Is there a Santa Claus? A 19th century answer.

Is there a Santa Claus? A 19th century answer.

Today I’m re-posting something from 2012 that I hope will get you all in the holiday spirit. For those of you who celebrate, I wish you a very Merry Christmas! See you in 2016!

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It seems fitting that, with just a few days to go before Christmas, we take a look at that classic editorial from a veteran newspaper journalist to a little 8-yr-old girl, Virginia O’Hanlon.

Yes, I’m talking about the unsigned editorial:  “Is there a Santa Claus?” published in The New York Sun on September 21, 1897.  The writer was later identified as Francis Pharcellus Church.

F.P. Church; image via newseum.org

Looks very serious, doesn’t he?  He should; he was a Civil War correspondent.  What he wrote in reply to this young girl has become a timeless piece, reprinted whole or in part more often than any other newspaper editorial in the English language.  The phrase “yes, Virginia” has become part of our lexicon.

Virginia O’Hanlon, date unspecified, via wikipedia

When 8-yr-old Virginia asked the question that makes all parents of young children squirm -“Is there a Santa Claus?” – her father, Dr. Phillip O’Hanlon, suggested she write to The Sun for her answer.  (Strategic parental deflection; quite impressive).  Below appears the entirety of the editorial in answer to her letter (which has since been verified as genuine).

For more about Virginia’s life, the editorial, and what has been done with it since, check the following links:

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” – Wikipedia

“Yes, Virginia” – Newseum

I wish each of you a wonderful holiday season, whether Santa is part of it or not!  And thank you for reading and supporting this blog over the past year.  I so appreciate all your comments and tweets.

After today, the blog will be on holiday hiatus until the new year.  I’m looking forward to catching up with you then!

Happy New Year,

Kathy

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Grandma under the mistletoe!

Grandma under the mistletoe!

…and you thought folks were prudish in the 19th century. Ah, the magic of mistletoe. For the young, and the young at heart. Go, Grandma!

The Corvallis Gazette (Corvallis, OR), Dec 24, 1897. Chronicling America, Library of Congress.

The Corvallis Gazette (Corvallis, OR), Dec 24, 1897. Chronicling America, Library of Congress.

 

Careful who you kiss under the mistletoe, however:

Anaconda Standard (Montana), 24 Feb 1895. Image via Chronicling America, Library of Congress.

Anaconda Standard (Montana), 24 Feb 1895. Image via Chronicling America, Library of Congress.

 

Was he letting people kiss his wife so he’d have an excuse to kiss the girl? Hmm.

Mistletoe was a sought-after item at Christmas-time in the 19th century, and holiday revelers placed “kissing boughs” in strategic places (though never in a church, as the custom originated among the ancient Druids, and sometimes involved human sacrifice). There is a difference between English and American mistletoe, and apparently back then clients in the northeastern U.S. were very picky, preferring the English variety. Perhaps some “explosive kissing” was anticipated? See below:

The Evening Star (Wash, DC), 24 Dec 1889. Image via Chronicling America, Library of Congress (highlighting mine).

The Evening Star (Wash, DC), 24 Dec 1889. Image via Chronicling America, Library of Congress (highlighting mine).

Those folks really knew how to revel, didn’t they? How does one “use up” mistletoe? …never mind.

Do you decorate with real mistletoe? (We have an artificial mistletoe ball in our house – the berries are poisonous. A sick cat is hardly romantic). For that matter, has anyone even seen real mistletoe recently, or has it gone the way of the Druids?

I won’t ask y’all about any plans for “explosive kissing” (*wink*), but I’d love to hear what else you’re up to! And I’m still giving away ebooks to commenters (up to ten copies in total, and good until Christmas), so if you want a free copy of any book in my series, let me know which book and whether you prefer epub (Nook, iPad) or mobi (Kindle), and I’ll send it off to you.

Concordia series 1to4

No matter what you are celebrating this season, I wish you the brightest of holidays!

