Tag Archives: History

A Taste of Honey

honeyDo you remember the taste of honey? Do you remember bread and butter, with honey sandwiches? The combination of the rich butter and the sweet taste of honey remains in my memory after all the decades since I last tasted one.

When I was young, honey was a treat, while sugar was a staple. The honey would come in a wooden box, with a honeycomb in it. I could skim the covers off the combs and drain the honey on the sandwich, or hack out honey and comb and spread the mixture on the bread.

Sometime I’d eat the honeycomb by itself. That would eventually result in a wad of wax that I could chew like gum.

The historical writer can relax on the subject of honey. Cavemen in Ancient Spain collected honey at least eight thousand years ago. The ancient Egyptians used it to sweeten cakes. Honey collecting began before records in both China, and the New World.

Wherever bees made honey, men would steal it and eat it.

Some interesting facts about honey. It never goes bad. I’m willing to bet you keep your honey in the refrigerator, although that isn’t necessary.

Because of its high fructose content, honey has more sweet flavor than other sweeteners. No two honeys taste exactly the same. Honey is a natural humectant and acts as an anti-irritant. Honey wine is called mead. Honey is a natural moisturizer.

A Sumerian tablet writing, dating back to 2100-2000 BC, mentions honey’s use as a drug and an ointment. Today honey can be used for hard-to-heal wounds, such as diabetic leg ulcers, even wounds with gangrene.

How? If poured on a wound, honey will seal it from outside contaminants. It has a low water content and acidic nature which both combat bacteria. More than that, when honey is diluted with wine or body fluids, enzymes in the honey create a small amount of hydrogen peroxide. Furthermore, honey on a wound reduces pain, and promotes healing.

So, maybe you should include honey in your first aid kit. And I might suggest some bread and butter as well.


To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

Sugar, a short history


I love sugar. However, that is not the reason for this blog. I read all sorts of stuff, especially when sailing. Almost every marina has a book place, where voyagers can offload books that they no longer want and pick up new reading material. However, you are at the mercy of other peoples’ tastes.

I picked up a Historical Romance set in the 12th century in Great Britain. In one scene the heroine feeds her horse a lump of sugar. Are you laughing? You understand. Are you wondering what the issue is? Read on.

Today, you can pick up a pound of sugar from sugarcane in the grocery store for less than a bottle of beer. That shows how greatly the world has changed.

Sugar, as we think of it today, is the product of either sugarcane, or the sugar beet. We can ignore the sugar beet for most of history. Why? The 16th-century scientist, Olivier de Serres, discovered a process for preparing sugar syrup from the common red beet. However, since crystallized cane sugar was available and tasted better, beet sugar never caught on. The commercial manufacture of sugar from beets didn’t take hold until the early 1800’s when the British blockaded the French ruled continent. The sugar beet has one advantage. You don’t need a tropical climate to grow it. Even with this advantage, beet sugar only accounts for about 12% of all sugar production today.

So, cane sugar is king, and always (aside from the necessities of war) has been.

Guess where the sugarcane plant came from. No, not the new world. Actually, sugarcane was first grown in New Guinea about 6000 BC. The practice spread to India, and the production of crystalline sugar began about 500 BC. Ancient Sanskrit and Pali texts mention sugar. Arab traders brought sugarcane to Mesopotamia by the 10th century AD.

Crusaders brought sugar home to Europe after their campaigns in the Holy Land, where they encountered caravans carrying “sweet salt.” Crusade chronicler William of Tyre, writing in the late 12th century, described sugar as “a most precious product, very necessary for the use and health of mankind.” The first record of sugar in English is in the late 13th century.

So, before the 13th century in England, sugar was unknown, except for returning Crusaders. Imagine a delicacy that had to be imported from the Holy Land. Do you think you would feed it to a horse?

How expensive was sugar? In the fourteenth century, a pound of sugar would cost as much as thirty-six gallons of ale or a couple of sheep.

Now remember this isn’t the same quality of sugar that we buy in the store today. Early refining methods involved grinding or pounding the cane and then boiling down the juice. The result looked like gravel. The Sanskrit word for “sugar” (sharkara) also means “gravel” or “sand.”

Then Columbus discovered America, and sugar production moved to the new world. Approximately 3,000 sugar mills were built before 1550 in the New World. The Spanish had the gold, but Portugal had Brazil and its sugarcane plantations.

The French and the British followed. For the British sugar formed one side of the triangle trade of New World raw materials, along with European manufactured goods, and African slaves. Sugar (often in the form of molasses) was shipped from the Caribbean to Europe or New England, where it was distilled into rum.

France found its sugarcane islands so valuable that it effectively traded its portion of Canada, famously dubbed “a few acres of snow,” to Britain for their return of Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Lucia at the end of the Seven Years’ War. (Shush. Don’t tell the Quebeckers.)

Sugar and the European demand for it fueled the plantations. Those needed slaves, so the sweet stuff financed slavery in the Caribbean and South America. New England abolitionists tried to fight sugar from cane with the sugar beet. The “Beet Sugar Society of Philadelphia” was founded in 1836 by those who opposed the slavery on the sugar plantations.

