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CATS BY THE PLANELOAD


Our story begins with the efforts of the Malaysian government to control disease-carrying mosquitoes. The government had malaria-infested areas sprayed with DDT, as many countries all over the world were doing in their fight against this dreaded disease.


 DDT is the best known of a number of chlorine-containing pesticides used in the 1940s and 1950s. During World War II, it was used widely to control the insects that carry typhus and malaria. In several parts of the Caribbean, civilian use of DDT to suppress the mosquitos that carry malaria included spraying it in the interiors of homes, as this treatment resulted in the death of mosquitoes alighting on the sprayed surface.


DDT was responsible for eradicating malaria from Europe and North America. But it is not an unmixed blessing.


Its use in Malaysia was the beginning of an unexpected chain of events. Scavenging  cockroaches, not at all picky about what they eat, and capable of making do with just about anything in order to survive, ate the mosquitoes killed by the DDT.


Roaches are fairly resistant to the DDT and the poison accumulated in their bodies. The roaches were eaten by those interesting lizards called geckos. Geckos are kept as pets in houses or apartments where they are allowed to run free and eat undesirable insects. They also live in the wild.


 Geckos, equipped with special pads on the undersides of their feet, cling to smooth surfaces and even run upside down on ceilings. They are therefore very efficient as insect killers.


The DDT did not always kill the geckos, but affected their central nervous systems and slowed them down. The geckos therefore became easy prey to house cats, which were always ready to pounce on the geckos when the opportunity arose.


The cats that ate the geckos were poisoned, and  died in large numbers.  In some areas, there were practically no cats left. As a result, the rat population exploded and parts of Malaysia experienced a serious rodent problem.


Rats are carriers of the bacteria that cause bubonic plague. The consequence was that while malaria infection was temporarily halted, plague spread.


The World  Organization (WHO) therefore came to the rescue. The organization recommended an end to the use of DDT. Then, to restore the ecological balance, they acquired numerous cats and airlifted them into remote areas where rats by then had begun to roam boldly.


DDT is a convenient abbreviation for Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane. In Guyana, recognizing that DDT was a poison not to be treated lightly, people often used another term in connection with the substance – Damn Dangerous Ting. 




THE VENERABLE MONKEY BREAD TREE


Baobab trees (Adansonia digitata) also called "monkey bread" trees are common in western and southern Africa. It is believed that many baobab trees still standing today were alive at the time of the birth of Christ and that they are the oldest life forms on that continent. Only the giant sequoia (also called redwoods) and the eucalyptus are said to be older than the giant baobabs. No wonder Barbados is proud to have two of its own.


A baobab tree is usually massive. Its trunk could be 30 feet in diameter, and may grow up to 82 feet tall, with smooth gray bark. Color apart, it looks like an enormous carrot planted upside down. Because of its root-like branches, some people call it the upside-down tree. 


The cucumber-shaped fruit of the baobab tree is 6-12 inches long and hangs at the end of a ropy stem. Baboons seem to enjoy the fruit so much that it has long been called "monkey bread." Another of its names is Judas Fruit. 


Baobab trees are very useful in Africa. Africans use its pleasant-tasting pulp in a variety of ways for making delightful beverages and as a food flavoring. Tonics and cosmetics are made from the roots, and spinach and soup from the leaves. The seeds may be ground into a coffee-substitute or eaten fresh, and the white pulp is used as 'cream of tartar' for baking. 


 Africans also make medicines from the leaves and grayish bark of the tree. The fibers obtained from the inner bark are used for making rope, baskets, nets, snares, cloth and packing material. Families have been known to hew out great spaces in the trunks of the trees at ground level, making huts to live in - the trees themselves remaining quite alive and well. Such spaces have also been used as storage barns, hiding places, houses of worship, and even as prisons or tombs. 


Baobab trees provide shade, shelter, water and food for a wide variety of creatures. Their hollows, dents and other irregularities house numerous small animals, some of them living out their entire lives in a single tree. 


It takes about 20 years for the baobab tree to produce its first flower. During summer dozens of luminous white blossoms appear and their strong musky odor attracts fruit bats and a large number of insects. The bats seek out the sweet nectar of the flowers at night, pollinating them as they move from one flower to the other. The resulting seeds are housed in a hairy pod. Various animals, including monkeys, feed upon the seeds and help to disperse them.


Curiously, the monkey itself helps to make the monkey bread it eats. The seeds of the baobab tree, being quite tough, do not germinate easily. But the passage of the seeds through the animal's alimentary canal softens them. When passed out, these seeds grow more readily - into more monkey bread.


It is probably true to say about the monkey that the more it reaps the more it sows.


SHOOTING FOOD – THE AMERINDIAN WAY


 Most of us think of bows and arrows in connection with fighting. However, they were also used for acquiring food in the past. Amerindian men once regularly went “fishing” with bow and arrow. 


In Guyana, some Amerindians still retain the skill of shooting fish. One of the relished varieties of fish is the delicious and beautiful pacu (or pacoo), which often grows into over ten pounds of food. The pacu is mainly vegetarian. It normally eats fruits, nuts, and berries that drop in the water. The Amerindian would often shoot the pacu while it feeds on its favorite water-plant – pacu grass or pacu weed. Where the weed is plentiful, large shoals of pacu would come to browse on it. Here the Amerindian gets his opportunity. 


He may use a special harpoon arrow. The arrowhead is usually attached by string to the wrist of the shooter. He would look intently at the fast moving water, then shoot. If you were to observe him, you, with your untrained eye, would probably not see what he was shooting at. You would soon see, however, the shooter pulling in his string and the fish with the arrowhead embedded in it coming in. 


Where there is no pacu grass to serve as bait, the Amerindian would provide it. Bait would be especially necessary in dull-colored water, in which the fish are invisible or at least difficult to see. The Amerindian might then gather fruits called lana, which look like green apples, place them in a wickerwork basket and set the basket down in the water. The fish would rise to eat the fruit and the shooter would go to work. 


