Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Moses Ezekiel: Forgotten Master Artist

Moses Jacob Ezekiel (October 28, 1844 – March 27, 1917)

Virginians should know his name. His works grace the lawns and corners of universities, Arlington National Cemetery, and numerous museums. Between 1879 and 1884, he created eleven statues of artists, such as Raphael, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Van Dyke, and others that first filled the niches of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in the District of Columbia, but now stand in the Statuary Vista of the Norfolk, Virginia Botanical Garden. His Bust of Thomas Jefferson (1888) graces our United States Capitol building and his Jefferson Monument (1901) is at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Ezekiel should be better known for his amazing sculpture entitled Virginia Mourning Her Dead (1903) which dominates the small cemetery at Virginia Military Institute. Every year, at the foot of this statue, roll call is conducted for the brave cadets who fought—and those who died—at the Battle of New Market. Moses Ezekiel was one of those cadets.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Corner in Montparnasses

For the reader, the delight of a walk in any direction in central Paris is coming upon a street, a building plaque, or a café that notes its association with a writer. A walk in Montparnasses is a reminder of American writers in the 1920s who often met in the cafés there. Since the 1400s when Francois Villon, considered the first author in Paris, wrote “The Ballad of the Hanged Men” while in his jail cell—he was convicted of murder—Paris attracted disaffected and unconventional artists from around the world who wanted space to exercise intellectual freedom. Before 1900 writers came from America, many of which are chronicled in David McCullough’s The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. Woody Allen’s movie, Midnight in Paris, imagines a contemporary aspiring American novelist, Gil Pender, time-traveling to the 1920s. In the 1920s, American writers who came to Pairs often met at cafés in Montparnasses.

At the beginning of the 20th century to escape the tourists and the mafia, artists from Montmartre on the right bank began to migrate to Montparnasses on the left bank. The opening of a metro line in 1910 between Montmartre and Montparnasses hastened the departure of many artists from the right bank, but also kept the connection between the two artists’ enclaves.

In the 17th century, Montparnasses, named for the home of the god of poetry, Apollo, was a ruble heap that attracted university poets. The following two centuries the area was ignored by most artists. Chateaubriand and Balzac, who because of their financial woes, did choose to live in this cheap neighborhood. Today, Rodin’s Balzac overlooks the intersection of Blvd. du Montparnasses, Blvd. Raspail, and Rue Delambre in Montparnasses. The intersection is known as Place Pablo Picasso and can be accessed from the No. 4 metro line at the Vavin station (named for Alexi Vavin, 1792-1865, a statesman who opposed the coup of Napoleon III). Here in the heart of artistic Montparnasses several eateries dominate the corners. At these cafés, writers met, wrote, and explored ideas and tourists swarmed to get a glimpse of them in the 1920s.

Le Dôme
The oldest café and restaurant at this location opened in 1898. Le Dôme, when facing northeast toward the Montparnasses Tower, is on the left. From the beginning, this café attracted bohemian artists and models and until WWI, German and northern Europeans. After WWI, Americans came attracted to Paris because it was cheap, liquor was available, and its lack of priggishness. Le Dôme’s huge terrassa, now mostly glassed-in, became the “home” for American writers, artists, and journalists. The regulars, writers many of whom already had achieved some success, were terrible snobs. An often repeated encounter at Le Dôme happened one night where Sinclair Lewis, then "a hugely successful author of Main Street and Babbitt, was overheard boasting about one of his books on the terrace, [when] someone at a table shouted, 'Sit down, you’re just a best seller.'" One of the habitués was American writer and publisher Robert McAlmon, best known as publisher of Hemingways’s first book in 1923, Ten Stories and Ten Poems.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Escape the Ordinary: OCP

Local Hero Ron Copeland and a Brief History of Our Community Place

This year’s adult summer reading program theme is Escape the Ordinary. Massanutten Regional Library will host one extraordinary local resident on Monday, June 8 at 1:00 p.m. at the Main library in downtown Harrisonburg.