At the same time, sugar began to work its way into every aspect of the cooking of Europe. As the price dropped, sugar changed deserts. It sweetened jams and marmalades. It even sweetened tea.

What we eat and drink today is much different from what people in the actual historical settings had. Sometimes describing an everyday meal can be a trap for the Historical Author.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net



Alfred and the Cakes

Alfred the Great. Ever heard of him?

Alfred was the King of Wessex (part of today’s England) from 871 to 899. Since he was the youngest of five sons of king Æthelwulf, there was little expectation that he would wear the crown and so he was sent to Rome to stay with Pope Leo IV for three years. He would almost certainly have received the education and tutoring appropriate to his station, but Alfred was never more than semi-literate according to all histories.

Despite the fact that he could not read, Alfred had a prodigious memory. As a child Alfred won a prize of a volume of poetry in Saxon, offered by his mother to the first of her children able to memorize it. Later in life he was reputed to be able to memorize complete books that were read to him. (Was he dyslexic?)

Alfred also suffered from a mysterious malady. Alfred’s illness continued, on and off, for twenty years. One of his three older brothers, King Athelbald also died of some similar illness, too, and even Alfred’s grandson, King Edred, suffered from a similar ailment. Modern doctors suggest it could have been Crohn’s disease.

Now at this time, Wessex was under constant attack from Viking raiders. An army of Danes landed in East Anglia with the intent of conquering the four kingdoms that constituted Anglo-Saxon England in 865. They conquered Northumbria and East Anglia. In 870 the Vikings turned their attention to Wessex.

By this point, three of Alfred’s brothers had died, two while wearing the crown. His brother Æthelred wore the crown. Alfred? Bishop Asser applied to Alfred the unique title of “secundarius” making his the recognized successor. As such, Alfred spent the next year in battle, nine engagements. Alfred was about twenty-two years old.

When his brother died, Alfred became king. Alfred probably paid the Danes gold to buy a peace that lasted five years. Then a new leader, Guthrum, led the Danes against Wessex once more. In January 878, the Danes attacked a royal stronghold where Alfred had been staying over Christmas. King Alfred with a little band made his way by the woods into the marshes of Somerset.

Now to the story of the burnt cakes.


Separated in the wilderness from his friends and companions, Alfred stumbled onto the cottage of a cowherd, where he asked for shelter. The man’s wife, a woman known for the sharpness of her tongue, did not recognize the king, but let him enter. As he stood by the fire, trying to warm himself, she told him to watch the barley cakes she was baking while she milked the cows.

However, Alfred soon forgot the cakes, deep in thoughts of his defeat and the defense of his kingdom. When the woman returned, she found the cakes burnt. Incensed she berated him. When he said he had forgotten to watch them she said, “Men! When you saw the cakes burning, why were you too lazy to turn them? For you are glad enough to eat them when they are all hot!”

My father insisted there was a moral to this story which he put roughly this way. Do all things that come to your hand well, no matter what.

After this.

Between 6 and 12 May AD 878, Alfred won the Battle of Edington. He then pursued the Danes to their stronghold at Chippenham and starved them into submission. One of the terms of the surrender was that Guthrum convert to Christianity.

Alfred died on 26 October 899. During the last twenty years of his life, he had to contend with Danish raids. In addition to this he reorganized the military, the tax system, established a navy, revised the legal system and established a court school. Alfred proposed that primary education be taught in English. He also established a program to translate books deemed worthy from Latin to English.


To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net



What Star Trek TNG Got Right and Wrong

Star Trek, the Next Generation, ran from 1987 to 1994.  That’s about over twenty-five-years ago. A generation. It’s set in 2364AD, or almost three hundred years from the broadcast of the first Star Trek series. I watched the first episode and cringed. It was so bad it set a new low for SF on television. Still, I did watch more. Why? A few years earlier I worked as an extra on a show with Gates McFadden who played Dr. Beverly Crusher on TNG.

I didn’t know Gates. I was on the same show and saw her on the set. If you were to ask me about her, all I could tell you is that she knew her lines, and hit her mark. I guess that is quite a lot when you come to think of it,

I have no need to tell you that the show went on to become a great success, spawned spin off shows and movies as well. I thought it would be interesting to look at technology and see the hits and misses as time moves forward.

In communication, Star Trek was ahead of its time, but we’ve caught up quickly. In the first show they had flip phones, and in the second they had the comm badges. Well flip phones have come and gone. I sort of miss them.  They were small, simple, and could hold a charge for a week, unlike my newer smart phone.

Wearable technology is making the comm badge a possibility. However, it will probably look more like Dick Tracy’s radio. The practical problem with the comm badge is that everyone in the room hears both sides of the conversation. No privacy. With current phones, I have had to remind commuters that their ‘cone of silence’ isn’t working and the entire train car can hear some of the conversation. (Remember this when you call your drug dealer.)

