Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Brownie Who?

If you're familiar with the Brownie camera, you might not give its name a second thought. After all, Brownies were produced for decades and many of us grew up around them. That's just the name, right?

But when they were introduced in 1900, the name was significant. The cameras were advertised as being so simple to operate, even a child could do it. And the name? A popular cartoon at the time.

At the turn of the 20th century stories were read in serial form by many people. Popular magazines of the day ran them, like Palmer Cox's series in Lady's Home Journal. His characters also filled his  children's books.

Brownies are akin to fairies and goblins. They are mischievous, but good natured. They are the Celtic little people, and Cox illustrated their adventures.

Cox's Brownies were used in merchandise and so Kodak borrowed them for their new advertising campaign. Reportedly, Palmer Cox never received compensation, although if you think about it, his Brownies would be all but forgotten today if not for the Brownie camera. So at least he lives in infamy.

If you'd like to know more about the Brownie camera, here's a great article from The Franklin Institute.

What do you think about these Brownies? Cute? Not so much?

Read about Grace McCaffery and her Brownie Camera in Grace's Pictures.

Friday, July 26, 2013

A 1900 View of the Future

Jules Verne's From The Earth to The Moon

I'm working through edits on Book Two of the Ellis Island Series, Annie's Stories. One of the characters enjoys reading the contemporary authors Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, who were known for their futuristic notions.

I was reading a column in the New York Times from 1901 written by Wells where he discusses the idea that in the year 2000 suburbs will stretch far out from big cities like New York and London because automobiles will travel far faster than 30 miles per hour. It's pretty interesting.

That's why this blog post from The Bowery Boys caught my attention. Thankfully some predictions did not come true. (Gotta love The Bowery Boys!)

But many things were uncannily foreseen. Did you know cell phones were predicted way back in 1909? It's true. Read about it.

Incredible. What's your prediction for the future?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Hello? Where Are You?

I'd like to find out where you all hang out. This will only take a second.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Do Native New Yorkers Exist?

Photos from the New York Times
From left, DeRuiter Family; Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
Christian DeRuiter strolls along the Hudson, which runs through his family’s long history in the city, dating back to Dutch colonial days. Left, Johannah de Bloch and Frederick DeRuiter, Mr. DeRuiter’s paternal grandparents.

I ran across this interesting article in the New York Times by Constance Rosenblum. It reminded me that we're all immigrants here in America, with only rare exceptions. Rosenblum notes that the majority of New Yorkers today came from somewhere else.

The article also drove home for me the reason I wrote Grace's Pictures. I thought I'd share it here with you. Can you relate to any of the people in this article?

Family Tree New York

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Immigration: Hot Topic Then and Now

I don't have to tell you immigration is a hot topic in America today. Congress has been debating a bill all summer it seems. Who is here legally? Who has rights? Who doesn't? Who will take jobs from Americans? What immigration regulations need to be tightened or changed?

Sounds right out of today's headlines, doesn't it? But these are questions debated during the time I set my novel, Grace's Pictures.

Of course, the headlines weren't at all politically correct back then.

Harpers Illustration from 1898
And if you want to go further back in history you'll find those living in America discriminating against the new arrivals for as long as we've been recording our history.

There surely are important issues to settle. I'm not about to debate them here. But even so it never ceases to amaze me how history repeats itself. The above headline (or more accurately, sub headline) appeared in the New York Times, December 23, 1901. In the article one of the points to be addressed by Congress was:

"To add to the present law whatever seems to be necessary to meet the advanced judgment of those who have been studying the immigration question carefully for the last quarter of a century."

Cartoon from 1928.
It seems what was deemed necessary was to increase a "head tax" on aliens, triple it actually. They were concerned that the immigrations would become a burden, "criminals and paupers." Tracking these individuals would be costly, thus the need to tax them. Anyone with a contagious disease, the insane, anyone likely to become a public charge was to be deported. Likewise polygamists, anarchists, prostitutes and those bringing in prostitutes. In addition, anyone who was promised work in America
was to be deported. They could work after they got here, but no one needing labor was to look for it outside of the US instead of employing Americans already here. Interesting, huh? There were exclusions for musicians, actors, ministers, or those to be employed in domestic service. It's getting really complicated, isn't it?