Until next time,

Kathy

 

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Gifts for the avid reader, 19th century style

Gifts for the avid reader, 19th century style

‘Tis the season for buying gifts, and books are among the best gifts out there! (So sayeth the book lover). If you go on Amazon (which got its start as an online bookseller back in 1994) and look for best-selling book suggestions, you’ll see something like this:

21st century books

 

But what did readers – and those who loved them – choose from in the 1890s? How did they decide? Obviously, there were no internet recommendations to consult. They relied upon ads in magazines and newspapers, recommendations from friends, or their corner bookshop proprietor. Not so different from today, if you think about it. The ad below gives us an idea of some of the hot books of the time:

1895 chromolithograph, Armstrong & Co, Boston. Image via wikimedia commons.

You’d better know your Latin numerals! 1895 chromolithograph, Armstrong & Co, Boston. Image via wikimedia commons.

 

Famous authors often put out new pieces around the holidays, too. These days, we have Grisham and Patterson. In the late-19th century, readers had Mark Twain:

Cover of the New York World, Christmas 1899. Image via wikimedia commons.

Cover of the New York World, Christmas 1899. Image via wikimedia commons.

Nothing says “Christmas” like “My First Lie and How I Got Out of It.”

 

Perhaps a magazine subscription for the avid reader in your life? But the December 1893 issue of The Strand Magazine is when Doyle kills off the Great Detective, Sherlock Holmes.

Sorry folks, Holmes is dead. Oh well…Merry Christmas!

 

The Strand, December 1893. Image via wikimedia commons.

The Strand, December 1893. Image via wikimedia commons.

Do you give books or magazines as gifts? I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,

Kathy

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The Spirit of Christmas

The Spirit of Christmas

The more ad-weary among us have wondered if the spirit of Christmas is shopping, but after a few cleansing breaths we can see that it’s really about stepping outside ourselves to serve others in some way. Whether it’s a bottle of Aunt Gertie’s favorite perfume, donating a turkey dinner, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or shoveling snow for an elderly neighbor, we are making someone’s day a bit brighter.

We are inspired by stories of a person’s need being met by a generous heart. And our great-grandparents were, too. Here’s a December 24, 1899 article from The New York Times:

 

 

Now, with the power of social media, we can make our charitable giving less haphazard and even more effective. Today is #GivingTuesday, a designated day of charitable giving. It was first created three years ago, in response to the uber-consumerist traditions of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

givingTues2 Check out their website (or Facebook or Twitter) for more info on how you can get involved today. You can even share your story on their Facebook page and on Twitter. They are going for the Guinness World Record for most online charitable donations in a single day! Wouldn’t that be awesome? Many local television and radio stations are also participating, offering apps for your smartphone that make it easy to check out the needs of local schools and charities in your neighborhood. Amazon has also set up Amazon Smile, where you select your charity, make purchases through that site instead of the regular Amazon site, and Amazon donates 0.5% of certain purchased items (indicated on the screen whether the item qualifies). There are a lot of charities participating, so if you don’t immediately see your favorite (our fave is S.O.M.E. – So Others Might Eat – and it’s on there!), there’s a search bar you can use.

In the spirit of giving, I want to offer the first twenty commenters of this post a gift. No strings, no random drawing later. If you’ve already read all of my books, feel free to gift it to someone else. Just let me know which one of the following you would prefer:

Your choice of ebook (please indicate your preferred file format – epub or mobi):

…or my new release, Unseemly Haste!

UnseemlyHasteEbookCover

 

Or, you can choose an audiobook instead:

DangerousAndUnseemlyAudioNEW

 

UnseemlyPursuitsAudio

Not familiar with The Concordia Wells Mysteries? Read more about the books by clicking on the blue square below:

Concordia logo FINAL small

What’s your favorite charity? Have you heard of Giving Tuesday? I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,

Kathy

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Thanksgivings past

Thanksgivings past

To all of my American friends, Happy Thanksgiving! Here’s a re-post from one I wrote a few years back, about the similar ways in which Thanksgiving was celebrated a hundred years ago. Food, football, helping those in need…notice that Black Friday is conspicuously missing.

Enjoy your holiday,

Kathy

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Check out these snippets of late-19th/early-20th century Thanksgivings, through the eyes of reporters from The New York Times. Enjoy!

