A Blessing of Blogs

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I recently had the unalloyed joy of working with Jamie Jordan of Jacksonville, a designer with a fine eye and even finer sneakers, who, as a parting gift, gave me the URLs of her favorite blogs. It would be unspeakably greedy of me to keep these to myself:

Oh Joy! — inspiration, design, style

Camilla Engman — a Swedish artist

All the Mountains — seeing in ways I’d never imagined

Enjoy.

Woodchuck Mittens

Woodchuck

“I noticed a woodchuck’s skin tacked up to the inside of his shop. He said it had fatted on his beans, and William had killed it and expected to get another to make a pair of mittens of, one not being quite large enough. It was excellent for mittens. You could hardly wear it out.”

— “Rice’s Poetic Life” in Henry David Thoreau’s diaries, March 11, 1857

Auburn, 1830

Here, from The Boy’s Book About Indians (1873) by the Rev. Edmund B. Tuttle, I give you “Despoiling the Grave of an Old Onondaga Chief,” a story so appalling I lost count of the number of times I was shocked:

“On-on-da-ga was the name of an Indian chief, who died about the year 1830, near Elbridge, a town lying north of Auburn, in the State of New York. This Indian belonged to the Onondagas, one of the tribes called ‘the Six Nations of the Iroquois’ (E-ro-kwa), a confederacy consisting of the Mohawks, Oneidas, Senecas, Cayugas, Onondagas, and Tuscaroras or Chippewas. I was a lad at the time of this chief’s death, having my home in Auburn where my father was the physician and surgeon to the State prison.

“My father had a cousin, who was also a doctor and surgeon, a man of stalwart frame, raised in Vermont, named Cogswell. He was proud of his skill in surgery, and devoted to the science. He had learned of the death of the Onondaga chief, and conceived the idea of getting the body out of the grave for the purpose of dissecting the old fellow, that is, of cutting him up and preserving his bones to hang up on the walls of his office.

“Of course, there was only one way of doing it, and that was by stealing the body under cover of night, as the Indians are very superstitious and careful about the graves of their dead. You know they place all the trappings of the dead—his bow and arrows, tomahawk and wampum—in the grave, as they think he will need them to hunt and supply his wants with on his journey to the happy hunting-grounds…

“Dr. Cogswell took two men one night, with a wagon, and as the distance was only twelve miles, they performed the journey and got back safely before daylight, depositing the body of the Indian in a barn belonging to a Mr. Hopkins, in the north part of the town.

“It was soon noised about town what they had done, and there lived a man there who threatened to go and inform the tribe of the despoiling of the chief’s grave, unless he was paid thirty dollars to keep silence. The doctor, being a bold, courageous man, refused to comply with a request he had no right to make, because it was an attempt ‘to levy blackmail,’ as it is called. Sure enough, he kept his word, and told the Onondagas, who were living between Elbridge and Syracuse. They were very much exasperated when they heard what had been done, and threatened vengeance on the town where the dead chief lay.

“The tribe was soon called together, and a march was planned to go up to Auburn by the way of Skaneateles Lake, a beautiful sheet of water lying six miles east of Auburn. They encamped in the pine woods—a range called the ‘pine ridge’—half-way between the two villages, and sent a few of the tribe into Auburn for the purpose of trading off the baskets they had made for powder and shot; but the real purpose they had in view was to find out just where the body was (deposited in the barn of Mr. Josiah Hopkins), intending to set fire to the barn and burn the town, rescuing the dead chief at the same time.

“For several days the town was greatly excited, and every fireside at night was surrounded with anxious faces; the children listening with greedy ears to narratives of Indian cruelties perpetrated during the war with the English about Canada, in 1812; and I remember how it was told of a cruel Indian named Philip, that he would seize little babes from their mothers’ arms and dash out their brains against the wall! No wonder we dreamed horrid dreams of the dusky faces every night.

“At that time the military did not amount to much. There was a company of citizen soldiers there, called the Auburn Guards, numbering about forty men, with a captain whose name I forget, but who became suddenly seized with the idea of his unfitness to defend the town against the threatened Indian invasion, and did the wisest thing he could, and resigned his commission on a plea of ‘sudden indisposition.’