The article writer concludes that those who have examined this new bill claim it is "quite up to date, that it is built intelligently on the experience of those who have been administering the immigration laws for years, and that it does justice to all interests which it affects."

Well, we can only hope our officials will keep this in mind today.

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Peek into New York Life in 1901

I love these old Thomas Edison reels. I wonder if Marilyn Monroe watched this one. Keep an eye on the sidewalk grate.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Author Karen Robbins on Her Ireland Trip

Cindy's note: Karen is a writer friend who just happens to have been born on St. Patrick's Day. I asked her to share with you some memories about her trip.

Thanks for inviting me today, Cindy! One of the reasons I love your books so much is the Ireland connection. In 2011, we spent a month exploring Ireland. We began in Dublin and circled the entire island country. It is truly a beautiful country with wonderful people—actually two countries, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland which is still a part of the United Kingdom.

Karen Robbins's photo.
I cannot pick out a favorite spot. Each area was unique and had something different to experience although I do favor the countryside more than the larger cities. One of the most delightful things about each area that we visited though was the storytelling. Ah, the Irish can spin a tale!

On our second day to explore the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland, we found ourselves in the land of legendary giants. The Giant's Causeway, a spectacular work of nature or giants if you would believe folklore, was fascinating. The rock formation is made from an estimated 40,000 basalt columns which were formed from a volcanic eruption over 60 million years ago. 

The causeway was discovered in 1692 by the Bishop of Derry who immediately reported it to the tourist bureau in Dublin--just kidding--but it was reported to Dublin authorities who in turn contacted authorities in London and the theories and research began in an attempt to explain the phenomenon.

But who wants facts like lava flowing and filling in fissures and creating a layer of basalt and then sun and rain eroding them, more lava flowing, cooling slowly, more cracking, and on and on until you get all of these columns of mostly six-sided stones? Give me the legend. It's much more fun.
Karen Robbins's photo.

It is said that an Irish giant named Finn McCool lived along the coast and was insulted by a Scottish giant, Fingal, who lived across the channel. In anger, Finn lifted a huge chunk of earth and hurled it at Fingal. The earth fell into the sea. Fingal retaliated with a huge stone tossed in Finn's direction. He taunted Finn saying that Finn was lucky he wasn't a strong swimmer or he'd come over to the Irish shore and give Finn what for.

Finn was enraged and began throwing large clumps of earth into the channel to make a walkway for Fingal to come over and face him. It took him a week to complete the walkway but since he hadn't slept in a week, he was worried that he was too tired to face Fingal.

Now here's where it gets interesting. One account says he asked his wife what to do and she told him to disguise himself as a baby in a cot--which is what he did. When Fingal arrived, Finn's wife said her husband was out but showed Fingal her "baby" laying in the cradle. Fingal saw the size of the "baby" and wondered how big the father was. He high tailed it home tearing up the walkway as he went. The Giants Causeway is all that's left.

Now isn't that better than a lot of geological facts? Before we left, Bob and I were feeling a bit adventuresome. We climbed to the top of a group of rocks for a Kodak moment. After all, we were nearing the end of our Ireland trip and a turned ankle wouldn't be so disastrous.

KAREN ROBBINS is a freelance writer, author, and speaker. She and her husband are travel addicts and stop by home in the Cleveland area of Ohio on occasion to repack the suitcases. Her stories are often inspired by adventures in many different parts of the world.
Along the writing adventure, Karen has published Divide The Child, Murder Among The Orchids, In A Pickle, and Death Among The Deckchairs. She has also coauthored A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts and A Scrapbook of Motherhood Firsts and has contributed to several Chicken Soup books. Travel articles, essays on grandparenting, and some of her short stories can be found in various magazines both online and in print.
While the world is fun to explore, Karen most likes to spend time with her eight grandchildren. They offer the greatest adventures of all.
Follow Karen’s travels at Writer’s Wanderings. Connect with her at her Facebook Author Page to learn when her next Casey Stengel Mystery book, Secrets Among The Shamrocks will be released.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Win!! Prints That Inspired Grace's Pictures

Update: Mandy is the winner! Thanks for entering, everyone. If you'd like me to run another contest like this, just ask! :)

I would love to give these four prints away to one of my readers. If I get a good response, I may do it again and perhaps add some different ones. You can use these for crafts (lots of inspiration over on Pinterest!) or just frame them as a set. They are printed on book pages (not my book, but a library discard!) The photos are in the public domain, and I think they are quite charming. They helped inspire me as I wrote Grace's Pictures. What do you think?

