11 December 2012

Day 11 of Nightlight Readings: Jingle Bells

Currier & Ives
One of the best known winter songs, written by James Lord Pierpont in the 1850s, was first titled as "One Horse Open Sleigh." There is some historical debate on where Pierpont actually wrote the carol. Medford, Massachusetts claims the birthplace of the song, while historians have placed Pierpont in Georgia during this time period. People of Medford claim he wrote the song in a local tavern in 1850, but historians have since found that Pierpont was an organ player for his brother's church in Georgia and married the mayor of Savannah during this time period. As far as we have been able to pinpoint, Pierpont stayed on even after the church was closed due to abolitionism. 

Whether Pierpont wrote the song in a tavern in Massachusetts or in a church in Georgia, his sleigh-ride carol has become timeless and worldwide—even universal!

On December 16, 1965, Gemini 6 called Mission Control to say:
We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, probably in polar orbit... I see a command module and eight smaller modules in front. The pilot of the command module is wearing a red suit....
The crew then put on a show of "Jingle Bells," featuring a harmonica and sleighbells.

10 December 2012

Day 10 of Nightlight Readings: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer's, A Little History.

Recently an aunt of mine sent out a forwarded email, which I am sure some people have seen, but it was the first time I read it. I knew part of the story of how "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" came to be, as you can look at last year's post on Day 10, but this story gives us a little more perspective on how one man who felt like a "Rudolph" was given a second chance. Here is the story:
A man named Bob May, depressed and brokenhearted, stared out his drafty apartment window into the chilling December night.

His 4-year-old daughter Barbara sat on his lap quietly sobbing. Bob's wife, Evelyn, was dying of cancer Little Barbara couldn't understand why her mommy could never come home. Barbara looked up into her dad's eyes and asked, "Why isn't Mommy just like everybody else's Mommy?" Bob's jaw tightened and his eyes welled with tears. Her question brought waves of grief, but also of anger. It had been the story of Bob's life. Life always had to be different for Bob.

Small when he was a kid, Bob was often bullied by other boys. He was too little at the time to compete in sports. He was often called names he'd rather not remember. From childhood, Bob was different and never seemed to fit in. Bob did complete college, married his loving wife and was grateful to get his job as a copywriter at Montgomery Ward during the Great Depression. Then he was blessed with his little girl. But it was all short-lived. Evelyn's bout with cancer stripped them of all their savings and now Bob and his daughter were forced to live in a two-room apartment in the Chicago slums. Evelyn died just days before Christmas in 1938.

Bob struggled to give hope to his child, for whom he couldn't even afford to buy a Christmas gift. But if he couldn't buy a gift, he was determined to make one - a storybook! Bob had created an animal character in his own mind and told the animal's story to little Barbara to give her comfort and hope. Again and again Bob told the story, embellishing it more with each telling. Who was the character? What was the story all about? The story Bob May created was his own autobiography in fable form. The character he created was a misfit outcast like he was. The name of the character? A little reindeer named Rudolph, with a big shiny nose. Bob finished the book just in time to give it to his little girl on Christmas Day. But the story doesn't end there.

The general manager of Montgomery Ward caught wind of the little storybook and offered Bob May a nominal fee to purchase the rights to print the book. Wards went on to print,_ Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer_ and distribute it to children visiting Santa Claus in their stores. By 1946 Wards had printed and distributed more than six million copies of Rudolph. That same year, a major publisher wanted to purchase the rights from Wards to print an updated version of the book.

In an unprecedented gesture of kindness, the CEO of Wards returned all rights back to Bob May. The book became a best seller. Many toy and marketing deals followed and Bob May, now remarried with a growing family, became wealthy from the story he created to comfort his grieving daughter. But the story doesn't end there either.

Bob's brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, made a song adaptation to Rudolph. Though the song was turned down by such popular vocalists as Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore , it was recorded by the singing cowboy, Gene Autry.  "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was released in 1949 and became a phenomenal success, selling more records than any other Christmas song, with the exception of "White Christmas."

