AFS American Ambulance Field Service, First World War, History, Philadelphia, Philly, WWI

Before the leaves fall ~~~~ Reading letters from the First World War

 

Paris 1918. AFS archive.

The First World War is now a century old. Part of the past, just like the Middle Ages, the Ming Dynasty, or the Roman Empire.  There are no combat veterans of the war left alive.

I wasn’t around for either World War, Korea, Vietnam, or even the Gulf War. And yet, like so many things, WWI doesn’t quite feel like ancient history to me — fossilized into stone monuments, stuffed into museums, or snoozing away in the pages of dusty old books.

Sitting around the kitchen table with my grandparents, the war was mentioned many times over the years, as a part of our family history. Far from being some distant event, remote in time and faraway, it felt quite real, immediate and relevant, because it involved our relatives and our family’s own storyline, recited mostly in present tense, or “as if it were yesterday”.

The old folks didn’t talk of geopolitics, military tactics, or Grand Alliances — they spoke of the war’s impact on people they’d known.

Just like accounts of mining disasters in the coal region, never-to-be-forgotten-bad-hairstyles, bygone aunts who were legendary bakers of never-equaled pies, or comic sagas of the-time-that-raccoon-got-into-the-pantry, or The Studebaker With No Brakes Parked on Top of the Hill, etc. something would prompt a memory, and we’d hear about kinfolk in The Great War, passing along a narrative they remembered, or had been told as children.

I’d have a slice of pie, watch my grandmother wildly overbid in Auction Pinochle, try to Sit Up Straight & Not Slouch For Heaven’s Sake, and hear stories of near-death, destruction, and army rations. Hear about places in France that no one knew how to pronounce correctly, or had felt a need to look up the pronunciation, for ninety years.  No one cared about “ethnic tensions in the Balkans” or the clash of empires, but they remembered Franz Joseph’s luxuriant whiskers.

British troops digging out wounded from a First-Aid shelter which had been blown up by a shell. Wellcome Library.

One of the stories from my father’s family, mixed up in American wars since the French & Indian, was of an uncle, my great-grandmother’s favorite brother, who was “Never Quite the Same After the War.” His unit had just come back from Pershing’s Mexican “Punitive Expedition,” only to be shipped to France, and be among the first Americans thrown into combat.

American ambulance in France, 1918. The church bell in the background, is to warn of gas attacks. LOC.

He returned disfigured from a gas attack, and my grandmother always remembered her uncle as a frightening figure – a black eyepatch and swollen neck from the mustard gas, wearing his filthy old Army greatcoat for many years, even in the summertime, and generally drunk. I don’t recall anyone from my grandmother’s generation ever using “PTSD,” but they’d say “shell-shocked.”

That’s his helmet in the first picture.

Doughboys. 107th Regiment Memorial, Central Park

Another g-g-uncle, a sergeant at a hospital in France, survived the war, but died of pneumonia at 42.  The old folks on the “kitchen cabinet” discussed whether exposure to gas during the war had “weakened his lungs”.

My mother’s family, more recent immigrants, had brothers fighting on both sides. Mom’s grandfather proudly served in the Austro-Hungarian artillery, on the Italian front.  At the end of the war, his unit surrendered and was interned.  He soon added Italian to his other four languages, and apparently never had anything but compliments for the kind treatment he received from his captors.

Three of his older brothers fought in France with the U.S. army. One of the brothers was decorated, when his fluent German and fatherly manner persuaded a squad of seventeen-year-old Bavarians to put down their rifles and surrender to him.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And then, a few summers ago, I worked in the archives of the American Philosophical Society, in Philadelphia, and read the wartime letters of someone from another family, Henry Howard Houston II.   I studied and helped to organize his letters and photos — messages from a life long-ago and far from my experience.

Houston’s reactions and comments offer a glimpse of the pre-war Philadelphia elite, the Ivy League, the Mexican border crisis, and finally the life, and death, of the doughboys of the American Expeditionary Force.