“The doctor walked the street as bold as a lion, but acting also with the shrewd cunning of the fox. And now, my young friends, instead of weaving a bloody romance in the style of the Dime Novels, depicting the terrible massacre, which might have happened, with so great a wrong to provoke the hostility of the poor Indians, I am about to tell you how the town was saved, and how the doctor outwitted them. If you pause here, and guess, I think you will be far from the mark in reaching the shrewdness of the surgeon, who had not been bred among the hills of old Vermont for nothing.

“As I said, at Auburn there is a State prison, and when the convicts die, their bodies, unless claimed by relatives or friends within twenty-four hours after death, are at the disposal of the surgeon for dissection. As good luck would have it, a negro convict died at the time of our story; and the doctor conceived the idea of getting out of his difficulty by transferring the dead body of the negro Jim to the despoiled empty grave of Onondaga!

“This done, he easily persuaded the Indians to go back and find the body of their chief all right: and so he succeeded in humbugging the weak-minded Indians, while the bones of old Onondaga were duly prepared and hung up to show students how Indians and all men are made of bone and muscle. The doctor thought he had done a good thing; but when I went into the office and saw the horrid skull grinning at me, I was thankful that the spirit of old Onondaga could not say of me, ‘You did it!’”

One could attribute this to the sensibilities of the time, but fortunately I came upon this contemporary review of The Boy’s Book of Indians which reassures us that not everyone shared the warped views of the Rev. Tuttle and Dr. Cogswell:

“What a post chaplain or anybody else sees and hears on the Plains is not all of a nature to repeat to boys and we have serious doubts of the Rev Mr. Tuttle’s capacity to write anything which we could advise boys to read or their elders to let them read. The hotch-potch which he has labeled The Boy’s Book about Indians is in no sense a boy’s book; it treats murderers and horse thieves as well as of Indians, is full of scenes of violence and slaughter, is wretchedly written and disorderly in the last degree, and while it undoubtedly contains a great many true descriptions it is calculated only to convince youthful readers that the Indians have thoroughly deserved their fate whereas the author professes to aim at exciting sympathy on their behalf… His first tale of the Plains is about despoiling the grave of an old Onondaga chief in Central New York. Some passages from it will show the tone which pervades this disagreeable scrap book.”

— from The Nation, Dec. 5, 1872, “Children’s Holiday Books”

Father Klauder

St John the Baptist Englewood

I was raised as a Baptist, in a house across the street from a Roman Catholic church. Every day I marveled at the Catholics I saw, how different they were. The Baptist faith of my youth was cut from plain cloth, with simple rules: Everything I did or thought of doing was wrong, and I was going to spend Eternity in a lake of fire. On the other hand, we ate meat on Friday with impunity. What funny rules the Catholics had.

They also had a bowling alley. In fact, they had a whole block of Kenmore, with an old church, a graveyard, a convent, a big new church and rectory, a school, and the bowling alley, where they served beer. As Baptists who never drank in the presence of other Baptists, we looked down our noses at a church that would sell beer.

One day, forever engraved in my memory, the bowling alley ran out of beer. When the bowlers heard that a beer truck was on its way, they gathered outside, and as the truck pulled in they raised a lusty cheer, jumping up and down, arms waving. So un-Baptist.

Speaking of amusements, the older boys, Protestants and Catholics alike, ordered pizzas for the nuns living in the convent, and watched the ensuing deliveries with considerable mirth. But no one made fun of Father Klauder. We loved Father Klauder.

On sunny days in the 1950s, his black priestly robes rippling in the breeze, the Right Reverend Monsignor Charles A. Klauder played baseball in the parking lot with the neighborhood boys. When pitching, he didn’t so much throw the ball as serve it up, so the hitter might do his best. With the bat, he had a smooth but gentle swing.

In my youth, I thought his name was Father Clouder, because that’s how it was pronounced. Whenever we walked by, he smiled at us and waved, and we waved back. He was a nice man. Not a stern authority figure, but rather someone who glowed with kindness.