Amerindians also shot fish with the blowpipe (also called a blowgun) – a superior weapon in its own right. The Arekuna Amerindians, who now live mainly in the Paruima area in Guyana, are the blowpipe specialists. It consisted of a tube of 12, 16 or more feet into which was put a dart or arrow. The skilled expulsion of air into the blowpipe would send the arrow or dart to its target. 


The blowpipe was used to kill other creatures as well. The range of the blowpipe is 40 to 100 feet. It was often tipped with the deadly curare, which disabled game seemingly on contact. If a blowpipe was aimed at, say, a bird, the shooter would blow the dart through it and very silently, the bird would come falling down. 


The blowpipe’s silence is a distinct advantage. It would pick off a single parrot at a time without alarming the rest of the flock. The Amerindian could pick off the lowest in a tree full of feeding birds without disturbing the rest. A gun, more efficient in many respects, would kill one bird but make enough noise to drive off all the rest.




THE DEVIL'S TRIANGLE


There is an area of lovely light green, dark blue and purplish water in a triangle that some have come to call the Devil's Triangle. Other names for this body of water are: The Bermuda Triangle, Limbo of the Lost, The Twilight Zone, and the Hoodoo Sea. It occupies one of the busiest areas for the world’s shipping, and it rates high as a place of mystery. 


Here are some of the reasons. The U.S.S. Cyclops left Barbados in early March 1918 bound for Baltimore Maryland in the USA, The ship described as 2 football fields long, capable of doing 14 knots, and with 236 officers and men, 67 extra navy personnel, the US Consul General to Brazil and a few others on board never arrived - nor was it heard from ever again. It just disappeared without trace. There were no wreckage, no clues, no survivors. 


In 1924 a Japanese freighter in the area is said to have radioed, "It's like a dagger. Come quick. We cannot escape." They did not escape it appears. Nobody heard from them or saw them again. 


In 1926 an American freighter with a crew of 28 followed them into oblivion. The same fate befell a Norwegian ship in 1931.  In 1931 two American ships, the 'Nereus' and 'Proteus' vanished in the Devil's triangle. 


That sane year the most incredible of all the occurrences took place. U.S. bomber flight 19 of 5 bombers took off at 2.10 p.m. from Fort Lauderdale, Florida in fair weather, gave position reports for several hours, then suddenly the reports became garbled as if there was some terrible confusion. Then blank. One of the greatest air sea searches in history followed but the searchers found nothing. 


No really acceptable explanation emerged and speculation abounded. Some felt other people from other worlds lifted the planes and ships whole into space. One so-called mystic Edgar Cayce said these occurrences had to do with laser-like beams generated from a stone in Atlantis, the mythical “lost continent” which some people believe to be buried in that area. The stone is said to become active now and then. 


Writers have listed about 200 incidents as being caused by strange goings-on in the area. Interest in the “phenomenon” reached its peak in 1974 after the publication of “The Bermuda Triangle”, Charles Berlitz’s sensationalized book. 


But nobody really knows why that area, between Miami Florida, Bermuda and Puerto Rico suddenly became treacherous and people disappeared without trace. There has been talk about terrifying waterspouts, unusual magnetic activity and several other curious happenings in the area. 


Until there are satisfactory answers, speculation will continue.

 


THE MYSTERIOUS CHASE VAULT OF BARBADOS

   (a story about moving coffins)


     click here for the story



GOVERNOR GUGGISBERG - MUCH HOPE, BUT LITTLE ELSE


It was late in 1928 when Sir Gordon Guggisberg went to the colony of British Guiana as its new governor. Economically, the country was depressed but Sir Gordon, preceded by the reputation of miracle-worker, was expected to work wonders. 


Just from the Gold Coast (now Ghana), he himself said, “I have done a work in West Africa which has given me a great deal of praise and notoriety. I hope to have about ten years of life left and these I want to devote to a work in British Guiana beside which my work in West Africa was mere child’s play.” 


In Georgetown, the Anglican Bishop Oswald Parry spoke of the Governor’s giving the gift of liberty, justice and good conscience to those who came under his influence. “He had built up,” the Bishop said, “the foundations of a scheme of education with a huge prophetic outlook.” 


Guggisberg had been a powerful force behind the establishment of the Achimota School in Ghana. He had worked with the then famed African Dr. James Aggrey of Ghana and the Rev. Alexander G. Fraser, the principal of Achimota, to make it the fine school it became.


The governor arrived in British Guiana with a touch of theatre. His ship docked at precisely the appointed time. At first, no one could be seen on deck except the captain and his crew. Then suddenly, in full regalia, the great man emerged with a Rear Admiral as ADC and a Brigadier General as private secretary, both following him closely also in full dress. 


The huge welcoming crowd was enthusiastic. Several people broke the police cordon to go near and greet him. One lady touched him exclaiming, “Our father, our savior, has come.” 


Always every inch a governor, Brigadier-General Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisberg, K.C.M.G., D.S.O., R.E was absolutely regal. Whenever he went to the legislature at the Public Buildings, crowds gathered, especially in the shade of St Andrews Kirk, just to see him arrive. 


Born 1869, Guggisberg was tall, handsome and athletic as a young man, and always impressive and dignified. He had been a fine cricketer, and had also played polo, racquets, golf, and football. He was also a decorated soldier. He inspired hope.


As an administrator, he was a direct man. Once in British Guiana, he immediately made sharp remarks about the country’s finances and set about righting them. He asked for co-operation. He enunciated the principles and required the legislators to follow. 


To cut expenditure, he embarked on the rationalization of government departments, retrenchment of staff, and the overhaul of appointments, promotions and increments. 


He wielded the great personal power of the governor of those days without fear. He worked personally with the heads of departments on the filling of appointments, the promotion of civil servants and the granting of increments. 


Working time was extended by one hour. Leave for locally appointed civil servants was cut. Soon there were fewer doctors, post offices, police stations, and public amenities. 


People felt rubbed the wrong way. Guggisberg became unpopular. 