And remember how Captain Picard would go to his ready room to receive a video call from Star Fleet? Today you can do the same with your computer, its camera and Skype. Have you noticed that every laptop has a video camera built into it?

Remember, those pads that people would pass to the captain and he would read, while rubbing his chin? The replacement for paper? Then he would take out the attached stylus and make some marks. Well between ereaders and tablets, we can see the technology here today. However, our tablets are touch-screen, in color and have audio. We don’t need the stupid stylus anymore. Still, it will take a while before paper disappears.

How did TNG do with computers? Frankly I’m surprised they still had computers in the 24th century. Voice recognition and control software comes with your Window 8 machine today. Text to speech has been around even longer.  However, the computer voices on TNG sound much more wooden that the computer text of today. Even Lieutenant Reginald Barclay didn’t obsess over the computer’s voice. Contrast that to the character in the 2013 movie ‘Her’ who fell in love with the voice on his telephone.

Remember the iso linear optical chips on TNG. Current technology is getting there. You can go into any computer store in the world to pick up a MicroSD chip for 64Gig. That could hold about a thousand movies.  Solid State ram drives are available for your laptop. (I put one into a server five years ago.) Optical chips are a current topic in U.S. defense contracts. This would be one to visit in another ten years. That would improve capacity and speed. (Why do we need a one Terabyte microSD device?)

I always wanted a Universal Translator. I’m terrible at languages. Today you can buy a device, or down an app to your smart phone that will translate from one language to another. Furthermore, you can speak into it in one language and it will repeat it back in the other language, out loud.  I don’t think they have one that a third party can speak into in a foreign language and it will echo back in your language yet. Why? I once remember listening to a Pole and a Chinese person argue about the news in English. Accents are still a stumbling block for voice-to-text recorders. Who knows what can be done in twenty years on this?

The Invention of the Cross-Word Puzzle

On December 21st in 1913 the first crossword puzzle was published in the New York World.

Arthur Wynne is usually credited as the inventor of the popular word game. Wynne puzzle had horizontal and vertical words with hints in the shape of a diamond, internal black squares. The numbering system was different from todays. Instead of grouping the clue by ‘across’ and ‘down’, the clues were indicated by a start and stop number.

Prior to Wynne invention, there had been word puzzles based on the word square, where the letter were arranged to read the same way vertically and horizontally.

In the 1920’s crosswords became an American obsession. One man shot his wife because she wouldn’t help him with a crossword. A Chicago woman sued her husband for divorce, claiming “he was so engrossed in solving crosswords that he didn’t have time to work.”

Yet Wynne didn’t invent the word crossword. He called the puzzle a word-cross. A typesetter reversed the words and crossword stuck.

At first the only place you could find a crossword puzzle was in the New York World. The New York Times resisted the pull of the puzzle until the 1940’s and only put them into the Sunday paper. Weekday puzzles wouldn’t appear there for another decade.

In the 20’s, a couple of young bloods named Richard L. Simon and M. Lincoln Schuster began publishing books of crossword puzzles. They were very successful.

The term crossword first appeared in a dictionary in 1930.

Want to create crosswords, but need some help? Consider the Crossword Compiler. For $169, you can have the same tool used by the people who supply the New York Times and other.


To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

Too much of a good thing

The snow falling on Buffalo is epic. That’s the only word that makes any sense. While a foot or so of snow is great for making snow angels and snowmen, seven feet of it cripples all the transportation and closes everything down.

While we instinctively understand that seven feet of snow (213 cm) is a lot, we tend to react with ‘It’s just snow’ and the ‘They don’t know what snow is’ response. Certainly people in Montreal and Newfoundland get a lot of snow each year.

The record for the most snow in a season goes to the Mt. Baker Ski area which received 1,140 inches (95.0 ft.; 29.0 m), during the 1998–99 season. Mt. Baker also enjoys the unofficially highest average annual snowfall of any resort in the world, with 641 inches (53.4 ft.; 16.3 m). However, Mt Baker doesn’t hold the record for a single day.

The heaviest 24-hour snowfall on record in the mainland United States is 75.8 inches (192 centimeters), which fell at Silver Lake, Colorado, in 1921.

Currently Buffalo has received seven feet or 84 inches. They may have just set a new record for snowfall in a single day. Even if they don’t that much snow in a couple of days boggles the mind.

Today the City of Buffalo has started to prepare for the next catastrophe. With temperatures expected to go up the 50’s (13C) that snow will melt and it contains about 6 inches of water. Imagine six inches of rain in 24 to 48 hours. Remember that the snow will have the grates pugged.

Epic. Maybe not Noah level, but certainly the memory of a lifetime.


To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

A Hero you Never Heard of

Beginning on April 7, 1994, and continuing for one hundred days,   between 500,000 and one million people died because they were of the wrong race, in Rwanda. I don’t want to talk about the causes, or the failures. Instead I want to talk about one man, a man you probably have never heard of.

Mbaye Diagne was a captain in the Senegalese military and a UN military observer in Rwanda. At thirty-six, this devout Muslim was married with two children.

