Category Archives: Americana

The Whale – and How it Shapes Lives All Over America

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A few years ago we published a blog detailing Herman Melville’s life. This week we thought we’d revisit his most famous work in a bit more detail, and come up with five in-depth reasons about Moby Dick, why it is one of the most widespread works taught in American schools today, and why it matters. “Book! You lie there; the fact is, you books must know your places. You’ll do to give us the bare words and facts, but we come in to supply the thoughts.” And on we go!

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1. Several scholars argue that the opening sentence of Moby Dick “Call me Ishmael” is the best known line in classic American literature. It starts off a long tale of adventure and revenge, focusing on a crazed whaling boat captain and his enduring grievance against the giant white sperm whale that took off his leg. While this book is, as stated, one of the most well-known works in America today, it was considered a flop at the time of its publication. Melville wrote it at the tender age of 32 in 1851, and over the next fifty years of his life it sold only 3,215 copies, making him a whopping $1,260 over those decades. It was only after the centennial of his birth in 1919 that a slow resurgence of interest in Melville’s work began, and by the 1960′s Moby Dick was being regularly taught in schools.

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“I try all things, I achieve what I can.” – Herman Melville, Moby Dick

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2. Melville masterfully created characters that could inspire, despite their outward, stereotypical appearances. The moral compass of humanity in Moby Dick is the cannibal Queequeg. He is courageous, stoic and self-sacrificing, a good friend to the novel’s narrator, and his virtuous nature is a stark contrast to the vengeful and fanatical Captain Ahab aboard the Pequod (the whaling ship). In this way, Melville dictates to his audience that appearances are not always what they seem. After all, “Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunk Christian.”

 

3. Another reason why the story is so revered is Melville’s ability to use these characters to make social commentary on society at large. As Jamie Gass wrote, “A full decade before the Civil War’s carnage, only a highly unconventional writer of profound depth could craft a poetic novel using an enlightened cannibal to devour America’s racial, nativist, and religious stereotypes.” By placing Queequeg as the savior in the story, Melville highlights to students today how being fearful of someone different than us isn’t necessarily justified. Just because people are different doesn’t mean they are inherently bad – and we should not stereotype each other without giving ourselves a chance to see the human beneath the surface, as Ishmael does Queequeg. Some have even likened the Pequod to Melville’s America, with its treatment of minorities on the ship. In this way, Melville used his characters to comment on America’s shameful treatment of African Americans and other minorities, and continues to this day to remind us to look beyond the surface. As Melville writes, “See how elastic our prejudices grow when once love comes to bend them.”

 

4. The life lessons throughout the story rival those in famous religious works. Not only are their cautionary lessons on the limits of vengeance inside, but there are studies of the issues of man vs. nature (is it our job to conquer nature, or simply be its stewards? I’ll give you one guess), sexual orientation, the dangers of following a charismatic madman, and how our unacknowledged biases shape our actions – for better and for worse. One website claims that you couldn’t open to a single page of Moby Dick without finding a lesson being taught…. even when it is lessons on the world of whaling (at times disgusting and horrifying – but nevertheless educational).

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5. Moby Dick is an adventure story, yes. But layered within the adventure “we learn about malevolence, ambition, ego, bravery, friendship. We meditate on the existence of truth. We gather up an understanding that ‘truth’ is rarely captured in a snapshot, that it’s a mosaic of perspectives that don’t always add up neatly.” (Suzy Akin). It can be seen at one time as a religious text, an ancient epic, a Shakespearean drama. It can be interpreted a multitude of different ways. But one thing is for sure – it does teach lessons that could come in handy as students ready themselves for the future, and the “rough seas” that may lie ahead.

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“All my means are sane, my motive and my object mad.” – Herman Melville, Moby Dick

 

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The Household Name that Was a Radical Before it was Cool to be a Radical

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Every American-raised person once attended (though when I was in school it was more like seven years in a row attended) classes on American history. We all know the name Thomas Paine, we all associate him with the American Revolution. We all know he wrote Common Sense. Who among us has read it? Don’t worry if you haven’t, you wouldn’t be alone. That being said, however, there is so much to this gentleman… born into an age that both revered and scorned him, whereas if the man lived in today’s world he might have been revered and revered only. Let’s find out just how cool Thomas Paine really was, shall we?