Sir Frank Mc David, former Financial Secretary and Treasurer in the colonial government recalled that the official members of the Legislative Council were ordered to attend all meetings of that body in the regulation white civil service uniforms. 


When Sir Gordon went on leave (or so he thought) it was less than eight months after his arrival. A small and quiet crowd gathered. An ambulance took him to his ship. He was to retire soon, and die, in 1930, soon after his retirement. 


The Bishop was to speak again. This time at a memorial service for Guggisberg at Christ Church where he worshipped while in Guyana. 


“He was not popular,” said the Bishop. “None of us can pretend that he was. He was not successful. The colony is in a more distressful state than when he came.” 


Sir Gordon had succeeded in Africa. The construction of Korle-Bu Hospital in Accra, the “finest and most modern institution of its kind in colonial Africa at the time” and also the establishment of Achimota were just two of his achievements there.


During his last illness he wrote to his personal friends “As you know, my heart is in Africa, and I believe that away from the trammels of the Colonial Office, there is opportunity for me to do something useful both for the Empire and for the natives of Africa."


Sir Gordon no doubt meant well, in his own way. But, things did not work out in Guyana.


THE STORY OF A VERY FAMOUS STOMACH


The most famous stomach of all time belonged to a French-Canadian, Alexis St. Martin. His stomach made enormous contributions to our understanding of human digestion and the man who caused the stomach to become famous was Dr. William Beaumont. The two of them share the story, still recounted today, of the accident which began it all and the experiments which followed.


It was on 6th June, 1822 that Alexis, then eighteen years old according to the doctor’s notes, was unfortunately only three feet away from a musket that accidentally went off. He was shot on the left side of his chest. Part of his sixth rib was destroyed, the fifth was fractured, his left lung was damaged, and his stomach was pierced. William Beaumont, surgeon in the United States Army, was the first doctor to see him. He found St. Martin’s lung and stomach "protruding from the wound", which was more than the size of the palm of a man's hand, and pushed them back inside.


Very surprisingly the patient did not die, but instead after nearly two weeks began to recover. One week later, the wound was quite healthy and the patient was enthusiastically eating, but with one snag. Everything he ate came out of the open wound. He had to be given nutriment via his anus, while Beaumont unsuccessfully tried close the stomach wall. Alexis refused any kind of operation but instead preferred bandages. He ate regularly and well, his digestion was effective, his whole alimentary canal behaved as it should.


Eventually Dr. Beaumont gave up all hope of closing the opening. The hole in St. Martin's side was described by the doctor as “a permanent open gastric fistula.”  It was large enough that Beaumont could insert his entire forefinger into the stomach cavity.


 Two years later, the doctor started experimenting. The hole was an excellent window into the physiology of a vital organ. Beaumont weighed morsels of food, tied them with silk, put them in, and then let the stomach do its work on them. At hourly intervals, he removed them, noted the degree of digestion and then replaced them. He also took specimens of gastric juice and it was from one such specimen that hydrochloric acid was first positively identified.


St. Martin was a voyageur at the time he was injured. Voyageurs were men who paddled  canoes to pick up furs from Indian trappers to deliver to the fur company; some of them  sold furs directly as traders. Now that St Martin could no longer work as a voyageur, Beaumont hired him in April 1823 as his family's live-in handyman.


Of course, once Beaumont realized the value of his physiological window, he wished to make full use of it. He therefore kept close to his patient –expensively –  following  him from place to place. Alexis was called uncooperative and difficult by some writers; and plainly, the relationship between the two men had its ups and downs. One can imagine Beaumont longing to taste the gastric acidity of the contents of  St Martin’s stomach, as he did quite frequently, while Alexis was interested in something else. Eventually, the relationship came to an end.


 In 1853, Dr Beaumont slipped on ice while leaving a patient's home in St. Louis and hit his head severely. He never recovered but died on April 25 that year. He had by then become famous for his work and his publication “Experiments and Observations on Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion.” This publication contained 240 experiments performed on the same famous stomach.  Douglas Guthrie, the medical historian, has called it “a fine piece of research in the face of unusual difficulties.”


Alexis St. Martin lived 58 years after his accident. Toward the end of his life, he worked as a farmer and itinerant laborer. When St. Martin died at age 86 on June 24, 1880 in St. Thomas de Joliette, Canada, his family let his body decompose in the hot sun for four days, then buried it in secret. They were determined that no-one should examine his stomach or perform an autopsy. One of St. Martin's granddaughters was persuaded to reveal the location of the grave so that his contribution to medical science could be commemorated. In 1962, a plaque was placed on the wall of a nearby church, with an inscription: "through his affliction he served all humanity."


More about Dr. William Beaumont

More about Alexis St. Martin:




TAPEWORMS 


There was a time when people all over the world had to be regularly “cleaned out” of worms in the intestines. Parents gave children worm oil regularly, or whenever they noticed anything that seemed to be some symptom of “worms.” Every one who grew up in the Caribbean area knows about such things.


There were many kinds of intestinal worms to worry about - round worms, tape worms, pin worms, hook worms. They all set up house in your body and live off your food. The tapeworm, a ribbon-shaped worm, is the granddaddy of them all. The name comes from two Old English words, one being "taeppe" meaning "narrow strip of cloth used for tying", and another, "wyrm", meaning "serpent." 


Adult tapeworms have hooks, spiny structures, or suckers on their heads. These allow the worms to attach to the wall of the intestine. The rest of the tapeworm is made up of flat segments. In a person’s digestive system, tapeworms develop into an adult form with one or more sexual organs that can produce eggs. Adult tapeworms can be 20 to 30 feet in length. 


People become infected when immature forms of tapeworms present in infected beef, pork, and fish are eaten after being insufficiently cooked.  The tapeworms produce eggs in the intestines, which are then passed out of the body in the feces. If infected feces ends up in soil, grass, or water, other animals, such as cows, dogs, pigs, and fish may consume the tapeworm eggs. 


