Monday, July 30, 2012


before the war

after the war

next episode: Monsieur Etienne François Vitry

Friday, July 27, 2012

From Here To Timbuktu

Heavily laden donkeys roam the city streets of Timbuktu (source: Visoterra)

Around 1510 the famous traveler and Africa expert Leo Africanus visited Timbuktu. His description was published in 1550 and became widely known in Europe. This provided the city with a mysterious reputation. Even today Timbuktu is best known in Western culture as a metaphor for a distant place. In West Africa the city holds an image that has been compared to Europe's view on Athens.

In 1788 a group of titled Englishmen formed the African Association with the goal of finding the city. The young Scottish adventurer Mungo Park may have reached the city at the start of the 19th century, but he died in Nigeria without having the chance to report his findings.

Robert Adams, an American sailor, claimed to have visited the city in 1811 as a slave for a period of several months after his ship wrecked off the African coast. His account was published in an 1816 book, The Narrative of Robert Adams. Great doubts remain among some people about his account.

Timbuktu street (source: Anima)

In 1824, the Paris-based Société de Géographie offered a 10,000 franc prize to the first non-Muslim to reach the town and return with information about it. The Scotsman Gordon Laing arrived in August 1826 but was killed the following month by local Muslims who were fearful of European intervention.

In 1828 the Frenchman René Caillié, disguised as a Muslim, was the first non-Muslim to enter the city of Timbuktu. He was able to safely return and claim the prize.

The winner is: René Caillié 

next episode: Koningsbergen

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

As Far Away As Timbuktu

'Sankoré Mosque north of the city built in the eleventh century, now invaded by sand'

Timbuktu is a town in Mali (West Africa) 15 km north of the River Niger on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. The town is surrounded by sand dunes and the streets are covered in sand. Population: 55000 (2009). The only trading involves slabs of rock salt brought from mining centers in the central Sahara.

Exterior view of the Sankoré mosque in the city of Timbuktu, also known as the city of three hundred thirty three Saints.

In the 15th and 16th century Timbuktu flourished from the trade in salt, gold, ivory and slaves. In this Golden Age the city, with its numerous Islamic scholars and libraries, was known as an important scholarly centre in Africa. At the end of the 16th century a long period of decline set in. At present Timbuktu is impoverished and suffers from desertification.

Aerial view Timbuktu

next episode: From Here To Timbuktu

Sunday, July 22, 2012

US presidential election 1880: W.S. Hancock

General Winfield Scott Hancock (leaning against the tree) and staff (photo by Mathew Brady, 1861-65) 

While we're waiting for the 2012 presidential election let's take a look at some of the previous races to the White House. This month's resident loser is Winfield Hancock. The year is 1880.

Ulysses Grant soughed nomination to a third Presidential term at the Republican National Convention. James Garfield, leader of the Ohio delegation, did not seek a nomination, he supported John Sherman of Ohio. But after 35 indecisive ballots some delegates started voting for a dark horse to force a breakthrough. This dark horse was Garfield, and after the 36th ballot he had won.

James Garfield competed against the Democrat and Civil War General Winfield Scott Hancock (1824-1886). Hancock served with distinction in the Army for four decades and was noted in particular for his personal leadership at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. He was know for his integrity, and his unselfish devotion to duty.

Some notes about W.S. Hancock:
  • According to the W.S. Hancock Society (yes he’s got his own society) the General is not related to John - let’s sign the Declaration of Independence with a large and stylish signature - Hancock.
  • He was named after Winfield Scott, a prominent general in the War of 1812.
  • He was known to his army colleagues as "Hancock the Superb" and to his adversaries as the “Thunderbolt of the Army of the Potomac”.
  • In 1870 he provided a military escort for an expedition which would finally lead to the creation of Yellowstone National Park.
Garfield gained to date the smallest victory in popular votes:  4.446.158 against 4.444.260. But he gained 369 against 214 electoral votes and was thereby easily elected.

Winfield Scott Hancock

next episode: Timbuktu

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Jane Grey Beheaded as The 9 Day Queen

Paul Delaroche - The Execution of Lady Jane Grey (1833, National Gallery, London). 
The straw, commonly placed near the site of an execution, soaks up the victim's blood.

Jane Grey (1537 – 1554) was the queen of England from 10 July until 19 July 1553.

When the 15-year-old King Edward VI lay dying he nominated Jane as his successor. After his death she was officially proclaimed Queen of England. She became a prisoner when the Privy Council decided to change sides and proclaim her great-aunt Mary (aka Bloody Mary) as Queen 9 days later.

Jane and her husband Guildford were both charged with high treason and sentenced to death. Jane was found guilty of having signed a number of documents as "Jane the Queen".

Official letter of Jane Grey signing herself as "Jane the Quene"

Her sentence was to "be burned alive on Tower Hill or beheaded as the Queen pleases".