The early days

Ron Copeland bought The Little Grill in 1992 at the age of 24. As the story goes, he underestimated the appetites of the JMU homecoming weekend crowd, and with nothing to cook on Monday, he stayed closed. It was so nice, he stopped opening Mondays. A few weeks later, when a man turned up at the locked door looking for food, Ron let him in. The Grill’s weekly Soup Kitchen was born. "It bothered me to live in a poor neighborhood, where there was a certain segment of the population that couldn't eat in my restaurant," Copeland said. But "a soup kitchen can only do so much. ... The loneliness [among the poor] is incredible."[1]

Recognizing the need for building community as well as filling stomachs, grassroots organization Our Community Place (OCP) was formed by Soup Kitchen volunteers in 1999. As early as April 2000, the Daily News-Record was reporting on OCP’s plan to purchase a city building to create a community center, which would expand upon the civic-minded mission of the Soup Kitchen. In addition to the weekly meal, they planned for free classes, study groups, 12-step programs, a community garden, and more. "I want to become reliant on the people in my geographic community for my happiness and well-being," Copeland said. "I want to be involved in the lives of my neighbors no matter who they are."[2] The group hoped to break down social barriers through cooperative community meals, shared activities, and work.

OCP bought the former Salvation Army chapel on the corner of Johnson and Main in January 2001. Though they had considered purchasing the building for several years, they were spurred into action when the City announced plans to turn the adjacent stretch of Blacks Run into a concrete culvert. Since then, taking care of the creek has become just another facet of OCP’s neighborly work. Throughout 2001, the group raised money through “monthly dinner shows, yard sales, a spring festival and the oft reliable jug-on-the-counter at the Little Grill.”[3] To make up the rest of the funds, OCP solicited small loans from many local residents, rather than one large bank loan. On January 2, 2002, they were able to cut a check for the full amount of the mortgage and start renovations with zero debt.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Escape the Ordinary: Superheroes in Comics

This year’s adult summer reading program theme is Escape the Ordinary, and superheroes are coming to Massanutten Regional Library! (Find out more about signing up to read and win prizes here.) The Main branch in downtown Harrisonburg will be featuring Super Screenings of popular, modern superhero movies all summer long. (Click here for times and titles.)

Personally, I’ve always been a big Batman fan. I’m dating myself here, but I grew up watching Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995). My brother and I must have watched its accompanying full-length movie, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), a dozen times. However, I’ve never been a big comic reader, largely because I’m the kind of person who would want to read every panel from beginning to end, and I find the sheer volume of issues and story arcs of Batman’s last seven decades a bit daunting, to say the least—and that’s just the caped crusader.

The history of the comic industry is as complex as the stories it generates and the characters almost as numerous. From executives to artists and writers, dozens of people may influence every issue published. Entire books about industry giants such as publisher Martin Goodman and artists Stan Lee and Bob Kane, among others, are available in the library’s collection. This brief and general history of superhero comics probably won’t offer anything new for the established fan, but it should provide a sufficient overview for the uninitiated. 

The Golden Age (1938-1954) 

All DC Comics characters and the
distinctive likeness(es) thereof
are Trademarks & Copyright
© 1939 DC Comics, Inc.
The comic book as we know it today was born in the late 1930s from two popular forms of the 1920s and ’30s—the funny pages and the pulps. (Pulps were short stories—from westerns and adventures to romances and melodramas—accompanied by illustrations and mass-produced on cheap pulp paper.) The first comic series with exclusively new material, New Fun #1, was published in 1935; Detective Comics #1 (the eponymous “DC” of today’s  DC Comics) was published in March 1937. “Comic books were the perfect entertainment form for the Great Depression audiences: their heroic, larger-than-life characters stirred the demoralized masses, and the very format of the magazines themselves—usually sixty-four pages of original material for a mere dime—was a bargain during those times of economic hardship” (Misiroglu 3).

The dawn of today’s superhero coincided closely with the genesis of the comic book. The widely accepted definition of a superhero is “a heroic character with an altruistic mission, who possesses superpowers, wears a defining costume, and functions in the ‘real world’ in his or her alter ego” (Misiroglu 2). Arguably the first superhero according to this definition, Superman debuted in June 1938 in Action Comics #1. He was a natural successor to 1930s heroes of pulp, radio, and other mediums, including Doc Savage, the Shadow, the Green Hornet, the Phantom, the Spider, and Zorro. With the Nazi threat looming in Europe, Americans were in need of a hero, and the appearance of the red and blue-clad Superman was well-timed. By 1941, “he was on the radio, syndicated across the funny pages of every major US newspaper, and selling stamps, greeting cards, coloring books, bubble gum, board games, and war bonds” (Morrison 11).

