a batch of lemonade he was preparing to sell. Instead of making a new vat, he simply sold the pink lemonade.

A similar, albeit slightly more disgusting, tale is linked to Pete Conklin, but in this version the role of the candy is played by pink-tights. Conklin used a tub to make lemonade that had just been used by a female performer to wash her laundry. Instead of dumping the discolored drink he passed it off as “strawberry flavored.” Yum.

Not pictured: dirty laundry

As for how our pink lemonade gets its color today, the answer is slightly surprising. Pink lemons are real (and were discovered in Eureka, California in the 1930s), but their juice is clear, like any other lemon. And while homemade pink lemonade is often made with strawberries, raspberries, or cranberries – the store bought varieties are usually tinted with grape extract. To be fair, all of that sounds better than dirty laundry water.

Travel Delays c. 1066

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

On September 27, 1066, William the Conqueror and his fleet set out for England.


William’s forces had been ready since July, but strong north winds prevented them setting sail. The winds eventually shifted, but once William’s ships were at sea, the weather turned again and they were forced back. Many of his ships wrecked along the coast of Normandy near Saint-Valery and the shore became littered with the bodies of William’s drowned men.

Morale was pretty low after that.

To raise the men’s spirits, William exhumed the body of Saint Valery, presented it to his crew, and asked the Saint for a favorable wind. That night, the wind changed, so the ships were off and the rest is history.

William’s troubles may have been hard on him and his troops, but they were nothing to those of the English King Harold. In early September, the Vikings launched a surprise attack and forced Harold and his troops North. This left the Southern coast of England completely vulnerable to, say, a conqueror.

Had William attacked in July as he’d planned, his army would have faced much more resistance. On the other hand, the drowned sailors would have been perkier.

It’s hard to know which life lesson to take away, but we’ll give it a shot:

Today, take a moment to reflect on any important step you plan to take in your life. Always be on the look-out for Vikings.

Are you facing delays? Be patient. A delay might lead to a favorable outcome.

(Plan B: exhume a Saint.)

Winter Wonderland: Happy Birthday Lewis (and Wolfgang, Wilhelm and Wilhelm)

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

This Winter, we are posting about Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland books.

And today is Lewis Carroll’s birthday. But it’s also Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s birthday, F. W. J. Schelling’s birthday and Kaiser Wilhelm II’s birthday!


These four famous men had more in common than just a shared birthday. Here’s some of those commonalities:

Lewis Carroll was born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and adopted Lewis Carroll as a pen name.

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling was born Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling. The “von” was added when he was ennobled.

Kaiser Wilhelm II was born Frederick Wilhelm Viktor Abrecht von Preußen. The “Kaiser” and “II” came later.

Kaiser Wilhelm II was the eldest grandchild of Queen Victoria.

Alice Liddell, the real-life Alice from Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, was courted by Queen Victoria’s youngest son.

Mozart dedicated an aria to his pet Pomeranian and Queen Victoria was crazy about Pomeranians (although the breed of dog she imported from Florence – the Italian Vopino – is now classified as a Spitz and not a Pomeranian).

Schelling gave lectures concerning India, its mythology and philosophy and Victoria was Empress of India.

W. J. Schelling was a German philosopher.

Kaiser Wilhelm was a German ruler.

Mozart spoke German (but he was Austrian).

Lewis Carroll visited Germany on the only trip he took abroad.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the greatest master of the Classical style.

Schelling was one of the greatest Idealists (along with Fichte and Hegel).

Lewis Carroll is the epitome of a Victorian-era icon.

Kaiser Wilhelm II liked wearing fancy medals, had a crush on his cousin, and was a hunting enthusiast.

Carroll suffered from many ailments. A fever as a child left him deaf in one ear. Whooping cough at age 17 led to a chronic weak chest. And he had a stammer.

Wilhelm II had a withered arm from birth.

The characters from Carroll’s Wonderland books were immortalized by illustrator John Tenniel.

Kaiser Wilhelm is pictured in one of Tenniel’s most famous political cartoons.


Wilhelm watches Bismarck leave the ship of state in Tenneil’s “Dropping the Pilot”

Mozart was a master of any art form he put his pen to, and could play in virtually any musical style.

Schelling radically changed his philosophical outlook so many times, it was hard to pin him down.

Besides being a writer, Carroll was a deacon, photographer, mathematician and logician.

Kaiser Wilhelm II was famously spurned by John Bull and Marianne and shunned on the world stage.

Carroll was spurned by the Lidell family and restricted access to their children.


Wilhelm shunned by Britain and France


Mozart was a child prodigy, writing his first composition at age 5, and taking Europe by storm before he was 10.

Schelling was a very gifted child, learning Greek and Latin by age 8, admitted into the theological seminary at age 15, and writing his first philosophical work at 19.

As an adult, Lewis Carroll enjoyed the company of precocious children.