The tapeworms can then break out of the eggs, attach themselves to the wall of the new host and continue to grow and develop. Tapeworms will develop into adults when passed on to live in another organism. For example, the tapeworm can be in pre-adult form when it lives in a human and can develop into an adult form when it is passed on to an animal, say a dog. 


Some kinds of tapeworms are specifically found in beef, some in pork, and some in fish. In the United States, the pork tapeworm is extremely rare. Another type of tapeworm, the dwarf tapeworm, is common all over the world but is especially found in tropical areas. The dwarf tapeworm, which is only about one inch long, mostly affects children.


The dwarf tapeworm develops 200 segments the head is small with a ring of small hooks and four cup-shaped suckers. It does not need an intermediate host, but only one mammal to host its entire life cycle.


Tapeworms are treated with medications that kill them and expel them. Folk medications that have been commonly used at home include pumpkin seeds and castor oil.


Some of the reasons why tapeworms and other worms are less evident today are better or more widespread government inspection of meat and fish to spot infection, a better understanding of the need to cook meat and fish, and better garbage disposal. 


Intestinal worms of all kinds can be quite unpleasant. Some people remember being awakened from sleep by worms working their way of the anus, or seeing dead or dying worms in their stool. A few have seen twenty-foot long tapeworm “monsters” removed from them laid out for measurement and wonderment. 


 Pork tapeworms are specially feared. Treating it can be difficult. If cysts develop, it can lead to a condition known as cysticercosis. When the eye, heart, or central nervous system is affected the results can be serious. 


Infections of the eye may affect the person’s vision and could lead to blindness. Cysticerci in the central nervous system can result in seizures, headache, and dementia in which muscle pains and convulsions occur.


No wonder some people have made a business out of the fear of tapeworms, also called Taeniophobia, Teniophobia. It is defined as "a persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of tapeworms." And the people who make a living out of it have structured therapies lasting, perhaps unnecessarily, for months or years.




THE CHRISTMAS CAROL THAT MIGHT NOT HAVE BEEN


One of today's most popular Christmas carols would not have would not have seen the light of day if either the man who wrote the words or the man who composed the music had his way.


The words were written by Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley. Together, the two brothers, both ordained priests of the Anglican Church in England, were a powerful team.


 John, the better known of the two, was an extraordinary preacher of the gospel. He became the leader of the Methodists and the Wesleyans. In the course of his evangelistic work, John Wesley is said to have preached 40,000 sermons and to have traveled 250,000 miles. His work was done mostly at open-air meetings in Britain and America.


John, Charles and the people they led were mockingly called “Methodists” for their methodical devotion to study and religious duties.


Charles, born on Dec 18th, 1707, the 18th of 18 children, was the most prolific songwriter of all time. The songs he wrote were hymns – incredibly, over 6,500 of them. His systematic practice of religious duties must have helped him tremendously as he preached and unceasingly wrote his hymns.


One of the hymns Charles wrote has been described by theologians as the "entire gospel of Christ" in one song. He requested that only slow and solemn religious music be coupled with his words. In those days, Anglicans did not sing hymns in church.  They only sang the psalms.  Hymn-singing was seen as radical departure from the norm. However, the Wesleys did it – in the reverential way of their time.


The melody for our carol was composed by the famous Felix Mendelssohn in 1840 almost a hundred years after Wesley wrote the text.  It was sprightly, energetic music composed as part of a cantata commemorating printer Johann Gutenberg and the invention of printing.  It was exactly the kind of music that Charles Wesley did not want for his solemn hymn. Mendelssohn, a Christian Jew, had also made it very clear that he wanted his music only to be used for secular purposes.  It was, he felt, unsuitable for use as church music.


Mendelssohn, a prodigy who was reared in a highly cultured atmosphere, was noted for conducting the St. Matthew Passion, and generally stimulating a revival of interest in the religious music of J. S. Bach.


In 1857, long after both Mendelssohn and Wesley were dead, Dr. William Cummings, organist of England's Waltham Abbey, discovered that, with a few minor adjustments, the words of Wesley’s hymn fit Mendelssohn's melody. He brought the two together – the profound words of Charles Wesley and the joyous music of Felix Mendelssohn - to create the carol we know and love today!


From the penning of the words to the emergence of the Christmas carol, there was a span of 120 years. It was worth the wait.


Again this year, Christian people all over the world will sing it at Christmas, just as lustily as they have for many years past:  "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing."




THE STORY OF A GREAT CHRISTMAS CAROL – SILENT NIGHT


One of the most popular Christmas carols of all time was introduced to the world by two simple men, singing in a tiny church to the accompaniment of a guitar.    


It was the winter of 1818. At St. Nicholas’ Church at Obendorf, a small cozy village near Salzburg, Austria, the assistant to the priest, Joseph Mohr, faced a dilemma. It was just days before Christmas, and the church organ was broken. A mouse, according to one account, had nibbled her way through the bellows and built her nest there. How could the church have proper Christmas music without the church organ? 


Franz Gruber, the church organist, who had gone to the church to practice a few pieces for the Christmas mass and had discovered the condition of the organ, had gone to Mohr with this problem. 


Something had to be done. The people of Obendorf were simple and hardworking peasants, mostly glove makers. The church and its music were very important to them, especially at Christmas. The organ repairman did not live in the village and it would be months before they could get him to Obendorf to do his work. Prospects for the Christmas midnight mass looked bleak. The two men even thought about whistling together before the congregation. 


Then a solution seemed to suggest itself.  Two years earlier, in 1816, Mohr had written a simple poem expressing the wonder of the birth of Jesus. Franz Gruber, the organist had written the music and they had intended to sing it together with a guitar as accompaniment. 


The broken organ made it happen. At that midnight service of Christmas Eve 1818, the two men performed their new Christmas carol.  The people gathered at the church were surprised to hear, instead of the usual organ music, two voices and a guitar in harmony from the balcony above. The new song was well received. 


