Showing posts with label history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label history. Show all posts

22.8.19

Aesthetic Thursday: Design Art from the Krewe of Proteus from the 1892 Mardi Gras in New Orleans


"A Dream of the Vegetable Kingdom" — Proteus Pageant of 1892
I have a wonderful postcard of a fairy man that my mother sent me. I'm guessing he is the king of Proteus. He holds a scepter with what appears to be a butterfly at the end. In fact, he's more butterfly than fairy — as can be seen by the gorgeous decal of a butterfly pinned to his chest, and the butterfly adorned on his crown and the sheer fact that he's wearing butterfly wings. His boots are also butterfly-decorated and he is wearing a cape and white leggings. He has a turn-of-the-century mustache that was popular for men at the turn-of-the-century and he seems ready for a magical evening.  
Water-color from Tulane University Special Collections
"Proteus, No. 1"
New Orleans Mardi Gras Krewes Are Part of the City's History
The image is of a costume watercolor design for select members of the Mystic Krewe of Proteus — a now-defunct Mardi Gras men's pleasure group. The watercolor has been preserved by the folks at Tulane University's Special Collections Library. The university has amassed a wide assortment of what they call their "Carnival Holdings". This costume, which is in the collection, was designed for the pageant that year — in 1892. Mardi Gras krewes are typically famous for their public parades that entertain citizens of the city with illustrious floats that traverse the city at night and garner people with "throws" — but lesser-known is the glamourous pageants that krewe-members organized every year. They were often masked balls for the upper crust of the city — I say past tense as if they do not occur anymore. In fact, one of the hottest tickets for any socialite in New Orleans is one of these balls or pageants. I have a fabulous picture of my mother and great grandmother at one of these balls. They are truly a feature of New Orleans history — and this winged fairy man, part of Proteus's theme for that year — "A Dream of the Vegetable Kingdom" is highly inspired. I'd wear it!
source: Carlotta Bonnecaze, "Proteus, No. 1," water-color costume design for Proteus pageant, 1892: "Dream of the Vegetable Kingdom" / Schindler, Henri. Mardi Gras Treasures: Costume Designs of the Golden Age. Gretna, La: Pelican Pub. Co, 2002. Print.

27.10.18

On a Trip to Mystic, Connecticut I Ran into Versions of American History

Crossing the Whitestone Bridge into Queens, you can faintly see the New York City skyline.
Can you see Manhattan?
     I have just returned from a sleep-away trip with Seventh graders. We went to Mystic, Connecticut — me and a couple of teachers and nineteen kids. I had never heard of Mystic — even though I saw the movie Mystic River  —which apparently has no connection to Mystic, Connecticut but there is a B-movie with Brad Pitt called Mystic Pizza - which apparently is real - the pizza. Not the story.
     So, what did we do in Mystic? We stayed at the Mystic Seaport Museum which is really a cool place - much more relaxed than any museum I have been to in a long time. It is a reconstructed nineteenth-century seaport town. It's replete with an apothecary, a maritime general store, a slew of interpreters who pamper you with their stories of sea life, whale blubber stories, and facts about forecastles, moorings, and ghosts. Our crew — including me — slept on the Joseph Conrad — which is a wooden Danish training vessel that at one point sunk — killing twenty-two boys — then resurrected from the sea — then a U.S. President salvaged it and christened it as a National Historic Landmark - so it is permanently moored at the Seaport. I like history, and I like even more how history gets told, gets packaged, and is applied to how we think about the world we live in today. 
     There is the ship Amistad moored at Mystic. It's a slave ship that was the site of a slave rebellion. Today it sits gleaming and speaks of liberty and the promise of change. However, its rewarding story belies the tragedy of the Middle Passage that claimed millions. Mystic also has a reconstructed version of the Mayflower - it is called the Mayflower II, and it is being revamped and polished for a celebration in 2020 celebrating the original ship's voyage four hundred years ago. The kids on our trip know these stories, and they see in these stories a symbol of religious freedom. However, I am confident that the Europeans who came to the New World were not as pure in their pursuit of liberty and the right to equality as we would like to paint them as in the history books. 
     You can also see a whaling ship in Mystic - and if you are a good sailor, you might get to talk to a re-enactor. We met a jolly lady who was presenting herself as an immigrant to Mystic who arrived in the 1870s. She had left Alaska after it was sold by the Russians to the United States. She spoke of her voyage, a trip from the islands of Alaska, down to Panama, through the canal, past Jamaica, and then up the Atlantic coast to Long Island Sound. I liked hanging out with the kids. They're city kids — most of the lot — so they were into running around, kicking a soccer ball on the village green - and feeling the cold October air in their face. It is kinda crazy to be chaperoning twelve-year-old kids for forty-eight hours straight, but I loved their energy. Kids that age are full of energy but no focus. It's refreshing. 
     Hey. If you know all the answers, then you're a fool, right?
Image Source: Greig Roselli © 2018