Born on February 9th, 1737, in Norfolk, England, many Americans who didn’t pay much attention in history class would be surprised to find out that he lived a relatively average British life… for thirty seven years before emigrating to the British colonies in America. Born to a tenant farmer and stay-maker (a tailor specializing in the making of corsets), Paine’s baptized name is spelled “Pain” – a change he apparently made when moving to America. His early life seems uneventful, he attended a few years of schooling, then apprenticed with his father as a stay-maker. He married at 22, but his young wife died in childbirth along with the baby soon after. Paine dealt with typical difficulties – many of which were financial in nature. After working several occupations in several towns, in 1768 Paine ended up in Lewes – a town in Suffolk known for its radical notions (like an opposition to the monarchy). It was here that Paine first became involved in political and civic matters, and gained an interest in the plight of freedom of the every-man.

In Lewes, Paine was a member of the parish vestry, and in the early 1770s joined excise officers in their ask of Parliament for better wages and treatment. It was during this period that he published his first political work – a twelve page article entitled The Case of the Officers of Excise. He failed again financially around this time, and moved to London – where he was introduced to one Benjamin Franklin, who convinced Paine to emigrate to the colonies, and even wrote him a letter of recommendation for the change. Paine agreed, and arrived in Philadelphia in November of 1774.

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By March of 1775, Paine was the editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine, then becoming the editor of the American Magazine - in a short time becoming a rather important figure. Under Paine’s direction, the magazines flourished, gained a wider audience, and became more and more political in nature. In fact, just a few short months after arriving in America, an untitled essay appeared in the Pennsylvania Magazine entitled African Slavery in America - an early abolitionist essay attacking slavery as an “outrage against Humanity and Justice.” That essay is commonly attributed to Thomas Paine’s own hand. Paine also focused often on the plight of the working man – using his platforms to discuss worker’s rights. Clearly, Paine quickly became a leading figure in the political consciousness of America on the brink of revolution.

Thomas PainePaine’s pamphlets, especially Common Sense, were immediate successes. Common Sense was published on January 10th, 1776, and was signed anonymously, “by an Englishman”. Within the first three months of its existence 100,000 copies were sold throughout the colonies. He employed his eloquence to fan the flames of anger at the British monarchy for their abuses. While published after the start of the American Revolution (which began in April 1775), it served to bolster enthusiasm for the cause, to inspire many and to aid in the confidence of those fighting for freedom. Common Sense largely upholds the ideals of republicanism and encouragement for freedom, and spends some time encouraging readers to join the Continental Army. He advocates an extreme change, a total break in the narrative of history. Though his ideas were not necessarily original nor unheard of, Paine’s method and way of speaking to the public made his pamphlet one of the most popular Revolutionary works in existence. In that vein, Paine became one of the most influential revolutionary writers in history.

Though throughout his life he went in and out of favor, what never faltered was Paine’s personal beliefs in freedom and liberty. He denounced slavery, supported the French Revolution, he advocated religious freedom, condemned and criticized those he did not care for, and had no qualms about staying true to his own personal values until the day he died. As Robert G. Ingersoll once famously said: “Thomas Paine had passed the legendary limit of life. One by one most of his old friends and acquaintances had deserted him. Maligned on every side, execrated, shunned and abhorred – his virtues denounced as vices – his services forgotten – his character blackened, he preserved the poise and balance of his soul. He was a victim of the people, but his convictions remained unshaken. He was still a soldier in the army of freedom, and still tried to enlighten and civilize those who were impatiently waiting for his death. Even those who loved their enemies hated him, their friend – the friend of the whole world – with all their hearts.” Happy 285th Birthday to Thomas Paine, a man ahead of his time!

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A 100 Year Old Victory

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In the grand scheme of things, what is 100 years? In terms of your lifespan, it may seem like a lot. In terms of history, on the other hand? Well, in terms of history it is a mere slip in time. Now what would you say if you were to realize that American women have only had certain rights – specifically the right to vote – for this amount of time? 100 years ago today, Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment… stating that American citizens could not be denied the right to vote based on their sex – effectively giving women the chance to make their voices heard. It was not an easy battle! In fact, in the US, support for the suffrage movement began as early as the 1840s! It would take over 80 years for their demands to be instituted. Let’s take a look back at this time in history and see how lives were changed for the better, 100 years ago today.