Christmas passed, and Mohr was transferred to another parish. His friendship with the village teacher slowly faded, but unknown to either of them, their song began to pass from village to village, then from city to city, and, in the end, throughout Europe. 


One account says that in1825, when Carl Mauracher was rebuilding the organ at St. Nicholas, a handwritten copy of the words and music was found in the organ loft. Mauracher was from an area in the mountains of Tyrol. Many traveling folk choirs who performed throughout Europe lived there. Mauracher carried the carol back home, and it became a popular song with the singers, who spread its popularity wherever they went. 


However it spread, this Christmas song was clearly well-established when in Berlin the great cathedral choir, recognizing its charm, presented this “folk song of unknown origin” as a special gift to the King of Prussia. 


It was 40 years later that Franz Gruber, then an old man, heard and identified his melody, “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” ("Silent Night, Holy Night") – the Christmas carol we know and love so well today. 


Did a mouse really destroy the organ? Was the organ really damaged at all in 1818? In other versions of the story, Gruber himself had broken the organ because he was tired of playing it in its poor condition. In another, Mohr simply wanted a new carol for the service and was fond of the guitar as an instrument. 


Some versions of the story tell that both the poem and the music were hastily written that same Christmas Eve. However, a manuscript for “Silent Night” in Mohr’s hand was discovered in 1995 but dated 1816. In the manuscript Mohr credits the melody used for the carol to Franz Gruber.


The little church of Obendorf is still there – a tiny baroque building with six small pews. Occupying pride of place is a guest book with signatures of people from all over the world who visited to see the church in which “Silent Night, Holy Night” was first performed.


Whatever the details, Joseph Mohr’s and Franz Gruber’s contribution of Christmas music for their village’s Christmas Eve mass gave us all the beautiful “Silent Night, Holy Night.”



FASCINATING FACTS FROM THE LIVES OF

 PRESIDENTS LINCOLN AND KENNEDY 


After the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, researchers came up with a number of facts that showed fascinating parallels between the lives of Kennedy and the former President Abraham Lincoln. 


Here are some of them: 


President Lincoln was deeply involved in civil rights issues. So was President John Kennedy. 


President Lincoln was shot in the head from behind. So was President Kennedy. 


Lincoln's successor was a Southern Democrat. So was Kennedy's. And both were Johnsons. 


Lincoln was elected in 1860. Kennedy was elected in 1960 100 years apart. 


President Andrew Johnson who succeeded Lincoln was born in 1808 and President Lyndon Johnson who succeeded Kennedy was born in 1908 - 100 years apart. 


Booth who shot Lincoln was born in 1839.  Lee Harvey Oswald, who shot Kennedy, was born in 1939  - 100 years apart. 


Booth and Oswald were Southerners and both were killed before they could be tried. 


Both Presidents were killed Friday in the presence of their wives. 


President Lincoln's Secretary, whose name was Kennedy, advised him not to go to the theatre; President Kennedy's Secretary, whose name was Lincoln, advised him not to go to Dallas.       


Booth shot Lincoln in a theatre and ran for shelter into a warehouse. Lee Oswald Harvey shot Kennedy from a warehouse and sought refuge in a theatre.


And here is a bonus story.


One night in 1865, America's then most famous and beloved actor, the handsome, brilliant Edwin Booth, saw a man jostled by the crowd at a railway station and thrown on the tracks between two carriages. Then the train began to move, but the man was too stunned to escape. 


Edwin Booth threw himself down on the platform in desperation, and snatched the man from certain death. The man looked at his rescuer, recognized the famous actor, and said: "It's a great honor to meet you sir. And. may I introduce myself. My name is Lincoln - Robert Lincoln. I am the son of the President.


A few weeks later Edwin Booth was shocked to hear that his own brother,  John Wilkes Booth, had gunned down President Abraham Lincoln who became the first U.S. President to be assassinated.



HANDEL,  THE MESSIAH,

 AND THE CHORUS THAT BRINGS AUDIENCES TO THEIR FEET 


The Messiah – the crowning masterpiece of George Frederic Handel  – had its world premiere on April 13, 1742 at the Music Hall in Dublin, Ireland. The composer conducted. 


Handel had been invited to the Irish capital by the Duke of Devonshire, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and the governors of three charitable organizations to direct a performance of one of his works for charity. 


The invitation arrived at an auspicious moment. He needed a change for the better. Handel’s fortunes in London were at their lowest ebb. Some of the operatic works in Italian he had composed for the London theatres had failed and he was close to bankruptcy. At one point, he was actually in danger of being sent to a debtor’s prison. London society deserted Handel, and it was said he was through as a composer. 


Handel now hoped that in Ireland he might be able to restore his reputation and his fortunes. It was also time to perform the new oratorio he had just completed, and which he was convinced was his greatest work. This new work was Messiah, composed “in the white heat of inspiration.” 


The entire masterpiece was completed in less than twenty-five days. It was the achievement of a giant inspired, wrote Newman Flower. “Handel was unconscious of the world during that time, unconscious of its press and call. His whole mind was in a trance. He did not leave the house; his manservant brought him food, and as often as not, returned in an hour to the room to find the food untouched, and his master staring into vacancy. When he had completed Part II, with the ‘Hallelujah Chorus,’ his servant found him at the table, tears streaming from his eyes, exclaiming, ‘I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God himself!” Never in his life had he experienced the same emotional sense”, said Flower, “and he never experienced it again.” 


In Dublin, Handel’s great fame was still alive, and his devotees eagerly awaited the premiere. The papers gave ample coverage to the event, and the house was sold out. The Dublin papers appealed to the women not to wear hoops to the performance, and to the gentlemen to leave their swords at home, so that there might be more comfort for everyone.


 The audience was not disappointed. In fact, they were profoundly moved. That first performance of Messiah in the music hall on Fishamble Street on April 13th 1742 was an enormous success. Faulkner’s Dublin Journal proclaimed: “Words are wanting to express the exquisite Delight it afforded to the admiring crowded Audience. The Sublime, the Grand, and the Tender, adapted to the most elevated, majestick and moving Words, conspired to transport and charm the ravished Heart and Ear.”