In the opening hours of the Genocide, the Prime minister, Agate Usilingiyimana and her husband were assassinated. The ten Belgian peacekeepers assigned to protect here were also killed.

What happened to her four children? No one knew. Mbaye came to investigate and found them hiding in a nearby housing compound. Eventually he hid the children under a tarp in the back of his car and drove them to the comparative safety of his hotel.

This set the tone for his days and nights. Captain Mbaye Diagne would find victims and try to save them, five or six at a time. He drove though militia checkpoints, using his wits, his humor, and his courage. He carried cigarettes, and even beer and whiskey to use as bribes. When that failed, he used money, even his own rations to buy the lives.

How much can one man do? We don’t’ know but the American Fulbright Scholar Richard Siegler thinks that he saved a 1,000 or more lives.

On the morning of 31 May 1994, Mbaye was taking an important written message from the head of the government army, Augustin Bizimungu, to the UN commander, Romeo Dallaire. Mbaye stopped at the checkpoint and a mortar round exploded on the road a short distance from his car. He was hit and died instantly.




To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

Where did Metric come from?

To most of the world today, the temperature is in Celsius, the road is in kilometers, and the butter is by the gram. The United States uses Fahrenheit, miles, and pounds.

However, in much of the British commonwealth, confusion rules in many places. You can still get a pint in a pub, before walking a mile or two to the station.

To create the Metric System, we needed a couple of things. One was the Arabic numerals, which were invented in India, and came back to Europe with the crusaders, along with the Gothic arch and other strange and interesting things. Why? The Metric System was based on the idea of tens, or tenths. Before the Arabic numerals, Europe used Roman numerals. Quick, how much is “IV” time “L”? Never mind. “IV” is four, and “L” is 50, so the answer is 200 or “CC”.

John Wilkins in 1668 was one of the first to propose a decimal system of measurement for length and mass in a paper to the Royal Society of London. Imagine an alternative history where this was accepted.

After the French Revolution, the new government created a department of Weights and Measures. This department recommended the country create a new system to replace the multitude of different systems throughout the country.

As France conquered Europe, it introduced its new standards for measuring distance and weight. After its defeat, some places returned to the old ways. However the simplicity of the Metric System gradually won acceptance for parts of Europe, starting with the Netherlands. By 1875, two thirds of Europeans and half of the World’s population had started to use the new system. Initially, England and Russia resisted. Russia switched to it in 1924. England adopted it in 1965.

Interesting fact. The gram was originally 1/100th of a grave. However, a grave was also a synonym for a count. That was too aristocratic a term for the egalitarian revolution. So the term was replaced with the kilogram.

Strange as it may sound, there is a strong American connection to the creation of the Metric System. In 1782, Jefferson argued for a decimal currency. He succeeded and the first American currency had one hundred cents to the dollar. The British retained their pounds, shillings and pence system until 1971. Jefferson also tried to create a decimal system of measurement, suggesting 10 inches to a foot. However, in this case, his efforts failed.

The American relationship with Metric continued. The Metric law of 1866 made it unlawful to refuse to trade or deal in metric quantities. Then in 1927, several million people sent over 100,000 petitions backed by the Metric Association and The General Federation of Women’s Clubs urging Congress to adopt the metric system. Finally, in 1975, President Gerald Ford signed into law the Metric Conversion Act which declared the Metric system “the preferred system of weights and measures for United States trade and commerce.” A complete failure.

Personally, I like the old system. I like a world measured in inches, hands, spans, feet, yards, rods, furlongs, miles and leagues. I like a world where weight is measured in teaspoons, tablespoons, cups, pounds, stones, and tons. Still, when I want to do arithmetic, I revert to Arabic rather than Roman numerals. When converting cups into teaspoons I do the same thing, switch to metric to find the answer.

The point for any writer of historical fiction is simple. Remember metric measurement didn’t exist before 1790.



To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

The Last Footsteps on the Moon

On December 14, at 5:55 P.M. EST 1972, the ascent stage of the Lunar Module for the Apollo 17 mission lifted off. Aboard it, were the last two men to walk on the moon, Eugene Andrew “Gene” Cernan and Harrison Hagan “Jack” Schmitt. Neither man would ever return to space.

Schmitt was the first scientist to fly into space, a geologist with a Ph.D. from Harvard. The decision to send a scientist instead of a pilot met with some resistance.  Cernan was publicly critical of it. However, in Cernan’s words, Schmitt proved a capable LM pilot.

Cernan had served as a fighter pilot, pilot of the Gemini 9A and lunar module pilot of Apollo 10.  Before re-entering the LM for the final time, Gene Cernan said, “I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come.”

The men knew that this was a last mission in the Apollo program, and the last planned flight to the moon.  They did what they could with this last mission. They collected 244 pounds (111 kilograms) of lunar material. This included the strange orange soil that proved to be microscopic glass beads from volcanic activity.

