Before America had Uncle Sam, there was “Brother Jonathan”

We’re all readily familiar with that ubiquitous personification of the United States, Uncle Sam. What is largely forgotten today, however, is that he was hardly the first such national symbol. In fact, Uncle Sam had several predecessors — perhaps most notably the post-Revolutionary War-era character “Brother Jonathan.”

Brother Jonathan, an early emblem of the United States.

From Atlas Obscura:

He was ill-mannered and ill-spoken—a boor, a braggart, a ruffian, a bigot, a hick, and a trickster. His name was Brother Jonathan.

Today he is all but forgotten—eclipsed by his upstanding uncle, Sam. But after the Revolutionary War, Brother Jonathan was the personification of the newly independent American people: clever, courageous, not all that sophisticated and proud of it. He was the everyman incarnate. It was the everyman who had led America to victory. And now America looked to the everyman to lead them out from the bloated shadow of Great Britain.

Brother Jonathan was a rustic New Englander who was depicted at various times on stage as a peddler, a seaman, and a trader, but always as a sly and cunning figure. He began to show up in political cartoons in newspapers and magazines during the early part of the 19th century as new and cheaper printing methods developed. It was at this point that American cartoonists transformed Brother Jonathan from a figure of derision into one of patriotic pride.

Scholars and historians disagree about the origins of Brother Jonathan:

The term appears to date to the English Civil War, when it was applied derisively to the Puritan roundheads. […] It is probably derived from the Biblical words spoken by David after the death of his friend Jonathan, “I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan” (2 Samuel 1:26).

A popular folk tale about the origin of the term holds that the character is derived from Jonathan Trumbull (1710–85), Governor of the State of Connecticut, which was the main source of supplies for the Northern and Middle Departments during the American Revolutionary War. It is said that George Washington uttered the words, “We must consult Brother Jonathan,” when asked how he could win the war. That origin is doubtful, however, as neither man made reference to the story during his lifetime and the first appearance of the story has been traced to the mid-19th century, long after their deaths.

It’s worth noting, of course, that even Brother Jonathan had predecessors: even earlier personifications of America include Columbia and Lady Liberty.

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The earliest known use of the term “OMG”

…was not on some obscure Usenet system or bygone bulletin board. It occurred, according to the Smithsonian, in a letter to Winston Churchill dated September 9, 1917 (more than 100 years ago!). The letter, written by British admiral Lord Fisher, includes the now-famous acronym in its final line:

Apparently there are two exclamation points in “omg”!

Other internet acronyms are much more recent coinages. The first documented instance of “LOL,” for example, dates back to a May 1989 issue of an online newsletter (still available here). Said newsletter includes the following guide to “colorful communicating” on the internet:

     OLM  - On Line Message          OTW  - On The Way
     OIC  - Oh I See                 H    - HUH???
     BTW  - By The Way               LOL  - Laughing Out Loud
     ROTF - Rolling On The Floor     RAO  - Rolling All Over
     LMTO - Laughing My Tush Off     BRB  - Be Right Back
     AFK  - Away From Keys           BBL  - Be Back Later
     BAK  - Back At Keys             WLCM - Welcome
     BCNU - Be Seeing You            L8R  - Later
     ODM  - On De Move               OTB  - Off To Bed
     LTNT - Long Time No Type        TTFN - Ta Ta For Now
     RE   - Again (Greetings, as in "re-hi")
     LTNS - Long Time No See
     M/F  - Male or Female (also known as 'MORFING', as in
     "Oh no! I've been morfed!!")

Some of these terms, of course, are still in use, while others never really took off.

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The Cranberry Crisis of Thanksgiving 1959

While cranberries have been cultivated and consumed by Native Americans since pre-Columbian times – and have long been associated with Thanksgiving celebrations in the United States – the fruit’s position on our harvest table has not always been so secure.