Even back then, it was all about the turkey:

…although Thanksgiving was about generosity, too:

Click here for the entire November 26, 1908 article.

 

College football was another Thanksgiving tradition:

 


 

Click here for the entire November 30, 1899 article.

Hope this helps get you in the mood for the upcoming holiday!  What do you consider absolutely essential for your Thanksgiving?  I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,

Kathy

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Hedy Lamarr, Hollywood Bombshell…and Inventor

Hedy Lamarr, Hollywood Bombshell…and Inventor

image via wikimedia.org

Since today is Hedy Lamarr’s 101st birthday (thanks for the reminder, Google!), I’m re-posting something I wrote about her, three years ago.

Thanks for stopping by!

~KBO

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Fans of old movies know Hedy Lamarr, star of 1930s and 40s American films, such as Ziegfield Girl, and Samson and Delilah.  She was dubbed “the most beautiful woman in the world,” and worked with such Hollywood greats as Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Jimmy Stewart, Lana Turner, Judy Garland, Louis B. Mayer, and Cecil B. DeMille.

Ah, but you know there’s more, right?  Apparently, Lamarr was one smart cookie, and loved to tinker.  Did you know that, during World War II, she co-invented a frequency-hopping torpedo guidance system?  It was designed to evade the enemy’s jamming devices.  She received the patent for it in 1942.  If you think about it, it’s a precursor to what we now call spread-spectrum communication technology, used in wifi and cell phones.

So how did this come about, and why didn’t the U.S. Navy jump on it when she offered to give it to them during the war?  Check out the following video clip (only 4 minutes) for the fascinating story:

So what do you all think: was the device not taken seriously because one of its inventors was a beautiful, wildly successful actress, or the idea itself seemed too weird?  What about today’s Hollywood celebrities: do they struggle to “cross over” in the public sector, and be taken seriously in other endeavors?  I’d love to hear from you!

For anyone who’s interested, The Atlantic website has an index of links to more celebrity patents.  Check it out here:  Celebrity Invention.  My fave?  That’s a tough one: I’m torn between Lawrence Welk’s accordion ashtray and Bill Nye’s ballet slipper.  LOL!

Until next time…keep tinkering!

Kathy
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…and in case anyone missed it:

Just Released: a new Concordia Wells Mystery!

Unseemly Ambition: book 4 of the Concordia Wells Mysteries

 

cover by Melinda VanLone

cover by Melinda VanLone

Murder aboard the Overland Limited…

It is the summer of 1898. Professor Concordia Wells is eager to accompany her friend, Pinkerton detective Penelope Hamilton, on a cross-country train trip to San Francisco. Breathless vistas and exciting locales will be a welcome change from a fiancé impatient to set a wedding date and the threat of revenge from the remaining Inner Circle members back in Hartford.

But Concordia should know there is no such thing as a free ride. When the Pinkerton Agency switches assignments at the last minute, she and Miss Hamilton have their work cut out for them. Fellow passengers prove to be both help and hindrance: a lady reporter in hiding, a con man…and a corpse or two. Then there is the handsome gentleman with the dark hair, green eyes, and a secret agenda of his own. Good thing Concordia is an engaged lady. Or is it?

 

 

Start reading at the click of a button:

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Oh, that explains it: she’s a WRITER

Oh, that explains it: she’s a WRITER

coolerWelcome to Watercooler Wednesday, where the water is above-average, the topics are bubbly, and the company is sparkling. Today’s topic:

Writer Weirdness

Writers and the writing process have been on my mind lately, with National Novel Writing month now upon us. Many of my writer friends are participating, challenging themselves to write 50K words (the length of a short novel) during this time. (I just published a novel and am plotting the next, so the timing didn’t work out for me).

Whether we’re in the midst of speed writing or more sedentary plotting, it’s so easy for us writers to be humming along with our day-to-day lives without realizing that, maybe, we’re not quite normal.