The gift of love that Bob May created for his daughter so long ago kept on returning back to bless him again and again. And Bob May learned the lesson, just like his dear friend Rudolph, that being different isn't so bad. In fact, being different can be a blessing.    

09 December 2012

Day 9 of Nightlight Readings: The Cricket on the Hearth

Ah, Dickens, I melt when I think of his pros. Every year I try to read one of his popular Christmas short stories, most often "A Christmas Carol," but another one in the repertoire is "The Cricket on the Hearth." When Dickens first began his work, he primarily planned to create a periodical on the home called The Cricket, and soon found it develop into a Christmas novella. Unlike his other writings, this short story was focused simply on a domestic Christmas setting with a simplistic hero. The story was released in December 1845 and was originally titled "1846," which helped the sells soar in the New Year. For years it was more popular than "A Christmas Carol," until Russian leader Vladimir Lenin walked out of a performance and called it too sentimental and idyllic. 

The story goes of a young family, John and Dot Peerybingle and baby, and a cricket that constantly chirps on the hearth, acting as the family's guardian angel. The young family intersects with the life of a toy maker, who's young son is presumed dead after a trip to South America. The son's betrothed is then scheduled to marry the toy maker's boss, Mr. Tackleton. Dot is later seen embracing a young man and John accuses her of being unfaithful. It is soon revealed that the young man is the toy maker's son and Mr. Tackleton, a miser much like Ebenezer Scrooge, ends up having a change of heart and allows the toy maker's son rejoin his true love. 

08 December 2012

Day 8 of Nightlight Readings: The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree

 The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, is an old Appalachian tale, passed down by the author's grandmother. The story goes where a small Appalachian town chooses a different family each year to find the perfect Christmas tree for the church. Ruthie and her father are chosen, and her and her father go tag a tree on the nearby mountain. Soon afterward, Ruthie's father is called off to war, and her and her family are left to live meagerly. When Christmas time comes, the town preacher visits them and tells them he has selected another family to follow through with the tradition on choosing the town tree. Ruthie's mother is upset, as she would like to keep their word. On the night of Christmas eve, Ruthie and her mother climb the mountain with horses and a sled, cut down the tree, and drive it into the town while everyone is sleeping. When everyone awakes and comes to church on Christmas day, everyone is surprised to see the tree and Ruthie is surprised to see an angel on top of the tree. She was so dazzled by the angel that she does not see her father standing there.

07 December 2012

Day 7 of Nightlight Readings: The Snowman

File:The Snowman poster.jpg 

Here's a good throw back, which I remember reading and watching the film when I was little, "The Snowman." The book is about a little boy who doesn't have a Christmas tree. The snowman in his yard comes to life and the book shows the boy and the snowman walking around the little boy's house playing with Christmas lights, then traveling back outside to enjoy an evening flight through the sky.

06 December 2012

Day 6 of Nightlight Readings: Gloucestershire Wassail

Many of us have heard the more popular Wassailing Song, "Here we come a-wassailing, among the leaves so green, here we come a-wassailing...," but there is a little known song that exemplifies that most towns had their own wassailing song, the "Gloucestershire Wassail."
The tradition of wassailing dates back to pre-Christian Briton, but we have a more modern image of folks walking around a village singing carols and drinking. Wassail, (old English Waes Hael, a salute for 'good health'), a drink of hot mulled/spiced ale, cider, or mead, traditionally used to drink to the health of the following year's apple orchard and ensure evil spirits are kept away in a pagan ritual of pouring the wassail on the bare tree branches. The ceremonies are held, depending on the village traditions, but most commonly on Old Twelfth Night (January 17th—part of the Epiphany celebration).
Later, during the Middle Ages, wassailing became a tradition between feudal lords and their peasants, where it was acceptable for the peasants to travel the manor to "beg" for food and drink in exchange for goodwill; which begins our modern vision of wassailing.
Our modern vision of wassailing was not fully celebrated until the late 18th century and early 19th century, where groups of carolers carried a decorated wassail bowl, which was either filled with a small pine tree, to take wassail from the visited houses, or collect money.

