Mad About the Marathon

In the early 20th century, the marathon race was over two thousand years old but it was just starting to catch the attention of athletes and sporting fans all over the world. The event was revived in 1896 as part of the very first modern Olympics and it didn’t take long for the long-distance running event to become incredibly popular. Today, hundreds of thousands of people run marathons and long distances every year, often to get fit and stay healthy.

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The 1910 Baltimore Marathon featured more than seventy runners. Photo Credit: The Baltimore Sun

But the new marathon craze did have its detractors, including a Dr. John H. Girdner. According to the good doctor, long distance running was a dangerous killer that wrecked the bodies and minds of young people both in training and competition. “Its victims,” he wrote of the marathon in a 1909 article, “will work irreparable injury to their own health.” Does it seem a little strange that a doctor was so opposed to what is now considered a popular and healthy activity? I think this calls for some historical investigation! Continue reading “Mad About the Marathon”

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Currier and Ives and the Nostalgic Past

There’s a happy feeling nothing in the world can buy…It’ll nearly be like a picture print by Currier and Ives. These wonderful things are the things. We remember all through our lives…

“Sleigh Ride” by Leroy Anderson, 1948

Currier and Ives has a special place in American society and our memory of the past. The prints made by the 19th century lithography company usually invoke fond memories today, which is exactly what they were designed to do. “Mention Currier and Ives and most people think of images of 19th-century home life — of lovers whispering in each other’s ear; elegant children holding fluffy kittens; idyllic farmhouses set in a snowy landscape,” a 1998 New York Times article wrote when describing a new museum exhibit of their prints. Back in the day Currier and Ives was called “the Grand Central Depot for Cheap and Popular Prints,” though its rare to see original prints in homes today. But, they had an impact on home decoration and our ideas about what a “good home” looked like that I think are still relevant today. There is one print called “The Four Seasons of Life: Middle Age” that I really like, and I think is a good example for understanding the wider world of Currier and Ives. Continue reading “Currier and Ives and the Nostalgic Past”

Pennsylvania Weighs in on the Smithsonian

Apparently Pennsylvania politicians had mixed opinions on the Smithsonian Institution when it was first opened in the mid 1800s. I was looking at some early documents in Smithsonian history and happened across some coolquotes from two Pennsylvanians, George Dallas and Simon Cameron, both politicians that left their home state to work in Washington D.C. in the middle of the 1800s. In D.C., they both encountered the Smithsonian Institution, a brand new research organization that had been founded in 1847. Their reactions to the young Smithsonian, were totally opposite and pretty interesting! Continue reading “Pennsylvania Weighs in on the Smithsonian”

Boxing and Other Sports: It’s Personal(ality)

“Sport is the chief share [men] have to-day in the drama of life. Even in France and Spain it has superseded politics as the predominant masculine interest.”

What else is new? It seems like every year professional sports are bigger than ever. No matter what is going on in the world, we can’t get enough of them. Things were pretty much the same in early 1930, except that back then “boxing [was] the innermost shrine of the cult.” (Bolitho 207) Other than the fact that women are much move involved in sports today and that we’re more interested in other sports like football and basketball than boxing, I think this quote is still pretty spot on.

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Madison Square Garden: A monument to athletics, entertainment, and spectacle. Photo credit: Billy Rose Theater Collection, NYPL.

Continue reading “Boxing and Other Sports: It’s Personal(ality)”

Combat on the Screen and on the Page

The other day, a friend asked me what war movies I thought had the most realistic depictions of war and combat. Obviously, no movie is ever going to get war “right.” And anyways how do you define “accurate” for something as huge and complicated as war? Individuals experiences can be wildly different, and their memories of war change over time too so depending on when you ask someone about their experiences in war, you’ll probably get a very different answer. Memory and experience are really interesting topics, but I’ll have to save that for another day. Continue reading “Combat on the Screen and on the Page”

Jumbo: A “Civilized” (and Giant) Terrapin

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Could Jumbo be one of Testudo’s ancestors? Photo credit: UMD Libraries.

When I was researching for my “Dutch Belted Cow” post, I came across a neat 1886 newspaper article called “The True Story of a Pet Land Turtle Named Jumbo.” Being a University of Maryland graduate, this story of a huge terrapin that could perform tricks and was a beloved family pet was a lot of fun to read.

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Artists’s depiction of Jumbo from the original article.

Jumbo the terrapin was a seriously impressive creature! Weighing in at around 100 pounds by the author’s estimate, Jumbo could walk around his yard with a boy balancing on his back and liked to eat bananas and other fruit that his mistress would feed him.  Jumbo was devoted to his mistress and liked to lay his head in her lap, especially whey she had some tasty fruit for him to munch on! He also loved company and would play with the cat and anyone who would spend time with him. I’ve transcribed the entire article below so you can read the whole thing. Continue reading “Jumbo: A “Civilized” (and Giant) Terrapin”

The Dutch Belted Cow: A Research Mystery

Have you ever heard of an Oreo cow? They’re really handsome looking black cows that have a big white stripe in their middles, just like the cookie. I’ve seen a few out in Missouri near my wife’s family’s farm. They aren’t very common, but if you  happen by one they’re hard to miss. These cool looking cows have a really interesting back story that I was able to uncover that involved museums, circuses, a long search on the internet, and even the famous P.T. Barnum! If you’ve got a few minutes then take a seat and I’ll take you through the whole thing.

Recently, we were in an antique store, and my wife and I were looking at an old children’s book on farm animals. I wish I could remember what the book was called but I just can’t. But what I do remember was there was one page with a big picture of an Oreo cow! But what most caught our attention was the accompanying text that called it a “Dutch Belted Cow.” We had never actually known what Oreo cows were actually called, so this was a cool surprise. I texted my father-in-law and he confirmed that the so-called Dutch Belted was the same as an Oreo cow, but of course that wasn’t enough. I wanted to know more!

Continue reading “The Dutch Belted Cow: A Research Mystery”