Near the end of the second Eisenhower administration, fears of widespread chemical contamination prompted the Great Cranberry Scare of 1959. A few weeks before Thanksgiving, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Arthur S. Flemming announced that

The Food and Drug Administration today urged that no further sales be made of cranberries and cranberry products produced in Washington and Oregon in 1958 and 1959 because of their possible contamination by a chemical weed killer, aminotriazole, which causes cancer in the thyroids of rats when it is contained in their diet, until the cranberry industry has submitted a workable plan to separate the contaminated berries from those that are not contaminated.1

American consumers panicked: a “fifty-million-dollar-a-year business collapsed overnight [and] sales of fresh cranberries […] dropped sixty-three per cent from the year before.” Fearful of poisoning, cranberries vanished from Thanksgiving tables that year; even the Eisenhowers declined to served them at the White House dinner.2

Afterward, two things became clear. First, that the contamination was not widespread, and that scientists had simply erred on the side of caution since there was no way for consumers to determine on short notice where their cranberries had come from. Second, the cranberry industry concluded that it could not depend on Thanksgiving sales alone – prompting the introduction and marketing of cranberry juices that could be sold year-round.3

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Why are there so many medieval paintings of people battling large snails?

I never knew that giant snails featured so prominently in medieval paintings, but now that I do, this is the first question on my mind. They do, it turns out.  According to Sarah J. Biggs of the British Library, “images of armed knights fighting snails are common” in 13th and 14th century illuminated manuscripts, “especially in marginalia.”  Check out a sampling below:

View post on imgur.com

One theory about the snails, Biggs goes on, is that they represent the Resurrection; others suggest they are a symbol of the Lombards, a group “vilified in the early middle ages for treasonous behaviour”;  still others have described the ‘knight v snail’ motif as “a representation of the struggles of the poor against an oppressive aristocracy, a straightforward statement of the snail’s troublesome reputation as a garden pest, a commentary on social climbers, or even as a saucy symbol of female sexuality.”

As /r/AskHistorians puts it, in other words, there are “as many explanations as there are scholars”; fundamentally, we just really don’t know. Redditor /u/TheAlaskan relates another plausible account:

“I’m partial to the explanation of Medievalist Lisa Spangenberg, who suggests that the snail is ‘a reminder of the inevitability of death.’
To understand that reference, you have to refer to Psalm 58 (Wycliffe translation) . We’re looking here at verses 7-8:
7 They shall come to nought, as water running away; he bent his bow, till they be made sick. (They shall come to nothing, like water running forth; and when they go to bend their bows, they shall be made feeble, or weak.)
8 As wax that floateth away, they shall be taken away; fire fell above, and they saw not the sun. (Like a snail that melteth away into slime, they shall be taken away; like a dead-born child, they shall not see the sun.)
Like the snail, even the best-armored knight will melt away.”

Fascinating and bizarre stuff.

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Underwater Mormon ghost town uncovered by Nevada drought

Formerly submerged under 60 feet of water, the ongoing drought in the western United States has left the ghost town of St. Thomas, Nevada, once again exposed to the air.

From the Huffington Post:

Lest anyone forget, the drought in California and across the Southwest is still raging on. And one of the places where its effects can be observed most clearly is Nevada’s Lake Mead.

The nation’s largest reservoir has hit a series of troubling milestones over the past year, sinking to a record low in late June. Now, in the latest benchmark for the new Lake Mead, a town that flooded shortly after the completion of the Hoover Dam in 1938 has literally risen from the depths.

The ghost town — once called St. Thomas, Nevada — was founded as a Mormon settlement in 1865 and had six bustling businesses by 1918, according to Weather.com. But for nearly a century, it’s been uninhabited and uninhabitable, existing mostly as an underwater curiosity.

You can see more pictures here.