05 December 2012

Day 5 of Nightlight Readings: Silver Bells

Have you heard of the Christmas song, "Tinkle Bells?" Of course not! Because Jay Livingston's wife told him, "Are you out of your mind? Do you know what the word tinkle is?" Thus, it became "Silver Bells." Could you imagine singing:
Tinkle bells tinkle bells
It's Christmas time in the city
Doesn't have the right ring to it. The song was written for the Bob Hope movie, "The Lemon Drop Kid," released in the spring of 1951 (most movies back then were released during the spring and summer, as that was the popular time to go to the movies, including Christmas movies). In October of the previous year, Bing Crosby and Carol Richards recorded a version of the song, making it popular by the time the movie was released. Due to the popularity of the song by Bing, Hope and Maxwell were called to the set to rerecord a more elaborate production of the song.

04 December 2012

Day 4 of Nightlight Readings: The Bishop's Wife

Robert Nathan? Have you heard of him? Many of us think of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Steinbeck when we think of the leaders of early 20th century American literature. In fact, he was far from their Nobel Prize circle. Fortunately for him, several of his novels showed up on the silver screen, which brings us to The Bishop's Wife.

The novel, written in 1928, reached the hands of producer, Samuel Goldwyn, in the mid 1940s. After several troubling rewrites of the screenplay, the movie finally was released featuring Cary Grant and Loretta Young.

The movie has seen been remade into "The Preacher's Wife," which featured Denzel Washington, Whitney Houston, and Courtney B. Vance.

03 December 2012

Day 3 of Nightlight Readings: The Holly and the Ivy

File:The holly and the ivy - geograph.org.uk - 723060.jpg 
Holly was seen as sacred to the European druids and the Romans considered it the plant of Saturn. As the Christian faith began to spread throughout Europe, holly quickly became a symbol of Christmas. Henry VIII, a known writer of songs (see Greensleeves), wrote a love song featuring the plant.

The carol "The Holly and the Ivy" may possibly be older than an early 18th century mention of it in a broadside. However, there are manuscripts explaining ancient English villages holding singing contests during the winter solstice, where the men sang about holly (seen as masculine) and the women sang about ivy (seen as feminine). Of course the only resolution to this contest was underneath the mistletoe. These three plants are prominent in England during the winter.

02 December 2012

Day 2 of Nightlight Readings: A Letter from Santa Claus

Samuel Clemens, known for his pen name Mark Twain, wrote a letter to his daughter, Susie Clemens. Susie lived a short life of 23 years. She was a sickly girl and during one of her bouts of sickness, her father wrote a letter from Santa Claus.

