Archive for the ‘American History’ Category
The Erie Canal, a waterway in New York State, is one of humankind’s most extensive and influential undertakings in water transportation. Its technological achievements are many. For one, the Erie Canal was undertaken at a time when the next-longest man-made waterway in the US was just 27 miles long. Eventually, however, the original vision of making 363 miles navigable was accomplished. Today, the Canal’s combination of locks, aqueducts, and gorges helps ships to travel 524 miles and rise and descend an astonishing 680 feet between Albany and Buffalo. Although it sees far fewer shipments than it did before the advent of trucking, the Erie Canal is now experiencing an upswing in traffic in response to rising diesel costs: after all, a barge on the Erie Canal can transport a short ton 514 miles with just one gallon of diesel – and that’s almost ten times more efficient than a truck. However, a number of sections along the original route have been converted into historic parks. Park examples include Old Erie Canal State Historic Park, Camillus Erie Canal Park, and the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site. The old and new canal routes can also be observed from more than 300 bridges.
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Groundhog Day is a holiday celebrated on February 2nd in the United States and Canada. According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, it will leave the burrow, signifying that winter will soon end. If it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and winter will continue for six more weeks.
Actually, Groundhog Day grew out of the Pennsylvania Dutch custom of Fersommling, a Pennsylvania Dutch social event in which food is served, speeches are made and one or more g’spiel (play) is performed. The Pennsylvania tradition grew out of the ancient European weather lore where a badger was the prognosticator. The holiday also bears some similarities to the medieval Catholic holiday of Candlemas (February 2) and it also bears similarities to the Pagan festival of Imbolc, the seasonal turning point of the Celtic calendar, which is celebrated on February 1 and involves weather prognostication.
This event is typically attended by the Fancy Dutch as opposed to the “Plain sects” of the Amish, Dunkards and Mennonites. Only German or Deutsch is spoken and those speaking English pay a penalty, usually a nickel, dime or quarter, per word spoken, put into a bowl in the center of the table. Another tradition is the singing of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”, in Pennsylvania German. There also are lots of Pennsylvania German conversation and even more food – ham, chicken, potato filling, pie and other traditional goodies.
Fersommlinge continue to be held throughout eastern Pennsylvania as a means of preserving the Pennsylvania German dialect and culture. For example, the Berks County Fersommling, which started in 1937, annually attracts more than 700 participants, most of whom are of Pennsylvania German ancestry.
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Universally hailed for its innovative cinematography, music and narrative structure, Orson Welles’ first feature film, Citizen Kane (1941), transformed the fledgling film director into an overnight critical darling. However, rave reviews did little to help Welles’ rookie effort at the box-office, and Kane failed to recoup its (admittedly exorbitant) production cost during its brief theater run.
Condemned to obscurity for failing to meet its bottom line, Welles’ masterpiece was left to molder in the dustbin of film history for well over a decade. Luckily, Kane’s prospects started looking WAY up following the 1954 publication of “Une certaine tendance du cinéma français”, an article about film theory by the then 21 year-old filmmaker and critic François Truffaut.
Published in the (what would become) mythic magazine Cahiers du cinéma, Truffaut introduced the “auteur theory” to film criticism, which holds that a director’s films reflect his or her personal creative vision, as if he were the primary “auteur” (the French word for “author”). In the service of said theory, he and his clique of fellow New Wavers gave major props to the directors of yore who best embodied the “auteur” approach to filmmaking, such as Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks and of course, Orson Welles.
Thanks to Truffaut’s formidable powers of persuasion, there is a basically semi-official consensus among film critics that Citizen Kane is the greatest film ever made, which even led Roger Ebert to quip: “So it’s settled: Citizen Kane is the official greatest film of all time.” It topped both the AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies list and the 10th Anniversary Update, as well as all of the Sight & Sound polls of the 10 greatest films for nearly half a century.
Not bad for a film that lived in the RKO Studio basement for thirteen years….
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The Panama Canal begun in 1904 and finished in 1914 is a 77 km (48 mi) ship canal in Panama that joins the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. Annual traffic has risen from about 1,000 ships in the canal’s early days to 14,702 vessels in 2008, measuring a total 309.6 million Panama Canal/Universal Measurement System (PC/UMS) tons.
One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, the canal had an enormous impact on shipping between the two oceans, replacing the long and treacherous route via the Drake Passage and Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America. A ship sailing from New York to San Francisco via the canal travels 9,500 km (5,900 mi), well under half the 22,500 km (14,000 mi) route around Cape Horn.
Will the widening project currently underway at the Panama Canal — scheduled for completion in 2014 — result in a rash of new and unusual cruise itineraries? Don’t count on it, says the head of the world’s largest cruise company.
Even though the industry operates a growing number of “post-Panamax” ships that are too big to fit into the current canal — and thus limited in their ability to navigate between the Atlantic, Caribbean and the Pacific — a wider canal only will have a marginal impact on operations, says Carnival Corp. chairman and CEO Micky Arison.
