Posts

The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman by Margot Mifflin

March is Women’s History Month. To celebrate, I encourage you to read a book written by – or, better yet, by and about – a woman. I started this year’s celebration by doing just that, with Margot Mifflin’s The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman. Admittedly, this wasn’t my first reading of this title, but my third.

Olive Oatman was born to parents who decided to settle in the American southwest as it was becoming the American southwest. Although much of the Mormonism that she was brought up with was left out of the many narratives about her life, Mifflin picks up Olive’s story at the point when it was, in fact, that very Mormonism that influenced the family’s move. Following the Brewsterite sect that broke away from Brigham Young, the Oatmans set west with others to what they thought would be a sanctuary and some sort of nation in and of itself, a nation within an expanding nation (both of which were destructive, to say the least, in their makings).

On their trek to California from Illinois, Olive’s father, Royce, broke the family away from the original Brewsterite caravan in what is now southwestern Arizona, quickly leading to the family’s demise. After an intense night “marooned on a tiny island surrounded by quicksand in the Gila River in Mexico,” the family encountered members of the Yavapai Indian tribe, who, after seemingly harmless initial contact, killed Royce, his wife Mary Ann, and four of their seven children. Lorenzo, who was all but dead after the attack, was thrown off a cliff and left to (presumably) die, while two of the daughters – Olive, 14, and a younger sister, Mary Ann – were taken by the Yavapai.

Olive and her younger sister spent about a year with the Yavapai Indians. According to Mifflin (and others), they were treated as captives, which is to say that they were treated poorly. The Mohave tribe, upon seeing the girls’ mistreatment, requested that they were traded to them. After negotiations, the girls were traded to the Mohaves, who accepted, raised, and treated them as their own. Olive spent about four years with the Mohaves; Mary Ann fewer only because she perished during a famine that they experienced.

Olive and Mary Ann were led to the beautifully described Mohave Valley by Topeka, who became their Mohave sister. Espaniole, a festival chief, and his wife, Aespaneo, became the girls’ Mohave parents. The bond that the girls, especially Olive, had with their Mohave family was strong. When Mary Ann died, both Olive and Aespaneo mourned in the traditional Mohave manner. The Mohaves gave Olive a nickname, which “confirms her acceptance within the culture; if she had been marginalized within the tribe, she would never had warranted one.” Some suspect, though never substantiated, that Olive married and had children while with the tribe.

It’s unknown whether Olive actually wanted to rejoin white society after her time with the Mohaves. It is known, however, that she had no choice but to do so once her whereabouts were discovered. The Mohave Indians were forced to return her to the whites “in exchange for horses, blankets, and beads.” Olive was upset during her so-called restoration to white society, which, as Mifflin points out, is an indication that she did not wish to return. Also, Olive never spoke ill of the Mohaves and, when the opportunity arose later in life, she went to greet and see a member of the tribe speak at an event.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Olive’s tattoo – the blue tattoo – not only because that is the book’s title, but because I am a visibly tattooed woman, though in another, vastly different, context. Nevertheless, I’m intrigued by Olive’s status as a tattooed woman, as well as interested in the history of women and tattoos, which, admittedly, is what prompted my initial reading of this book (and others by the same author).

Placed on her chin, Olive’s tattoo was a very public, permanent mark – in the 1850s! – of her time with the Mohaves. Unlike some other tribes, the Mohaves did not tattoo their captives. Rather they tattooed only those who became a part of their tribe. Mifflin writes that Olive’s willingness to be tattooed indicates her willingness to become Mohave. Olive is the first known tattooed white woman in the United States, as well as the first known to profit from her tattoos. (In addition to her chin tattoo, she had vertical lines on her arms, though those were never shown publicly.) Olive’s narrative became so popular that tattooed ladies – women with real tattoos – started showing their skin in circuses and sideshows, stealing Olive’s story, distorting it and claiming it as their own, saying that they were captured and forcibly tattooed by Indians.

Olive was not like any other woman of her time. Upon her return to white culture, a man by name of Stratton wrote a (highly profitable) sensationalized account of her capture and she became a touring lecturer during a time in which it was highly unfavorable for women to work or have agency outside of the home. Eventually, Olive married a man named John B. Fairchild. In a letter to her aunt that the author includes and discusses in the postscript, it seems Olive’s marriage was a happy one. Eventually, Olive and her husband settled in Texas, where she died in 1903.

