Category History

Eyewitness to The Execution of Mata Hari, 1917

From Eyewitness to History:

“The first intimation she received that her plea had been denied was when she was led at daybreak from her cell in the Saint-Lazare prison to a waiting automobile and then rushed to the barracks where the firing squad awaited her.

Never once had the iron will of the beautiful woman failed her. Father Arbaux, accompanied by two sisters of charity, Captain Bouchardon, and Maitre Clunet, her lawyer, entered her cell, where she was still sleeping – a calm, untroubled sleep, it was remarked by the turnkeys and trusties.

The sisters gently shook her. She arose and was told that her hour had come.

‘May I write two letters?’ was all she asked.

Consent was given immediately by Captain Bouchardon, and pen, ink, paper, and envelopes were given to her.

She seated herself at the edge of the bed and wrote the letters with feverish haste. She handed them over to the custody of her lawyer.

Then she drew on her stockings, black, silken, filmy things, grotesque in the circumstances. She placed her high-heeled slippers on her feet and tied the silken ribbons over her insteps.

She arose and took the long black velvet cloak, edged around the bottom with fur and with a huge square fur collar hanging down the back, from a hook over the head of her bed. She placed this cloak over the heavy silk kimono which she had been wearing over her nightdress.

Her wealth of black hair was still coiled about her head in braids. She put on a large, flapping black felt hat with a black silk ribbon and bow. Slowly and indifferently, it seemed, she pulled on a pair of black kid gloves. Then she said calmly:

‘I am ready.’

Photos From the Scopes Monkey Trial

From Flickr:

During 1925, Watson Davis (1896-1967), Science Service managing editor, took numerous photographs while covering the State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes trial as a reporter. In what was dubbed “The Trial of the Century,” Scopes was tried and convicted for violating a state law prohibiting the teaching of the theory of evolution. William Jennings Bryan served on the prosecution team, and Clarence Darrow defended Scopes. Almost eighty years later, the nitrate negatives, including portraits of trial participants, and images from the trial itself and significant places in Dayton, were discovered in archival material donated to the Smithsonian by Science Service in 1971.

(via Boing Boing)

Sally Hemings in Paris

From The Root:

In this excerpt of “The Hemingses of Monticello,” author Annette Gordon-Reed examines how Sally Hemings and her brother, the chef James Hemings, enjoyed the cosmopolitan lifestyle of Paris in the 1770s while living with Thomas Jefferson during his stint as Ambassador to France. Teenaged Sally gets her own pay and taste of freedom that eluded her back home in Virginia.

Sept. 22, 2008–The home that Sally Hemings moved to was just inside the city limits of Paris. The Hôtel de Langeac was right next to the Grille de Chaillot, one of the many gated entry points into what was still at the time a walled city. The house, abutting the Champs-Elysées and along the rue Neuve de Berri, was more expensive than Jefferson could afford. He thought, however, that his position demanded a suitable residence for all the entertaining that he expected to do.

This residence was truly worthy of a French aristocrat. The expansive grounds entered by a way of an impressive courtyard, contained “green houses,” an extensive kitchen garden, and another “graceful” one that Jefferson pronounced “clever.” Just off the entryway into the courtyard were the porter’s lodge and servants’ quarters.

Living at such a place gave both Sally and her brother James Hemingses ample opportunity to compare their surroundings in Paris with those they had seen in Virginia, and they could only have found Virginian residences wanting. The amenity of having indoor bathrooms was remarkable for both them and the Jeffersons.. The very complexity of the house, with its multiple stairways (one large formal one and two smaller private ones) and its numerous passageways leading into different areas of the mansion, no doubt piqued their interest as well.

Pictures From Paris During World War II

An exhibition of rare color photographs of occupied Paris in World War Two has sparked a controversy in France, with some politicians saying it paints too rosy a picture of life under the Nazis.

Sending Children via Parcel Post

From The Smithsonian’s Flickr page:

This city letter carrier posed for a humorous photograph with a young boy in his mailbag. After parcel post service was introduced in 1913, at least two children were sent by the service. With stamps attached to their clothing, the children rode with railway and city carriers to their destination. The Postmaster General quickly issued a regulation forbidding the sending of children in the mail after hearing of those examples.

(via Kottke)

Photos From the RFK Funeral Train

From The Year in Pictures:

To put it simply and truly, these pictures are my favorite body of work in photography. They were taken on June 8, 1968, from inside the funeral train that carried Robert Kennedy’s body from New York to Washington so that he could be buried beside his brother at Arlington. The photo-
grapher Paul Fusco had been assigned the story by LOOK Magazine and on what turned out to be an unusually hot Saturday, close to a million people – black and white, rich and poor, young and old, singly and in groups – spontaneously came out to pay their respects to the man who had inspired so many Americans.

(via Gerry Canavan)

Server Issues

Update 2:

(IGNORE the orange template. Just testing something

Currently have 3 support tickets open. Not a happy Dreamhost customer at the moment. Here’s what’s happened.

This blog has grown to the point where shared hosting is no longer a feasible option. On Friday, Dreamhost moved this site to a VPS with a scalable memory/processor option. Within 24 hours, I was maxed out at 2 Gigs of memory and the site was slow to the point where I could barely get on, nevermind update. I put in a support ticket and I got a quick response saying:

If you like I can try installing our process watcher (it runs on shared
hosting machines and will kill runaway processes you have). Bear in mind
though it’s not a fix (really you would want to find and disable
inefficient code or any loops you have that might be causing the resource

Since sending them an email to tell them to start the process watcher, the memory usage has doubled (before that it was using a measly 1.2Gigs of mem) and I’ve deactivated all wordpress plugins. I’ve sent in two more support tickets asking for help in trying to isolate what is causing all the memory usage and so far have received no help from them. My patience is starting to wear thin with their support. I’m currently looking for other hosting, dedicated or vps but I’m still concerned with the amount of memory being used by wordpress. It’s possible that there’s some rogue script that’s eating memory and perhaps a brand new install would work but I’m hoping to get some support from Dreamhost before I make that move.