And, despite being separated by a century and a vastly different lifestyle, I still felt a connection to him, his personality gleaned from reading his personal thoughts, unfiltered by a biographer or historian.

Henry Howard Houston II did not emerge from the First World War as a household name, like Eddie Rickenbacker, or Sgt. Alvin York. He did not shoot down the Red Baron, rescue the “Lost Battalion”, or capture an entire company of enemy soldiers single-handedly. But he, like all the doughboys and medics, deserves to be remembered for his part in that great and bloody struggle we call the First World War.

He died at the front, near Arcis-le-Ponsart, at the age of twenty three, the same age I am now.  Thought to be in a safe sector, an artillery shell found him, and a piece of shrapnel pierced his skull. A man who believed war was evil, but fought nonetheless. He never had a chance to join the “Lost Generation”, and lost his life in a foreign land, instead.

 

IMG_3599-2“Archive” summons up images of dusty shelves, dry-as-dust history, and heaps of paper.  Guess what – – there was some of that – – eight cubic feet of documents, filed away in brown boxes.

But among the yellowed army records and fading photographs, are his personal letters to his family, and reading through his thoughts, was a very interesting and sometimes moving experience.

Since I don’t work for the NSA or Wikileaks, it seemed like a strange thing, to read other people’s mail.

And here’s a secret I haven’t shared with the NSA.

I didn’t much like the guy.

His unthinking elitism, casual evasion of rules, and off-hand shifts in attitude struck me as symptoms of someone who was spoiled and shallow.

Then, just like getting to know someone in real life, or hearing about the dearly departed in my own family, warts and all, I realized, he had flaws, like anyone, but he had a lot of good in him.  He volunteered, he walked the walk, he grew up in a hurry, and he sacrificed his own life for his duty.  He was an honorable gentleman, and I think, by the end of his short life, a mensch.

from a children’s book, published in Germany – “Father in the War”

Another news flash arrived while I was immersed in his letters — something that surely seems too obvious to all you intelligent readers.  This country was a very different place one hundred years ago.  I was working in the same city, and walking through the streets of his neighborhood, but Henry’s high-toned Philadelphia was a very alien world.

Here’s one example.  In 1916, it was often the rich, educated, and privileged who were the first into the fight, not like today’s poor and underprivileged being shipped out to the Petroleum Wars.

Here’s another change.  Houston grew up in a Philadelphia that still honored its Quaker tradition, and even if true pacifists and conscientious objectors were uncommon, then as now, I think that in 1916, it was possible to be regarded as a Patriotic American, without espousing militarism and the glorification of warfare.

American ambulance near Verdun. LOC

Sure, just like the decisions made by most of us, I think Houston entered the war with confused motives.  He simply craved excitement and a chance to prove his bravery.  He despised war, but then, as he picked up body after body for his ambulance, he came to hate The Enemy, and wished to crush the Kaiser and his soldiers.

His ambivalence over the war was evident in his letters.  He began by condemning warfare, serving first as a volunteer non-combatant, rescuing the wounded  —  then returned as a combatant, an Army officer, using the latest technology for destruction and death, by guiding the flight of one-hundred pound explosive shells, miles through the air, to wound, maim, or kill.

The Harvard Club of Alsace Reconquise.  AFS Archives

——————————————————————————–

A capsule biography.

He belonged to one of Philadelphia’s most elite families.

His grandfather was a railroad and real estate magnate.  If you ever put on your spats and straw boater, and stroll through one of his creations, the Chestnut Hill neighborhood (Philadelphia’s “garden suburb”), you’ll catch of glimpse of Houston’s moneyed background.  But it was a family that believed not just in the accumulation of wealth, but also in philanthropy, civic duty, and the promotion of beauty.

Henry had joined the Pennsylvania National Guard. In 1916, while the war in Europe had been underway for two years, his unit was activated and became part of the U.S. Army, as the famous “Keystone Division”.

LOC

But we had not yet entered the First World War.  First, we had a little practice exercise, closer to home.

