Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Monroeville, Alabama - Yesterday and Today

Courtesy Library of Congress.
There has been a lot of talk in the media about Harper Lee’s new/old book, Go Set a Watchman, since long before its publication on July 14. Is it unpolished? Is Atticus a racist? Was Lee in a fit state to authorize publication? Does it diminish To Kill a Mockingbird? (To see the MRL community’s thoughts on the novel, see our Goodreads review.) Instead of revisiting all of these ideas, I want to visit the town halfway between Mobile and Montgomery that served as the inspiration for Maycomb, the setting of both novels—little Monroeville, which was named the literary capital of Alabama in 1996. For another “visit” to Maycomb, please join us at the Main branch on Saturday, September 5 at 1:00 for a showing of the 1962 film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. 

The 1930s
While Maycomb could be any small rural town in the South (which is probably why it resonates with so many readers 55 years later), you can find its landmarks in Monroeville if you know where to look. Mark Childress, the author of Crazy in Alabama and a Monroeville native, says that Mockingbird was the first “grown-up book” he ever read. “Books had always been magical objects to me, but distant from my own experience. Authors were invisible wizards who swept me off to far places to work their spell on me. To Kill a Mockingbird was fiction, but it was real. It came from this place where I sat. It was a written by a lady my parents actually knew, a lady who had signed her name in this book I held in my hands. It told a story about a childhood lived on this very street, in these houses, in that schoolyard back yonder.”[1] Monroeville residents have always believed that Mockingbird is based on Lee’s experience. An older friend of the Childress family often pointed out Boo Radley’s home and the tree where he left trinkets for Scout and Jem as if he were a real man. In fact, when Lee was a child, a young man named Son Bowler broke some windows in the school, and his father made a deal with the authorities that he would keep his son out of trouble if they wouldn’t press charges. Son Bowler became a prisoner in his father’s house, eventually dying in his 30s of tuberculosis.

The old Monroe Country Courthouse.
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Like Scout, Jem, and Dill, the children of Monroeville played on the red clay streets in the 1930s. One old-timer once recounted a story of Truman Capote (Lee’s inspiration for Dill) gathering up the boys playing ball on an abandoned lot and taking them to the drug store for milk shakes and sodas. He had the outing charged to his mother, who had left him with relatives while she was living in New Orleans. Capote apparently had quite a reputation for sass, though one would hope that young Lee, daughter of respected lawyer Amasa Coleman Lee (inspiration for Atticus Finch), was better behaved. When they weren’t playing in the streets or hanging out at the soda fountain, the children of Lee’s generation had one other great pastime: reading. I couldn’t write this better than Lee, who wrote a rare letter on the subject to Oprah in 2006:
“My sisters and brother, much older, read aloud to keep me from pestering them; my mother read me a story every day, usually a children’s classic; and my father read from the four newspapers he got through every evening. Then, of course, it was Uncle Wiggily at bedtime…Reading was an accomplishment I shared with several local contemporaries. Why this endemic precocity? Because in my hometown, a remote village in the early 1930s, youngsters had little to do but read. A movie? Not often – movies weren’t for small children. A park for games? Not a hope. We’re talking unpaved streets here, and the Depression. Books were scarce. There was nothing you could call a public library, we were a hundred miles away from a department store’s books section, so we children began to circulate reading material among ourselves until each child had read another’s entire stock.”[2]
Personally, I love this image.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Community Gatherings

Community Gatherings

Old English gadrian, gædrian "unite, agree, assemble; gather, collect, store up" (transitive and intransitive), used of flowers, thoughts, persons; from Proto-Germanic *gaduron "come or bring together, unite" (cognates: Old English gæd "fellowship, companionship," gædeling "companion;" Middle Low German gadderen; Old Frisian gaderia; Dutch gaderen "to gather," gade "spouse;" German Gatte "husband;" Gothic gadiliggs), from PIE *ghedh- "to unite, join" (see good (adj.)). Change of spelling from -d- to -th- is 1500s, reflecting earlier change in pronunciation (as in mother, weather, father). Related: Gathered; gathering.[1]

