Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1969, many significant events in U.S. history happened, among them the Moon landing, Woodstock, and the Manson murders. But the one that is foremost in my mind and in my heart is the Stonewall riots, when LGBTQ+ individuals fought back against legalized harassment and oppression by demonstrating against police raids in New York City.
Although this story has been told many time before, in different formats and styles, author Rob Sanders and illustrator Jamey Christoph delve in again, with their marvelous storybook, “Stonewall: A building, an uprising, a revolution,” found in the Children’s Department of the Joplin Public Library.
Sanders and Christoph’s approach is to highlight the history of both a structure and a liberation movement, in words and images.
Originally built in Greenwich Village in the 1840s as stables to house the horses of wealthy New Yorkers, the two buildings witnessed the eventual flight of the affluent uptown, the arrival of immigrants, and the rise of the Village as a cultural center of New York City before being joined together as first a restaurant and then later a nightclub, the Stonewall Inn.
Through the years, the Village became a haven, “a place where you could be yourself and where being different was welcomed and accepted.” Musicians, writers, and artists of all ages, religions and races brought creative energy to the district. And gay men and women were welcome in the Village, “a home for people who were told that they didn’t fit in or belong.”
In 1967, the Stonewall Inn opened, providing a place for gay men, lesbians, transgender people, drag queens and many other individuals to socialize. But the nightclub was not a completely safe haven: Police raids, fueled by laws that persecuted and prosecuted those who were gay or wore the opposite gender’s clothing, were common, culminating in detainments and arrests.
But in the early-morning hours of June 28, 1969, something changed. Stonewall patrons, angry at and frustrated by the harassment, had had enough. They rose up and resisted the police. For several days, crowds demonstrated and fought back. The Stonewall Uprising had started, and it was the birth of the modern gay-rights movement.
The author and illustrator take a simple, honest approach to this crucial moment in human-rights history. Sanders doesn’t flinch from using terms such as “gay,” “lesbian” and “transgender” in his writing, and Christoph features artwork, by turns colorful and muted, of men in women’s clothing and smiling, same-sex couples dancing, holding hands and embracing. The story is told matter of factly, without being sensationalized.
If you’re looking for a similar book, I highly recommend one of Rob Sanders’ other storybooks, “Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag,” which I have previously reviewed in these pages. You can also consult any of the Children’s Department staff for additional guidance.
I also urge you to visit the Joplin Public Library and learn more about the events of the summer of 1969. We have books, DVDs and other resources for all ages that offer entertainment and edification.
Route 66 – Highway to the Stars, an educational exhibit created by local history detectives and authors William and Doris Martin, is showing now through July 31 in our Genealogy, Local History, and Post Reading Room wing. The Martins discovered a connection between William’s mother’s family and astronomer Edwin Hubble’s mother’s family, who were living in Marshfield, Missouri many years ago.
When William’s 91-year-old aunt told them, “This story needs to be told,” they wrote and self-published a book entitled Dreams and Adventures: The Edwin Hubble Story (2015). It’s an inspiring, never-before-told story about the amazing astronomer for whom the Hubble Space Telescope is named.
After publication of their book, the Martins continued to research astronomy and space exploration. William began creating original storyboards about Edwin Hubble and many other astronomers, astronauts, observatories, and planetariums. Many of these people and places, as it turns out, have connections to Route 66, such as astronomer Harlow Shapley and astronaut Janet Kavandi.
Discover the dreams and adventures of Edwin Hubble, learn about Harlow Shapley – the man who determined our solar system’s place in the Milky Way – visit some planetariums and observatories, soar with astronauts, and reach for the stars as you travel along Route 66 – Highway to the Stars!
Join the authors for a book signing from 10am-11am on Monday, July 22, 2019 in the Local History room. Note: Books will be available for purchase at this event; CASH ONLY.