Some tend to trace the modern suffrage movement (knowing and understanding that women should have always had equal rights as men) back to a specific publication that we all know – Mary Wollstonecraft’s 1792 UK publication of A Vindication of the Rights of Women. Wollstonecraft was known for being revolutionary in her ideas, and a stalwart for women’s intelligence and respect. It is said by some that her work helped inspire Sarah Grimké’s 1838 The Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women – the work which made abolitionist Grimké to be considered the “mother of the women’s suffrage movement”. Her work, widely circulated from Boston throughout the early United States, helped inspire many hundreds (if not thousands) to begin the quest for women’s rights. The main hurdle that women had to jump before these rights could be established, however, was the idea of the pure, innocent woman – one who did not belong in the public sphere. Long considered roles for men only, women becoming part of the public and even political spheres was shocking and highly looked down upon in the early 1800s. In the 1830s and 40s, the abolition of slavery and women’s rights seemed to partner well together, as most women speaking publicly were speaking out condemning slavery… and the act of doing so was automatically a boon for the rights of women. The radical wing (both men and women) of the abolitionist movement were well-known for their support of women’s rights. Unfortunately, towards the beginning, that radical wing consisted of very little of the general population. 

opposedThe opposition of female public speaking wasn’t simply a hurdle. Much of the opposition was so strong that it led to violence. Many female conventions and rallies were disrupted with extreme forcefulness and cruelty, inciting suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony to state this: “No advanced step taken by women has been so bitterly contested as that of speaking in public. For nothing which they have attempted, not even to secure the suffrage, have they been so abused, condemned and antagonized.” Her statement cemented the fact that it was not so much the idea of women voting that bothered their contemporaries, but rather it was women breaking out of the cages they had for so long been held and standing up for themselves publicly that was the problem. 

The Seneca Falls Convention in New York in 1848 marked a specific shift in women’s suffrage. Abolitionist activists, both men and women, gathered to discuss women’s civil rights. Almost all of the delegates agreed… women were autonomous beings, independent of their husbands, and ought to share the same rights as their brothers and husbands. Adopting the Declaration of Independence to their beliefs, the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments proclaimed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Amen to that!

Though the women’s movement lost a bit of momentum and support during the Civil War (rightly so), almost as soon as it ended the issues of suffrage and equality reared up again, what with the 14th and 15th Amendment changes for the rights of men of color. Over the next few years, several associations formed to highlight women’s rights, suffrage being only a part of the demands of their followers. Shockingly, equal pay for equal jobs was a large demand of the women in this period. Throughout the Civil War, women picked up the slack needed as men were away fighting. They performed men’s tasks and men’s jobs (all while keeping house and raising children), and some kept this work up even after the war. Their significantly lower pay for the same work highlighted an extreme disparity with how men and women were treated at the time. Associations like the Women’s Loyal National League, the American Equal Rights Association (AERA), and the New England Woman Suffrage Association (NEWSA) all held strong beliefs and fought for similar rights (though even they were sometimes on opposing sides of the same team).  

Elizabeth Cady StantonIn 1869, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (two of the main “heavy hitters” in the suffrage movement) joined forces to create the National Woman Suffrage Association, and began the fight for a “universal suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution” (History.com). It was Stanton’s belief early on that the only way to change the way women were treated was through government political reform. While some believed that though women deserved rights, support, protection (from domestic abuse) and equal pay – they did not necessarily require the right to vote, Stanton believed the right to vote was integral to all the other matters listed. And she was not wrong. The same year, Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe and Henry Blackwell formed the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). These two leagues were enmeshed in a bitter feud that would last decades, their participants disagreeing on the Fifteenth Amendment – allowing African American men the right to vote. Some, like Stanton and Anthony, rejected the Amendment, believing that woman’s suffrage was more important, and mistakenly believing that African American men opposed women’s suffrage and would fight against their cause. Stone and other members of AERA, on the other hand, supported their previously oppressed fellow citizens and supported their victories, in hopes they would help support the women’s movement in return. This is not to say that racial bias did not exist in both organizations, as it most definitely did, despite both groups being strongly associated with the abolitionist movement. Their rivalry would last until 1890.

