01 Jan

“Lives snuffed out before fear is even felt”

When I was looking through the January 1, 1914 Seattle Times last night, I found some coverage about a disaster I had never heard of. 73 dead — 59 of them children — died in Calumet, Michigan, when someone shouted “Fire!” in the crowded Italian Hall where striking mine workers and their families were celebrating Christmas. There was no fire. Eight witnesses swore that the shouter was wearing a Citizens’ Alliance badge; Citizens’ Alliance was the anti-union organization funded by mine management.

Woody Guthrie wrote the song “1913 Massacre” about it:

“The piano played a slow funeral tune,
And the town was lit up by a cold Christmas moon,
The parents they cried and the miners they moaned,
‘See what your greed for money has done.'”

The Italian Hall Disaster Resource Center Facebook page maintained by Steve Lehto is posting a day-by-day report of what happened 100 years ago:

December 31, 1913 – 100 years ago today, the Coroner issued his ruling exonerating the guilty and placing the blame on the victims. The English-language papers continued blaming the unions for everything while mine management told people they would continue to investigate (which they wouldn’t). Management wanted to buy time, so their guy could get away and witnesses could be intimidated into silence. Meanwhile, the grand jury was hand-picked by management (and loaded with friends of management – it included a slew of men who admitted being members of the Citizens Alliance!) They would eventually refuse to indict anyone for any of the illegal acts against the workers. They would indict the union leadership, calling their actions a conspiracy.

Lehto is the author of a book about the disaster, Death’s Door: The Truth Behind the Italian Hall Disaster and the Strike of 1913.

Last month, PBS aired a documentary about the strike and the tragedy, Red Metal: The Copper Country Strike of 1913. You can watch it online.

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Seattle Daily Times, January 1, 1914

03 Nov

My surnames book is out!

kindle-cover-wakefieldIt may not be the Great American Novel, but I do have a book out as of a week or two ago. Middle English Surnames in West Yorkshire is a book version of my MA thesis, and it should be of interest to folks into genealogy, onomastics (names), language, the SCA or similar groups, or English history.

The first part of the book is an overview of surnames and the names in the Wakefield Manor court rolls. The rest of the book — most of it — is a list of all the names with etymologies and references, divided by type.

If you are looking for a medieval name for the SCA, this is a good source. Every name in the list is from the 13th or 14th century, so they are all documented during SCA period. Many of the names are from place names as well, so this is also useful when looking for a place name to use.

Here are a few places to buy it:

It should appear in other locations soon as well.

14 Jun

“Women Who Rock” and wear sparkly things

Tina Turner, represented by two dresses. All photos on this page by Wendi Dunlap.

The new “Women Who Rock” exhibit opens today at the EMP Museum. I saw a preview this week, and though I enjoyed it, as I left the exhibit I had definite mixed feelings about it.

The exhibit opens with a great photo of Joan Jett with a “takes no shit from anyone” look and a guitar slung over her shoulder. The next thing you see is a timeline, then a piano — Lady Gaga’s childhood piano, as it turns out. Appropriately, the exhibit starts with the music, or at least, one of the tools to create it.

Around the corner you go, seeing memorabilia of some of the earlier influences including Bessie Smith, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and LaVern Baker. It’s good that the exhibit reaches into pre-rock history, though I wanted more of it, history geek that I am.

Turning to your right, you see an impressive US-flag-style dress on a headless mannequin in a glass case, next to another mannequin frilly black and yellow dress sprinkled with tiny musical notes. The flag dress was made for Wanda Jackson by her mom; the yellow one was worn by Ruth Brown. There are some other memorabilia pieces in the display — Jackson’s guitar, Brown’s record — but what draws your eye here is the costuming. And this focus continues through the rest of the exhibit.

Joan Jett has a “Bad Reputation” and also NO HEAD.

We see sparkly dresses worn by members of the Supremes, really short sparkly dresses worn by Tina Turner, and flowing dresses worn by Stevie Nicks, Mama Cass, and the Wilson sisters from Heart. Loretta Lynn’s dress is essentially a 1980s wedding dress in pink: sparkly beaded bodice, big puffy shoulders, and a chiffon skirt. And a nice guitar next to it, but the “ooh, shiny” steals its thunder.