Villa LOC

General Jose Doroteo Arango Arambula, “Pancho Villa“, LOC

The Pennsylvanians were one of the first units sent to the Texas-Mexican border, as part of a response to a raid by General Jose Doroteo Arango Arambula, better known in the U.S.by his nickname “Pancho Villa”.

Villa had emerged as a leader during Mexico’s chaotic Civil War/Revolution. He was angry at the U.S. – he resented our recognition of his rival, Carranza, and our imperialistic tactics and economic exploitation. In 1916, Villa crossed the border and raided Columbus, NM, killing civilians and soldiers. Villa’s attack was sensationalized by the American press, and Wilson was forced to respond with a show of decisiveness. (In reality, Villa lost four times as many men as the Americans did during the raid, due to the U.S. Cavalry’s superior training and weaponry, and he’d fled back over the border.)

Woodrow Wilson sent troops under General Pershing, to stabilize the border, and to pursue Villa into Mexico. Houston was part of this first wave of what was called the Punitive Expedition, or the Pancho Villa Expedition.

The Benet-Mercie light machine gun was a flop, and was ditched before we entered WWI. LOC

He described in detail his experiences while serving with the field artillery. He seems to have followed his orders well, most of the time, but perhaps did not fully grasp the concept of Army discipline. When he was no longer assigned to active duty, he decided to explore the Southwest, and he proceeded to write and photograph during jaunts to the Grand Canyon, through the Mexican deserts, and around Texas. His superior officers were less excited about his adventures, since his notice of taking leave was misrouted, and he was technically AWOL. Luckily, in those more relaxed and clubby days, and with his father’s connections, Henry was let off the hook.

Shortly after his tour on the Mexican border, he enlisted in the Regular Army. He went through additional gunnery training at Camp Hancock, GA, but then left the artillery, and resigned his commission, to join the Volunteer Ambulance Services.

Winter at the front. AFS Archives

The U.S. had not yet entered World War I, so he paid his own way to France, to volunteer as an ambulance driver on the front.

His unit’s heroism while rescuing wounded soldiers under fire, at Verdun and the Argonne, earned the American volunteers the Croix de Guerre .

AFS Archive

He would later serve on the same front, this time as a combatant, when he returned as an artillery officer with the U.S. Army.

As a volunteer with the ambulance corps, Houston was in pretty illustrious company – the most famous example being, of course, Ernest Hemingway, but also e.e.cummings, John Dos Passos, Ralph Vaughn Williams, Archibald MacLeish, and Somerset Maugham, among many others.

Houston was at the front for most of 1917. These two different tours of duty in France, one with ambulances, trying to save lives, and the other with the artillery, trying to blow up as many people as possible, are reflected in the deep ambivalence in his writings.

Advance dressing station in the field.  Wellcome Library

Initially he seemed to think American involvement should be primarily volunteer expeditions like his, for all aspects of warfare. Then, in a series of letters to different people, a different attitude emerges, as he sees the horror of war first-hand. The pacifist tone and references to the evil of war fade away, and he begins to describe the Germans as “barbaric” and inferior as human beings, due to their war-mongering. Houston comes to believe that it was important to crush the Kaiser’s army. He also was honest enough to express fear, one of the humanizing elements in his letters which drew me closer to him.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After his volunteer service, he returned to Camp Hancock, and then Fort Sill, OK, where he received aerial observation training. He would have seen some of the first U.S. military planes (“Jennies” made by Curtiss Wright in Hammondsport, NY, used in the hunt for Pancho Villa.)  He became an aerial observer (a “spotter”) for the 53rd Artillery Division, directing artillery fire from above.

Photo taken by a German pilot in 1916. On the right is what I think may be a pre-war star-shaped fortification in France or Belgium.

It was a tough and unenviable job – trying to make out enemy positions and fortifications from the air, taking photographs with a bulky camera, or trying to signal your artillery battery, with a heavy, primitive radio transmitter, while watching out for enemy fighter planes and ground fire. He was also expected to man a twin Lewis gun to defend his plane. There was no metal armor to protect you from machine gun bullets, only a leather coat and a fuselage made of thin sticks and cloth.