In her epilogue, Mifflin discusses Olive’s posthumous appearances. That is, her ongoing legacy in literature and television, connecting her to numerous novels and shows inspired by her story, as well as to those who tried to write themselves into her story. The author refers to this legacy as “Oatman’s Literary Half-Life” and notes, and seems disappointed, that not once in these fictional accounts is Olive reunited with her Mohave family. Indeed, it is disappointing that, even in fiction, Olive never makes her way back to the Mohaves.

I might mention that you will not find this book on the library’s shelves, but as an e-book via the library’s Ebsco eBook Collection database, which may be accessed with your library card on Joplin Public Library’s website or through their card catalog.

As always, happy reading.

Find in Catalog

The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to The Hidden World of Everyday Design By Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt

I sort of stole this book review from my husband, meaning that I robbed him of the opportunity to review it himself as soon as I set eyes on it after his discovering and sharing it with me. The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design by Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt is as beautiful as it is brilliant. But first, who are these guys and why everyday design?

Roman Mars is the creator and host of the fascinating and entertaining 99% Invisible podcast (est. 2010). Initially, 99% Invisible was a one-man show, but has since grown into a talented staff, including Kurt Kohlstedt, who is the digital director and a producer, as well as co-author of this book. On 99pi.org, they describe the podcast as being “about all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about — the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world.” In other words, it’s about everyday design. The premise for the book reflects that of the podcast. Now, let’s tune in to the book proper.

The 99% Invisible City is tangibly splendid, making it clear that careful consideration went not only into the design of the book, but the touch and feel of its materials. The texture and weight of its matte pages are pleasant to the touch and the embossed cover and half-sized jacket are nice features. Of special note is the cover image. Spanning both covers, several figures within the image are labeled numerically, corresponding to the legend printed inside the book jacket. I repeat: the legend printed inside the book jacket—almost too cool!

Content is organized into six chapters, each of which is further arranged into three to six sections containing short entries. I appreciate a well-organized book, especially when, like in this one, an array of topics is covered. It’s as well-researched as it is organized, with an expansive bibliography that, if you’re interested, doubles as a “further reading” list.

Although I wouldn’t necessarily call this a coffee table book, as it’s not glossy and oversized (or overpriced), I’d say it’s like a coffee table book in that it’s interesting to look at, makes for a great conversation piece, and is suitable for casual reading while still appealing to avid readers.

The 99% Invisible City is exactly as it claims, a field guide to the hidden world of everyday design. Like most field guides, it can be read in its entirety or in bits and pieces. I skipped ahead to chapter four – Architecture, my favorite – after reading chapter one only in part and wandering about here and there in other parts of the book. Regardless of how its read, it recalls visuals of everyday things I’ve seen and wondered “What/why is that?!”

Have you ever heard of stink pipes (think obelisks)? According to Mars and Kohlstedt, obelisks and “other seemingly innocuous sculptures in cities around the world” are, by design, meant to ventilate their sewer systems. So, if you find yourself near such a structure, then you might give the air a sniff to see whether the sculpture is functional or purely aesthetic.

The standardization of utility codes, such as those one sometimes sees spray painted on the ground, came into being after a massive explosion killed/injured at least two dozen people in Los Angeles, California, in 1976. Today, the American National Standards Institute maintains the codes: red means electrical, orange signals telecommunications, yellow identifies combustive materials, pink is for “temporary markings, unidentified facilities, or known unknowns,” and so on. Though not hidden but generally unnoticed, these markings are, by design, meant to make our communities safer.

The authors also explore how regulations may influence everyday design. Perhaps this is best seen in architectural landscapes. For example, the British government once implemented an individual brick tax, thereby causing manufacturers to create larger bricks or builders to use other building materials. A similar window tax, again in Britain, caused people to board up or otherwise cover up their windows. The effects of these taxes can still be seen (or, as in the case of the windows, hidden) today.

Planned failures (e.g. breakaway posts), municipal flags, inflatable figures, towers, foundations, graveyards, water, technology, illumination, property markers, manhole covers, and so much more are covered within the covers of this book. The 99% Invisible City is everyday design presented and written about in an extraordinary manner. What’s more, it’s all remarkably illustrated by Patrick Vale. Though “for all you plaque readers and curious urbanists” is inscribed on the title page, this book has something for everyone. Check it out!