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After tireless years of working to promote ideas of women’s suffrage, the two associations put aside their differences (which by then were somewhat moot points, anyway) to join forces and create the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the massive organization’s first president. “By then, the suffragists’ approach had changed. Instead of arguing that women deserved the same rights and responsibilities as men because women and men were ‘created equal,’ the new generation of activists argued that women deserved the vote because they were different from men. They could make their domesticity into a political virtue, using the franchise to create a purer, more moral ‘maternal commonwealth.’” (History.com) This argument gained them new followers from multiple arenas. Advocates of the temperance movement wanted women to have the vote because they believed it would create a cleaner, purer, more chaste country. The middle class enjoyed the idea of introducing homeliness and kindliness into larger, wealthy political parties.

NYC parade 1917In 1910, some of the Western states slowly began extending the vote to their female citizens. State by state, women were gaining rights (though there was still a significant ways to go). States in the South and the Northeast resisted. WWI once again slowed the momentum of the party, but women’s work in the war effort helped to engender support for their intelligence and abilities in the long run. Their aid proved their patriotism and that they were as deserving of rights as men were. A parade for women’s rights in 1917 in New York City consisted of hundreds of women, carrying placards with over 1 million female signatures on them… a far cry from where they started out, with less than 1% of the population’s support. 

Finally, on August 18, 1920, Tennessee (the last of the 36 states needed to adopt the law) narrowly ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, making voting legal irregardless of sex throughout the United States. A few days later, on August 26th, 1920, 100 years ago today, the Nineteenth Amendment was certified, bringing to culmination an almost 100 year battle by women and men throughout the country. The passing of this amendment enfranchised 26 million American women in time for the 1920 U.S. presidential election. The Amendment states, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” 

We are a far cry away from a perfectly equal country – in terms of race, sex and economy. We still have a mighty hill (or a few) to climb in order to reach Utopia. But one thing we do know… 100 years ago, women had fought tooth and nail for the right to vote. The right to make their voices heard, and the right to assist with change on a national level. They wanted to be seen for who they were, not who they were expected to be, and they wanted more than anything to be taken seriously. In celebrating their great victory, let us not forget what they fought for. An election is upon us, and let’s do them proud. Get out there and VOTE!!!!

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What is Patriotism?

And how should we show it?

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This July 4th, it might feel hard to get in the mood for our typical Independence Day celebrations. And to that we say… excellent. So much has happened this year, and we are still only halfway through! These recent serious, life-changing events have taught us how to band together, but it has also taught us how easy it is for the cracks to split us apart. This July 4th, here at Tavistock Books it felt strange to promote an all-American item or highlight an American author, when there is so much we need to do to be the nation we want to be… the nation we can be. Change isn’t always radical – occasionally it is a one-step-at-a-time kind of deal. But let’s take that first step… let’s discuss what we think it might mean to be 100% proud of your country. 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of patriotism is “love for or devotion to one’s country”. The Cambridge Dictionary describes it as “the feeling of loving your country more than any others and being proud of it”. There are a thousand different ways of saying just this… patriotism is the feeling of love and pride for one’s country. Perhaps Independence Day this year is subdued because of the well-placed restrictions on groups, or because of social distancing, or because we are scared. Perhaps some feel a current lack of pride in how our government has handled a global pandemic and addressed systemic racism in our nation. Whichever it is… again, here at Tavistock Books we think we can do better. 

How can we feel patriotism more strongly as a nation? What would cause us to feel more pride for our country? Effective and strong, intelligent yet compassionate leadership, a feeling of togetherness… of facing battles side-by-side, rather than on opposite sides of the fence. Being better allies to all people of color, especially those that have been forsaken by the system again, and again. Taking the entire nation’s health into consideration when we go about our days, not just focusing on how small or trivial (yet essential) changes affect us as individuals. Perhaps in order to be proud of ourselves as a country, we need to first understand that it is a big world… and we are lucky to be a part of it. We should be working toward looking out for each other and looking out for our planet, not simply focusing on ourselves as independent units. If we fail or look ridiculous, if we hurt others or our environment – we do it as a unit. This Independence Day, we – as booksellers, as Americans, as humans – urge all of our fellow bibliophiles, families and friends, to read. Be informed, educate yourselves. Then think about how we can be better as individuals.

Perhaps, once we are able to elevate ourselves as a whole, in both thought and deed, Independence Day will again have a deeper, more wholesome meaning. With that belief in mind, here are a few reading lists we recommend, with books on several of the topics mentioned in this blog. Let’s put them to good use this 4th of July, shall we?