May is Preservation Month, a celebration that promotes our heritage through our historic places. As such, I’m glad to share my impressions of a preservation-related title, A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia Savage McAlester.
I was first introduced to this book years ago, by my friend Leslie Simpson, who said, “One of the best ways to learn about the history of a community is to study its buildings.” Indeed, architecture has a story to tell. But first, we must learn to listen. Through this title, McAlester teaches us how to listen to the stories of American domestic architecture.
Spanning centuries of the development of American houses, from the 17th-century to present, this guide is for anyone interested in learning how to identify the style of American houses through architectural features, from frame and form to embellishments or the lack thereof.
Initially published in 1984, McAlester expands the 2014 revision to include an overview of the house styles built during the millennial housing boom, 1990-2008, and a section on neighborhoods that describes the ways American houses are usually grouped together. Also, the second edition provides new information based on research that wasn’t available at the time the first edition was written.
Readers may reference this book in a variety of ways, as discussed in the brief ‘How to Use This Book’ portion, which I recommend (actually) reading. For quick identification or for a sort of crash course in the basics of American houses, both the Pictorial Key and the Pictorial Glossary that follow the how-to section are helpful. Roof form, chimneys, railings, windows, and more are depicted in the Pictorial Key, whereas the Pictorial Glossary depicts common descriptive house terms as well as classical elements often applied to houses.
The first chapter is an overview of American houses, including information about style, form, structure, and neighborhoods. The seven chapters that follow go into greater detail about the types of houses found within specific styles. For example, Native American, Pre-Railroad, National, and Manufactured houses are types of houses within Folk Houses. Italianate and Gothic Revival are types found within Romantic Houses (1820-1880); Richardsonian Romanesque, Queen Anne, and Shingle are found within Victorian Houses (1860-1900); Craftsman and Prairie within Modern Houses (1900-present); and so on. Frankly, the fun is in the details rather than the overview, though the latter is the foundation for the former.
In addition to abundant depicions of architectural elements, photographic examples, and textual information, McAlester chronicles how geography, innovation, materials, weather, and more have impacted the development of American homes. Heating innovations, for example, literally shaped American houses, as did automobiles. In fact, automobiles continue to shape our homes: the space used to house automobiles when compared to a 1,000 square foot house in 1915 was 0%, which grew to 15% by 1930; to 25% by 1950; to 45% by 1970; and to 75% by the 2000s. McAlester also touches upon some of the sufferings of old houses brought on by so-called improvements.
McAlester’s book is comprehensive, including something for everyone and for anyone with a desire to know more about how our dwellings came to be, how they’ve developed over time, how we have shaped them and, interestingly, how they have shaped us. I recommend this field guide to everyone, whether the desired outcome is to simply identify the house up the street or to survey and develop a narrative for an entire neighborhood.
I might add that we are able to provide a copy of this title for checkout, rather than for reference-only, as is typical, thanks to a donation made by the Joplin Historical Society in memory of Martha Elizabeth Belk. You’ll find A Field Guide to American Houses in our Memorial Book section, which is located at the beginning of our New Nonfiction.
Happy Preservation Month and, as always, happy reading.
Letters from a Nut by Ted L. Nancy
Sir John Hargrave’s Mischief Maker’s Manual by John Hargrave
Spooked!: How a Radio Broadcast and The War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America by Gail Jarrow
April Fool’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. It’s shenanigans of the highest order and delicious entertainment when practiced appropriately. Half of the fun is planning–brainstorming ideas, choosing a “recipient”, fleshing out details, gathering supplies, lying in wait. Small-scale or grand in scope, there’s nothing like a well-executed April Fool’s joke.
What happens when you spread your prankish master plan across the country? Read Letters from a Nut by Ted L. Nancy to discover the possibilities. Both the title and author have a ring of bogusness to them and for good reason. They are the products of comedian Barry Marder who in the mid-1990s mailed many, many fake (and hilariously bizarre) customer service letters across the world to corporations, magazines, entertainers, universities, government officials, airlines, hotels, casinos, sports teams (to name just a few). The original letters and any responses were collected into a book popular enough to spawn 6 sequels. (Yes, that’s right–6 volumes of side-splitting, asinine letters accompanied by replies from their perplexed recipients.)