Palace of St. Nicholas
In the Moon
Christmas Morning
I have received and read all the letters which you and your little sister have written me by the hand of your mother and your nurses; I have also read those which you little people have written me with your own hands--for although you did not use any characters that are in grown peoples' alphabet, you used the characters that all children in all lands on earth and in the twinkling stars use; and as all my subjects in the moon are children and use no character but that, you will easily understand that I can read your and your baby sister's jagged and fantastic marks without any trouble at all. But I had trouble with those letters which you dictated through your mother and the nurses, for I am a foreigner and cannot read English writing well. You will find that I made no mistakes about the things which you and the baby ordered in your own letters--I went down your chimney at midnight when you were asleep and delivered them all myself--and kissed both of you, too, because you are good children, well trained, nice mannered, and about the most obedient little people I ever saw. But in the letter which you dictated there were some words which I could not make out for certain, and one or two small orders which I could not fill because we ran out of stock. Our last lot of kitchen furniture for dolls has just gone to a very poor little child in the North Star away up, in the cold country above the Big Dipper. Your mama can show you that star and you will say: "Little Snow Flake," (for that is the child's name) "I'm glad you got that furniture, for you need it more than I." That is, you must write that, with your own hand, and Snow Flake will write you an answer. If you only spoke it she wouldn't hear you. Make your letter light and thin, for the distance is great and the postage very heavy.
There was a word or two in your mama's letter which I couldn't be certain of. I took it to be "a trunk full of doll's clothes." Is that it? I will call at your kitchen door about nine o'clock this morning to inquire. But I must not see anybody and I must not speak to anybody but you. When the kitchen doorbell rings, George must be blindfolded and sent to open the door. Then he must go back to the dining room or the china closet and take the cook with him. You must tell George he must walk on tiptoe and not speak--otherwise he will die someday. Then you must go up to the nursery and stand on a chair or the nurse's bed and put your car to the speaking tube that leads down to the kitchen and when I whistle through it you must speak in the tube and say, "Welcome, Santa Claus!" Then I will ask whether it was a trunk you ordered or not. If you say it was, I shall ask you what color you want the trunk to be. Your mama will help you to name a nice color and then you must tell me every single thing in detail which you want the trunk to contain. Then when I say "Good-by and a merry Christmas to my little Susie Clemens," you must say "Good-by, good old Santa Claus, I thank you very much and please tell that little Snow Flake I will look at her star tonight and she must look down here--I will be right in the west bay window; and every fine night I will look at her star and say, 'I know somebody up there and like her, too.' " Then you must go down into the library and make George close all the doors that open into the main hall, and everybody must keep still for a little while. I will go to the moon and get those things and in a few minutes I will come down the chimney that belongs to the fireplace that is in the hall--if it is a trunk you want--because I couldn't get such a thing as a trunk down the nursery chimney, you know.
People may talk if they want, until they hear my footsteps in the hall. Then you tell them to keep quiet a little while till I go back up the chimney. Maybe you will not hear my footsteps at all--so you may go now and then and peep through the dining-room doors, and by and by you will see that thing which you want, right under the piano in the drawing room-for I shall put it there. If I should leave any snow in the hall, you must tell George to sweep it into the fireplace, for I haven't time to do such things. George must not use a broom, but a rag--else he will die someday. You must watch George and not let him run into danger. If my boot should leave a stain on the marble, George must not holystone it away. Leave it there always in memory of my visit; and whenever you look at it or show it to anybody you must let it remind you to be a good little girl. Whenever you are naughty and somebody points to that mark which your good old Santa Claus's boot made on the marble, what will you say, little sweetheart?
Good-by for a few minutes, till I come down to the world and ring the kitchen doorbell.
Your loving SANTA CLAUS
Whom people sometimes call "The Man in the Moon"
Clemens as St. Nick

01 December 2012

Day 1 of Nightlight Readings: The Little Match Girl

One of the world's greatest children's authors, Hans Christian Andersen, known for his work of "The Ugly Duckling," "Thumbelina," and "The Little Mermaid," wrote a compelling story of a poor girl who wanders the streets selling matches for abusive father. It's a cold New Years Eve and not wanting to go home, she finds shelter in an alley nook, and lights her matches one by one in order to keep warm. In the light she sees visions of a Christmas feast and of her dearly departed grandmother. As the matches slowly burn out, she falls asleep and is swept into Heaven as a falling star shoots across the sky.

Disney created a short featuring the tale of "The Little Match Girl." It was to be part of the Fantasia movie, but was later developed by Disney and Pixar.

Second Annual 25 Days of Nightlight Readings

On this gloomy December evening, we begin the Second Annual 25 Days of Nightlight Readings. I began this blog tradition last year, in hopes to bring back some of the old ways of long Winter nights. Before the modern technologies of television and Internet, which seem to now fill up our dark days, families would gather before the hearth as stories were read aloud. Suddenly the dark, cold night would be replaced by the warmth of a lover's embrace and audiences would be swept away from their mundane lives to fly over the streets of a Victorian village or traverse a land of Mice Kings and Sugar Plum Fairies.

Now we can revisit those dark nights of long ago, and dust off some traditional Holiday literature to help warm our hearts.