The World Economic Forum on 5 Books to Read for Context on the Coronavirus Outbreak https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/coronavirus-books-pandemic-reading-covid19/

EarthDay.org’s 13 Must-Read Books on the Environment and Climate Change https://www.earthday.org/13-must-read-books-on-the-environment-and-climate-change/

Arielle Gray’s Reading List on Race for Allies Who Want to do Better https://www.wbur.org/artery/2020/06/17/reading-list-on-race-for-allies

Wishing everyone a pleasant Independence Day, stay safe.

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An Environmentalist Before Her Time

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Rachel Carson was born on May 27th, 1907 in Springdale, Pennsylvania. Surprisingly, Carson was not born near an ocean! And why might we say that? Well, Carson would go on to become one of the foremost nature writers and ocean conservationists of the 20th century. However, before her foray into the ecological world, Carson spent her childhood exploring her family’s rural farm. She graduated high school in the neighboring Parnassus, Pennsylvania, at the top of her class.

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Carson attended the Pennsylvania College for Women (today known as Chatham University). Though she first declared as an English major (having been an avid reader her whole life), she quickly switched her major to biology. After graduating magna cum laude, Carson began her graduate studies in zoology and genetics at John Hopkins University. In June, 1932, Carson earned her master’s degree in zoology. Though she had planned to continue her education and eventually receive her PhD, the world had other plans. The Great Depression hit her family hard, and Carson was forced to leave school and begin a full-time teaching position to help support them. A couple years later her father died suddenly, putting even more stress on Carson to be the sole caretaker of her mother.

carson1Carson eventually got a temporary position with the United States Bureau of Fisheries, a job which she had been on the fence about but was persuaded to take by one of her college mentors. She spent her time there writing radio copy for “weekly educational broadcasts entitled Romance Under the Waters.” With 52 programs in the series, Carson had her work cut out for her. The episodes focused on aquatic life and was meant to prompt interest in biology of fish and the work the Bureau did. During this time, Carson’s interest in marine life grew, and soon she was submitting articles on aquatic life in the Chesapeake Bay to local newspapers and magazines. She impressed her superiors with her dedication and knowledge to the point where they offered her the first full-time position that became available, as a junior aquatic biologist.

Carson continued to write, articles and journals, essays and copy – detailing marine life. Her writing career would be changed forever after the publishers at Simon & Schuster saw an article by Carson entitled “Undersea” that had been published in Atlantic Monthly. This journey along the sea floor impressed the publishers so much so that they contacted Carson and implored her to turn the essay into a book… one that they would publish. Carson not only wrote the book, but continued publishing in journals and magazines all over the country at this time.

carson2Over ten years at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (as it was by then called) were good to Carson – she had become the chief editor of publications. Years after the first interest shown by publishers, Carson was once again on the book-publishing path. This time, Oxford University Press expressed interest in a life history of the ocean. Her completed work would eventually become The Sea Around Us. Several chapters were published serially in the Yale Review, Science Digest and The New Yorker, until it was finally published as a book in July 1951. It was an immediate bestseller, remaining at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List for 86 weeks straight. This success gave Carson the ability to give up her job at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and focus on her writing full time.

carson6Her books on the ocean life continuing to be popular, best selling works across the country, Carson began focusing much of her research on pesticide use in the United States, something she had been interested in for over a decade, but finally had the time and space to work on it. By 1957, the USDA was proposing widespread pesticide spraying – to eradicate fire ants and other pests. Carson was suspicious of some of the toxic chemicals they were proposing using, including DDT – a now known carcinogen. She worried what kind of effect the runoff from this activity would have on coastal life, and for good reason. Carson would spend the rest of her life focusing her efforts on conservation, with a great emphasis on “the dangers of pesticide overuse.” In September 1962, Houghton Mifflin published what would become Carson’s best-known book, Silent Spring. This work described in detail the harmful effects of pesticides on the environment, and is credited worldwide with helping begin the modern environmental movement.  “Carson was not the first, or the only person to raise concerns about DDT, but her combination of “scientific knowledge and poetic writing” reached a broad audience and helped to focus opposition to DDT use.” She also poetically noted the dangers of human nature on the environment, a verifiable fact . Carson was, truly, ahead of her time. Unfortunately taken from us much too soon (passing away at the age of only 56 after a battle with breast cancer), Rachel Carson will live on with every moment that we choose to put the good of the planet above ease of our lives.