By this point of the war, romantic notions of aerial knights had evaporated, and reconnaissance pilots were fair game for the fighter pilots.  Most of the Red Baron’s 80 kills were by shooting down observation planes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

In 1918, Houston returned to France for final training, and then flew into action.

In August, despite being stationed in the “safe” part of the front, he was killed when he returned to an airfield during a German shelling.

 

Ambulance destroyed by shells       AFS Archive

 

He is buried in France, in Suresnes American Cemetery outside of Paris, with several thousand other Americans.

His first cousin, Houston Woodward, also died that summer, shot down while flying for the Lafayette Escadrille.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

This brief history doesn’t really do justice to Houston’s experiences or sacrifice, (nor that of all the others like my relatives who served in the AEF, or on the other side) and makes his time in the military seem to fly by, until his inevitable death. There are no stories of heroics — he didn’t capture an entire division of Germans with one round in his pistol, pretending the potato in the other hand was a grenade, he didn’t storm a machine gun nest, or engage in dogfights with the Flying Circus, but instead, he volunteered to save the lives of French soldiers, risking his life, driving through artillery fire, to save the wounded of a nation that wasn’t his. Later he risked his neck again, to create the maps that would help his own artillery and help keep his men alive.

IMG_3394-2

The APS, Philadelphia

I’ve only given you a tiny piece of Henry’s story, from my very brief time at the APS archive. And this is just one of the millions of such memories stored there — to me real treasures buried inside their vaults.  It’s not a very profound thought, but an awful lot of “History” turns out to be stories about people.  Some of them we admire, and some…we may even come to think of their stories, as threads in the storyline of our own, extended family.  I never met any veterans of the Great War, and now it is too late, but I will pass along some of their stories when I can.

 

The airplane photos were taken at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in the Hudson Valley of New York State. 

Standard
American Philosophical Society, History, Lafayette, Mesmerism, Pantheon, Philadelphia, Philly, Uncategorized

The “Mesmerizing Marquis” de Lafayette — Animal Magnetism comes to Philadelphia

 

1780 silh

The mesmerizing marquis. 1780 silhouette of Lafayette, Library of Congress.

 

Ben

An Archive of Discovery

This past summer, I had a C. V. Starr Center internship and worked with some great folks in the archives of the American Philosophical Society, in Philadelphia, which has been promoting science, history and culture for over 250 years.

Wait!  “Philosophical” may send some of you running — but this is used in an archaic sense from the 18th century – – “Natural Philosophy” meant science and technology.

The APS is all about “useful knowledge.”  Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Rush, etc. were all interested in practical applications of scientific discoveries — not just intellectual conversations, although it’s certainly a place for that, but also to promote research, science, exploration — discovery.

This post is less-than-serious, but I really do mean it as a tribute to one of my favorite members of the Society, one of America’s first friends in France.  I am re-running my summertime blog, because I found some great pictures to add, and because it is nearing Thanksgiving, and this insightful historical vignette involves a turkey.

DSC00021-001

Lafayette “Citizen of the World”

One function of the APS is to serve as “America’s Pantheon of Smart People”.

It says “American”, but membership in this very select company is international.  And since someone mentioned Pantheon, and since Lafayette was in the APS and is back in the news this summer (more about that later), let us talk of French people.

 

Lafayette women by the boatload

Lafayette, like me, drawing women by the boatload

Well, before we talk of the French, actually we should start with Romans.

Do not worry.

This won’t take long.

Paris Pantheon

Paris Pantheon LOC

The original Pantheon was in Rome –and the beautiful version you see today, has survived for almost 2,000 years — put up by the same guy who built Hadrian’s Wall.  Hadrian loved to travel all over the empire, building things, and was reckoned to be one of the “Five Good Emperors” (I guess five good ones, out of something like 264, is probably typical odds for emperors and presidents.)  A Pantheon is basically a circular temple to honor all your gods, idols, heroes, etc.