Some of my favorites are the silliest letters or the least expected replies. Nancy offers himself to Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus describing a ludicrous, one-man show; the circus calls his bluff and asks for video submission. A letter to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel warns of an upcoming business meeting with Nancy dressed as a ripe banana; the hotel’s polite reply references its formal dress code. Even the King of Tonga isn’t spared (see the book’s final entry). Letters from a Nut, like comedy in general, is better enjoyed at face value rather than dissected. Read this out loud, as suggested in its introduction. It’s most easily accessible for an adult audience primarily for the sense of humor and generationally-dated references and to a smaller extent for content. Otherwise, you might try the title on a high school student who enjoys dry humor in historical context.
Sir John Hargrave’s Mischief Maker’s Manual claims “this book is so awesome it is illegal in 13 states”. Whether you buy that or not, it is a prankster’s dream! Written and arranged in the style of a D.I.Y. manual, it groups practical joke ideas by mischief level and subject matter (“Classic Capers”, “Bathroom Basics”, “Startling Contraptions”, “Surprise Food”, “Experts Only”). Each entry includes description and instructions for the prank, black-and-white illustrations, safety tips, along with a breakout box outlining supplies, budget, time, success rate, and “mischief level”. The text is aimed at an upper elementary/middle school audience but is easily enjoyed by high schoolers, adults, and evil genius types.
One of the manual’s best parts is its focus on humane pranking practices. The author advocates for ethical joking in “The Prankster’s Code” which stresses avoiding self-harm, bullying, and property damage. Caution boxes accompany each entry, and Hargrave addresses potential negative outcomes in the “Trouble” chapter including sections on “The Eight Steps of Confession” and “Worst Likely Scenario” (“if you’re unwilling to live with the worst likely punishment, then you shouldn’t do it”). Despite the safety alerts, keep an eye out for some of the expert-level stunts calling for the use of dry ice or an air compressor.
With great pranking comes great responsibility. Practical jokes–small or large–can fall flat or worse. Spooked!: How a Radio Broadcast and The War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America relates the nationwide panic caused by the infamous Mercury Theatre radio play. (For folks unfamiliar with it, the play is a convincing adaptation of an H.G. Wells science fiction title describing a Martian invasion of Earth.)
Gail Jarrow, author of Spooked!, offers a fantastic examination of this collective freakout. She presents a detailed account of the broadcast, its creation, and its reception along with background material on the major players and the original H.G. Wells work. She places the event within historical context, explaining the national mindset at the time. Her research is top-notch, full of primary sources, and seamlessly translates to interesting, accessible prose. The text is accompanied by a range of engaging illustrations–sepia drawings, period photographs, newspaper clippings, telegrams. Brightly colored spreads summarize the play and highlight quotes from letters reacting to the broadcast. A festive timeline, resource links, source notes, and a thorough bibliography round out supplementary material. Jarrow neatly ties up the package in her final chapter describing mass hoaxes from the 19th century to today, cautioning readers about gullibility in the age of viral videos and social media. This is fun non-fiction for middle school and high school students plus adults interested in history, hoaxes, or classic radio.
I’ll be enjoying the hijinks of our Middle School Book Club on April Fool’s Day, and I can’t wait to see what they have planned. May your holiday contain just the right amount of shenanigans. Remember–please prank responsibly!
Gone are the days of laborious photographic processes. Most of us use cellphones rather than cameras to take photos. No doubt – and more often than not – the photos we take remain stored on electronic devices or in virtual clouds instead of tangibly tucked away in albums gracing our shelves or frames decorating our walls.