When Wilhelm was 4 years old, he bit his uncle in the leg.

Summer Romance

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015


Away with 18th century rationalism, and three cheers for passion, the mysterious, and the individual!

The Romantic Era (approx 1750-1850, although it is also considered to reach shorter or longer in both directions) came of age through the French Revolution and was forged in the wars of Napoleonic conquest and the Industrial Revolution.

As European political upheavals of the late 18th and early 19th centuries challenged the old aristocratic order and brought the common man to the fore, an intellectual movement that reflected the times was born. Art, music, and literature addressed audiences with the personal voice of the artist, and emotion became more prized than reason. “The artist’s feeling is his law,” wrote German painter Caspar David Friedrich. The Romantic era saw the birth of the “genius” as novelty and virtuosity were celebrated.

In the Romantic era, as society became more mechanized, the modern world was deemed as corrupt and nature and folktales were seen as more “pure.” The spiritual mysticism found in old myths was rekindled, sowing the seeds of nationalism. People looked back towards an idealized past, casting aside the rationality of the present.

This was the era of the exclamation point, of young ladies swooning at poets, of thunderous Beethoven symphonies, of tormented young lovers, of Sturm und Drang.

This summer we’ll be posting about a few of the notable people, events, and achievements of this dramatic – even occasionally melodramatic – era.


Grover + Frances Up in a Tree

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

On June 2, 1886, Stephen “Call Me Grover” Cleveland was the first U.S. President to marry in the White House. You’d think a big splashy society wedding at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would be a dream come true for any girl, but a few of the details sit squarely on the fence between romantic and unsettling:

Grover’s fiancée, Frances Clara Folsom, was the daughter of his deceased law partner.

__ Dreamy

__ Creepy


Grover did not invite Frances to his inauguration, but proposed later that year in secret.

__ Dreamy

__ Creepy


Frances was Grover’s ward for 11 years (not legally).

__ Dreamy

__ Creepy


Grover proposed by mail.

__ Dreamy

__ Creepy


Frances was 21 when they got married. Grover was 49.

__ Dreamy

__ Creepy


The first present Grover bought Frances was a baby carriage (when she was a baby).

__ Dreamy

__ Creepy


When Frances was 49 years old, she married an archeology professor from her alma mater, Wells College.

__ Dreamy

__ Creepy

Oh, the Iron Gall of That King John

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

On May 12, 1215, a group of English barons delivered an ultimatum to the extremely unpopular King John. The real King John – though perhaps not quite as eeeeeeevil as the character portrayed by Claude Rains in The Adventures of Robin Hood, (1938)* – was a schnook.** and his schnookishness led to the signing of the Magna Carta.

The Magna Carta was a revolutionary document granting rights to wealthy, land-owning, highly educated, and privileged gentry. Though that may not seem revolutionary to us, the rights it sought – due process, for example, and equality under the law – at the time were afforded only to monarchs. This expansion of rights was a revelation, even if the Magna Carta did only apply to a fraction of its low-born citizenry.***

But the really interesting part of the Magna Carta was its iron gall ink!

Iron gall ink is full of ingredients like oak galls, gum arabic, and iron sulfate (don’t try making this at home!), water or wine, and gum Arabic. The result is some good-looking ink – black or blue-black or blackish-purple or brownish-black.

Iron gall ink records the work of such great artists and thinkers such as Darwin, Rembrandt, Dickens, J.S. Bach, da Vinci, and Van Gogh. And it was used for important manuscripts and documents, such as drafts of the U.S. Constitution, the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as many sacred texts from Buddhist sutras to the Qur’an to the Bible.

Of course, iron gall ink eats through documents – and it will destroy your favorite fountain pen – but until these valuables are pocked with corrosion, the ink will be beautiful…


It’s pretty but it causes paper and parchment to disintegrate.


*the greatest Robin Hood movie of all time and we will admit of none more worthy

**tried to stage a coup while his brother, King Richard the Lionheart, was being held for ransom by Leopold V, Duke of Austria – long story

***not forgetting that these rights are far from universal 800 years later

April is the Cruelest Month: Maximilien Robespierre

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

In honor of the opening line of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, this April we are celebrating cruel people on the PhLog.

Today’s post is a biggie – the cruelest of the cruel people in a cruel time: Maximilien Robespierre.


Robespierre started out perfectly fine. As a young reformer and revolutionary, he opposed cruel things such as slavery and the death penalty. But once he gained power, that life was over. Robespierre was the architect of the Reign of Terror, which led to the executions of tens of thousands of people without trial, including some of Robespierre’s friends and family. Everyone was potentially an enemy to Robespierre, and what did he do to his enemies? He slaughtered them mercilessly.