If you have never seen or heard of the Pantheon in Paris, it helps to know that it was completed in 1790, just a year after the APS building in Philadelphia, and is exactly like it.

Except the Pantheon is French, is a former church, is neoclassical, is a mausoleum, and only honors French people.

IMG_3394-2The APS, an American Pantheon of sorts, honors brilliant people of all nationalities, was never a church, is Georgian-style, and it has no dead people in the building of whom I am aware.  Other than that, pretty identical concepts.

The APS has honored many Frenchmen of course, including the Marquis de Lafayette.  Actually, he was just one of seven marquises on the membership rolls.  (Or marquesses, if you prefer.  Although that is the English spelling, and none of them were English.  And if you’re interested in boxing, you know how the British pronounce “Marquess of Queensberry Rules” — it’s not pretty.)

At least one Frenchman made it into both the APS and the Pantheon — the Marquis de Condorcet. Although he may not be a good one to bring up, since he was buried in the Pantheon, but they seem to have misplaced his body.  Modern science has no patience with this sort of carelessness.

Washington & LafayetteTalk about Women

George & the Marquis, just chilling and talking about women

But we don’t want to talk about the misfiled Condorcet anyway.  Our favorite Frenchman, Lafayette, was in the news again this summer, because of Hermione currently visiting the U.S.

To anyone of my generation, there is only one “Hermione” and I am not embarrassed to admit my love for the Harry Potter series.  But this other Hermione is also beautiful – – a recreation of the frigate that brought Lafayette back to the U.S. during the Revolution, with the news that the French would help us fight the British.   The ship arrived at Yorktown, and then visited Baltimore and Philadelphia, and on up the East Coast this summer.  It is an absolutely beautiful tall ship.  But where was I?  Back to the APS.

L'Hermione Max Mudie photographer 2015 BEF 0728_websize

L’Hermione, a recreation of the French frigate that brought Lafayette to America during the Revolution. Photo with the kind permission of Max Mudie, a photographer in Southampton, England. My blog is not commercial, but I enthusiastically direct people to his sites, TallShipStock.com and Maxphotographer.com, because his pictures of tall ships under sail are just outstanding.

Lafayette LOCIn 1824, Lafayette sailed across the Atlantic once more, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the United States.  He took a  triumphant year-long tour of the 24 states, with countless veterans’ reunions, dinners, parades and ceremonies in city after city.

Including even a stop in my humble hometown, Waterloo, NY. – – where an ancient cannon, actually a swivel-gun off a slave-ship, was fired in his honor.   Unfortunately, it exploded, killing the local militia captain. (When Lafayette learned of the accident, and the absence of a pension for the captain’s family, since he wasn’t killed in action, he graciously sent a thousand dollars for their support.)

Our village green was re-named Lafayette Park, just like the park in front of the White House, and our public school has served French fries ever since, continuing to cook them in the original vat of hot tallow to this day.

The parade honoring the Marquis in Philadelphia was four miles long, and took over an hour to pass by.

L0000483 Portrait of F. A. Mesmer Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Portrait of Franz Anton Mesmer Franz Anton Mesmer Rudolf Tischner Published: 1928 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Franz Anton Mesmer. Wellcome Library, London.

And of course, when in Philadelphia, he visited the American Philosophical Society (he’d been a member since 1781).

During his visit, he shared his interest in the experiments of Franz Anton Mesmer.

This was the fascinating German doctor who basically invented hypnotherapy, and is commemorated by the word “mesmerize”.

 

M0018514 French satire: 'Les Effets du Magnetisme.....animal'. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org 'Les Effets du Magnetisme.....animal'. Die Karikatur und Satire in der Medizin Hollander Published: 1921 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Animal Magnetism run amok. Wellcome Library

 

The Marquis had already turned 67, but was after all, a Frenchman — widowed, footloose and fancy-free — and he thought Mesmer’s theory of “Animal Magnetism” sounded pretty promising.  (Especially in French:  magnétisme animal seems just the thing for chatting up les coquettes).