With modern technology, it’s understandably easy to forget about historic photographic processes, such as those used to make ambrotypes, CdVs, and tintypes. Fortunately, we still benefit from the results of these processes by way of antique photographs, such as those in Allen Shirley’s collection, a selection of which we’re showing now through March 2019.
Although the display is largely comprised of tintypes, a photograph made by a direct positive on a thin sheet of metal coated with a dark enamel, it includes a small selection of ambrotypes, a positive photograph on glass, and carte de visite photos, a type of small photograph patented in Paris. The photographs depict George and Martha Washington; Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln; Edgar Allen Poe; Harriet Beecher Stowe; Frederick Douglass; Albert Einstein; Sitting Bull; Calamity Jane; Annie Oakley; the aftermath of Gettysburg and other Civil War era photographs; and more.
Library exhibitions and displays are curated by Post Art Library. Their mission is to enrich the community of Joplin by perpetuating Dr. Winfred L. and Elizabeth C. Post’s love of art, architecture, history, and history preservation through public access to arts-related library resources and services, educational programming, events, and exhibits. Visit www.postartlibrary.org for more information.
Lately, I’m of a mood to read everything nonfiction. As such, I presently have nine new nonfiction books checked out from the library. Which is to say it was challenging to decide which book to read in its entirety and to write about for this review.
Although Karen Blumenthal’s Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend was good, to say the least, you no doubt are familiar with their story, including their brief stint here in Joplin, which resulted in those playful, infamous photographs the gang left behind as they fled town.
Another contender was Craig Brown’s Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret. Admittedly, I’ve yet to finish that one. It’s not that I don’t appreciate Brown’s untraditional (for a biography) formatting, but, frankly, I find Princess Margaret exhausting in a gossipy, spoiled sort of way. I started to feel as if I was glimpsing into a collection of US Weekly or People magazine articles. Which is fine, if that’s what you’re in the mood for.
After reading, if one only in part, these two titles, as well as perusing the others, which range in topic from American capitalism to feminism to language to politics to reading (Yes, a book about reading!) and to travel, I settled on a history. Specifically, Marianne Monson’s Women of the Blue and Gray: True Civil War Stories of Mothers, Medics, Soldiers, and Spies.
Monson’s well-documented account tells the story of countless women who participated in the American Civil War: those who fought on the frontlines alongside men (often while disguised as men); those who formed so-called beardless brigades to protect their hometowns; those who nursed soldiers after, as well as during, combat; those who smuggled food, people, supplies, and weapons across enemy lines; those who created extensive spy networks; and those who otherwise contributed to the efforts of that long, bloody war.
This collection of histories and brief biographies is introduced with a discussion about woman’s veiled role throughout history and the importance of lifting that veil. And not just from women of certain or particular perspectives or upbringings, but from women—black, immigrant, Native American, white, poor, rich, middle-class, educated, uneducated, freed, enslaved, and all others, and, especially in the case of this book, northern and southern women alike.
Researching the history of women, particularly enslaved or uber-marginalized women, is a challenging, frustrating endeavor. Oftentimes, information was not recorded about women as it was about men, especially during eras when women did not own property, work outside of the home, or keep their maiden names when married. Monson’s research, which she carefully notes at the end of each chapter, is impressive, as are her chapter-by-chapter suggestions for further reading.
Monson refreshes our memories of well-known voices from this era, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lydia Marie Child, the Grimké sisters, Harriet Jacobs, Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, and others. Further, she restores the histories of women who are likely lesser-known, such as Susie Baker King Taylor, Frances Clayton, Mary Jane Richards, Belle Boyd, the Sanchez sisters, Rebecca Wright, Anna Ella Carroll, Rachel Moore Brownfield, Mother Bickerdyke, Dr. Mary Walker, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Chipeta, Hanging Cloud, Sallie Peacheater Manus, and numerous others.
Through the varied voices of these women, we not only gain a better understanding of what life was like in that era, but we discover the emergence of patterns and themes that continue to be relevant in contemporary America.