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Repeat After Me… “There’s No Place Like Home”

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“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” Everyone, repeat it with me. “There’s no place like home.” I know we’re all feeling a bit of the cabin-fever felt by Jack Nicholson in The Shining (although, you know, hopefully to a significantly lesser extent), but let’s risk sounding like a broken record… we are lucky if we have the ability to stay home! We know money must be tight, but without the ability to put a price tag on our or our loved one’s lives we are extremely fortunate to have this ability. So in our opinion, “There’s no place like home” is possibly a great mantra to repeat to ourselves every morning. And every evening. And every afternoon. You know, just until it sinks in.

This extremely famous quote (mantra), brings us to today’s blog, however. On this day in 1919, 101 years ago, L. Frank Baum passed away. While we don’t mean to celebrate his death, we would like to bring attention to this world-famous author today with a few facts about his life! Keep on reading…

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1. The “L” in L. Frank Baum stands for Lyman, where he was born Lyman Frank Baum on May 15th, 1856 in Chittenango, New York. The seventh born (out of eventually nine kids) always hated his first name and preferred to be called “Frank”.

 

2. Baum was a somewhat sickly child, educated at home (with exception to two very uncomfortable years he spent at a military academy between the ages 10-12). Hi father indulged several of his whims and encouraged his eccentricities. Baum was gifted a small printing press as a child and began making a home journal with his younger brother that he would distribute to family and friends for free. He began a Stamp Collectors journal as a teenager, and eventually another on Hamburg chickens. Another eccentricity… as a young man Baum raised fancy chickens! Who knew?

 

3. I don’t mean to keep going on about these chickens but let’s get back to them for a second – as they were the subject of Baum’s very first published book! At the age of 30, Baum published The Book of the Hamburgs: A Brief Treatise upon the Mating, Rearing, and Management of the Different Varieties of Hamburgs. Okay, I promise to stop harping on about the chickens.

 

4. Baum had a lifelong love affair with the theater, and dreamed of being on the stage. He did have a short career in it, after his father actually built him his own stage in Richburg, New York. As he was touring with one of his creations – The Maid of Arran (a prototypical musical, for all intents and purposes, based on the novel A Princess of Thule by William Black), the theater back home in Richburg burned down, and in it most copies of Baum’s plays.

 

5. In 1882, while touring with The Maid of Arran, Baum married one Maud Gage – the intelligent daughter of Matilda Joslyn Gage, a famous feminist and women’s suffrage activist. Baum would be a proponent of women’s rights for the rest of his life, standing strong alongside his wife.

 

6. As wonderful as it is to hear of a man standing up for women, Baum was not faultless. As tough as this might be to hear, when Baum was living in Abderdeen, South Dakota his emotional response to the death of Sitting Bull prompted him to call for the extermination of all indigenous peoples! After the Wounded Knee Massacre (where the US army killed hundreds of the Lakota tribe, including women and children), Baum reiterated once more, “The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extirmination [sic] of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.” Yikes! Some do argue that Baum was actually attempting to generate sympathy for the native tribes by coming out with such a ludicrous statement, but it sure is shocking either way.

 

7. After having children with his wife Maud, Baum found he had a talent for telling them stories at bedtime. After overhearing one of these stories one night, Baum’s mother-in-law Matilda encouraged him to write one of them down. Baum had a wonderful relationship with Matilda and respected her greatly – if she thought his stories deserved to be published, perhaps she was right! This encouragement would become the impetus for his writing The Wizard of Oz.

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8. The idea for The Wizard of Oz apparently came to Baum very suddenly, and he wrote it all down in pencil. Once he had a working manuscript, he wanted to call it The Emerald City. Unfortunately, his editors did not want to use the name of a jewel in the title (bad luck, apparently – who knew), and as Baum sat in his office he looked over at a file cabinet labeled O – Z. Hence, the land of Oz was created!

 

9. The first release of The Wizard of Oz, published in 1900, sold out in two weeks. It became an instant classic, and received full critical and literary acclaim. Some consider it America’s first true fairy tale! The book remained a bestseller for two years, and Baum went on to write thirteen more Oz books for a bestselling series.