The London premiere of Messiah took place a year later – in March 1743 – and it was then that the tradition connected with the Hallelujah Chorus arose. When the singers burst into this chorus, the King – George II – was so moved that he was driven to his feet.  When he stood up in his box, the audience did the same, and everyone remained standing until the King resumed his seat when the chorus ended. This custom of standing while the Hallelujah Chorus is played is observed to this day whenever Messiah is performed. in English-speaking countries, including America.



KITES – GOOD AT  PLAY, GOOD AT WORK


 People all over the world have enjoyed playing with kites. Isn’t it wonderful to experience a kite soar, and dance, and sing?  But kites have other uses. They have actually done serious work over the years. 


One area in which kites have been employed is the study of weather. In 1749 a Scottish meteorologist and astronomer named Alexander Wilson had kites lift thermometers to a height of 3000 feet to measure temperature variations at high altitude. 


Three years later, Benjamin Franklin (later President of the United States), used a kite to demonstrate that lightning was similar to static electricity and that it was an electric current traveling from the ground to the storm cloud. He flew a kite in an electrical storm and was able to observe sparks coming from a key he had suspended from the flying line. 


In 1833, a British meteorologist, E. D. Archibold, started using kites to lift instruments to measure wind speed at various altitudes. Meteorological observatories around the world used kites to lift instruments thousands of feet into the air, with the result that weather forecasting improved significantly. 


The U. S. Weather Bureau flew box kites in the early 1900's to record conditions in the upper atmosphere. In 1910 a train of Weather Bureau kites reached an altitude of 23,835 feet, or more than 4 miles. 


Kites have helped people do other kinds of work. In the Solomon Islands men traditionally used kites to catch fish. Their triangular kites were usually made of sago palm leaves. At the bottom a line they dangled a chunk of sticky spider web as lure. 


By 1826 George Pocock was using 4-stringed kites to pull kite-carriages through the English countryside at speeds up to 20 miles an hour. 


Kites have been used in bridge-building to carry lines across gorges and rivers. In 1849 United States engineers flew a line across the Niagara River to start a suspension bridge linking the nation with Canada. Kites have also carried lifelines to ships in distress. 


Experiments in 1900 with kites helped the Wright brothers to design the first successful airplane. 


Kites have been used in aerial photography in both war and peace. In 1906 a train of 17 kites lifted a huge camera over San Francisco to photograph the earthquake's devastation. They have been used to help obtain aerial photographs of archeological sites, reefs, and the remains of shipwrecks. 


In the armed forces, kites were used as observation devices during both the first and second world wars. They were used as a means of increasing the range of visibility by German submarines during both of these wars. They lifted observers to a height of 400 feet, increasing visibility to 40 kilometers. 


 In the Boer War, British soldiers in South Africa went aloft in kites to survey the enemy. 


During the Second World War, kites were supplied as standard equipment on life rafts on British and Australian planes. If the raft had to be used, the kite could be used to lift the antennae of an emergency radio transmitter. They were also used to hoist radar reflectors. 


 A U. S. Navy Commander developed kites with two control lines during the Second World War as a means of training naval antiaircraft gunners. Paul Garber's maneuverable kite was used to give gunners target practice. It was hard to hit as it moved around the sky under the control of its "pilot" on the ground. By the end of the war over 300,000 of the kites had been distributed amongst American military forces around the world. 



TRINIDAD’S KALINDA STICKFIGHTS


The Trinidad stick fight called kalinda (or kalenda) survives mainly as a dance form – an artistic representation of the real thing. The real thing of the nineteenth century was a fearsome activity that should forever remain in the past. 


It is believed that kalinda began around 1860 when the freed slaves organized themselves into competing bands and held performances. Men, women and children gathered to sing, dance and be entertained by stick fights. 


The aim of each stick fighter was to deliver a blow that would hit the opponent on the body - any part above the waist - hard enough to fell him to the ground. Blows were usually aimed at the head and damage to the skull was a very common occurrence in stick fighting. 


The rules of the game were few. Hitting “under the belt” or striking a player when he fell or was forced to kneel was an infringement. Again, as long as a player's skull was cut he had to retire and drain the blood into the "blood hole", a hollow made for this purpose in the ground in the center of the fighting ring. 


The stick used was between three and four feet long and was about seven-eighths of an inch in diameter. It was made of cog-wood, the wood of the yellow poui tree or even the sour guava. 


There were secret formulas for cutting the wood and preparing a stick. One method was to cut a stick when “the moon was weak" and the night was dark. The bark was then peeled off and the stick was pushed into the heart of a rotting banana tree trunk and left there for seven days and seven nights. It was then taken out, covered with tallow, and buried in a manure heap where it "cured" for fourteen days. After this, the stick was removed and was bent and rolled. It was then concealed in a dark place for seven more days before it was considered ready for use. 


The stick men gave their weapons frightful names like "Tamer", and "Groaning". 


Fighters were colorfully dressed. Some shaved their heads clean and covered them with small iron pots over which head cloths were tied, and crowns fitted. A long-sleeved shirt of silk carried a breastplate of metal or of embossed leather, decorated with gilded buttons. Around the waist some fighters tied a ribbon or wide sash, usually red in color. The long trousers were decorated with rows of colored buttons. Alpargatas or flat shoes completed the outfit. The fighters tied red handkerchiefs around the wrists, and often a long ribbon corresponding to the band's colors was tied across the shoulders and allowed to hang down in a long tassel. 


Every band had a chantwell (or shantwell). He was a singer who praised and encouraged his own band and ridiculed the stick fighters of the competing band. 


Over time, stick-fighting tournaments became features of the major holidays, chiefly Easter Monday, August First and Christmas Day. Each village had its square where visiting challengers clashed with local kings. 