19.2.18

Who is Your Favorite U.S. President?

Teddy Roosevelt is my favorite U.S. president. Why?
Theodore Roosevelt, January 8, 1907, Cove Neck, Long Island, New York 
1. I loved reading The Alienist by Caleb Carr - which is when I learned that Teddy Roosevelt was Police Commissioner in New York City from 1895 to 1897. I know. Just because I read about him in a fictional novel really should not count towards his prowess as president. But. Hey. Everything I ever learned has come from reading fiction.

2. His house in Gramercy is sick. He was born there in 1858. It is now a National Park! I went there once and the National Park Ranger fellow told me how Roosevelt survived an assassination attempt.

3. The dude survived an assassination attempt. He was reading a speech in Milwaukee and was shot. The papers he had stuffed into his breast pocket saved his life - cuz they partially blocked the path of the bullet.

4. Oh. About his service as President. How good of a president was he? I know he expanded the National Park Service. :-)

5. He was somehow indirectly connected to the creation/ marketing/rise in popularity of the Teddy Bear.

6. He was the most boyish president.
Theodore Roosevelt, Age 11, Taken in Paris, France circa 1870
7. And he was a New Yorker. The first President born and raised in the Empire State.

Happy President's Day! Who is your favorite president and why?

26.4.16

"Mug Shot Book" at the Philadelphia History Museum

A mug shot of Daniel Mason, convicted of larceny ca. 1900s in Philadelphia.
#6774 Daniel Mason, Larceny
At the Philadelphia History Museum, you can view objects that reflect the city's history. Of all the objects on display, I found the "mug shot book" interesting. Dated from the 1900s, the book is an orderly visual compendium of criminals arrested in the city of brotherly love. For example, check out Daniel Mason (#6774), a well-dressed convicted thief (ca. the 1900s).

16.3.11

Movie Review: "Desert of Forbidden Art" (2010)

At Cinema Village in Manhattan
Desert of Forbidden Art (2010) 
is screening: 
      The documentary, filmed on location in Karapalpakistan (in Uzbekistan) a formerly held area of the Soviet Union, unveils the mystery behind why in Nukus, an otherwise barren town in the desert, is home to thousands of pieces of Soviet Avant-Garde art. 
The answer lies in the life of artist Igor Savitsky. 
      Igor Savitsky was born from aristocratic Bolshevik roots; he became a worker to convince the new Soviet government that he had shed his aristocratic past. Desirous of the artist's life, he got a job drawing desert landscapes. He tried to become an artist but failed. Dispirited he moved to the desert city of Nukus. Unable to make it as an artist, Savitsky conjures up an idea to start a museum in the desert of Karapalpakistan to save revolutionary art from the censoring eyes of Soviet control. Artists who escape the gulag, or who come out of the gulag scarred, sought refuge in the desert to continue their work in secret. 
Savitsky Created a Secret Museum of Art in the Desert
      Savitsky is the collector who saves their pieces in his museum. Using state money, fooling officials about the content of the art, Savitsky was able to save pieces of art that spoke of the torture of the gulags and a pointing finger at the state-approved art that depicted the Soviet regime as growing and prosperous. The film is visually stunning. The filmmakers carefully construct the story about one man's fight against fascism but the film is also a document of the works themselves. The best part was the art itself, stunningly recaptured on film, the colors used by the artists is far from daubery. When I saw the film last weekend the film makes were there to speak about the movie. They spoke about the remote village of Nukus. It seems Uzbekistan does not care about the preservation of its Avant-Garde art. 
The Future of the Museum's Avant-Garde Art Collection
      The museum does not want to sell its collection, nor does the state government seem interested in persevering the art. In fact, as of this writing, the pieces are not displayed and seem to be destined for the trash heap if people do not stand up against the annihilation of art that Stavistky fought so hard to prevent. The documentary is timely because it speaks about a past censorship but seems to also be a call to action that art matters. 