Not crafty? Send one of your friends over and remind her you have a birthday coming up! ;-)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

See the Reopening of the Statue of Liberty

Read about an immigrant who saw the Statue as she arrived in America in Grace's Pictures.

Hello Again, Lady Liberty!

Statue of Liberty National Monument
Click on photo for Flickr credit

Today the Statue of Liberty re-opens to visitors after being closed since Superstorm Sandy hit the area last October.

The statue was undamaged, sitting on high ground on Liberty Island, but 8 feet of water damaged the island’s boilers and electrical systems, so repairs were necessary before tourists could be admitted.

The Ellis Island Immigrant Museum remains closed.

Given all the widespread damage Sandy caused, you might wonder how the statue survived so well. Lady Liberty is really an engineering marvel. Even though the harbor provides some degree of shelter from most storms, the statue's designer, Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, constructed an internal skeleton that is so mathematically intense it baffles my mind. It's said to be capable of surviving hurricane force winds. If you'd like to learn more, visit this page or this one. And yes, this is the man who went on to build the Eiffel Tower.


NPS photo
  • The statue has been closed before, including after a bombing incident in 1916 referred to as the Black Tom Explosion, when immigrants on Ellis Island had to be evacuated to Manhattan, and in the aftermath of 9-11.
  • The statue was originally copper-colored like a penny. The oxidation took about thirty years to turn the statue completely green.
  • The torch used to be accessible to visitors, but it has been off limits for safety reasons since the Black Tom Explosion.
  • The arm and torch were on display before the statue was completed, as a fund raising effort.
  • One of the symbolisms the statue bears is a broken chain. It cannot be seen from the ground. It is partially hidden because at the time it was feared it would be too polarizing following the Civil War.

Statue of Liberty National Monument
Click on photo for Flickr credit

I think most Americans are pleased this symbol of our freedom and the first sight many of our immigrant ancestors saw when they first entered our country is open again. Happy 4th, everyone!

To read about an Irish immigrant who passed through Ellis Island, be sure to pick up my new book, Grace's Pictures.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Fighting to Be Remembered

As Independence Day in America approaches, I think about my personal family history, and how the names in my family tree helped build America. If genealogy is not your thing, you are probably missing the satisfaction of realizing how connected you are to those who built this country.

My Valley Forge Connection

For example, my husband has relatives who endured the conditions at Valley Forge, and if you know history, you know that even though no battles were fought there, the sheer determination of General George Washington and his troops just to survive and keep an army together set the stage of what was truly a miraculous revolution. Had my husband's ancestor not survived--and he was in his 60s at the time!--my husband would not be here, and neither would my children.

And if I hadn't researched that line I would not have found one of my favorite stories! William Thomson was court martial-ed for swearing at his superior officer, a man likely three decades younger than him. General Washington pardoned Thomson, saying he'd had good cause for his actions.

The Ultimate Sacrifice

But seriously, there are numerous examples of the sacrifices our ancestors made so that we might enjoy our freedoms in America. I think it's safe to say not one American reading this post has not had a relative who died fighting for our freedom in a war. Sadly, there have been wars in every generation. Don't those soldiers deserve to be remembered? To have their stories and the facts surrounding their lives recorded?

Other Heroes

And even those who did not fight in a war, fought for survival, overcoming poverty, lack of education, poor English language skills, few resources other than a will to work hard and prosper. These things that drove our ancestors to build their places in American society are the kinds of stories I like to tell in my fiction.

What are the stories you've found of your ancestors' sacrifices?