As always, happy reading.

Find in Catalog

How the Post Office Created America: A History by Winifred Gallagher

I fancy sending and receiving mail: cards, letters, mail art, packages, and postcards. I delight even in receiving unsolicited consumer catalogs and other junk mail that make for great collage material. In a word, mail is fun. At its inception, however, what came to be our country’s postal service wasn’t meant for fun, but for a “secure, independent communications network so that [our country’s co-founders] could talk treason and circulate the latest news without fear of arrest.”

Readers interested in the history of the United States Postal Service or the history of the founding of America will find Winifred Gallagher’s How the Post Office Created America: A History fascinating. Throughout the book, Gallagher draws parallels between the development of the postal system and that of our country, illustrating that one could not have happened without the other.

In addition to needing a way to “talk treason,” our forefathers desired a way to disseminate information to the public in post-Revolutionary America. Prior to this time, mail, which was then the only means of remote communication, was a privilege rather than the given that it is today. Those who lacked access to this communication network also lacked access to information. The postal service was increasingly relied upon as a means to educate the public about our country’s development and encourage their participation. Newspapers are among the first materials to be mailed to the masses. In fact, it was common for printers to double as postmasters. The distribution of newspapers via the postal service helped democratize access to information similar to how the post democratized access to communication.

But it wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight. Gallagher expounds on the challenges that beleaguered the post. Transportation, for example. The earliest mail carriers were post riders. Men, usually, though not always, who carried the post on horseback and rode tirelessly to their destinations or to hand the mail off to their relay (not unlike a relay race). This was especially dangerous in a mostly unsettled country thick with uncertainty and thin, at best, with the infrastructure required to carry out the service.

Post roads were mapped to connect the country, as well as to shape its settlement. Mail was increasingly delivered by stagecoach (so called because it would stop at various intervals, or stages, along the way). By 1813, Congress authorized steamers to carry mail and, in 1823, “all waterways” were declared post roads. The development of the postal service is closely tied to that of the railroad with a sort of public-private partnership that led to the Railway Mail Service, which, until aviation came along, was the most efficient method of transporting the mail. According to Gallagher (and she makes a great case), the postal service single-handedly supported the aviation industry by subsidizing its infrastructure.

Transportation wasn’t the mail’s only challenge, however. Another was safety. Not only that of postal employees, but of the mail itself. Especially during the post rider, stagecoach, and railway days, it was not uncommon for the mail to be stolen. When mail traveled via railway it did so in wooden train cars that were placed behind the engine car, which meant that it was susceptible to fire, endangering both employees and the mail.

Finances were yet another challenge. In the early days of the American postal service, it was not the sender who paid for personal correspondence, but the recipient. One went to the post office (because that was the only option prior to home delivery) and asked for their letters and paid only for those that they wished to receive. Not surprisingly, this was costly. Not to mention the accumulation of unwanted letters, which ended up in the Dead Letter Office (an interesting destination and story in and of itself).

The postal service did more than overcome challenges, though. It changed America’s social landscape. During the Victorian era, letter-writing became extremely popular, especially among women. So much so that post offices installed separate windows for women to pick up their correspondence so as to keep aligned with that era’s social mores (i.e. to keep the women from the men, especially because, at that time, post offices could also double as places of vice). Books about the etiquette of writing letters abounded and stamp lockets, a locket containing stamps worn on a chain around the neck, became popular, as did stamp collecting.

In her final chapter, she examines the postal service’s missed opportunity to provide the Internet as a non-profit public service rather than our current privatized for-profit system. When considering how different access to electronic communication and information might look had the post prepared for a digital future, she imagines: “They would have insisted that every post office in America become a neighborhood media hub equipped with a bank of computers that enable citizens to go online for little or no expense–a service now provided by more than sixty nations around the world, to say nothing of America’s own public libraries, where people que up or take a number for online access.”

These considerations have merit. After all, the postal service and the Internet are not unlike one another. Both came about to fulfill the need for remote communication and the dissemination of information, while helping to democratize access in the process. Interestingly, public perception of both has been, at times, similar. To wit: It was feared that mail order catalogs and buying/selling goods through the mail would destroy local businesses much like it’s feared that buying/selling goods online will do the same.