V0017306 Mesmeric therapy. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Mesmeric therapy. A group of mesmerised French patients Oil 1778/1784 after: Claude-Louis DesraisPublished: [between 1778 and 1784?] Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Mesmeric therapy. Wellcome Library

The APS was open to a demonstration, because in that day and age, Mesmer was considered to be a scientific investigator.

Even though everyone already knew he was mostly nuts.

(Mesmer was not invited to be a member of the APS.)

V0011095 A practioner of mesmerism performing animal magnetism therap Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org A practioner of mesmerism performing animal magnetism therapy on a seated male patient. Pen and ink drawing. Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Mesmerism. Wellcome Library

His process involved dim lighting, magnets, hypnotism,  water armonica music, and a lilac-colored robe, and is no longer accepted as real medicine anywhere outside of southern California.

(If you’re interested, there is a flattering bio-pic where he’s played by Alan Rickman, in his pre-Harry Potter days.)

L0000477EA Le doigt magique ou le magnetisme animal' Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org 'Le doigt magique ou le magnetisme animal'. The doctor, having discarded his wig and cloak hypnotises the woman in the guise of Bottom from 'Midsummer Might's Dream'. One hand strokes the patient while with a finger of the other she is hypnotised. Engraving De arts in de caricatuur / Cornelis Veth Published: [ca. 1925] Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Apparently Mesmer aroused a few doubts, as well. Wellcome Library

M0006352 "Le Baquet de Mesmer" Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org "Le Baquet de Mesmer" Engraving Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Mesmer’s “baquet” – – a kind of washtub filled with iron filings and broken glass. Wellcome Library

The APS had fun at Lafayette’s Mesmerism demonstration, trying to tap the human body’s energy to generate a “artificial tide” of “animal magnetism.”  The members held onto metal rods, mounted on a sort of washtub contraption, to see what came up.

In Vienna and Paris, the apparatus was reputed to generate health-giving convulsions, animal magnetism and a general loosening of purse strings and possibly dress strings, among well-to-do hystericals, but Philadelphians, then and now, are immune to such things as electricity, emotions and sex.  (Franklin was the exception, of course).

When Franklin discovered there would be no kites involved, he declared the electro-magnetic bathtub was not real science, but everybody liked Lafayette immensely and had a good time.

V0016530 A large gathering of patients to Dr. F. Mesmer's animal Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Patients in Paris receiving Mesmer's animal magnetism therapy. Coloured etching. Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Parisians swooned, but Philadelphians proved immune to animal magnetism. Wellcome Library.

Ben Franklin, not averse to women’s company, as long as it wasn’t his wife’s,  had already checked out Mesmerism forty years before, when he was ambassador to France.  Louis XVI appointed him to a royal panel examining this invention.  The panel included the Mayor of Paris, and Lavoisier, the famous chemist and biologist, who of course, was a fellow  APS member, and also a doctor you may remember, named Guillotin.

DSC00691

L0011369 Apparatus used by Galvani - three Leyden jars Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Apparatus formerly used by Luigi Galvani - three Leyden jars 18th Century Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Galvani’s Leyden Jars. courtesy Wellcome Library

It seems likely that scientific  guys like this would have discussed Franklin’s attempt to electrocute and electrically roast a turkey on Christmas Day 1750.  Despite the warning labels on every “Leyden jar” (basically a large capacitor, that sends out a mini-lightning bolt), Franklin first zapped himself instead of the bird, causing numbness in his limbs and a need for bifocals.

The turkeys were eventually zapped and suffered violent convulsions.  Then at some point during the dinner preparations, they were found to be merely stunned, and required another shock before they were killed.

You have to wonder if some guests felt uncomfortable with this resurrected dinner on Christmas.

M0014508 Early experiments with the Leyden jar. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Early experiments with the Leyden jar. Lettres sur l'electricite' Antoine Nollet Published: 1753 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

18th Century Fun with Electricity. Wellcome Library.