Shades of kalinda continue into contemporary Trinidad. Before Carnival each year, when the shantwells rehearsed, tenement dwellers joined in the Kalinda songs. In these backyards with fantastic names like "Hell Yard", "Toll Gate", "Behind the Bridge", "Concrete Yard", "Mafoombo Yard", the earliest carisoes (later, calypsos) were sung. 


The matadors, bad-johns, stickmen, prostitutes, drummers and the singers and the dancers performed at these gatherings. Each yard had its "Kalinda King" who led his band. Each yard developed its own warriors, champions and experts. 


It was from this highly organized folk institution that the calypso emerged, and today this is kalinda's chief claim to fame. The bloody stick fights have gone – gone the way of the equally violent (perhaps more violent) duel in Europe and America. 


Today kalinda may be seen as choreographed performances on- or off-stage, in which teams of fighters compete against each other. Such performances often include much singing and dancing. They still contain elements of the original, however, and stick-wielding performers must remain extremely careful, lest they injure one another.  


MOZART’S INCREDIBLE FEAT OF MEMORY- JUST ONE OF THEM

 Whether or not you like classical music in general or the music of Mozart in particular, it has to be admitted that Mozart was an enormously gifted person. A child prodigy from a musical family, he began composing at the age of five and was showcased as a wonder-boy in the courts of Europe. 


When Mozart was in Rome in 1770 on one of his "infant prodigy" tours, he demonstrated his immense powers of memory in a way the world has never forgotten. The celebrated Miserere by Allegri, which is Psalm 51 set to music, was to be performed at the famous Sistine Chapel. Not everyone was allowed the privilege of hearing this “heavenly” work performed.


Gregorio Allegri had written his nine-part Miserere to be sung by the choirs of the Sistine Chapel during Easter week, and particularly when Tenebrae was celebrated. Tenebrae is the special Easter service during which 27 candles are gradually extinguished to commemorate the darkness at the Crucifixion.


The Pope, who was then vastly more powerful than he is today, did not allow this work to be performed anywhere in the world outside of the Sistine Chapel, and anyone who dared to even try to copy it would be in danger of excommunication. To follow the performance with a score was impossible. No scores were available. The Miserere was neither published nor known outside the Chapel; to play any part of it on any but consecrated ground was considered a sacrilege. Because of these restrictions, the parts of the players had to be passed from performer to performer in the Papal Chapel. 


Mozart, then fourteen years old, eagerly sought and obtained admittance to the performance in the Chapel. He listened to the “overpoweringly beautiful” Miserere entranced, his head between his hands, his every faculty concentrated. After the performance, which climaxed with “a solitary voice holding a haunting, impossibly high top C”, he spoke to no one, but hurried home as though in a trance. He at once went to his desk, secured pen and ink and music-paper, and began the task of writing what he had heard. 


Overnight, he reproduced the entire score from memory - playing, singing, and writing until it was done. 


Sometime later, Mozart happened to meet Christofori, one of the singers at the Chapel, and asked him to sing a certain place in the Miserere. Christofori hesitated. The song was forbidden and they were on unhallowed ground. But he did not want to refuse. Christofori checked to make certain that no spies were nearby then he deliberately sang the requested phrase in the wrong key. Mozart interrupted. "No, no, that's wrong. This is the way it goes." And he sang the entire excerpt flawlessly in the correct key. 


A few days later Mozart gave a concert before a brilliant audience. As always, his hearers were transported by his playing and called loudly for encores. He seated himself at the harpsichord, struck a few chords and then, carried away by the excitement of the moment, began to sing the Miserere. When he had finished, there was no applause, but a stunned silence instead. Though his listeners wanted to show their admiration, they were aware of what the consequences would be if Mozart’s daring act should come to the ears of the Pope. 


There was no need to worry, however. Although the Pope did learn of what the young Mozart had done, he later granted him audience at which he did not reprimand him, but praised him highly and bestowed on him the knightly Order of the Golden Spur. 


Mozart’s feat was so extraordinary, the Pope himself must have realized that he was in the midst of something way above his comprehension.



LOUIS "SATCHMO" ARMSTRONG


Today we remember Louis Armstrong, nicknamed “Satchmo”,  because he was an outstanding jazz trumpeter, singer and entertainer. However, the key to the phenomenon that was Louis Armstrong were his bright and likeable personality and the joy with which he played and sang and interacted with people of all backgrounds everywhere in America and the world. 


It could have been different. While Louis Armstrong was 11 years old, he got into trouble with the law. He was born on Aug 4,1900 in the Negro slums of New Orleans and grew up there. One New Year's Eve he was having fun with some friends who were celebrating by shooting at bottles with their pistols. Louis had never fired a gun before, and he wanted to try it. So he did, not knowing that it was illegal to fire a gun in the city. The police turned up and Louis' friends ran away. Louis was taken into custody and later sent to the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs, a reform school. 


Louis, who loved music and grew up listening to the black street-bands of New Orleans, turned this experience into something good. He had previously, at age 7, saved and bought himself a cornet. While at the school he embraced the opportunity to play the tambourine, then the drums, then the bugle, then the cornet, and finally the trumpet. Thus began a personal odyssey that would make him one of the leading jazz musicians of his time, a popular movie, radio and television personality, a recording artist whose albums sold millions of copies, and a world-renowned celebrity. 


Released from the school after eighteen months, he played jazz in brass bands, sporting houses, dance halls and riverboats. He also learned from the older stars of the day, including his mentor, Joe "King" Oliver, the “master of the New Orleans style.” Oliver thought so highly of  Louis' talents that in 1922, he sent for Louis to fill the second cornet chair in his band in Chicago. Oliver himself played first cornet.


Louis was happy working with Oliver, but prodded by his wife to launch out on his own, he amicably parted company with Oliver in 1924. Louis moved to New York City and took up an offer to play with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, the top black band of the day. 


The talented Louis Armstrong,  a master of improvisation both as a trumpeter and singer, was to make a million other moves in his eventful life. His voice, described as gravelly or raspy, would probably be quite unattractive coming from someone else. People enjoyed his singing largely because that voice was part of the total package that was Louis Armstrong. He was not what one would call a handsome man, but he was a handsome personality. 