His example, perhaps, was the first that nudged me towards becoming more open and ecumenical in my religious journey. I certainly needed a lot of work, and many more mentors, but Father Klauder was the first to give me pause for thought.

Father-Klauder-PopeFather Klauder with Pope Pius XII, February 1958

Father-Klauder-Card

Sarajevo, 1992

“When you knocked I assumed you were just another of the bored children with nothing to do but make themselves a nuisance by knocking on an old man’s door, then run away laughing as soon as the door opens. Or worse, they don’t run away at all. ‘Please,’ I tell them, ‘why don’t you run along and play out in the shelling. Call down some artillery on us. Let us watch you out our windows while you run for your lives.’ ”

— Dan Fesperman’s Lie in the Dark (1999), a novel which is followed by The Small Boat of Great Sorrows, two of the best books I’ve ever read, and must reads for anyone who has followed the agony of the Balkans in the past 20 years, or the past five centuries for that matter. Brilliant writer, enthralling novels.

Thoreau and Ranganathan

Thoreau-Concord

Because I love both the writing of Henry David Thoreau and the art of N.C. Wyeth, I was delighted to find an old copy of Thoreau’s Men of Concord (1936), with pictures by Wyeth, a book filled with fascinating people, giving me glimpses into the lives of men and women I was never otherwise going to meet, and a time I was never going to live in. Some of Thoreau’s brief stories just stopped me cold, made me read again, and a third time, like this one:

“October 1, 1851. 5 p.m. — Just put a fugitive slave, who has taken the name of Henry Williams, into the cars for Canada. He escaped from Stafford County, Virginia, to Boston last October; has been in Shadrach’s place at the Cornhill Coffee-House; had been corresponding through an agent with his master, who is his father, about buying himself, his master asking $600, but he having been able to raise only $500. Heard that there were writs out for two Williamses, fugitives, and was informed by his fellow-servants and employer that Augerhole Burns and others of the police had called for him when he was out.

“Accordingly fled to Concord last night on foot, bringing a letter to our family from Mr. Lovejoy of Cambridge… He lodged with us, and waited in the house till funds were collected with which to forward him. Intended to dispatch him at noon through to Burlington, but when I went to buy his ticket, saw one at the depot who looked and behaved so much like a Boston policeman that I did not venture that time.”

There was so much in this: A man seeking freedom, being forced to haggle over $100 with his owner, who is also his biological father. A slave-hunting policeman named Augerhole Burns. Thoreau’s family quickly collecting money from sympathizers for the railroad ticket. Thoreau spotting an undercover officer at the station, and waiting for the next train headed north.

Although not every page of Men of Concord contains a thriller, every page does have a character, but when I got to page 57, I discovered that 58 & 59 had never been cut apart. This book, published in 1936, has never before been read. Its cover has some dings; the binding is faded by the sun, the paper is yellowing, but in more than 70 years, no one actually read it. Which brought to my mind, as I am sure it already has to yours, Ranganathan’s third law of library science, “Every book its reader.” I’ve had to reach for my letter opener again as I make my way through Thoreau’s stories; I feel like an explorer, going where no reader has gone before, and I am very happy that his book at last has its reader. May I not be the last.

* * *

Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan (1892-1972) was the father of library science in India,respected by librarians all over the world, including Antje Lemke, one of my professors at the Syracuse University School of Library Science, who first introduced me to the man’s work and thought. His justly famous five laws are:

1. Books are for use.
2. Every reader his [or her] book.
3. Every book its reader.
4. Save the time of the User.
5. The library is a growing organism

ranganathan

So hip, he even had his own postage stamp.

I Walked with a Zombie

Iwalkedwithazombie

When an NPR segment of Bill Littlefield’s “Only a Game” closed with the song “I Walked with a Zombie,” a 1981 chestnut by Roky Erickson of the 13th Floor Elevators, I had to grab it at iTunes. My curiosity then led me to Wikipedia and the 1943 film of the same name, which I added to my Netflix queue, but not before gazing upon this poster by an unknown artist and reveling in the beauty of it all.