Check out the trailer:
Desert of Forbidden Art
More info from imdb.com

11.9.10

Skip the Statue of Liberty and Head for Ellis Island

The Registry Room at Ellis Island.
Notice the Gustavino tiles.
If you even have a hunch that one of your ancestors may have ventured into the United States via Ellis Island, you should pay the twelve dollars for a ferry at the ticket kiosk at Castle Clinton in Battery Park and skip the Statue of Liberty stop and head straight for a strange parallelogram almost abut New Jersey. For more than a century, travelers from foreign lands hoped to find safe passage on Ellis Island to the United States. In 1954 immigration law mandated that prospective citizens be screened at their respective points of debarkation. The island was shut down by the federal government and remained vacant for years. A cool exhibit at the museum on the third floor are photographs by artists who visited the site during its vacancy period. In the 1980s the complex was renovated and restored by the National Park Service

My own grandfather, Joseph Roselli, emigrated from Italy circa 1920. After his mother died, my grandfather traveled with his brother and father, almost a century ago. His father left he and his brother in Detroit to make a living for themselves in the States. The father returned to the old country to remarry.

I felt a shock of emotion when I walked into the registry room. My grandfather waited in this grand room, designed by the Gustavino brothers, the same brothers who designed the old City Hall subway station, and thousands of tiles scattered through the New York City subway system.

Be sure to explore the individual stations where immigrants had to pass through: the medical rooms, the legal hearing halls, and the on-site dining halls. An added plus is the installation of audio samplings from immigrants who tell their individual stories.

14.4.10

On a Visit to Ozanam Inn in New Orelans — A Men's Homeless Shelter

New Orleans has an all-men homeless shelter on Camp Street. Today my cousin and I stepped inside to take a look.
Ozanam Inn 
photo credit: Ozanam Inn
Spontaneously, while walking on Camp street heading for the D-day museum, We crept behind a gate. Ozanam Inn sprung into view as if metastasized right there on Camp street, replete with a line of men, waiting in line for a room to sleep. But he didn't know what was behind the gate. I didn't tell him; he was horrified, ripped from a pleasant view into a darker corner, social inequality thrust upon a privileged. It was rudeness on my part; I had said, "Come here. I want to show you something," as if I knew what a good lesson was. To me, they were readers, workers, sinners, saints -- reading a newspaper, one, another a novel, and another dragging on a cigarette. Another protecting his bicycle leaning against the dump. For him, just a boy at my side, they were strangers, monsters in his sleep, the stay-away-from-them folks momma told you about, not the needy in want of bread, shelter -- not the Samaritan on the block. It was my fault; I deserved his "Don't ever do that to me again without telling me first" accusation. In my rush to enlighten, I revealed reality too quickly, shed the gauze from his eyes too swiftly as if I went to amputate his legs without warning. We walked to the museum and I could tell I had frightened him. He was skittish and uncomfortable, gazing into the plexiglass displays of bombers and beach ballasts, authentic uniforms; and my words, a mismatch of history and mentorship. An old veteran's wife approached us while I was trying to explain axis and allies; "Listen to him boy; you can't get a better lesson than this". You indeed can't get a better lesson that.

4.3.10

Anatomy of a Scene: Au Revoir Les Enfants (Scene 20)

