Two Stories, One Topic

Just passing along two stories I wrote recently, both related to my book, The Log Cabin: An Illustrated History.

The first, for The Daily Beast, is all about the iconic cabin’s dark side, i.e. its use in slave trade and to demolish Indian traditions. Cheery stuff.

The second piece, written for Salon, revolves around dead presidents and why we idolize their mythical cabins.

More TK!

Found in the LOC: 28 Pics from WEB DuBois’ 1899 Show

In 1899, WEB DuBois, a man many of us associate with writing, traveled around America, compiling a collection candid pictures of African Americans living their lives at the turn of the century; these images were then sent oversea to Paris, where they were displayed at the  Exposition Universelle of 1900, under the name “Exhibit of the American Negroes.”

It’s a harsh name, but where similar shows in the past had othered black people, trying to denote their “difference” from white people, DuBois’ show both showed diversity among black people — a revolutionary concept for some people back then and, sadly, today — and exhibited the stunning banality of everyday black life. Of course, we Americans know that in the background there was hideous racism and the ever-present threat of violence, which makes the composure in and of these pictures all the more remarkable.

Here are 28 of the nearly 400 in DuBois’ show; many of these were taken by DuBois collaborator Thomas E. Eskew, and all were shot in and around Atlanta, some, I believe, not far from where I live now… All were found over at the Library of Congress.

(And for more Found in the LOC, click here.)

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Short Post on Two Short-Lived Magazines, 1741

Today marks the 277th anniversary of Boston-based publisher Andrew Bradford releasing American Magazine; or Monthly View of the Political State of the British Colonies.

Meanwhile, three days from now, February 16, marks the same amount of time since Bradford’s protégé and later rival, Benjamin Franklin, published his The General Magazine, and Historical Chronicle for all the British Plantations in America.

Neither publication lasted very long: American Magazine shuttered after three months and Franklin’s in six. Media in America, and in general, has always been a tough gig – and that’s putting it nicely.

Foreign Shlock Shock at Lincoln ‘Birth’ Cabin, 1936

It’s Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and we should only be sharing happy memories of the sixteenth president, the Great Emancipator, the Honest One, but I don’t know when I’ll next receive the opportunity to share this random, tangentially-related fact I learned while writing my book, so, you know, indulge me….

In 1936, the interwar period, Americans were aghast to learn that a shop adjacent to the “Lincoln birth cabin” in Hodgenville, Kentucky, was selling foreign-made wares: products described as “relics of Lincoln’s day,” but which the Chicago Tribune revealed to be as “cheap in material and theme,” constructed in far-off lands like Japan or Germany, and all “exploiting the patriotic sentiments of the American public.”

From the Tribune’s 1936 report:

“The articles…sold for 25 cents each and are cheap in construction, material and theme. One of a black and white china ash tray in the shape of a dog. This was made in Japan. Another, made in Germany, is a small wooden box labeled ‘Hope Chest’ and ornamented by a stenciled rose. Within are a nude kewpie doll and a square of cloth.

Still another of these souvenirs stamped with the words ‘Lincoln’s Birthplace, Kentucky,’ is a miniature wooden spinning wheel. This, according to the label, was made in Czechoslovakia.”

And this so close to a place the Cincinnati Enquirer described in 1909 as a “mecca for all patriotic men and women,” a place the Wisconsin Daily Northwestern called “a mecca for all Americans,” a place President Wilson himself said “expresses so much of what is singular and noteworthy in the history of the country”?! What a travesty!

Now, can only image what these people would say if they learned this “Lincoln birth cabin” was itself an elaborate ruse erected as much to honor Lincoln as to glorify America’s broader rags-to-riches/logs-to-luxury myth. And, more importantly, what would they say about Americans electing a president whose oft-licensed — and etymologically appropriate — last name and well-branded family are tied to dozens and dozens of shoddy products produced overseas, all created precisely to exploit American patriotism?

HBD, ‘OED’

The Oxford English Dictionary debuted on this date in 1884. It soon became a go-to glossary the world over, and expanding its enormity exponentially, so much so that in 1900 the wires ran this rundown of impressive OED-related statistics, i.e.: column lengths vis-à-vis equivalent geographical distance, etc.

And the OED continues to grow, adding new words every year. This year’s freshman lexemes include “ransomware,” “me time,” and “dickish,” which could be synonym for another new entry, “mansplaining.” HBD, OED!

American Gentrification, 1832

We hear a lot about gentrification these days, but it’s nothing new. In fact the whole nation’s whole history is one of gentrification*: the movement of white people into “rundown” or “neglected” areas already populated by people of color, and remaking the land in their “civilized image.”**

But this makes it sound instantaneous, when it was actually a whole process. Here’s how it went down, according to someone who was there.

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‘Ultra Rich’ In America, 1883-Today

Hundreds of the planet’s richest and glitziest will gather today to kick off the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. That said, this week’s etymological adventure revolves around the term “ultra-rich.”

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