As always, happy reading.
This book review is not for the faint of heart nor for the weak stomached. Imagine: You’re out for a stroll in Victorian London, prepossessed with the styles of that era’s architecture as you take in the crisp, comforting wintry air. In your prepossession, you fail to notice a spot of ice ahead on the walkway and, whoops, you slip. In doing so, your tibia breaks and, very unfortunately, protrudes through your skin. Seeing your plight, a passerby summons a constable and the two carry you to the nearest hospital, where, for one reason or another, the surgeon decides that your broken leg must be amputated mid-thigh.
Suddenly and shockingly, you find yourself on a blood-encrusted table in a stifling operating theater. At least one hundred spectators, some of whom have little or nothing to do with the study of medicine, and none of whom you know, are transfixed by the surgical sport of your leg being lopped off. Luckily, your surgeon was London’s most renowned at the time, Robert Liston. Unluckily, Joseph Lister was yet to arrive on scene and, though you survived the amputation, you died an all too common death: that of hospitalism. Or, as simply stated in today’s terms, infection.
Sparing no detail, Lindsey Fitzharris’ The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine is itself a grisly, though wonderfully written, account of the horrors of Victorian medicine, specifically those of surgery and post-operative infection. The bulk of Fitzharris’ history regards, as its title suggests, one Joseph Lister, who, most graciously, spared us from the brutal, Dickensian-like world she describes. In her words, Victorian medicine was “the age of agony.”
Victorian era British hospitals lacked cleanliness, to say the least. In one account, a patient was found convalescing in damp sheets covered with mushrooms and maggots. Putrid odors permeated the facilities, as well as the doctors and the medical students who worked within. Operating tables were not cleaned from one patient to another, instruments were not sterilized between patients, and employees’ hands, let alone the wounds of the afflicted, were scarcely washed. Surgeons and their assistants performed grimy operations, haphazardly throwing limbs and flesh into buckets or onto sawdust-covered floors. Literal body snatchers disturbed the dead by digging them up and delivering them to hospital dissection rooms, where men carved them up in the interest of medicine. This is but a sampling of pre-antiseptic conditions.
At the time, surgeons were paid less than those whose job it was to rid the hospital beds of lice and, often, those who chose to specialize in the field were stigmatized. Surgery was considered manual labor rather than medical practice. In part, no doubt due to the fact that, in its infancy, surgery was an absolute last resort primarily comprised of the quick lopping off of limbs. Not only was surgery dangerous for the patient, but for doctors and their assistants. Take, for example, a man who once assisted the aforementioned Robert Liston. Quick with his saw, Liston accidentally sliced three fingers off of the assistant when removing the patient’s limb. Both patient and assistant died of post-operative infection.
Enter Joseph Lister. Born into a Quaker family, it’s somewhat ironic that Lister chose to become a physician, as the Quakers were known for their disbelief in medicine. Fortunately, Lister’s family was very supportive of his medical endeavors. Lister and his father had a common bond–the microscope. Lister’s father made a number of improvements to the device and Lister was one of few students in medical school acquainted with it. In fact, his professors and contemporaries alike thought the microscope either frivolous or superfluous to medical pursuits. Yet, and thankfully for us, Lister persisted.
While Lister’s predecessors and peers were more interested in treating the symptoms of infection, Lister was more curious about discovering its causes. He spent countless hours peering through the lens of his microscope, viewing, sketching, and painting human tissues, fibers, and the like. He acquired specimens from others within his field, as well as harvested from his own body. He was so devoted to his cause, that he and his wife, Agnes, who was the daughter of his mentor, spent their honeymoon collecting frogs for Lister to dissect. Throughout their marriage, she was often in his study or lab with him, taking notes and essentially acting as his assistant.