 

It's kind of a chicken-or-egg conundrum

It’s kind of a chicken-or-egg conundrum

Oh, sure, we joke about working in our pajamas until the kids come home from school, tell stories of coffee shop conversations overheard that we might be able to put to future use, and even wonder if we’re on some NSA watch list because of our web searches (my poor hubby was wringing his hands over my research into 19th century bomb-making, for example, since he has a security clearance).

meme by Kristen Lamb, at warriorwriters.wordpress.com

meme by Kristen Lamb, at warriorwriters.wordpress.com

Check out the rest of Kristen’s post, where you’ll get writer tips on unconventional uses for Febreze, and the upside of natural disasters, among other gems: You Know You’re a Writer When…

But we’re not always aware that this weirdness begins in our own heads. YA author Julie Glover reminded me of this important fact in her funny-but-ouch Facebook post:

julie glover

Julie isn’t the only writer to use pain and physical misfortune as fodder for writing. Here’s another tale of woe and oddity from Misterio Press mystery author Kassandra Lamb:

writer weird2

Pretty neat when you can get your spouse to drink the Kool-Aid, too. 😉

Basically, writers make up lies for a living. Sometimes it’s a challenge to extricate ourselves from the worlds of our creation, even when we aren’t in front of the keyboard.

writer humor1

Those scenarios above? All me.

Mystery writer Janice Hamrick certainly danced the fine line between writing and reality (with great hilarity) when trying to break into her own house:

I was in the back yard when my daughter poked her head out the door to let me know she was leaving and by habit (and a very good habit it is) locked the door. Twenty minutes later, I turned the door knob to go inside and found the deadbolt doing the job for which it was designed. My first thought was a fairly standard, “Oh, no!” However, my second was…and I’m not kidding here… “I’ve always wanted to break into a house.”

The top half of my back door has one of those large windows with nine panes, and I had a toolbox on the porch. It seemed like Fate. In a flash of inspiration, I conceived the brilliant idea that I would break through the lower left pane, reach through the gap, and unlock the deadbolt.  I even decided to time myself so I’d know just how long the hapless homeowners had between the first tinkling of shattered glass on the concrete floor and the inevitable brutal entry. Using a pair of sunglasses as eye protection, I placed an old towel over the pane and swung the hammer with a certain amount of trepidation.

It bounced like a superball off a brick wall.

Undaunted, I swung a second time. Once again I achieved only a bounce of the hammer and some seriously undamaged glass.  Mildly annoyed, I dropped the towel, which was obviously  providing too much protection, and tried again. The bounce, if anything, was higher. I gritted my teeth, widened my stance, and narrowed my eyes. Then, I lifted my arm and struck like a snake, assuming a snake had a hammer and the upper body strength of a toddler.

Absolutely nothing. I was pretty sure the door was mocking me.

Completely annoyed, I gripped the hammer with both hands and began pounding with all my might. And finally – triumph! The glass broke.

Sort of.  A single crack ran from the lower left pane all the way to the upper right pane. That’s when I realized that the “panes” were simply slats of wood across a very large single sheet of glass.  I also realized that the repair was now going to be seriously expensive, but I’d already crossed the glass Rubicon so to speak. I hammered away until the glass finally crazed (it was safety glass and there would be no tinkling), and I was able to break out enough pieces to make a hole large enough for my hand.

Only my hand wouldn’t go through. After all that effort, my questing fingers stubbed against a second undamaged pane. Foiled by the curse of double glazing!

Want to know how it ends? Did Janice wander forever in her backyard, living the life of an itinerant writer/camper? Did the neighbors call the police? Did feral cats adopt her as one of their own? Read the rest of the story here.

image via wnyc.org

image via wnyc.org

I want to thank Julie, Kassandra, and Janice for their gracious permission to post their stories here. I’d like to especially thank Janice, because now I won’t be tempted to wreck my own windows to see if I can break into my house. Though I’m thinking, on a nice day, the screen might work….

So, do you think writers are born this way, or are their eccentricities an occupational hazard, like asbestos exposure or fossie jaw? Writers, any experiences you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time, wave your freak flag proudly!

~Kathy

 

…and in case anyone missed it:

Just Released: a new Concordia Wells Mystery!

