Links to Recent Stories On Earth, America

I’ve been away from the site for far longer than I intended, for which I apologize. It will be another few days before the regularly scheduled program starts cranking again, as I continue clearing my desk of pesky editorial debris.

In the meantime, I’d like to share links to some recent stories I’ve written elsewhere…

First, “The Congressman Who Warned Us About Climate Change in 1864,” which I wrote for The Daily Beast in honor of Earth Day.

A few days later Mental Floss published my piece “How the Log Cabin Became an American Symbol,” which is a great condensed summary of my book, for those of you who are interested in quirky but critically rigorous American histories.

Alright, off to shovel more vowels and consonants. Be back soon….

Speaking of Writing Books…

….Don’t forget WW Norton/Countryman Press recently published my first endeavor, The Log Cabin: An Illustrated History, in which I use humor and cultural analysis to show how this seemingly simple structure shaped the complex American identity, for better and for worse.

‘Cabin Fever’ Was Coined By A Woman in 1918

No matter what Punxsutawney Phil may say, there are still six weeks of this seemingly eternal winter, and many of us are starting to feel the claustrophobic anxiety colloquially called “cabin fever,” a term that happens to have just turned 100.

Originally association with typhoid fever, the more familiar definition arose with the January 1918 publication of a western-set novel Cabin Fever, about a man named Bud who, feeling suffocated by being a husband and father, leaves his wife and becomes friends with a prospector named Cash. The author? BM Bower, pen name for a woman named Bertha Muzzy Sinclair, who wrote 57 western-themed novels, many of which were best-sellers and 18 of which were made into short and/or feature-length films. But none had the lingual or cultural  impact of “cabin fever.”

The Cincinnati Enquirer defined “cabin fever” as “that irritation and temper, that quarrel-breeding state of mind that comes to those whose lives are too confined and monotonous without action of variety;” and The New York Times noted, “It is the common disease of overwhelming domesticity.” And though Virginia’s Times Dispatch pegged the condition to western life — “There is a certain malady of mind induced by too much monotony: fashionable folk call it ennui, but Westerners call it ‘cabin fever.’” — the term was equally applicable to eastern elite who, shell-shocked by WWI, ensconced themselves in log cabins in places like the Adirondacks and the Poconos. [I write about this briefly in my book: The Log Cabin: An Illustrated History.]

In any event, try to keep your head about you as winter thaws. It’s a ways off, but it will happen… I hope….

[For more Fun with Words, click HERE.]

 

14 Things You Don’t Know About Log Cabins

The log cabin is more complicated than you may think. In fact, I wrote a whole book about it, one beginning with the question, “Why is the log cabin a BFD in the USA?”

You can learn the fully labyrinthine and altogether fascinating answer in said book, The Log Cabin: An Illustrated History. But as you wait for your copy to arrive, here are 14 things you never knew about log cabins, plus two tangentially related factoids, too.

1. No Log Cabins in Plymouth:

We’ve all seen school books and Thanksgiving cards depicting cheery Pilgrims building log cabins, images that cast the structure as the invention of English settlers, as America’s first true home. But that’s all bunk.

The truth of the matter is that English colonists didn’t live in log cabins. They didn’t even know how to make  log cabins. Accustomed to fine brick and frame homes back home, that’s what they built when they got here. Well, not immediately.

First, they slummed it in subterranean dugouts, waiting in the mud until planks could be cut and bricks kiln-fired. It was not a good look… Luckily these ugly bits would be edited out in the centuries ahead.

2. The Swedes and Finns Did It:

So, if the English didn’t bring log cabins to American shores, then who? I guess the sub-header here sort of spoils the beans, but, yes, it was the Swedes and Finns of New Sweden who erected America’s first log cabins. They and their ancestors had been building them for generations, so whipping them together here was simple as pie. But they didn’t make a lasting impression.

New Sweden was so small in population and so short-lived — it fell to the Dutch in 1655 and the land was brought under British rule in 1664 — that it had very little pull in colonial culture at large. Their English and Dutch neighbors weren’t about to copy their homes; Swedish and Finnish log cabins were therefore anomalies in this era, and the structure probably would have faded into oblivion had it not been for the thousands of immigrants who started arriving in the 1700s.

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