Dr. Guillotin immediately abandoned his plans for executing people with an electric chair, and moved on to a more reliable invention.

guillotine LOC

Old King Louis “Take if you must, my old gray head, but spare your monarch’s stomach” LOC

(Technically, he didn’t invent the guillotine, and opposed capital punishment, but we needn’t cloud a good tale with facts.)

(I attempted to recreate Franklin’s Electro-Turkey Experiment with a bathtub, toaster, and turkey, but until the pending lawsuits with my landlord and PETA are resolved, I am not allowed to discuss them on advice of counsel).

But science marches on, and on a happier note, two of the panelists examining Mesmerism — the Mayor of Paris, and Lavoisier (who used his knowledge of chemistry to make better gunpowder to kill people) —  met up again years later, when they were both guillotined.

But I digress.

Foucault's Pendulum F.I.

a Foucault Pendulum in Philadelphia, a couple of miles from the APS. courtesy Franklin Institute

The Pantheon in Paris has some scientists too, of course, and was the site of Foucault’s pendulum, which demonstrated the scientific principle that, even if you are a terrible bowler, if you have

(a) a pendulum, and (b) lots of time, (c) you can still knock down all the pins.

It just takes longer.

When I say “lots of time”, you’re wondering, why are you so imprecise, when you felt free to criticize the Pantheon for misplacing a few bodies?  why not just say, “24 hours to knock down all the pins”.

Well, as Franklin said to the turkey, get stuffed.  You’re obviously not scientifically-inclined.

Because according to my extensive research (Wikipedia) it takes 32.7 hours in Paris, for scientific or cultural reasons, to knock down all the pins.  (“Latitude vs Attitude”)

Or 2 entire days, if you’re at 30 degrees latitude.  If the reason isn’t instantly apparent, you are clearly not headed for membership in the APS.

But perhaps you could take up bowling.

OK, I have totally lost track of Lafayette.  Sorry.  C’est la vie.  My lunch break is over, and back to the archives!

 

P.S.  Apparently the “guillotine” was actually a medieval gadget, perfected by a German harpsichord-maker — who understood it was to be used on cabbages for making sauerkraut.  And yet most people making sauerkraut, use a cabbage-slicer called a “mandoline,” not a “guillotine-harpsichord.”

I have always been baffled by this interface between (a) musical instruments, (b) kitchen appliances, and (c) methods of execution.  Leonardo da Vinci invented some sort of organ gun (aren’t most organ recitals deadly enough?), and Lincoln was impressed by the Coffee Mill Gun (also called the Agar Gun, although it did not shoot coffee beans or gelatin) of the Civil War.

I know some pastry chefs use a cornet for icing, and flute a pie crust somehow, and I’ve seen the percussive kettledrums of course, but I’ve fretted over news of Cuisinart-related deaths, and wondered if they’re really accidental, as most people believe?

We’re always told that the bathroom is the most dangerous room in your home, maybe so, but the kitchen is pretty scary, too.  Don’t we talk about being battered, pancaked, grilled, smothered and skewered?  Isn’t spatula derived from the Latin for broadsword?  If you like crusty bread, a baguette is basically a baton – used for conducting music, playing a carillon, and clubbing rioters.  Mace is also used on rioters, and by knights on recalcitrant peasants, and by my grandmother for pumpkin pies.

And look up the pasta called strozzapreti sometime.

On a related note, did you ever notice, that American  appliances hum at a higher pitch, B flat, I think, than European ones, humming along at G?

I know it’s due to each continent’s different electrical systems, 50Hz vs 60Hz – – but who chose these notes??  I don’t think a convection oven humming “B flat” is appropriate for making a souffle, for example.  And I’ve often wished, as I dance along with my washing machine, that it would vary the beat a bit, and just for once, hum a Middle C instead.

L0000476 L.L. Boilly, Le magnetisme Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Caricature: Le magnetisme. Lithograph 1826 By: Boilly, Louis LeopoldDie Karikatur und Satire in der Medizin (Reproduction) Hollander, E. Published: 1921 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

 

Standard