“The only thing it adds is a bit of flexibility to our post-Panamax ships,” Arison told Wall Street analysts on Tuesday during a conference call to discuss third quarter earnings. “Obviously, if we have post-Panamax ships that become Panamax, it gives us a little bit greater flexibility, but I wouldn’t say it’s a huge indicator.”
With a widening of the canal, “theoretically, they can move back and forth” between the West Coast and the Caribbean more easily, he notes. But it won’t be a game-changer for the business.
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“I waited all Tuesday [October 22] and dear Jesus did not come;– I waited all the forenoon of Wednesday, and was well in body as I ever was, but after 12 o’clock I began to feel faint, and before dark I needed someone to help me up to my chamber, as my natural strength was leaving me very fast, and I lay prostrate for 2 days without any pain– sick with disappointment.” – Henry Emmons, an idiotic ‘Millerite’ who was actually bummed that the world did not end in 1843.
William Miller (1782–1849) was an American Baptist preacher, who is credited with the beginning of the Adventism movement of the 1830s and 1840s in North America. A former captain in the War of 1812, Miller converted from Deism in 1816. Obsessed with discovering ‘the truth’ behind Biblical prophesies of the apocalypse, Miller devoted himself to studying scripture in the hopes that he could determine the date of the ‘Second Coming’.
After poring over Biblical scripture for two years, Miller reached the conclusion that the world was going to end in 1843. He based his calculations on Daniel 8:14: “Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed”, Miller interpreted the cleansing of the sanctuary as an allusion to the Earth’s purification by fire that was believed to be concomitant with Christ’s Second Coming. Why? Because the Bible says so, that’s why!
After engaging in some serious mental jujitsu, Miller and his followers determined that a day in prophecy was actually a calendar year instead of a 24-hour period. Further, Miller became convinced that said 2,300 “day” period began tolling in 457 B.C., when Artaxerxes I of Persia decreed the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Now you do the math….
Despite the urging of his supporters, Miller never personally announced an exact date for the expected Second Advent. A more specific date, October 22, 1844, was preached by fellow believer and rival prophet Samuel S. Snow. Although thousands of followers, some of whom had given away all of their possessions, awaited expectantly, Jesus did not appear as expected on the appointed day and as a result October 22, 1844, became known as “The Great Disappointment”.
Following the failure of the World to end as promised, thousands of disappointed Millerites attempted to regain control of the property and possessions that they had so generously given away to their eternally damned neighbors. Many of them even argued in court that they had been temporarily insane during the months leading up to the Advent. Suffice to say, ‘The Great Disappointment” cost Miller the lion’s share of his followers.
Undeterred, Miller faithfully continued to wait for the second coming of Jesus Christ until his death in 1849.
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Commodore Matthew C. Perry is most famous for the event described in today’s entry in The Intellectual Devotional: landing his gunships on Japan and opening communications and commerce with the once-isolated island nation. But years before doing so Perry anchored on a less exotic locale: Key West, Florida.
The Keys get their name from a mispronunciation: the Spanish name “Cayo Hueso” was turned into “Key West” rather than translated into “Bone Island.” Though known as part of Florida today, the were not officially within the boundaries of that state until 1822. Florida had long ago been a Spanish colony, first encountered by Europeans when Ponce de León landed there in 1513. The British had possession of the island since 1763, but it was reclaimed by the Spanish after the colonies defeated the British in the War of Independence. The new United States eventually gained control of Florida from Spain 1819, by, in part, promising not to make any claim on Texas. The United States made its claim on Texas in 1845.
While Florida became part of the United States in 1819, Key West was not incorporated until three years later, in 1822. The gap occurred because Spain originally claimed the Keys as part of Cuba and didn’t cede them to the United States along with Florida in 1819. This claim didn’t last long: by 1822, the islands were part of the United States, and the moment was made official when Commodore Perry landed his ships on their shores on March 25. He named them “Thompson’s Island” in honor of the then-Secretary of the Navy, but then as now they were always known as Key West.
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Image of the Chicago Ferris Wheel courtesy of The Hyde Park Historical Society.
In fourteen-hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. To commemorate the four-hundredth anniversary of the occasion, the United States government decided to a hold a World’s Fair in Chicago in 1892 (it was dedicated in that year, and opened to the public a year later). A centerpiece of the fair was a new mechanical device. It was meant to one-up the “Eiffel Tower” that debuted in the Paris Fair in 1899, and showcase the mechanical prowess of America’s engineers. Daniel H. Burnham, Construction Chief of the World’s Fair, proposed the challenge to a group of in late 1890. One of those present took it up. His name was George Washington Gale Ferris, and his last name would become as synonymous with his mechanical marvel as Gustave Eiffel’s has become with his.
The story of George Ferris’ invention is brilliantly told by Patrick Meehan, and available for free at the Hyde Park Historical Society’s website. Check it out!
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