Gallagher details America’s long, winding postal road with an intriguing history that spans two centuries while skillfully supporting her claim that the post office created America. In the final words of her afterward, “Whither the Post,” Gallagher encourages us “to reflect on what the post has accomplished over the centuries and what it could and should contribute in the years to come” before deciding its future. To state it simply, reading this title has only strengthened my opinion that, too often, our postal service is taken for granted.

As always, happy reading.

Find in Catalog

The Sum of the People: How the Census has Shaped Nations, from the Ancient World to the Modern Age by Andrew Whitby

Even before the events that have changed our lives over the last few months, 2020 was going to be an eventful year. It is a presidential election year and a census year.
The U.S. Constitution mandates that every 10 years the population be counted. The count is very important as it determines electoral districts and how many representatives each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives. It is also used to allocate federal funding for fire departments, Medicaid, Head Start, and lots of other programs. Businesses use these population totals to help with decisions such as where to expand or the best place to recruit employees. Also 72 years after the census is completed all that information is released to the delight of genealogists everywhere.
If you haven’t filled out the census form this year, please do so. If you want to do it online, go to https://2020census.gov/en.html or come to the library. We have the page bookmarked on computers with no sign in necessary.
Of course the census is not just a U.S. endeavor. Countries all over the world have been counting people for centuries. Andrew Whitby has chronicled the history of census taking and how it has been used for good and evil in The Sum of the People: How the Census has Shaped Nations, from the Ancient World to the Modern Age.
Whitby begins his history of the census in the West Bank on the Nativity Trail. He is walking the same route Mary and Joseph travelled as they went to Bethlehem to be counted for the census decreed by Caesar Augustus. As he navigates the trail in this volatile region, the author explores the way the census is used to define countries and build nations.
From there, how the census was taken throughout history offers some interesting discoveries. Not all censuses were written down and not all counted people. England’s Doomsday book, the census of 1086, counted not just people but churches, mills, plough teams, livestock, and much more. Also using census data to make political decisions (political arithmetic) was not introduced until the 1620’s. The idea spread across Europe and across the Atlantic to be embedded in the constitution of the newly formed United States.
Tabulating a census is a daunting task and the list of things being tracked had grown so big that by 1880, the U.S. ran out of time and money for the census. A contest was held to find a faster and cheaper way to tabulate the forms and the numbers. The story of the contest is in the chapter, A Punch Photograph.
Gathering so much information not only made tabulating it hard but made it possible for governments to use that information to target certain groups. The United States used it to force sterilization of mental patients. Nazi Germany used it to annihilate Jewish populations in their own country and the countries they invaded.
Whitby’s passion and research (his resource list for this book is 60 pages long) shows in the depth and detail he provides. He explains how some social and political constructs evolved and how the census was conducted and used to further those ideas. For example, the author talks about the concept of eugenics before he details the use of the census to persecute the Jewish population.
A history of getting a world population count, over-population and the uncounted receive the same detailed treatment. Not counting certain people was practiced in the U.S., Australia, and South Africa among other countries. The U.S. used to exclude Native Americans, Australia didn’t count Aboriginals, and as late as 1998 South Africa failed to count 3 million rural black citizens.
Whitby also addresses the mistrust that some feel toward the gathering of information by a government and the cost involved in conducting a census. The challenges of taking a modern-day census are many. Mobile societies, modern communication, and ensuring the privacy of citizens are discussed. Other ways countries are using to get population counts and estimates may lead to a change in how the census is done.
The future of the traditional census is uncertain but as Whitby concludes “we will not stop counting people. With each new birth, the human journey continues”.

Find in Catalog

“Stonewall: A building, an uprising, a revolution” (Rob Sanders and Jamey Christoph), by Lisa E. Brown

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.

http://catalog.joplinpubliclibrary.org/polaris/search/title.aspx?ctx=3.1033.0.0.2&pos=6

Route 66 – Highway to the Stars

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.

A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia Savage McAlester

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.

Find in Catalog.

April Fool’s Day Shenanigans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Antique Photographs on Display

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.

Women of the Blue and Gray: True Civil War Stories of Mothers, Medics, Soldiers, and Spies by Marianne Monson

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.

Find in Catalog