Guildford was beheaded at the public execution place at Tower Hill. Out of respect for her royal status Jane's beheading took place in a more private environment at Tower Green. The executioner asked her forgiveness, which she granted him, pleading "I pray you dispatch me quickly". She then blindfolded herself. Jane failed to find the block with her hands, and said "What shall I do? Where is it?". The Deputy Lieutenant helped her find her way. With her head on the block, Jane spoke the last words of Jesus as recounted by Luke: "Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit!". The 16 year old girl was then beheaded.

The painting by Paul Delaroche (1797-1856) was exhibited in Paris at the city's famous Salon in 1834, where it caused a sensation.

next episode: Winfield Scott Hancock

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Maria, Olga, Anastasia, and Tatiana (ltr) on board of the Imperial Yacht Standart in 1911.

The Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia choose one autograph for the four of them together: OTMA. These daughters of the last Tsar were brutally murdered at July 17, 1918. Their remains are interred in the Chapel of St. Catherine the Martyr in the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

The Peter and Paul Cathedral (its golden spire reaches a height of 404 feet, too high for me to capture it completely on the photo).

next episode: ?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Vienna: Karlskirche

ceiling frescoes St. Charles Church, Vienna
Using a rather scary glass elevator you can look at the ceiling frescoes up close.

The baroque Karlskirche (St. Charles's Church) in Vienna was build between 1713 en 1736 to commemorate the end of a large plague epidemic.

St. Charles's Church, Vienna
(photos by RfA, 2010)

The height of the dome is 70 meter, and the two flanking columns are based on Trajan's Column in Rome.


The golden triangle high above the altar shows the tetragrammaton, or YHWH (Yahweh), the name of God in the Hebrew bible. It means something like 'I am' or 'To be' or 'He who creates'.

next episode: ?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Gene Tierney

Gene Tierney putting the beauty in beautiful...

next episode: ?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Adjusting the Ropes: Execution of the Lincoln Conspirators

July 7, 1865: Adjusting the ropes before hanging the conspirators,
fltr Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold and Georg Atzerodt
A detail from one of the photographs of the execution by Alexander Gardner.

Today in 1865 the four main conspirators of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln were executed (John Wilkes Booth was already killed by Boston Corbett). The execution was supervised by General Winfield Scott (more about him later this week). The famous photographer Alexander Gardner and his assistant Timothy O’Sullivan took a series of ten photographs using a large format camera using collodion glass-plate negatives (more about that later this month).

next episode: ?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The First Verifiable Supercentenarian

The Last Waterloo Veteran & The First Verifiable Supercentenarian
Geert Adriaans Boomgaard, one of the oldest veterans, at his 107th birthday in 1895 (source).

On of the last surviving veterans of the Napoleontic Wars was Dutchman Geert Adriaans Boomgaard (Groningen, 21 September 1788 – 3 February 1899). He was Europe's oldest man at the time of his death at the respectable age of 110 years and 135 days.

Geert Adriaans Boomgaard
He also was the first documented and verified supercentenarian. A supercentenarian is someone who has reached the age of 110 years, something achieved by only one in a thousand centenarians. Furthermore, only 2% of supercentenarians live to be 115.

When he was young he wanted to be a sailor but he was forced to serve in Napoleon’s army as a drummer. With the 33e Regiment d'Infanterie de Ligne he witnessed several major battles. After Napoleon’s downfall he became a skipper for many years. In 1818 he married Stijntje Bus, and after her death he married Grietje Jonker in 1831.

In 1871 he received the Sainte-Hélène medal and a certificate which states that 'Adriaans, Gerrit, à Groningue, Pays-Bas' received this medal on behalf of his active military service during the reign of Napoleon I’ (source).

next episode: ?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

To easily add a 'Pin It' button

Teresa asked how to add the 'Pin It' button next to the other social network buttons right before the comments. Placing it right next to these standard social network buttons and lining them up nicely is difficult, but it is easy to place it just under those buttons.

First (and always) make a backup:
- click on the Template tab
- click on Backup/Restore
- download your template
- close

Now go to edit HTML
Expand widgets
Search (CTRL+F) for this 'pencil' section:
<!-- quickedit pencil -->
  <b:include data='post' name='postQuickEdit'/>
  </span> <div class='post-share-buttons goog-inline-block'>
  <b:if cond='data:post.sharePostUrl'>
  <b:include data='post' name='shareButtons'/>
  </div> </div>
Under that section paste this section:
<a class='pin-it-button' count-layout='none' expr:href='&quot;; + data:post.url'>Pin It</a>
<a href='javascript:void(run_pinmarklet())' style='margin-left:-46px; width:43px; height:20px; display:inline-block;'/>
<script src='' type='text/javascript'/>
<script type='text/javascript'>
function run_pinmarklet() {
var e=document.createElement(&#39;script&#39;);
e.setAttribute(&#39;src&#39;,&#39;; + Math.random()*99999999);
Press Preview to see the result

You can play around with it and paste this section somewhere else (above the pencil section, or even in the pencil section) so it will show up in a different place.

Press Save

When one of your readers presses this button he/she can add a picture to their Pinterest pinboard. The source of the picture will automatically be mentioned.

next episode: a supercentenarian


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