Eventually, Lister gained an understanding of infection, of how hospital environments impacted the outcome of procedures and the well-being of both patients and staff. Although his theories were initially rejected by the Victorian medical community, over time Lister was able to prove them and he received a number of awards and recognition throughout his career. Conditions improved, not only in British hospitals, but in hospitals everywhere, as cleanliness became increasingly practiced.
Fitzharris’ narrative of the transformation of Victorian medicine is altogether fascinating, if gruesome and not for the faint of heart nor for the weak stomached. Although she writes in a manner that speaks well to those outside of the world of medicine, I wrote this review after reading this title twice. Trust, it’s a lot to take in and a lot to process.
As always, happy reading.
When perusing the library’s new book offerings, Kate Moore’s The Radium Girls shone from the shelf. Particularly, the subtitle: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women. Intrigued and unfamiliar with these shining women and their dark story, I trusted Moore to shed light on the matter. She begins by introducing us to a list of key characters, including the dial-painters (i.e. the “radium girls”), corporations, doctors, and investigators involved, and she ends with an impressive bibliography, illuminating her skillful, thorough research of the women’s decades-long struggle for justice.
Discovered in 1898 by Pierre and Marie Curie, radium is a chemical element that, not long after its discovery, was used in readily available medicines and for other common, commercial purposes. One such purpose was luminous watch-dials and instruments, which were in high demand during both World Wars. Despite radium’s increasingly apparent toxicity, which was not known to the public, corporations continued to hire young women as dial-painters in their factories or, as they were referred to, their “studios.”
Working as a dial-painter was an enviable position. The work was considered higher up than that of other factory jobs and, for that day and age, it paid very well. Plus, the women employed were captivated by the radium, which they regarded as a glamorous “wonder element.” From as young as 14 years old, girls and women painted watch-dials with a paint containing radium powder, which they mixed themselves without precaution. To be clear, they were told by their employers that radium was perfectly safe, that it was not necessary to use precaution.
Dust from the radium powder settled on everything, including their clothes, their hair, their skin. Also, their lips, as they were taught the technique of lip-pointing when instructed how to paint watch dials. This technique became known as the “lip, dip, and paint” routine. They made a point of the brush by touching it to their lips, dipped it in the radium, and painted the dials. Over and again, all day long. It didn’t take too long for the women to start glowing at night. Literally. Onlookers were impressed, including the women themselves, and thought their radium-girl glow glamorous. And it was. That is, until it wasn’t.
Many dial-painters started experiencing health issues, such as headaches, sore or falling-out teeth, crumbling jaws, growths and tumors, and other serious symptoms. Mystified, the doctors from whom they sought treatment often did not know what to do, as they had never seen such symptoms. Too often, either the wrong treatment was administered or nothing at all. As the women and their doctors pieced the puzzle together, eventually realizing their ailments were related to working with radium, they confronted the companies for which the women worked. In the spirit of corporate greed, the companies denied exposure to radium as the cause and maintained that it was safe to work with.
Although the companies were denying the ill-effects of radium, they made half-hearted (at best) efforts to improve work environments, no longer allowing the women to lunch on the same table where they painted watch dials and providing water for the women to dip their brushes into. They also periodically brought in doctors to run tests and monitor the women’s health. However, the results were not shared, not even with the women. Sadly, some women were ensured of their health by employers only to find out later they had been in declining health all along. In addition to their claims being dismissed by their employers, the ill-fated radium girls were sometimes criticized in their communities, as others saw their actions as a jeopardy to much-needed jobs within the community.
Eventually, the radium girls’ claims were taken seriously. Rather seriously enough, I should say, though it was much too late. Admittedly, this was a challenging title to write about. What happened to these women and the impact it had on their families and their friends is, to say the least, appalling and infuriating. Although the radium girls and their advocates sought justice, it’s impossible to justify such injustice. Yet I commend them for their efforts, as I commend Kate Moore for narrating their story. Be sure to check it out.
1901 East 20th Street
Joplin, MO 64804