Strange and interesting lunar facts
Cernan’s distinction as the last person to walk on the moon means that Purdue University holds the distinction of being the alma mater of both the first person to walk on the Moon and the last.

The Apollo 17 Lunar Rover had the last fender bender on the moon. Cernan caught his hammer under the right-rear fender, breaking it off. They repaired the fender with duct tape, but not before getting covered with moon dust.

Moon dust smells like spent gunpowder.

The Apollo 17 plaque has the inscription: “Here Man completed his first explorations of the Moon. December 1972 AD. May the spirit of peace in which we came be reflected in the lives of all mankind.”

President Richard M. Nixon’s signature is on this plaque.

While the American flag from the first landing was knocked over, when they took off, the one from the Apollo 17 mission remains standing as of April 21, 2012. There is a picture showing its shadow on the surface.

After forty years, the color has been bleached out of the flag by unfiltered sunlight.

Apollo 17 was the first night launch of a U.S. human spaceflight. It was also final crewed launch of a Saturn V rocket.

Man left the moon for the last time:
·    Before Microsoft was founded,
·    Before the U.S. pulled out of South Vietnam,
·    Before Elvis Presley died,
·    Before Roe versus Wade legalized abortions in the U.S.,
·    Before Star Wars,
·    Before microwave ovens, cell phones, internet,
·    Before personal computers and YouTube.
On YouTube, you can watch the following:

·    Liftoff  – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjWiMYr6XDA
·    Lunar Landing – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okgwvmobs_Y
·    Lunar launch – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXs4tncQcAE
·    Splash down – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_c2mDEdCJIc

Apollo 17 spacecraft landed safely in the Pacific Ocean  at 2:25 P.M., 6.4 kilometers (4.0 mi) from the recovery ship, the USS Ticonderoga. Cernan, Evans and Schmitt were then retrieved by a recovery helicopter and were safely aboard the recovery ship 52 minutes after landing.


To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

Searching for the origin of January 1 as the beginning of the year.

The Summer solstice has passed. Now the days grow shorter. This got me to thinking of the importance of the longest day of the year and the shortest day of the year, which is December 21.

So why does the New Year begin almost two weeks later? It just didn’t make any sense to me. I decided to dig a little and the story gets stranger and stranger.

Until the last two hundred years, almost everyone worked on a farm. If the most technologically advance European countries had more farm workers than anything else. What’s the most important single issue for any farmer? When he should plant his crops. Plant too soon and a killing frost will destroy your work. Plant too late, and your crops won’t mature before the first frost of fall.

Early astronomy tracked the movements of the sun and moon, and hence the time of the year. The summer and winter solstice were critical since the lunar cycle doesn’t match the annual solar cycle.

The first thing I discovered was the New Year doesn’t begin on January first for everyone. The Chinese New year occurs on the New Moon of the first lunar month. That is somewhere between January 21 and February 21.

The Islamic Calendar is a lunar calendar of twelve months, made of 354/355 days. Right. It’s about ten days short of a solar year, so the new year keeps moving from year to year.

So that made me think I should investigate the beginning of the year and Christianity. When does the Catholic Liturgical year begin? It begins with the beginning of Advent, which begins four Sundays before December 25, Christmas Day. Sort of makes sense, but doesn’t help me in my quest.

Is the origin of January First rooted in ancient times? The Babylonians created the Zodiac about three thousand years ago. They were great astronomers and they gave us the Astrology we use today. I checked. Their new year was around the spring Equinox.

Now I remembered that the Romans used something similar, which is why December got the name of the tenth month, even though it was the twelve month. Is there nothing logical about our calendar?

However, that led me to another article. In 46 BC, Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar. The revised calendar was designed to stay in sync with the solar year without human intervention. Plutarch and Pliny wrote about it. The reform began by changing the length of the Roman months by adding days to them.

Now the month of January was named for the god name Janus, the god of doors and gates. Perhaps that is why Julius made the first day of that month the beginning of the year.

Whatever the reason, Julius Caesar gave us January 1 as the beginning of the year.


To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

The Battle of Kitty Hawk, NC

In Dare County, one part of the Carolina Outer Banks, lies a village with population of 3,272 people in 2010. Yet this speck of land in all the United States may prove to be at the central focus for the greatest issue of the 21st century.

The Outer Banks are a series of islands, sandbanks that stick above the waves, that stretch along the Atlantic coast of North Carolina. Hurricanes reshape them on a regular basis creating new inlets and closing old ones. However man has settled there, and he wants things more permanent, and North Carolina’s highway 12 is one of his efforts to make things permanent.

What is the name of this village and why is it important? The place is named Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. On December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright, walked into town and sent a telegram to their father to tell him of their first controlled airplane flight. Those flights actually took place four miles away, at the Kill Devil Hills. If you journey from Kitty Hawk, south on US 158, you eventually end up on NC-12.

In American History, Kitty Hawk ranks with Lexington, Manassas, and Gettysburg. These were all places where Americans hammered out their history. Its place in history has been cemented as the name has been used  on an aircraft carrier, and the Apollo fourteen command module.