04 April 2012

Updated Civil War Death Toll Estimations

In September a Civil War historian, J. David Hacker of Binghamton University, published his work of updated estimates of American Civil War deaths. Using the previous research of Provost Marshall James B. Fry, Francis Amasa Walker, and others, Hacker comes to a much larger number than assumed. The original 1866 death report by Fry for the Union army was 279,689. This number continued to grow as widows and orphans came forward to apply for pensions and survivors' benefits. A census superintendent, Walker, found a discrepancy in the 1870 census record (the census was taken every 10 years and the Civil War was fought from 1861-1865). President Grant pushed Walker to recount the population, as he felt that the country should have grown. Previous 19th century records showed a population growth of about 34% and instead the 1870 census showed only a growth of 22.6%. Walker argued the war was to blame for the lack of growth.

Walker stated in his report that the growth rate was a result of the...
“notorious and palpable effects of the war, which hampered the growth of the black population, checked immigration, limited marriages and births and led to the direct loss of close to a million men.”
 At this time, the Surgeon Generals office had recorded approximately 304,000 Union deaths during the course of the war. They did not factor in those who died from disabilities or diseases as a result of the war. With this in mind, Walker estimated about 500,000 Union men died. When it came to estimating the Confederates deaths, Walker found it more difficult. Estimating using the total roster count and assuming the death tolls as a result of poorer nutrition, longer service, and lack of medical supplies and resources, close to 350,000 Confederates died.

Unfortunately for Walker, the census was put under investigation for fraud, and others took up the torch of research. Researchers did find that the Southern states were largely under-counted during the Reconstruction era of 1870 and was not fraudulent. A former Union private by the name of William F. Fox, took up the research, using battlefield death counts (which are inconclusive considering that many died from battle wounds after the 'official' count). These "incomplete" records proved at least 94,000 Confederates died as a result of the war.

In 1900 Thomas L. Livermore, who was also a Union army veteran, decided to compare the battlefield death tolls, calculating the compared risks of malnutrition and disease both armies would have faced during the war. With this estimate, he was able to conclude that 258,000 Confederate lives were lost.

Today popular belief, through years of research, brings the death toll to 618,222. But Hacker wanted to challenge this. By using the resources of new technology and the accessibility of the 1850, 1860, and 1870 census records, as well as demographics, and other research methods, he was able to estimate approximately 750,000 Union, Confederate, guerilla, and non-enlisted men who died as a result. This new estimate is huge, because it shows that 1 in 10 white men of military age died during the war (of course it leaves out the deaths of African Americans and Native Americans who fought during the war, as well as civilian deaths—this could result in about 100,000 more deaths).

To read the complete commentary of Hacker, go here.

Here he talks about how the new numbers show greater devastation of American lives.

The Anticipation of Anniversaries & Reveals

From the Williams Family Collection
This week has been full of big reveals and anniversary celebrations. April marks a big month for genealogists and amateur historians alike. The month dawned with the ever anticipated access to the 1940s US Federal Census. I immediately jumped onto Ancestry.com in hope that this was not an April Fools joke and I sighed in relief when it wasn't. I have not had much time to search through the records, but I hope I can soon reveal more information about my family. I am especially excited to see the census record for my great grandpa who passed away nearly a year ago now. You can read the eulogy I wrote here.

I found this and thought this was interesting; a comparison of the census in 1940 and the census in 2012.

The U.S. Census: Then & Now
In other news is the 100 year anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. I will follow up with another blog post closer to the anniversary of the sinking, explaining how the Titanic is in more than just two pieces—as is the popular belief. But since we are drawing near to the anniversary of the maiden voyage (we all know the story), I thought it would be fun to show the popular James Cameron trailer. All of us who were at least pre-teens and teens during the 1997 release, who be flocking movie theaters everywhere to see the film back on the big screen in 3D.

Stay tuned to blog posts on: Titanic myths & legends, 1912 news reports, and Titanic & what we know today.
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