FOOTNOTE. a show about overlooked history

History from the bottom of the page. Episodes new and old available on iTunes, Soundcloud, and this website right here.


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MT Rushmore done right!

If I was a historical person reenactor, I would do this.

Happy Thanksgiving, all

(via publius-esquire)

Via Se Loger:

Time stopped for more than 70 years in this Parisian apartment in the Pigalle, near the l’église de la Trinité. These magnificent lodgings belonged to a Madame de Florian who fled the invading German army during WWII. She never returned…
Read more (in French!) here.

The latest historical tidbit from Footnote producer Emily Gadek - on the amazing show Life of the Law. Covering the insane commutes of our nation’s early Supreme Court Justices, and featuring 100% more falls into the frozen Susquehanna River and justices nicknamed ‘Old Bacon Face’ than you’ll find anywhere else on the web.

GIFs are immortal, and GIFs are worldwide.


The Richard Balzer collection of oldey timey GIFs is just too, too good. 


The original handwritten manuscript of The Great Gatsby, from Princeton’s newly digitized archive of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s manuscripts.

Pair with Fitzgerald on the secret of great writing.

( Open Culture)

(via latimes)


Mummy Head Cover


Roman Period

c.1st Century BC

Source: Art Institute Chicago

Remember calling in to find out what time it was when you were a kid? It seems quaint and old fashioned in a world of smart phones.  But those electronic pips represent a revolution in the way that we think about time - not as something to be measured by the passing of the stars and the sun, but as a steady beat counted out in rational, scientific terms.  It wasn’t a shift that came easily.  People died in droves because disagreements about what time it was. In the US, at least, it was a decision heavily influenced by powerful corporations.  But more on that in a bit.  Let’s start with how time used to be.

Anthony Cook: I’m Anthony Cook, I’m the astronomical observer at Griffith Observatory. 

Anthony and his fellow astronomers are some of the few people left who tell time the old fashioned way - by looking up.

Anthony cook: In astronomy, we use a type of time called sidereal time, that’s time reckoned by the position of the stars in your specific place.  So we have a specific sidereal time for Griffith Observatory.  And basically, what it tells us is what’s right overhead at that moment

But just because it’s based on nature   doesn’t mean it always comes naturally. I asked him, off hand, what he thought the local sidereal, or star-based, time was when we sat down last December.

At this point, Anthony decided to consult a computer program Griffith’s astronomers use to help orient the observatory telescope.

 Basically, what he’s laying out is the cornerstone of how humans across the world have measured time for thousands of years : by charting the progress of the sun, stars and planets across the sky.  We headed outside to look at more familiar traditional way of telling time: the sundial.  It was serving a dual purpose as home base for a group of boys playing tag.   

Anthony Cook: See!  It still works

So what’s the problem with telling time the old fashioned way?  Kids love it.  Astronomer’s adore it. It’s natural and in-sync with the rhythms of the earth.  

You may have caught the answer earlier.  If you measure time from high noon - when the sun is directly above your head - every place on earth will have a slightly  different noon.  For example: Griffith Observatory, which is on the eastern edge of LA, is about 3 minutes behind Riverside, a town roughly sixty miles inland.  

Those three minutes were not a problem for most of human history, when it could take days to go sixty miles.  No one was ever going fast enough to notice his watch wasn’t in sync with the guy living a couple towns over. They didn’t even have watches to compare . But that all changed roughly a hundred and eighty years ago when people started traveling by train.

It’s hard to overstate what a change trains made to nearly every aspect of American life.  In 1800, it took six weeks to go from Chicago to New York.  By the 1860s, it took two days.  Trains opened up previously inaccessible parts of the country for settlement, made it possible to ship everything from soldiers to mail to oranges across the nation.  Train travel meant ordinary people were traveling faster, farther and in greater numbers than ever before in history.  

It opened up our world.

But it was also killing people.

On a lovely summer morning in August 1853 near Pawtucket Rhode Island, a train conductor named Frederick Putnam pulled out his pocket watch. His train was running late. 

Around a curve was a section of track called the Boston switch that only ran one way, where conductors had to alternate. According to his watch, he had a few minutes, before a northbound train would be on that oneway track, forcing him to wait. Eager to make up time, he ordered his engineer to pour on the speed so they’d be the first train through.

The other train was already on the switch. The two trains collided at full speed, killing 14 people and injuring another 60.

It was the last straw in a heinous year for rail accidents.  1853 had seen 65 train wrecks and 165 deaths across the country - including President-elect Franklin Pierce’s son, Bernie.  Her son’s death, compounded by the sight of his crushed and nearly decapitated body, threw Mrs Pierce into a deep depression.  She spent her time in the White House draping rooms in mourning bunting and writing heart-breaking letters to her dead son. Her husband, who took office just two months after the accident, essentially drank himself to death.