Some costumes are less girly: Joan Jett, of course, with a leather jacket (sporting a Keep Abortion Legal badge), and the outfit she wore on the I Love Rock & Roll album cover. Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth is represented with a shirt bearing the phrase “Eat Me” and the Rolling Stones’ tongue logo.

The definition of “rock” is pretty broad by the time you get to the Britney Spears and Shakira outfits, basically sequined pants with bikini tops. Both mannequins have belly buttons. I think Shakira’s gets a six-pack; no such luck for Britney.

There is a case nearby with a mannequin wearing something that looked like something out of a horror film, red and gross. Yes, it’s Lady Gaga’s meat dress — “meat jerky by now,” we were told. At this point I heard one of the other reviewers mumbling thoughts similar to mine: “Why is it all clothes?” To be fair, it’s not all clothes. Quite a few of the mannequins come with guitars, and some have album covers or magazine articles on display showing the clothing being worn. A few have handwritten lyrics or letters. There is a wealth of text to read about each performer. But the fundamental format of the exhibit is basically mannequins wearing cool stage costumes.

Cyndi Lauper: “She’s So Unusual” because it is definitely unusual to have no head!

The focus on the costumes seems to be both a positive and a negative. On the negative side, the heavy emphasis on costumes seems to crowd out memorabilia that I have seen in other exhibits — more letters, press, vintage posters, tickets, etc. It tends to define almost all the artists by their clothing, displayed on those (mostly) headless, nearly interchangeable mannequins. (The only ones with heads were ones with hats. And those heads were generic.) What’s important, it says, is what’s below the neck. This is what defines each artist. And this is problematic.

Women in rock are not about their clothes — the clothes are a sideline and kind of a distraction. Show me more video, show me more memorabilia — how about the kind of display where it feels as if “you are there” seeing some of them perform, instead of dead faceless mannequins wearing pretty clothing? What was it like to see Ruth Brown sing “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean” at the Mambo Club in Wichita, Kansas in 1956? What was it like to see Blondie at CBGB’s in 1977? The display is more “Nordstrom window” than “rock and roll.”

On the positive side, seeing so many mannequins does give you a bit of a feeling that “hey, there are a lot of women in rock, and this is only touching the surface.” And at the same time, it gives you that sense that they are just people like yourself — maybe shorter than you are, maybe thinner, maybe not — not some onstage demigods glowing under a spotlight.

I must admit that I personally find costume interesting. I’ve researched it, and it’s one of the aspects of history that draws my attention, so I enjoyed seeing the clothing, but I did not like that it really seemed to be the focus. Having costumes there is good, but the exhibit seems kind of imbalanced.

That does not mean you shouldn’t go see it anyway, though. Imbalanced or not, the exhibit is still fascinating. I just wish it could have been more.

Is this the Nordstrom half-yearly sale? How much for the dress in gray?

05 May

Pinterest pinner of the moment: Craftsman Junky

Craftsman Junky's collection of pinboards -- this is only a partial section of the list. Click through to see the full page.

Craftsman Junky’s collection of pinboards — this is only a partial section of the list. Click through to see the full page.

Instead of choosing one Pinterest board to write about this week, I’ve chosen a collection of pinboards by a single pinner: Craftsman Junky. Craftsman Junky is actually Sharon from the Laurelhurst 1912 Craftsman blog about renovating a 1912 Craftsman home in Portland, Oregon. Since I have a 1911 Craftsman bungalow in Seattle, this is relevant to my interests.

The blog is great itself, but the collection of images and links that Sharon has compiled on Pinterest is really stunning. Check out this list of boards:

  • House Interiors (early 1900s)
  • House Exteriors (early 1900s)
  • Craftsman Dining Rooms
  • Craftsman Living Rooms
  • Craftsman Bedrooms
  • Craftsman Remodel
  • Early 1900s Bathrooms
  • Remodeled Bathrooms
  • Early 1900s Kitchens
  • Remodeled Kitchens
  • Shopping Resources
  • Craftsman Furniture
  • Craftsman Stencils, Wallpaper and Paint Colors
  • Early 1900s Tile

There are more, including collections of early 20th Century clothing. If you have an old house, or any interest in Arts and Crafts style of the early 1900s, these are great boards to follow.