Why could Kitty Hawk become central in a new issue? The town lies at an elevation of seven feet above sea level. Since the ocean is rising faster here than anywhere else on the Eastern seaboard, you have a flash point for the controversy over Global Warming.

This is where the story takes a decidedly political turn, and involves the American political system. In 2011 the state authorities accepted a prediction that sea levels would rise by 39 inches in the next 85 years. That spells death for the highway and the communities along the Outer Banks.

In 2012, the Republicans took control of the state. They selected a new forecast, one that only looks 30 years ahead, and predicts a rise of eight inches in ocean level.

The story fascinates me because it combines history, science and politics. If you look at a map, you can see that Kitty Hawk cannot be defended from the rising ocean by dykes. The ocean surrounds it. What will happen?

I don’t know. I have my own prediction, as do both the Democrats and the Republicans. Perhaps in 30 years the issue will be settled, one way or the other.

Just keep Kitty Hawk in mind. There are barrier islands from south of Virginia Beach to Key West and towns like Kitty Hawk along the way. What happens there, affects citizens from North Carolina to Florida.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

William Shakespeare and his Time

These things you might not know about Shakespeare and his times.

The theaters were closed during lent. That gave Shakespeare a forty day break from acting and managing the company of actors.

Shakespeare was married at eighteen to a pregnant Anne Hathaway who was eight years his senior.

Love’s Labors won was written before 1598 and published by 1603, but no copies are known to have survived.

William Kempe specialized in comic roles. He was one of the original players in early dramas by William Shakespeare, and often the comic roles were written specifically for him.

Shakespeare’s play-write contemporaries were a wild bunch. Ben Johnson was arrested for killing a fellow actor named Gabriel Spencer in a duel. Thomas Kyd was arrested and tortured into giving evidence against Christopher Marlowe. Christopher Marlowe murdered in a lodging place in Deptford. It is believed that he was in a meeting with three Government agents, and that they were paid assassins.

Shakespeare did not invent the plots of his plays. Every wonder why so many of his comedies were set in Italy? He took his plots from stories by Italian writers such as Giovanni Boccaccio.

Shakespeare was commanded to write The Merry Wives of Windsor by Queen Elizabeth, who wanted to see “Falstaff in love”. However, this story was first recorded one hundred years later.

One of Shakespeare’s relatives on his mother’s side, William Arden, was arrested for plotting against Queen Elizabeth I, imprisoned in the Tower of London and executed.

Although it was illegal to be a Catholic in Shakespeare’s lifetime, the Anglican Archdeacon, Richard Davies of Lichfield, who had known him wrote some time after Shakespeare’s death that he had been a Catholic.

Shakespeare never actually published any of his plays.

Between 1592 and 1594, all the theaters in London were closed because of the plague. Shakespeare used the time to write poetry.

I’ve written a short story called The Theater Conundrum which was published in Tales of Old.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

The Land of Poets and Rebels

Eire, Ireland. It has been the land of poets and rebels for more than a thousand years. Perhaps that is the reason that every generation has had its rebel songs. I want to talk about one such song, “My Dark Rosaleen”. You might know the words. It begins:

O MY Dark Rosaleen,
Do not sigh, do not weep!
The priests are on the ocean green,
They march along the deep.
There’s wine from the royal Pope,
Upon the ocean green;
And Spanish ale shall give you hope,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!
For the complete text, go here.


Or you might remember hearing someone singing it. Here’s John McCormick:


Like most Irish I know the song. My father would sing it, along with a raft of others. Then I discovered the poem.
James Clarence Mangan wrote the poem which was published in The Nation in 1846. Actually, this was one of three translations of an older poem from Gaelic to English.

1846 was a beginning of the Great Famine that would see the sons and daughters of Erin leave or die in numbers beyond imagining. During the famine approximately one million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland, causing the island’s population to fall by between 20% and 25%.

Although the potato crop failed, the country was still producing and exporting more than enough grain crops to feed the population. Records show during the period Ireland was exporting approximately thirty to fifty shiploads per day of food produce.

The 1690 Penal laws were still in effect. To speak of rebellion would bring death. The memory of the rebellions of 1798 and 1803 remained in the minds of the ruled and the rulers.

Mangan’s poem is a love song, a love song to the country that was not a nation. In this he was tapping into an older Gaelic poem ‘Róisín Dubh’.

Rosaleen translates as little Rose. The song is named after Róisín Dubh, probably one of the daughters of Hugh O’Neill, earl of Tyrone in the late 16th Century. The song is reputed to have originated in the camps of Red Hugh O’Donnell (1572 – 10 September 1602). He led a rebellion against the English from 1593 to 1603 which has been called the Nine Years War.

A more recent translation of this poem was created by Pádraig Pearse. He was one of the leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916 and died before a firing squad on May 3, 1916. You can find that translation here:


So the song to the little dark Rose spans three hundred years and, two languages. At one end is Red Hugh O’Donnell, and on the other is Pádraig Pearse.