If anybody has any suggestions, similar experiences, or Zoloft, send me an email at (email hasn’t had any problems).


Still having major problems with the site slowing down or not working at all. I’m trying to resolve it through my current host but I have the suspicion that the problem is that this blog has just outgrown what my current host (Dreamhost) is able to handle. If anybody has any suggestions for dedicated hosting that can handle a wordpress blog that gets over 10,000 hits a day, please email me at

I’m having some problems with the server. I have a support ticket open and hopefully it’s only a minor hiccup.

Hebrew Press in 1932: Hitler makes better impression than expected


The Mandate-era Hebrew press watched with wonder mixed with concern at the unprecedented political phenomenon that surfaced in those years in Germany: the rapid gains of the Nazi party until it took over the government.

Ilana Novetsky-Bendet, a doctoral student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is researching the Hebrew press’ attitude toward events in Germany from the time of the emergence of the Nazis as a significant political force, until World War II. In Bendet’s master’s thesis, which covers the period up until Hitler’s rise to power, she found that the Hebrew press showed an interest in and followed the growing strength of the Nazis as early as the late 1920s. However, the papers in Palestine had trouble discerning Hitler’s political power and the centrality of the racist component of the party’s ideology.

“The more the party’s electoral power increased, the greater the interest in it,” says Bendet, whose mentor for her doctoral thesis is Prof. Moshe Zimmerman. “But hardly any of the papers grasped the severity of Nazi anti-Semitism.”

Only one paper took a completely contrary position to Hitler’s ascendance: Hazit Ha’am, the journal of the right-wing of the Revisionists. “If the segments of our people draw the appropriate conclusions from the Hitlerism, then we will be able to say that something good came out of a bad situation,” the paper stated a few days after Hitler’s appointment as chancellor.

The paper even praised certain foundations of the Nazi ideology, primarily its fight against communism: “the anti-Semitic husk should be discarded, but not its anti-Marxist inside,” the paper’s editors wrote of Nazism. The praise of Nazism stopped only after the intervention of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who called for “a total end to this abomination.” Around two years later, in 1935, Hazit Ha’am folded.

(via Digg)

Civil War Letters of William (Billy) A. Elliott


The following letters are reasonably accurate transcriptions of handwritten letters from Billy (William A.) Elliott to his father, Dick Elliott (Richard W.), during the Civil War. Billy Elliott was my father’s great uncle, the brother of his grandfather David Elliott Sr. On July 7, 1862, shortly after his 19th birthday, Billy enlisted in the 11th Regiment, Company A, of the North Carolina Confederate Troops. He was killed at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863.

Billy’s 19 letters home were written between September, 1862 and May, 1863. I’m emotionally touched by this twenty year old boy writing to his “Pa” during the year before giving his life to the history of our nation. The cause for which Billy fought and died has been harshly judged by history. From the Confederate perspective, however, their discomfort and suffering was as noble as that of their Revolutionary War forefathers nearly 100 years before. One must understand that Billy came from a family, my ancestors, who were not Plantation masters but pioneers of the Carolina wilderness who fully believed that theirs was a cause against a Northern Revolution intent on tearing apart the fabric of their history and freedom. The written history of my family and these letters from an ancestor allow this life-long Yankee to judge the Confederate spirit and conviction in a little more even-handed manner.

Julius Caesar and the Pirates


In 75, Julius Caesar was captured by Cilician pirates, who infested the Mediterranean sea. The Romans had never sent a navy against them, because the pirates offered the Roman senators slaves, which they needed for their plantations in Italy. As a consequence, piracy was common.

In chapter 2 of his Life of Julius Caesar, the Greek author Plutarch of Chaeronea (46-c.120) describes what happened when Caesar encountered the pirates. The translation below was made by Robin Seager.

First, when the pirates demanded a ransom of twenty talents, Caesar burst out laughing. They did not know, he said, who it was that they had captured, and he volunteered to pay fifty. Then, when he had sent his followers to the various cities in order to raise the money and was left with one friend and two servants among these Cilicians, about the most bloodthirsty people in the world, he treated them so highhandedly that, whenever he wanted to sleep, he would send to them and tell them to stop talking.

For thirty-eight days, with the greatest unconcern, he joined in all their games and exercises, just as if he was their leader instead of their prisoner. He also wrote poems and speeches which he read aloud to them, and if they failed to admire his work, he would call them to their faces illiterate savages, and would often laughingly threaten to have them all hanged. They were much taken with this and attributed his freedom of speech to a kind of simplicity in his character or boyish playfulness.

However, the ransom arrived from Miletus and, as soon as he had paid it and been set free, he immediately manned some ships and set sail from the harbor of Miletus against the pirates. He found them still there, lying at anchor off the island, and he captured nearly all of them. He took their property as spoils of war and put the men themselves into the prison at Pergamon. He then went in person to [Marcus] Junius, the governorof Asia, thinking it proper that he, as praetor in charge of the province, should see to the punishment of the prisoners. Junius, however, cast longing eyes at the money, which came to a considerable sum, and kept saying that he needed time to look into the case.

Caesar paid no further attention to him. He went to Pergamon, took the pirates out of prison and crucified the lot of them, just as he had often told them he would do when he was on the island and they imagined that he was joking.

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