Movie Still - Au Revoir Les Enfants (1989)
In Louis Mallé's haunting autobiographical film, Au Revoir Les Enfants (1989), figures come out of the Northern European mist as if half-dead, draped in dark shrouds of black. The setting is not Auschwitz or the Western front, but a small Catholic boarding school outside of Paris, Winter 1944, months before the fall of the Third Reich. Mallé's focus is not the battlefield nor is it the concentration camp, but rather, he focuses his exploration on the effects of racism and evil on the lives of young French adolescents boys holed up in a confined space, apart from their upper-class parents. The school's headmaster, Father Jean, has decided to matriculate three new students at the start of the Winter term. What no one knows is that the three new students are in fact Jewish stowaways, hidden by the school to save their lives. In this scene (scene 20 according to Mallé's screenplay): students are marching to the public baths for their periodic soapy wash. The scene is a mixture of everyday rituals of boarding school life, similar to other scenes in the film, of the boys sleeping, praying, going to class, playing war games, playing the piano, taking tests. The "normal," almost painterly scenes are punctuated by news from the war zone: talk of hatred against Jews, the Resistance, French collaborators with the Germans, and the impending intimidation enforced by the conquering Germans. Rations are scarce. Even the wealthy schoolboys suffer; their only allowance is jam and sugar which they exchange for cigarettes. France is occupied by Germany but the Resistance is rumbling. News of German defeat on the Russian front has been circulating.

19.2.10

Born 1917 and Died 2 Jul 1930, Frederick "Freddie" Killman - A Family History Story

In this post, I write a personal family history story about Freddie Killman (my maternal great-uncle), a boy from New Orleans, Louisiana, who drowned in the Seabrook section of Lake Pontchartrain on July 2, 1930.

Family History is important to me and I think it is important to record stories we learn from our relatives. Here is a story about Frederick "Freddie" Killman, a boy who would have been my Great-Uncle, but tragically, he died when he was only a young teenager. Here is the story I gleaned from Killman family records, and oral history.


Frederick "Freddie" Killman (1917 - 1930)
Freddie was very precocious and loved to have fun. He was very different from his brother Hanky who was serious and hard working. His sisters Ida and Dot loved him and looked up to him. Freddie loved to go with his friends to the Lake Pontchartrain and swim. A man from the neighborhood would drive some of the local neighborhood boys to the lake to go for a swim without their parents always knowing about it.

One day Freddie came into the house and announced to the family that he needed some swim pants to go with his buddies to the lake. His mother, Albertine, was surprised, but let him go anyway. That was the last she ever saw of her son. Everybody knew that there was a deep end in the Lake Pontchartrain near People's Avenue and people were told not to go swimming too far out. Freddie was a mediocre swimmer but he was also a risk-taker so he and another boy ventured out further than they should have.


Freddie had gone with another boy from the neighborhood. Freddie was skinny and the other boy was fat. We don’t know what happened exactly but when somebody heard the cries for help they swam out to get the boys. Freddie was still alive when they got to him but he died at the hospital; his friend died too. Edward Spiehler was a witness to this event (Ida’s husband). Albertine was home frying frog legs, Freddie’s favorite. The girls and Francis were inside. Most of the neighborhood knew what had happened but no one wanted to tell the Killman’s the horrible news. Finally, a neighbor told Albertine and Francis what had happened.


Aunt Nen told me that her Dad didn’t say a word and just left the house. Albertine was left with the kids, so she brought them to a neighbor’s house while she went to see for herself what had happened. Both boys were buried at separate funerals and no one blamed anyone for the deaths. Still to this day, Ida remembers every detail of that day as if it happened yesterday. When she told me the story it made me cry but I realized how much she loved her family and our family. She wondered what her brother would have turned out like. Would he have been just as fun-loving as he was when he was a kid or would he have been serious and sensible?

Frederick "Freddie" Killman, René Alberta, Ida Killman, and Dororthy Killman play in the flood waters caused by the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927
Born 1917 and died 2 Jul 1930, Frederick Killman (Freddie) seen here on the right in the floodwaters of the 1927 flood in Gentilly, New Orleans with his buddy, René Alberta, who later died of food poisoning.