25 Apr

“In a room five feet square.”

The Five Foot Square bathroom, large enough for mom and kid... barely.

While working on remodeling my bungalow bathroom (more on that later) I was looking for some vintage art to put on the wall. I found this 1922 ad:


I loved it immediately and decided that would be on my wall. (I ordered it from this eBay seller.) But, note the caption:

“Five Foot ‘Standard’ Bathroom
Pembroke Bath with Shower, Marcosa Lavatory
and Expulso Closet in a room five feet square.”

Five feet square?! 25 square feet? That’s a pretty small room, but it is possible if the sink is small. I grew up in a house that had a very small bathroom, but it was closer to 5’x7′ — the sink and toilet could both fit on the same wall, which at least left room for a laundry hamper.

Looking at other Standard ads from the 1920s, I saw this theme repeated over and over, usually with gorgeous painted artwork to illustrate (click each image to see a full version):

The advertising emphasized the flexibility and freedom of having these small bathrooms as convenient extra bathrooms in one’s home to “assure ideally ample bathroom facilities” and allow “leisurely washing, and splashing, and fixing, and primping before the lavatory glass.”

This ad attempted to appeal to both women and the men in their homes who might be irritated at the time spent in the bath:

"Oh how she had longed for a bathroom all her own" -- the freedom of not sharing a bathroom, by installing one in a five foot square space.  "Ample bathroom facilities are not a luxury." Though the room is small, it has rose tiles and a checked linoleum floor, with elaborate light fixtures.

“Oh how she had longed for a bathroom all her own” — the freedom of not sharing a bathroom, by installing one in a five foot square space.
“Ample bathroom facilities are not a luxury.” Though the room is small, it has rose tiles and a checked linoleum floor, with elaborate light fixtures.

Oh how she had longed for a bathroom all her own — where she could take her own sweet time, knowing it would not be remarked upon — confident that others were not being inconvenienced.

How hard it is to use a bathroom on schedule!

The bathroom in this ad, though tiny, had a sense of feminine luxury, with rose-colored tilework, golden sconces with aqua shades, and a butterfly area rug.

Unspoken in the Five Foot Square ad campaign was something else — if you can install a full bathroom in such a small space, you can easily add bathrooms to homes that previously didn’t have indoor plumbing.

Standard ads, both in the 1920s and otherwise, tended to promote elaborate and expensive luxury bathroom designs, ones which were out of reach for many. Earlier ads often showed fairly large bathrooms with features such as bidets and sitz baths, and it was common for the ads to show household maids at work in the bathroom. Here are a couple of the earlier Standard ads:

The Five Feet Square ads combined an appeal to luxury (extra baths for the lady who has everything) with an appeal to those homeowners still in smaller, older houses: you too, they said, can have glamorous indoor plumbing. All you need is a spare closet or the end of a hallway!

Whether the campaign was successful or not, I don’t know. By the 1930s, Standard seems to have moved on to ads emphasizing color, Art Deco modernity, and the replacement of old, “unsightly” fixtures such as clawfoot tubs. If you want a bathroom in a room five feet square, though, American Standard (formerly Standard) still sells a tiny sink or two.

28 Mar

Pinterest is not entirely clothes, food, and crafts

Part of Pamela Saunders' Black Death pinboard on Pinterest.

Part of Pamela Saunders’ Black Death pinboard on Pinterest.

During my long blog hiatus, Pinterest came along to provide the ability to “pin” cool images from the Web to save for later perusal. It combines an appeal to the visual with an appeal to the inner collector and hoarder that sits within far too many of us, which makes it more than a little addictive. I have spent way too much time on Pinterest lately, adding and organizing pins, creating new pinboards, and searching for new topics to curate.

At least among my contacts, Pinterest seems to feature a lot of DIY projects, clothes, and recipes. But it’s used to collect other things as well. The other day I stumbled on an interesting pinboard curated by Pamela Saunders on the topic of the Black Death, the medieval pandemic that may have killed one-third of the population of Europe in the late 1340s, and then returned at regular intervals for the next several hundred years.