To hear the original in Gaelic:



Pioche, The Wildest Town in Nevada

When you think about the mining boom towns of the old West, Tombstone, Virginia City, and Leadville come to mind, but the roughest, toughest and wildest of the lot was Pioche, Nevada.
How rich were the Pioche mines? An estimated 130 million dollars worth of ore came out of its mines during the 1870’s, second only to the Comstock lode. How big was Pioche? At its height it had a population of six to eight thousand, almost half the size of Virginia city. As for wild. More than seventy men were buried in Boot Hill before anyone died of natural causes. If you visit the cemetery today you’ll find the section for murderers is still fenced to separate them from upstanding citizens, and it holds more than one hundred graves.

In 1864, settlers put down roots in a valley known as Panaca, about 190 miles northeast of Los Vegas and about 50 miles west of the Utah border. During the winter of 1863-64 a few Indians from the Santa Clara Piute tribe offered to show William Hamblin an outcropping of ore in return for some food and clothing. Silver! Hamblin and his the Meadow Valley Mining District and did some location work. However the remote location, lack of financial backing, and the American Civil War stymied development.

In 1868 E.M. Chubard and Joseph Grange reorganized the district and renamed it the Ely Mining District in honor of John H. Ely who had arrived late that year. Investment funds remained a problem. Mr. Ely managed to convince Francois L.A. Pioche, a French financier from San Francisco, to invest a large sum of money. In 1869, when the district began to flourish, the new town was named Pioche. (Mr. Pioche never visited the town named in his honor.)

That year the whisper traveled fast, “It’s boom or bust in Pioche!” About six thousand people descended on the new born town in months. Living quarters were so scarce that the most common kind of residence was a tent house. A tent house was a canvas tent boarded up around the sides about three feet high to protect the resident from the cold. When a man needed to move on he could take this dwelling with him.

Pioche soon became the scene of a wild rush of prospectors and fortune seekers and gained a reputation in the 1870’s for tough gunmen and bitter lawsuits. There were more than 200 victims of fast guns, knife fights and vigilante ropes.

For example, D.A. Myendorff shot George M. Harris for slapping him across the face. Myendorff was tried and acquitted. James Butler was killed by Special Officer Shea because of insulting and threatening language. Once more the shooter was acquitted.

Franklin A. Buck (“A Yankee Trader in the Gold Rush”), a college-educated businessman from California, wrote his sister a letter from Pioche, from which the following was taken:

“November 3, 1870

“About one-half of the community are thieves, scoundrels and murderers and then we have some of the best folks in the world, and I don’t know but our lives and property are just as safe as with you. You can go uptown and get shot very easily if you choose, or you can live peacefully. I will send you a paper with an account of the last fight…I was in hopes eight or ten would have been killed at least, as these fights are a pest in the community.”

A wild life style were not the only problems for Pioche. Fire has plagued the town’s history. On September 15, 1871, while celebrating Mexican Independence, a restaurant caught fire and within a couple of hours the town burned down. Two thousand people were left homeless. Three hundred kegs of powder stored in the cellar of a local store exploded killing thirteen men, and wounding about fifty.

However the mines survived, and mining supported Pioche. The mines themselves contributed to the violence of the town. On December 28, 1872, Thomas Ryan was killed at Pioche in an underground fight between employees of the Raymond and Ely, and Pioche Phoenix Mining Companies. No one was punished for this deed.

The next day Charles Swanson was fatally shot by some unknown person as he was on his way to work in the Raymond and Ely mine. Guards were posted about the works. A reward of $1,650 was offered for the arrest of his slayer but he was never found.

In 1871 Pioche was designated as the seat of Lincoln County, Nevada, bringing government to Pioche, and corruption. The most notorious example of the excesses of the day still stands. The “Million Dollar” Lincoln County Courthouse was built in 1871 at an original estimated cost of $16,400.00. Between broken contracts, inflated material costs, declining mining and tax revenue, interest on bond payment, the building cost one million dollars by the time it was finally paid off in 1937 (66 years later).

On September 17, 1870, the first newspaper came to Pioche. The Ely Record was issued on a weekly basis by W. H. Pitchford and Co. from a canvas tent. Pat Holland (an acquaintance of Mark Twain) bought the paper on October 8, and Robert W. Simpson became his partner the following week. The Pioche Record was born. The paper would survive until 1908.

Even newspaper editors couldn’t stay out of the gun battles in Pioche. In 1877 (according to an account in The Salt Lake Herald) Pat Holland, the former proprietor of the Pioche Record, and then a traveling correspondent for the Virginia Enterprise, became embroiled in a gun battle with George T. Gorman, the current editor of the Record. An article in the morning Record sparked the trouble.

On the afternoon the article appeared, Holland created an elaborate poster with colorful penciling, and more colorful language which he tacked to the side of the Eldorado Saloon. When Gorman returned and saw this poster, he went looking for Holland.