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Mysterious shipwreck discovered 1 mile deep off the coast of North Carolina

Mysterious is an appropriate term for the vast reaches of Earth’s global ocean: after all, we now have a fuller knowledge of the surface of Pluto, a full 4.67 billion miles away, than we do of the bottoms of our own terrestrial seas. It should really come as no surprise that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 still hasn’t been found.

Researchers have found something interesting off the coast of North Carolina, though: the remains of a centuries-old shipwreck of unknown origin, likely dating to the time of the American revolution or the early eighteenth century.  From the Washington Post:

The Marine scientists didn’t set out to find a shipwreck. But when they deployed their underwater equipment off the North Carolina coast, there it was, lying nearly a mile beneath the surface: a ship carrying an iron chain, red bricks and glass bottles.

Those artifacts suggest the ship could date to the Revolutionary War or the early 19th century. […]

“Lying more than a mile down in near-freezing temperatures, the site is undisturbed and well preserved,” Bruce Terrell, chief archaeologist of NOAA’s Marine Heritage Program, said in a statement. “Careful archaeological study in the future could definitely tell us more.”

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What’s the oldest song we still know the tune to?

Thanks to Redditor /u/dtxvsk, we have an answer to that fascinating question:

The oldest melody which is known to have survived in its entirety is the Song of Seikilos, which was composed in Greece around 200 BC. The song, which was written by a man named Seikilos in memory of his recently-passed wife, was found engraved on a pillar in her grave.


It’s so strange and moving that this simple dirge has endured for more than two thousand years. Would Seikilos be touched to know that his wife’s memory, through his music, has lived on for millennia?

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Ancient Mayan cities discovered hidden deep in Mexican jungle

It doesn’t take long for an unattended lawn to return to pasture, or for ivy to creep up and over the face of a brick building. But the jungle is another force of nature entirely, more than capable of swallowing whole entire cities, perhaps never to divulge them again. Two such cities, lost centuries ago, were recently rediscovered in the Yucatan:
A monster mouth doorway, ruined pyramid temples and palace remains emerged from the Mexican jungle as archaeologists unearthed two ancient Mayan cities.
 
Found in the southeastern part of the Mexican state of Campeche, in the heart of the Yucatan peninsula, the cities were hidden in thick vegetation and hardly accessible.
 

“In the jungle you can be as little as 600 feet from a large site and do not even suspect it might be there; small mounds are all over the place, but they give you no idea about where an urban center might be,” said expedition leader Ivan Sprajc, of the Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU). 

 

 Read more… here!

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The Kowloon Walled City

The Kowloon Walled City was something straight out of dystopian fiction – but it was very much factual for the 33,000 people who lived there. Kowloon, as Wikipedia succinctly puts it, was a “densely populated, largely ungoverned settlement in Kowloon, Hong Kong.” In fact, the 6.5-acre 

English: Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong, photo...

English: Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong, photographed from an airplane Deutsch: Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong, Luftbild (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

enclave was the most densely populated space on earth: approximately 1,255,000 inhabitants per square kilometer! For comparison, Wikipedia points out that “Hong Kong as a whole (itself one of the most densely populated areas on earth) had a population density of about 6,700 inhabitants per square kilometer.” The settlement dates back to AD 960, but its namesake walls were built by the Chinese in 1847, after the British took control of Hong Kong proper. Following Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II, the Chinese reclaimed Kowloon and opened it to refugees; it was then that its population dramatically increased. The Walled City was ultimately cleared and demolished in 1994. 

Right now, there’s an ongoing “ask me anything” thread at Reddit, posted by Reddit user Crypt0n1te, a former inhabitant of the Walled City. He writes: 
I lived in KWC when I was 2-3 years old but I have no recollection of that time. Later on, even though our family moved out of there, but since I was enrolled in the schools near there and my parent worked during the day, so my bro and me were dropped off at my relative’s place in KWC everyday. I got to know the place pretty well because I spent at least 4 hrs there everyday from 1984 to 1991. So ask away!
You can see more pictures of the Kowloon Walled City here
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