All DC Comics characters and
the distinctive likeness(es) thereof
are Trademarks & Copyright
© 1939 DC Comics, Inc.
Batman followed closely on Superman’s heels in Detective Comics #27 of May 1939. He was created as a hero of the night in direct contrast to Superman, with visual inspiration coming from many film and literary sources, including da Vinci’s ornithopter sketches. Both Superman and Batman, then published under the imprint of National Comics, were cornerstones for the future DC Comics. One of many shell companies started specifically to latch onto the hero fad, Timely Comics publishing Marvel Comics in October 1939. The Human Torch and Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner were the first residents of the future Marvel Universe. Hero after hero emerged in this Golden Age of comics. In the 1940s, there “was a superhero or villain for every profession, every class, every walk of life,” from lawyers to military men to scientists to taxi drivers to doctors to flower shop proprietors (Morrison 48). (I must interject that, as far as I know, there were no librarian heroes until Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, came out of the cave in 1967!)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Battle of New Market and its Re-enactment

 Although the flag they died to save
Floats not o'er any land or sea,
Throughout eternal years shall wave
The banner of their chivalry.
                                                         (John Wayland, 1926)

     May brings the smell of musket fire and the volley of cannons across the Valley.  Civil War
Book available at Library!
re-enactment camps spring up in the fields from Lexington to Winchester.  The most memorable and the oldest annual re-enactment held on its original 1864 ground is the Battle of New Market, or, the "Field of Lost Shoes" as it is commonly known because of the participation of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) cadets.
     The first ceremonial remembrance of the battle was held at VMI in 1866 and continues every year on May 15th.  All of VMI turns out at the graves of six fallen cadets to hear the roll call of all ten cadets who lost their lives on that fateful day.  Their graves are marked by the statue of Virginia Mourning Her Dead, sculpted by Moses Ezekiel, who also was a cadet who fought on that same battlefield and who read the bible through the night to his fatally wounded friend and fellow cadet, Thomas G. Jefferson.[1]   Eighty miles away, on June 15th, New Market held its first memorial service and the following year, the Women's Memorial Society was formed.
            On May 21st, 1914, the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of New Market, the wheat field saw its first re-enactment of VMI cadets.  Under the leadership of Commandant Col. Wise, son of former New Market cadet John Wise, 327 cadets re-enacted their charge across the orchard and up the hill. [2]
            On Sept. 20th, 1923 Brigadier General Smedley Butler brought about 3,500 real U.S. Marines to New Market to represent Gen. Seigel’s Union troops.  This is considered the first “modern” re-enactment and “the VMI cadets were there.”[3]

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Climate Change

Meteorologists and emergency managers from the high Plains to the Appalachians are on alert as the U.S. has the year’s first widespread bout of severe weather. The key message:  Have a Plan.            (Christian Science Monitor, April 9, 2015)