A mass grave containing probable Black Death victims’ skeletons was found earlier this month in London during excavations for the Crossrail project, which brought this medieval pandemic into the daily news. Pamela’s pinboard links to that story, as well as to artwork inspired by the plague, mourning jewelry, fourteenth-century plague graffiti, and more. It’s an interesting assortment of links if you have any interest in this aspect of medieval history.

23 Mar

Before and after: the office project

21 Mar


Long time no blog. I’m finally biting the bullet and using one of the standard WordPress themes for this site — I just don’t have time to customize a whole theme anymore. I’m planning to post some more about a few of the things I’ve been doing lately, including interesting history trivia, crafts, design, and more.

Here’s something interesting I found tonight in the R. Williamson and Co. Catalogue No. 15, Illustrating Electric and Combination Fixtures/Art Glass Domes (undated, but by internal evidence it is no earlier than late 1908. Catalogue 14 was from 1906 and Catalogue 17 was from 1911, so I think that this one is from 1908-1909).

In the days of the telegraph, the cost of the telegram was based on the number of letters in the text. For this reason, it was common for people to use a “code” to send their message so they could send as few letters as possible while still getting their message across.

R. Williamson and Co. had a code in their catalogue, spread over two pages to include many necessary phrases. For example: PAPA 2378 FIR CELERY LENTILS RICE SISTER HOME was a much shorter and cheaper way to say “Can you ship fixture 2378 at once on receipt of order? Three light bracket, wired as explained in catalogue, assembled ready to hang, regular length as in catalogue, in the rich gilt and satin finish. Send by American Express, C.O.D.”

Here’s the full code.

telegraph code 1

telegraph code 2

01 Sep

24 years ago this week: YEAH! Magazine #5, Bumbershoot Preview

This week I’ve got YEAH! Magazine issue #5 for you: the 1987 Bumbershoot Preview. We posted capsule previews for all of the local bands playing at that year’s Bumbershoot festival. If you were around here in the 80s, these names should bring back a lot of memories.

This was the last weekly issue. The weekly grind was a bit much for us so we switched to biweekly after this one.

(Click on the cover to download the whole issue as a PDF.)

25 Aug

24 years ago this week: YEAH! Magazine #4 is missing!

I went to scan YEAH! Magazine #4 today, and was disappointed to find that I don’t have a copy of #4. I thought I had a complete run of the ‘zine, but apparently not. I’d like to appeal to anyone who may have a copy of #4—I would like to copy it if you have one.

Since I don’t have this week’s issue for you, here’s a review of YEAH! #3 from the September 1987 issue of Blue Suede News instead.

Next week: The YEAH! Bumbershoot ’87 issue!

(Click on the image to see a larger copy.)

18 Aug

24 years ago this week: YEAH! Magazine #3

Following up on last week’s post, here’s YEAH! Magazine #3, featuring the Life, the Young Fresh Fellows, Sam Smith, the PopLlama Picnic, and more. (Click the cover to download the whole PDF.)

YEAH! #3, featuring The Life

This issue was reasonably solid, I think. The magazine’s volunteers weren’t burned out yet, and we were all pretty motivated. Some of the highlights this time around included another episode of Rob Morgan’s Two Katz and a Toaster, several references to Stump, The Band, and an early review of Soundgarden, sort of (as Sound Garden), by Danimal:

“Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron from Sound Garden, along with original Garden drummer Scott on bongos, were up next. Chris and Matt both played acoustic guitars; Chris played one of those with way too many strings. They played ‘Train Train,’ and a song, probably from this here new album, called ‘Painting My Face.’ A Syd Barrett tune and a great Zeppelin medley, then Scott got to sing Sonny Boy Williamson’s ‘Sloppy Drunk Blues.'”

Notice also that “Sound Garden” is listed twice in the week’s show listings—both times, as an opening band at a club show. Ah, the old days.

A famed Squirrels performance was also immortalized in this issue—the PopLlama picnic show at which the band jumped into the lake.

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