Unseemly Ambition: book 4 of the Concordia Wells Mysteries

 

cover by Melinda VanLone

cover by Melinda VanLone

Murder aboard the Overland Limited…

It is the summer of 1898. Professor Concordia Wells is eager to accompany her friend, Pinkerton detective Penelope Hamilton, on a cross-country train trip to San Francisco. Breathless vistas and exciting locales will be a welcome change from a fiancé impatient to set a wedding date and the threat of revenge from the remaining Inner Circle members back in Hartford.

But Concordia should know there is no such thing as a free ride. When the Pinkerton Agency switches assignments at the last minute, she and Miss Hamilton have their work cut out for them. Fellow passengers prove to be both help and hindrance: a lady reporter in hiding, a con man…and a corpse or two. Then there is the handsome gentleman with the dark hair, green eyes, and a secret agenda of his own. Good thing Concordia is an engaged lady. Or is it?

 

 

Start reading at the click of a button:

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Halloween and National Cat Day

Halloween and National Cat Day
word cloud created via Tagul.com

word cloud created via Tagul.com

Happy Halloween, everyone! In our neck of the woods, the trees are getting really pretty, there’s a nip in the air, and I’m scouring Pinterest for decor ideas and recipes to enhance the Halloween fun here at Casa Owen. Our cat Tora is starting to snuggle on my lap for longer stretches of time as I work at the keyboard.

 

Speaking of cats, Halloween isn’t the only occasion to celebrate this week. Did you know that October 29th is National Cat Day? Of course, as Tora would point out, every day should be cat day. I know, right? Of course, some people may celebrate both occasions by dressing up their cats in Halloween costumes, though I would advise against it:

cat costume composite

But there’s more to our beloved felines than their tolerance (or lack thereof) for funny costumes. As history attests, they have gone beyond bringing us live crickets or licking our hair to wake us up in the morning. Cats actually lived aboard U.S. Naval ships in the nineteenth century, and served with sailors and soldiers during the first world war.

Photo courtesy of USNI.org

Caption: “Crewmen on the deck of the USS Olympia using a mirror to play with their cats in 1898. The Olympia served as Admiral George Dewey’s flagship at the Battle of Manila during the Spanish American War.” Photo courtesy of USNI.org

 

Photo courtesy of USNI.org

Caption: “Waiting instructions in the briefing room, pilots on a US Navy aircraft carrier relax by playing with the ship’s mascot. Shortly after this picture was taken they were flying far above the Atlantic on a battle-mission. Probably the USS Ranger, July 1944.” Photo courtesy of USNI.org

 

Here’s what Wiki has to say about cats “keeping the free world free” during WWI:

Throughout the “war to end all wars,” cats were a common sight in the trenches and aboard ships, where they hunted mice and rats. Beyond their “official” duties, they were also embraced as mascots and pets by the soldiers and sailors with whom they served.

Wow, who knew? Cats served in the Second World War, too. Maybe Cleo threw up in the Nazis’ boots. Serves them right.

Want to read more? Check out these sources:

These Are the Brave and Fluffy Cats Who Served in World War I

Cats in the Sea Services | U.S. Naval Institute

So if a cat (black or otherwise) crosses your path this Halloween, I’d say it was good luck!

What are your plans this Halloween? Do you have a cat? Do you dress him/her up in a costume? I’d love to hear from you.

~Kathy

…and in case you missed it:

Just Released: a new Concordia Wells Mystery!

Unseemly Ambition: book 4 of the Concordia Wells Mysteries

 

cover by Melinda VanLone

cover by Melinda VanLone

Murder aboard the Overland Limited…

It is the summer of 1898. Professor Concordia Wells is eager to accompany her friend, Pinkerton detective Penelope Hamilton, on a cross-country train trip to San Francisco. Breathless vistas and exciting locales will be a welcome change from a fiancé impatient to set a wedding date and the threat of revenge from the remaining Inner Circle members back in Hartford.

But Concordia should know there is no such thing as a free ride. When the Pinkerton Agency switches assignments at the last minute, she and Miss Hamilton have their work cut out for them. Fellow passengers prove to be both help and hindrance: a lady reporter in hiding, a con man…and a corpse or two. Then there is the handsome gentleman with the dark hair, green eyes, and a secret agenda of his own. Good thing Concordia is an engaged lady. Or is it?

 

 

Start reading at the click of a button:

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