The railroads realized that something had to be done. In the case of the Rhode Island accident and many other collisions, the tragedy could have been prevented if only the two conductors had the same time on their watches. Management decided that each line would have a standard time. If a train line started in Philadelphia, say, all its conductors would be on Philadelphia time all the way through their run, instead of constantly adjusting their watches in every town they passed through. In big cities, this idea wasn’t so radical.  Citizens in New York, for example, had given up telling time by the sun in favor of citywide standardized time long ago. Western Union would drop a time ball - think of the New Year’s Eve Ball drop in Times Square minus the mirrors and flashing lights - from a tall building at exact noon so the whole city could synchronize their watches.  

Eventually, many small towns began to give up their time in favor of  railroads time.

But there were still over a dozen different RR times. Switching trains  between companies could could be a nightmare. Stations often had to have several clocks noting the times in the different cities where rail lines originated,

Pressure to consolidate a national standard time began to build. By 1863, there was at least one proposal for standardized time zones similar to the zones we used today.  But it wasn’t until the 1880s that all the major railroads agreed to adopt four time zones which roughly corresponded to our current Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific zones. Finally, on November 3, 1883, standardized time was implemented by railroad companies in US and Canada, with most states agreeing to adopt the zones as well.  The plan was for every town to stop its clock at local noon, wait for standard time to catch up, and start the clocks again. The press  quickly dubbed it ‘the day of two noons.’  Here’s how things went down in New York City, according to the New York Times

"Curious people, some of whom could not exactly understand how the time could be changed without some serious results, crowded the sidewalk in front of jewelry stores and watch repair establishments to see the great transformation. There was a universal expression of disgust when it was discovered that all that was necessary to effect the change was to stop the clock for four minutes and then start it again. A large crowd gathered in the vicinity of the City Hall to watch the change as indicated on the faces of the clock which rests under the shadow of the restored Cypriote antique of Justice.

A vermilion topped Hibernian to his companion who was watching the south face of the clock, “the thing has stopped; phwats the matther wid it, anyhow? I don’t see no time changin’, do you Mike?”

The two gazed steadily at the clock, and saw the minute hand again start on its course…one sadly remarked to the other, “I towld yer ’twas a sell. The clock’s running agin,and there’s been nary a change of time at all, at all.”

But not everyone agreed with Standard Time. Some thought it blasphemous, since God clearly intended us to tell time by the sun. Others found it an example of big government run amok, trampling the rights of states and territories to regulate their own time. For the next thirty years or so, towns or even whole states would rebel against standard time and go back to local.  Less than a year after the day of two noons, the New York Times published this breathless dispatch from Augusta Maine:

It wasn’t until 1918 that the US made Standard time into federal law. It’s now based on the time kept by the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado - a clock so precise, it will neither gain nor lose a second in more than 100 million years.

That doesn’t mean the battle over time is over. Now it’s in space. Astronomers and the agencies which run GPS satellites are battling over the leap second.  The leap second is an adjustment that’s used to keep our atomic time in sync with the earth’s rotation. It would be far easier to coordinate the GPS system if we used atomic time instead of having to constantly adjust for imperfect solar time.  But if we do that, we’ll drift ever so slowly out of sync with nature.  The positions of constellations in the sky will no longer match our clocks, or eventually, our calendars.  We’ll have lost our connection with the origin of time.

I’m a gone sucker.


A Political Cartoon Poking Fun at Lincoln’s Opponents

Lincoln Was Depicted as Consuming Candidates of a Divided Democratic Party

In this pro-Lincoln cartoon, “Honest Abe” is shown about to consume Senator Stephen A. Douglas, at left, and John C. Breckenridge, at right, who was the incumbent vice president in the administration of James Buchanan.

Douglas, from Illinois, was considered a moderate on the slavery issue, and he is labeled “soft shell.” He is crying out, “I’m a gone sucker!!”

Breckenridge, from Kentucky, was adamantly pro-slavery. He is labeled “hard shell” and is exclaiming, “Alas! That ever I should live to be swallowed by a rail splitter!”

Lincoln, considered the political outsider in the race, is saying, “These fellows have been planted so long in Washington that they are as fat as butter, I hardly know which to swallow first.”

(via retrocampaigns)

Salvation Mountain, Niland, Calif. Niland, Calif. Outside Niland, Calif. The Salton Sea

Not strictly historical, but…

Salvation Mountain is a huge art installation created by Leonard Knight out of adobe, paint and found materials. US Senator Barbara Boxer’s a big fan. It’s found in Niland, Calif., just off the Salton Sea.

French soldiers and civilians unearth Auguste Rodin’s sculpture Eve from her owner’s garden in Douai, France after the end of WWI. Douai was along the infamous Western Front.  Eve’s owner, fearing the statue would either be looted by the victorious Germans or melted down for scrap by the desperate French, buried her in the garden as the war broke.  Her disinterment became a poignant image of France’s rebirth following the devastation of war. Photo from the French newspaper L’Illustration, 1918.

Find out more and see her in person here.