The two men met about eight that evening at the doorway of the Eldorado, both armed with pistols. The Herald reported: “Holland’s pistol fired prematurely while he pulled it from his pocket. Gorman then got in two shots. Holland’s pistol now failed to fire, whereupon he coolly placed it on his knee, rearranged the trigger and it went off, grazing his hand. The two men were within ten feet of each other for the first five shots and did all the shooting around the center post of the saloon door. Holland ran through the back door, Gorman firing one shot after him.”

At the height of the boom Pioche had four different stage lines. Gilmour & Sullivan ran a stage line from Salt Lake to Beaver, and from Beaver to Pioche, with stops at Greenville, Adamville, Minerville, Sulpher Springs, Mt. Springs, Dessert Springs, Clover Valley, Bullionville, and Bennett Springs.

Another route ran from Hamilton to Oceola and down the west side of Mt. Wilson to Pioche.    Mr. Gilmour had another route that ran from Hamilton to Pioche. The exact route changed several times, as new silver camps opened. The fourth line was from Bullionville and Panaca to Pioche and back–twice a day.

The stagecoaches carried freight in and out of Pioche, and the silver to the railhead at Milford Utah, seventy miles across the mountains.

It wasn’t unusual for the stage to be carrying $200,000 to $300,000 in silver. Some enterprising people couldn’t resist the temptation. In one case the incoming stage was robbed just outside Pioche. Two hours later, when the stage left Pioche, it was robbed again–by the same robber.

To combat the robberies the mines started to pour the silver into 200 pound bars for shipping. If this didn’t discourage the robber, at least it would tire out his horse.

The railroads sort of came to Pioche.  The Utah Central/Utah Southern built a line between Salt Lake City and Milford, completed in 1880. The Utah and Pacific Railroad build a line between Milford and the Nevada state line. By 1888, Union Pacific had purchased these lines and run a line to Panaca, and up to Bullionville.

Bullionville, located about 10 miles south of Pioche, was established in 1870 to mill ore because of its plentiful water supply. A twenty-one mile narrow gauge railroad from the Pioche to Bullionville was completed in 1873 to haul ore. When a water works was constructed in Pioche Bullionville faded away.

As with most boom towns, the silver ran out and the population departed. Since Pioche was the county seat it survived the hard times as a supply and government center for a vast area, but by 1900 Pioche was almost a ghost town.

The town prospered again during World War II when its deposits of lead-zinc were developed. The government considered its mines essential so the miners were given exemption from military duty. Today, you don’t have to take a two day ride in a stage coach to reach Pioche. It’s on a main highway.


To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

The Man who wrote ‘The Man with a Hoe’

I found this fascinating. I knew the poem but not the author until I looked him up in Wikipedia.


A Poet  Laureate for the state of Oregon and now most of his work has been forgotten. Do you want to read more of his poetry?


by Edwin Markham (1852-1940)

He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

For further poems go to :



To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net




The Man with a Hoe

This is a particular Parlor Poem that my father made me memorize. He  believed in the memorization of poetry and could recite poetry for hours. I lack that capacity.

The poem is as follows

The Man with a Hoe

by Edwin Markham

Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans
Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,
The emptiness of ages in his face,
And on his back, the burden of the world.
Who made him dead to rapture and despair,
A thing that grieves not and that never hopes,
Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?
Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?
Whose was the hand that slanted back this brow?
Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?

Is this the Thing the Lord God made and gave
To have dominion over sea and land;
To trace the stars and search the heavens for power;
To feel the passion of Eternity?
Is this the dream He dreamed who shaped the suns
And marked their ways upon the ancient deep?
Down all the caverns of Hell to their last gulf
There is no shape more terrible than this–
More tongued with cries against the world’s blind greed–
More filled with signs and portents for the soul–
More packed with danger to the universe.

What gulfs between him and the seraphim!
Slave of the wheel of labor, what to him
Are Plato and the swing of the Pleiades?
What the long reaches of the peaks of song,
The rift of dawn, the reddening of the rose?
Through this dread shape the suffering ages look;
Time’s tragedy is in that aching stoop;
Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,
Plundered, profaned and disinherited,
Cries protest to the Powers that made the world,
A protest that is also prophecy.

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
Is this the handiwork you give to God,
This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched?
How will you ever straighten up this shape;
Touch it again with immortality;
Give back the upward looking and the light;
Rebuild in it the music and the dream;
Make right the immemorial infamies,
Perfidious wrongs, immedicable woes?

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
How will the future reckon with this Man?
How answer his brute question in that hour
When whirlwinds of rebellion shake all shores?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings–
With those who shaped him to the thing he is–
When this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world,
After the silence of the centuries?

The poem that inspired this poem is current part of the in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum.


To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

Parlor Poetry

During the 19th century, most home entertainment was created by people at home. Some sang, others played instruments. However, no matter how lacking in talent, anyone with a voice could recite poetry.

The poems they recited were simple ones, easy to memorize, and ones that conveyed strong emotions. Some were written by the likes of Edgar Alan Poe, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Others were written by poets known only for a single work. If you see such a collection in your library or bookstore, pick it up.


To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net