1.3.05

Theology: On Augustine and Pelagius

A Review of Gerald Bonner on Augustine and Pelagius

        Gerald Bonner has written extensively on the Pelagian Controversy in books and scholarly articles. Two chapters of his book on Augustine are dedicated to the Pelagian controversy. He also has two later articles on the subject in Augustinian Studies, “Pelagianism and Augustine,” a two-part series.  Also, his article “Rufinus of Syria and African Pelagianism” in the same journal is worth reading.  In these writings, Bonner writes on the origins of Pelagianism, not as a negative force in the church but rather as a positive movement that had intentions of building up, not destroying.  Bonner’s thesis is that if we begin from this positive point of view then, in the end, we can see if there are negative attributes of Pelagianism.[1]  It is a certain methodology Bonner follows: to start from “seeing what is right” about the Pelagians to a conclusion about what may be wrong about their positions; how they themselves would have looked at their movement, from the inside out, not outside in.[2]
        The problem is that we view Pelagianism through the lens of Augustine which distorts what Pelagianism actually stood for.  Looking back at a centuries-old problem, we can fail to see the man who began it all, Pelagius himself.  What did Pelagius actually say and what has been merely been attributed to him?  This is the task of the historian, to be as objective as she can be in the presentation of the facts, to steer clear from any biased retelling of history as far as possible and to sometimes relook history from the lens of another key figure.  In this case, let us look at the Pelagian controversy through Pelagius’ eyes rather than Augustine.  Of course, this task is never perfect; for, even the historian, merely reporting the story, informs history from their own vantage point, not only personal vantage point but the perspective of her time in history, the culture the historian writes from and the intent of the article.  Bonner is suggesting that history has been in favor of Augustine; so, do we get any new insights taking a retrospective look in the shoes of Pelagius?  

The Life of Pelagius

        From 408 - 431 are the years of Pelagianism, but it must be remembered that Pelagianism was not like other theological movements that found disfavor in the church because it was a local phenomenon and not systemic to the entire church at the time.  It basically sprung up in Rome, northern Africa and other pockets of Europe where Pelagius’ followers traveled.[3]   Bonner calls the modern retelling of Pelagianism “the demolition of what may be called the monolithic view of Pelagianism”.[4]   Nascent Pelagianism was not as grand a scheme as people make it out to be. Really, it is Augustine who brought the teachings of Pelagius into more universal awareness.  If it were not for Augustine’s extensive writings against Pelagius we probably would not know about it, but because Augustine spoke out against it so vehemently it has stood the test of time.[5]       
        In 408 Pelagius first comes onto the stage in Rome.  It arose first in aristocratic circles of women in Rome because Pelagius was a spiritual advisor to many women there. Demetrias, the daughter of Anicia Faltonia Proba.  Melania the Younger. All devout women of high rank -- like Jerome before him Pelagius courted single, young women of the bourgeoisie.[6]     About 410, around the same time as the Donatist movement (which is closely related to Pelagianism, sometimes confused with one another) is when Augustine began to preach against Pelagius.  Actually, in 415 The synod at Diospolis declared the writings of Pelagius to be orthodox but in 417 Pelagius was condemned in Rome.  The final stake in the Pelagian coffin was in 418 at the Council of Carthage, with over two hundred bishops under Augustine's leadership, Pope Zosimus pronounced Pelagianism heretical.[7] 
        Pelagius was a monk (although it is not quite clear whether he really was a monk or not) from the present day British Isles and came to Rome where most of his influence was felt; he was well-educated with “a profound knowledge of the bible” so he attracted the higher echelon of female society in Rome.[8]   He was probably born in the latter half of the of the fourth century.  He is different from other infamous dissidents in that there are no scandalous accounts attributed to his name, no grisly tales, and lecherous behavior: He did not die a horrible death, nor was he accused of licentious behavior with the young.[9]   Even Augustine, at one time, attested to his character.[10] Probably Pelagius was not searching for glory and fame; he was not a rabble-rouser dissident but actually a quiet man who tried to stay out of the public eye as much as he could and avoided publicity.[11] Augustine was quite pastoral in his letters to Pelagius which were later used to conclude falsely that Augustine was favorable to Pelagius’ cause.[12]   It is good to note here that Pelagius himself was probably closer to the truth (to orthodoxy) than the followers who took up his name. The third council of Ephesus condemned Caelestius, not Pelagius, who was considered apart of the Pelagian party (but to call the Pelagians a party is misleading because there is no evidence to support that they represented a strongly connected band).[13]   Maybe in the eyes of Augustine, but in reality, the movement was much more provincial than widespread.  Sometimes we tout certain ideas as from Pelagius but when really they are words from his admirers, like Caelstius and Rufinus.[14]
Actually, this is true of many movements in the church.  Jansens is less Jansenistic than Jansenists. Luther was less a Lutheran than the Lutherans.  Pelagius himself did not deny the need for grace nor did he dismiss baptism as essential.[15]