 

10. Baum did not only write a book on raising fancy chickens and the Oz series, oh no! He was quite a prolific writer up until his end, and actually published 50 novels, 80 short stories, hundreds of poems, and at least a dozen plays. He wrote under pseudonyms, he wrote articles for journals. And he was a family man. The all around package! (Except for his views on native peoples.)

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Our 1905 1st edition of The Woggle-Bug Book by Baum, inscribed by him on the copyright page! Check it out here.

Fun fact: The line is NOT “There’s no place like home” in the book! It is actually “I’m so glad to be at home again!” But that doesn’t really have the same ring to it for the opening of this blog so…

Also, Dorothy’s slippers were silver, not red. Bursting all kinds of childhood bubbles over here!

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“There’s no place like home!”

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Grateful the Road was Taken

We know that things have been looking grim over the past month… businesses shutting their doors, schools closing, unemployment rising. It is a scary world to be living in – for there is the fact that we have no set plan for how long this will all last. Call us old fashioned, but we find that in times of crisis a little bit of stability goes a long way, so we are planning on keeping up with our blog posts, our newsletters… and Samm has even upped our lists to biweekly so that we can entertain you at home with interesting items from all over the world! Is there something in particular you’d like to see a blog on? Shoot us an email and we’ll see if we can fit it into our schedule. In the meantime, we’d like to do a 10 Fact birthday blog on a born San Franciscan who has spent over the last hundred years keeping us sane and calm. Mr. Robert Frost, ladies and gentlemen!

Portrait Of Robert Frost
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1. Happy Birthday to Robert Frost! Frost was born on March 26th, 1874 in San Francisco to William Frost, a journalist and Isabelle Moodie, a Scottish immigrant. After his father’s death, his mother moved him across the country to Massachusetts to live off the charity of his paternal grandfather.
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2. Frost was named after General Robert E. Lee, the famous General of the Confederate Army. As a youngster, Frost’s father ran away from home to join the Confederate troops. Though he was returned safely to his parents he never forgot his obsession with the Confederate army.
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3. Frost published his first poem in his high school’s magazine. Lawrence High School was a fine institution in its day and Frost graduated as valedictorian. His fellow valedictorian? One Elinor White… a young lady who would eventually become his wife!
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4. Frost attended Dartmouth College for two months, before leaving to pursue jobs and earn an income. The various jobs he undertook, however, brought him no joy – and he still dreamed of being a poet. He then attended Harvard University for two years later on, but once again dropped out to earn money for his wife and child. Harvard bestowed an honorary degree on Frost in 1937.
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5. Frost and Elinor had six children – four daughters and two sons. Unfortunately, Frost himself would outlive 4 of his six. The many tragedies that Frost knew throughout his life caused him bouts of anxiety and depression, and often influenced his poetry.
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6. Frost attributed much of his early success to fellow poet Ezra Pound. After a brief misunderstanding where Frost was given Pound’s card but did not feel a warm invitation, Frost and Pound got on quite well. Pound wrote a wonderful review for Frost’s first book of poetry, entitled A Boy’s Will and Frost immediately became known in the literary world.
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7. Frost won the Pulitzer Prize in 1924 for his book of poetry: New Hampshire: A Poem with Notes and Grace Notes. He didn’t stop there, however! Frost would go on to win three more Pulitzer Prizes in 1931, 1937 and 1943. To this day he remains the only poet to have ever won so many Pulitzers, and one of only four people worldwide to win so many in any category.
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8. In 1960 Frost was awarded the highest honor a civilian can have – a United States Congressional Gold Medal “in recognition of his poetry, which has enriched the culture of the United States and the philosophy of the world”.
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9. In 1961 Frost became the first poet to read at a Presidential inauguration. At the age of 86, Frost was asked by John F. Kennedy to recite a new poem at the inauguration. Frost composed the poem “Dedication” for the event, but due to the brightness of the sun and his failing eyesight Frost could not make out the words on the page. Confidently, Frost put the poem aside and instead recited his previously written poem “The Gift Outright” from memory.
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10. Frost felt that his most popular and beloved poem “The Road Not Taken” was severely misunderstood by the American public. This poem, recited worldwide but especially in the United States as a coming of age transition poem touting determination, was actually written in humor to Frost’s friend Edward Thomas. The two frequently went on walks together in the woods, and Thomas was an indecisive chooser of paths. Frost never meant for the poem to be taken so metaphorically! Nevertheless, we appreciate it even today.
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Happy Birthday, Robert Frost!
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