He was versatile, enjoying many types of music – earthy blues, smooth melodic ballads, Latin American folksongs, classical symphonies, the opera. All these musical genres influenced, or were included in, his performances, sometimes bewildering fans who wanted him to play only the music they liked best. 


As time went on the general public came to regard Louis more as a singer than as a trumpet player. His major commercial hits - "'Blueberry Hill", "Mack the Knife", "Hello Dolly", - were essentially vocal performances. His voice became one of the best known in the world. The nickname "Satchmo" or "Satch" is short for "Satchelmouth", a reference to his large mouth, which he used to great advantage.


In his career he played and sang with top performers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmie Rodgers, Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, and Bing Crosby. Some of his memorable tunes are: Stardust, “What a Wonderful World", “Hello Dolly”, "When the Saints Go Marchin' In", "Dream a Little Dream of Me", "Ain't Misbehavin'", and "Stompin' at the Savoy".


He was called "Ambassador Satch"  as he toured the world under sponsorship of the United States State Department and was resoundingly successful in Africa, Europe and Asia." He kept up a busy tour schedule of over 300 performances a year until a few years before his death.


As an actor, he had a number of supporting roles in Hollywood films. 


Louis Armstrong was a wonderfully, joyfully friendly human being. He called most of his friends and fellow musicians Pops, and they, in turn, called him Pops. As a black man he suffered much discrimination, but he never let it make him bitter. He has been much praised, but he never let praise make him conceited or arrogant. 


From 1943 to the time of his death, he and his wife lived in a modest house at 34-56 107th St. in Corona, Queens, New York. The house was declared a National Historic Landmark (1977), and a City of New York Landmark (1986). 


When Louis died, the great Dizzy Gillespie said: 


"His melodic concept was as near perfect as possible, his rhythm impeccable. Never before in the history of black music had one individual so completely dominated an art form as the Master, Daniel Louis Armstrong. If it hadn't been for him, there wouldn't be none of us".


After his death on July 6,1971, his funeral ceremonies were carried by television to Europe, where he was as beloved as in his native America. 


Duke Ellington said of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong: “He was born poor, died rich, and never hurt anyone along the way.” 


The Official Louis Armstrong Web site 

A record chart span




SARAH BAARTMAN -

A STORY OF SHAME AND EXPLOITATION


It was 1810. In Cape Town, South Africa, a white ship’s doctor who worked for the British navy told a young black woman that she could earn a fortune by allowing foreigners to look at her body. She apparently agreed and was given free passage from her homeland to England.  After years of shameful exploitation, she died sick and poor in a distant, unfriendly place. In addition, the evidence of her degradation remained on display long after her death. 


The young woman, Sarah Baartman, is believed to have been born in 1789 near the Great Fish River in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. While working in Cape Town as a slave, she came to the attention of William Dunlop, a ship’s surgeon. Baartman, a Khoisan woman, had large buttocks and genitals. Large buttocks and genitals were not unusual among Khoisan women, but Sarah’s were more pronounced than usual, even for a Khoisan woman. Dr. Dunlop convinced Sarah that he would see to it that she made money in Europe. She left South Africa with the doctor in 1810, at age 21. 


Dunlop took her to England. Of course, he intended to exploit her for financial gain, and most probably succeeded. In London and other parts of England, she was exhibited as a freak. She was billed, mockingly, as “The Hottentot Venus,” and people were charged money to watch her naked body.  She drew large crowds at circus sideshows, museums, bars and universities. The English crowds seemed to feel comfortable watching Sarah in a setting which would not have been acceptable for a 21-year-old Englishwoman, no matter how poor. 


Scientists of the day eagerly used Sarah to substantiate their theories, then dominant, about the superiority of the white race. Baartman was at times exhibited like a circus animal in a cage at Piccadilly. It became so ugly that English abolitionists were moved to take action.  


They had seen their efforts to outlaw slavery succeed and felt the need to deal with this new manifestation of this old and shameful problem. They lodged papers with the courts, but the case was thrown out when it was established that Baartman had a legal contract and a salary, and had apparently come to the country of her own free will. Nevertheless the publicity became so embarrassing that Sarah was moved to Paris. 


Sarah was sold to an animal trainer in Paris. There too, she was exhibited much like a wild beast, while her “keeper” gave her orders to walk, sit, or move about. If customers paid a little extra, they could touch her. Sarah was also lent out to scientists for examination when she was not being exhibited. Needless to say, she did not get the fortune Dr. Dunlop led her to expect. 


Sarah Baartman must have become increasingly unhappy and was alleged to have become an alcoholic. Once Parisians became tired of her “show”, the money began to dry up. She died a penniless prostitute in Paris on January 1, 1816. The cause of death was recorded as “inflammatory and eruptive sickness”, possibly syphilis.  She was only 25 years old. 


One of France’s “top” scientists, Georges Cuvier, who had examined Baartman several months before, performed the autopsy.  (Cuvier wrote later: “Her moves had something that reminded one of the monkey, and her external genitalia recalled those of the orangutan.") He made a plaster cast of her body, dissected it, and had her skeleton reassembled. Her genitals and brain were pickled and displayed in bottles at the Musee de l'Homme (Museum of Mankind) in Paris, where they remained until as recently as 1974. 


When the Sarah Baartman exhibits were finally withdrawn from public view in 1974, her remains were consigned to a storeroom and forgotten. After Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa, he made a request to the French government in 1994 for her remains to be returned to South Africa.


In January 2002, what was left of Sarah Baartman’s was finally returned to her homeland and buried on August 9, 2002 in the area of her birth, the Gamtoos River Valley in the Eastern Cape.


This brought to an end a sad and disgraceful episode that demonstrated, among other things, that the high culture of Europe as exemplified in London and Paris could live comfortably side by side with, or even include, the basest and most depraved instincts. 


See also the story of Ota Benga



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