I know, I’ve been gone forever, future dwellers. I got a new job, moved to a new city, and I’ve finally got my feet back on the ground.  New episodes of the podcast are coming, but to tide you over, here’s a little something I’ve been working on for my day job.

For those of you who are into watching professionals wash and wax a hundred-year-old French woman, take a look at this behind-the-scenes video of conservation work on Rodin’s Eve.


The Raft of the Medusa - Théodore Géricault

Higher res:

Gifs of art history - an idea whose time has come.


‘When Saddam Hussein fell, we Iraqis were disoriented. For all our lives, he had always been there. His image was everywhere,’ says photographer Jamal Penjweny, whose series Saddam is Here depicts Iraqis in everyday locations covering their faces with pictures of the former dictator. ‘His image was in the cities where we live, on the walls of our schools, on our money, everywhere. Then he vanished. So taking a picture with Saddam was breaking a taboo that was created after the fall of the regime.’

Photograph: Jamal Penjweny/RUYA Foundation


President Teddy Roosevelt ready to enter Yellowstone Park, 1903.

(via retrocampaigns)


Romanov Imposters and False Claimants: The Anastasia Imposters

Since the 1920’s, there have been hundreds of supposed claimants to members of the Romanov family, after their purported murders at Ekaterinburg in 1918.
Many of these were quickly dismissed, as evidence amounted against them. Often these women, spurred on by the fanatical media and tales of a lost fortune, had come from troubled backgrounds, such as that of factory-worker Anna Anderson, and Eugenia Smith, who had intrigued even Prince Rostislav Alexandrovich, a cousin of the real Anastasia, and one of surprisingly many noble people and royals who desperately hoped for something of a miracle to save their lost Romanov family, and the youngest daughter of the Tsar, Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna.


  • Anna Anderson; created wordwide mayhem at her tale of a lost grand duchess. Perhaps the most famous of claimants, she spent most of her life in a state of mental collapse after her initial sucidie attempt in Berlin, leaving her with some form of memory loss on an already unsteady self-conscious. Anna took her claims to the High Courts, with the support of many royals, even those who had met the Grand Duchess herself, seeking the illustrious Romanov family fortune. She was dismissed by the surviving Romanovs, though her ability to recount such intimate details about the Imperial Family troubled those who had initially doubted her. She died in 1984, and was buried falsely under the name Anastasia Nikolaevna. In 1991 the bodies of the Imperial Family were excavated, and a sample of Anderson’s DNA was compared, thus striking her from any genuine bond to the family.

  • Eugenia Smith was also one of many claimants to gain a large profile. Smith wrote a book on ‘her life’, recounting ‘facts’ about her life as a Grand Duchess, and how an unidentified woman saved her from the Ipatiev house. She was later uncovered when she migrated from Serbia to the United States, using the false name of a man who later told investigators he had never heard of her before. Smith even caught the attention of Prince Rostislav of Russia, the son of the Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, aunt, and cousin of the real Anastasia. He attempted to make contact numerous times, but she would suddenly cancel their meetings, claiming she was too nervous.

    In her later years, Smith distanced herself from earlier claims of Imperial origins. In 1984, Associated Press reported that she had refused to discuss her claims with them. When she was asked if she would like to provide a blood sample for DNA analysis, she also refused. Eugenia Smith died on January 31, 1997 at the purported age of 95 years.

  • Eleonora Kruger was a Bulgarian woman who lived mostly unlike the other claimants. Eleonora never actually claimed she was the Grand Duchess Anastasia, but as a language teacher she would recount to her students, stories of grand palaces, governesses and bathing in a golden bathtub. For a time until his death, she lived in a house with a workman named George, who incidentally suffered from hemophilia. Though the two never made any public statements regarding their heritage, the people who encounter the two together would often stare in wonder at their likeness to the Tsarevich and his sister. Eleonora died in 1954.

  • Natalya Bilikhodze was yet another claimant of the youngest daughter to Tsar Nicholas II. She claimed that Anastasia was not shot, but fled to Georgia, where she later married. Bilikhodze had begun using the name Grand Duchess Anastasia in 1995. In 2002, presented her claim at a Press Confrence, by film. It was later revealed that the video had been made two years prior to that, and Natalya herself had died and been dead since 2000. In January 2001, a commission of experts at the Central Clinical Hospital studied tissues from Bilikhodze’s body and concluded that she was not related to the Romanovs.
  • Nadezhda Vasilyeva was yet another claimant. Vasilyeva appeared in Siberia in 1920, as she was trying to travel to China. She was arrested by the Bolsheviks and was imprisoned. In 1934 she was moved to a prison hospital in Kazan, where she wrote letters to King George V asking him to help his “cousin” Anastasia. At one point she changed her story and said she was the daughter of a merchant from Riga. Later, she again claimed to be Anastasia. She died in an insane asylum in 1971. According to the head of the hospital in Kazan, “except for her claim that she was Anastasia, she was completely sane.”


(via thefirstwaltz)

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