The Climate Change Discussion

After the winter’s snows, residents of the Northeast might disagree with the “first” bout of severe weather in 2015!  And, with regard to the bulletin above, climate scientists warn us to not confuse weather (a single episode) with climate change (observed facts over the long-term).   Perhaps Noah or those who were in the path of Hurricane Sandy might be reluctant to accept this distinction as both weather events re-arranged the environment.  The increasing frequency of severe weather occurrences, observers say, are the result of trapped warm air above us caused by human activities.  The change in weather patterns is part of the climate change that is modifying our landscape. 
Change should not be a surprise; the climate and environment are ever changing.  Five hundred million years ago receding oceans left the serrated ridges we see on the massive rock formations along our roads.   Fifty million years ago Mole Hill stopped erupting and polluting the air with gases and dust.  Five thousand years ago man began devising written languages that allowed him to describe his environment and to observe and report on changes.  The newest force affecting environment is man with the capability and intelligence to do well or to do harm.  People who distrust scientific discourse and people who deny existing change are often described as mentally lazy, politically angry, or economically beholden to a special interest.  Those on the opposite side are deemed doomsday, hand-wringers and may also be guilty of the same traits as the deniers. Most people are somewhere in the middle between the deniers and the doomsayers. Opinions on what action to take on climate change is far from unanimous.  
   Efforts to solve our environmental problems need to include personal, local, state, national and even international action.  Given recent political debates, it may come as a surprise to Virginians that its State Constitution (Article XI, Section 1) promises “the commonwealth’s policy to protect its atmosphere, land and waters from pollution, impairment, or destruction, for the benefit, enjoyment and general welfare of the people of the commonwealth.”  The documentation of climate history (often reduced to a plethora of graphs) and a discussion of climate change in Virginia illustrate some of the issues.  From the existing records Virginia once had a generally stable, predictable climate but the long-term historical data show recent trends to be otherwise.   The trend lines provide insight into what may be happening in the future.  These transitional changes in climate affect our ecosystems   Flora and fauna changes are climbing mountains, like at Mt. Rogers, so where a flower that once bloomed only at the base of the mountain is now found 1,000 feet higher.  A flower that a few years ago bloomed in Danville in April and in Leesburg in May is now seen in bloom in Danville in March and in Leesburg in April.  These changes are being followed by the invasive stinkbugs and kudzu entering our neighborhoods.  Virginia’s occurring environmental changes are not bound by jurisdictional borders. The State border is not a barrier to coal dust and acid rain carried on winds from the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys.   The “outside” factors as well as local factors are causing deforestation affecting the canopy of our trees that moderate temperatures and cleanse our air.  Regional and national programs are needed to address the problems.
vertically and horizontally.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Women in Blue and Gray

Women in Blue and Gray: Female Soldiers of the Civil War

Loreta Janeta Velázquez aka Henry T. Buford, CSA

A couple of weeks ago, I heard a story on NPR about the Marine training program to test women’s ability for combat duty. Next week, April 9 will mark the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. Naturally, from these two tidbits I got to thinking about the history of female combatants. From Boudica to Tomoe Gozen to Sgt. Kelly Brown (one of the Marines in combat training), there have been many visible woman warriors through time. However, others had to disguise themselves as men to enlist, such as Continental soldier Deborah Sampson and other Revolutionary War female fighters who contributed to the folkloric figure of Molly Pitcher. For today, I want to focus on the women who disguised themselves in the Blue and the Gray across five Aprils 150 years ago.

Frances Clayton
aka Jack Williams, U.S.A.

Women served both the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War. How did they hide in plain sight? By cutting their hair, binding their breasts, and putting on loose uniforms, they disappeared into the ranks. If they didn’t shave, they were likely taken as young teenage boys lying about their age, a problem that was often overlooked due to desperation for soldiers to fill the lines. They were able to hide their bodies more easily than they could in the modern military—the army’s medical examinations didn’t require clothing removal, soldiers rarely changed clothes or bathed, and filthy latrines were avoided in favor of private visits to the woods. As for their menses, which could give the soldier away easily, the physical stress of army life was likely to lead to amenorrhea. While enduring the stress of hiding their true identities, women also fought the same battles, suffered the same injuries and illnesses, performed the same duties, and struggled through the same hardships as their male counterparts.

It seems that most women were discovered eventually, often due to wounds or illness and hospital stays. Other women were discovered through their actions, dressing in a feminine manner or possessing an “unmanly” laugh. Practicing manly behavior and habits was vital to the success of their subterfuges. When Minnesota private Frances Clayton was discovered and discharged, the newspaper reported, “While in the army, the better to conceal her sex, she learned to drink, smoke, chew and swear with the best, or worst, of the soldiers” (Hall 28). As one would expect, physical attributes, such as small hands or fair skin, also exposed the deception. In some cases, simply being recognized by an acquaintance could end the ruse. One of my favorite exposé tales involves Sarah Bradbury and Ella Reno, who got drunk on applejack brandy, fell into a river, and were exposed by their rescuers!