Old postcards, of a no-longer-extant statue, lead me to an interesting bit of early American history.
In college, I became interested in the study of colonial emigration to North America. It’s a field that’s rich, complex, and often surprising.
Why would people suddenly leave the Old Country, with all the Shakespeare plays, great wines, fun accents, Eiffel towers, etc. and go live in a wilderness?
Religious wars, family squabbles, a gradual weariness with eating bread soaked in olive oil, are the usual back stories. Escape from feudalism and blood feuds, incessant bagpipe and accordion playing, and other loud wheezing kinds of sounds, from aristocrats and their drafty castles. But this statue tells one of the other, less-well-known motivations, and thereby hangs a tale.
One of the most powerful royal families in Europe, the Hapsburgs were a case study in inbreeding. They suffered from an exaggerated chin (“Hapsburg jaw”), gout, depression, dropsy, and an overfondness for Bourbons.
Their cousins, the House of Hamburg, had all these hereditary problems, and more.
Including, in a few cases, and not to put too fine a point on it, tails.
The Hamburgs are usually only remembered now, because their difficulty in chewing caused them to create ground-meat patties, which became popular for a time as “hamburgers”.
Examine the portrait above – – around this nobleman’s neck hangs a tiny dead sheep.
Now look at the pedestal in the picture below, with its goat heads.
What are the artists trying to tell us?
The pedestal was inscribed “Postremo superbia semper,” and “Last to leave the fight,” although a more literal translation would be, “Bringing up the rear with pride”
A sword hilt is visible, but in fact, the Hamburgs never carried on their persons, so much as cuticle scissors, due to a neurotic aversion to the sight of blood.
The hilt is just a prop.
Poking out from under the cape, disguised as a scabbard, but fooling no one, we see the hereditary Hamburg tail.
The family fled the Old World — which had turned it’s back on them – – subjected to persecution, and often painfully pinched, when people were too quick to slam shut those enormous bronze doors they have on castles and churches.
Aristocrats who were destined to never sit upon a throne, because they just couldn’t sit comfortably on anything other than ottomans.
Off they went to America, back to fundamentals, to establish a new family seat, a place to rear their young.
But their New World colony “Hinterland” (near present-day Piscataway) was short-lived and tragic, and with the exception of a huge number of porcelain cats, no artifacts of any note have been unearthed at the site. Why did they settle on that particular spot? No one knows. The Hamburgs, famously articulated in some ways, never clearly articulated their plans.
They left, but didn’t leave a note, and probably became extinct or something.
So there’s really no reason to talk about them anymore.