 Indigenous people gather in circles to share stories and spirituality.  Several tribes come together to share resources and socialize and to hold competitive games.  Such simple gatherings evolved to organized activities for economic, political, and social purposes.  Who knew that when two unrelated individuals first decided to formalize a relationship for economic and/or social purposes the meeting would eventually expand into gatherings - like the Olympics or a fair - in which the world could participate?  History tells us the ancient Roman calendar was loaded with at least weekly public sponsored feriae (holidays) to honor different gods.  Meetings at east-west trading junctures in the eastern Mediterranean lead to the creation of permanent agoras and souks for the trading of goods and for exchanging ideas and events.
Art by Dan Escott
The adoption of Christianity throughout Europe, after the fall of the Roman Empire, resulted in the adaptation of Roman collective activities to the purposes of the Christian church.  Religious institutions were well aware of the value of honoring saints and ritualizing practices suitable to their constituents in rural communities.  Sundays became the day people came to pray and trade   Gatherings that were located at crossroads often helped to establish and grow towns that attracted traveling peddlers and entertainers.  As both the exchange and the town grew, the markets became more organized and regulated, of course, by guilds and by governments.
agriculture and domestic goods.
In the medieval period, fairs were popular.  These were held less often than markets, were larger, and lasted several days.  In large communities, local governments or religious organizations organized these events.  The merchandise at the fair was more varied and often more valuable than in simple market places.  Visitors and entertainers came from greater distances. Contests, both scientific and physical, were featured and later, as representative governance became a reality, political stump speeches became a feature at markets.
These gatherings, small and large, were incorporated into the culture of the new world.   The first North American fair was held in Windsor, Nova Scotia in 1765.   It is still operating 250 years later.  Reflecting the rural nature of early America, the first U.S. agricultural fairs were in New England but they spread rapidly throughout the States.  Elkanah Watson, a New England farmer, earned the title, "Father of US agricultural fairs" by organizing the Berkshire Agricultural Society and “creating an event (known then as a Cattle Show) in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in September 1811. It was more than just an exhibit of animals – it was a competition, with prize money ($70) paid for the best exhibits of oxen, cattle, swine and sheep.”[2]
 Though these fairs evolved into large county and State sponsored events, local small town community group gatherings flourished in America under the sponsorship of church, civic, and school organizations.  These groups gathered the community through the sponsorship of ice cream socials, holiday bazaars, rummage sales, health screenings, and so forth.  One civic organization especially focuses on the small communities.  The first Ruritan club was chartered in 1928 in    The Ruritans (meaning rural and small town life) is a volunteer organization that often works with youth - FFA, 4-H, and Boy and Girl Scouts – and is active in Rockingham County.[3] 
Holland, Virginia.
Our local area has always had competitive, innovative, and proud agriculture and animal husbandry traditions.  The many small villages in Rockingham County that once held events to bring the community together have now turned these gatherings into once a year community celebrations and encourage outsiders to come into their midst.  Also, now once a year, we celebrate “Court Days” a relic from the early 1800s that provided a once-a-month place around the Courthouse for people to sell horses and agricultural products, settle legal affairs, and indulge in hard drink with companions.  Today, Court Square is a place to gather the community for the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve celebrations.  The agricultural aspect of Court Days evolved in 1892 into the first agricultural fair at Assembly Park north of Harrisonburg.  After several incorporations and relocations, it moved in 1980 to its present location on Route 11 south of Harrisonburg.[4]  The Rockingham County Fair is one of approximately 3,200 agricultural fairs in the U.S and is the largest Virginia agriculture county fair.  In 2015, the Fair is August 17 to 22.
 by Diane Rafuse and C. Metz

[1] Barnhart, Robert K., ed., Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, H.W. Wilson Co., 1988.
[2] The International Association of Fairs and Expositions.

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]