Robespierre’s cruelty is notable for its intense brevity. The Reign of Terror lasted a mere 10 months, but the body count and legacy of destruction was huge. Unlike most of the cruel people we’ll be writing about this month, Robespierre met some sort of justice – arrested and sentenced without trial, just like his victims, Robespierre was executed by guillotine, his preferred instrument of terror during his bloody reign.

Hey Pope Gregory, What Day Is It Now?

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

On this day in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII announced a new calendar, modestly named after himself. (Italian astronomer Aloysius Lilius did the actual calculations but he was dead by 1582 so he wan’t around to claim naming rights.) The old, Julian calendar was no more, and the world jumped 10 days into the future – from February 14th to February 24th.

Think about it. Back in 1582, the Pope was so powerful that he could change what day it was, and everyone had to go along with him.

Well, not everyone. Just France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Poland made the switch in 1582. But by 1610 most of Europe was following the Gregorian calendar, and when Great Britain decided it wasn’t all a Catholic plot, and she and her colonies adopted the calendar in 1752, it pretty much became the world’s way of telling the date. There were some hold-outs, though; countries such as China and Russia that didn’t tend to listen to the Pope kept their old calendars. But they eventually gave in. Turkey was the last, joining the world in recognizing the Gregorian calendar in 1926.

But why change the date? The Julian calendar had been in place since 46 BCE and seemed to work fine. In fact, it was a fraction off our current length of 365.4245 days/year, so over time, Easter had been moving disturbingly away from the Spring Solstice. The Pope wanted to move Easter closer to Spring, and there you have it.

So, happy February 24th, everyone!


Pope Gregory XIII dated this document February 24, 1582, and suddenly it was.


Coffee with Your Newspaper?

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

On December 9, 1793, the first daily newspaper in New York City went to press. The paper was called The American Minerva and its masthead proclaimed it “Patroness of Peace, Commerce and the Liberal Arts.” The editor (and proofreader and bookkeeper) was Noah Webster of dictionary fame, bankrolled by Federalists who supported American neutrality.

Maybe you missed it.

If you did, no worries – evidently there wasn’t much news. 125 years later, Editor & Publisher summed up The American Minerva’s inaugural issue: “Nearly half of the space in this issue is concerned with the speech of President George Washington to Congress on December 3, 1793, and with sessions of the Senate and House of Representatives.”

In Webster’s first issue he wrote an “Address to the Public” that stated: “This Paper will be the Friend of Government.”

Early U.S. citizens did not necessarily take political parties in stride; in fact, Webster and others feared they had the potential to fragment the newly-formed union: “A party spirit is as great a curse to society as can befall it; it makes honest men hate each other, and destroys a good neighborhood… . Examin[e] the detached clubs at the Coffee-House; there you see persons of the same party associated. Go into private families, at dinners and evening visits, there you find none but people of the same party.”

Perhaps Webster had first-hand experience of the kind of factionalism he scorned. Below the masthead, the paper stated it could be found at “No. 37, Wall-Street, nearly opposite the Tontine Coffee-house.”

Napoelovember: Napoleon and Art

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

Besides being a military leader, a statesman, an Emperor, and a “scientist,” Napoleon was also a patron of the arts.

Or at least, he was an art thief and patron of propaganda.

As for the propaganda, Napoleon employed many artists, including some really great ones, to document his victories and achievements in wildly dramatic and heroic paintings. Neoclassicism was all the rage in Napoleon’s time, in no small part due to the fact that Napoleon was trying to recreate a monumental Empire in the classic sense. Here’s some examples of Napoleonic propaganda art:

Napoleon_at_the_Battle_of_Rivoli Jean-Léon_Gérôme_003 David_-_Napoleon_crossing_the_Alps_-_Malmaison1 Bouchot_-_Le_general_Bonaparte_au_Conseil_des_Cinq-Cents 800px-Napoleon_returned

Quelle dramatique!

In addition, Napoleon expanded the Louvre (renamed the Musée Napoléon during his reign) to hold all of the art he stole during his conquests.

Stole? Yes. Napoleon was the first conqueror of the modern era to make art looting standard practice for a victorious army. Stealing art was a way to make money to support the war effort, and also a way to show the power of the French conquerors to audiences at home and abroad. It made the Louvre home to one of the greatest art collections in the world. Napoleon started his looting in Italy, and continued his work throughout Europe and in Egypt, where he amassed a huge collection of ancient artifacts, including the Rosetta stone, which his archeologists discovered.

Here are just a few of the masterpieces that Napoleon’s forces stole:

Paolo_Veronese_008 Descent_from_the_Cross_(Rembrant) 800px-Horses_of_Basilica_San_Marco_bright 431px-Pompeo_Batoni_003

But turnabout is fair play. When Napoleon lost the war, the British collected his spoils. Rather than finding a home at the Louvre, the majority of Napoleon’s stolen antiquities ended up forming the core of the British Museum in London, where they are to this day.

Adieu Louvre, hello, BM!

Adieu Louvre, hello, BM!