Six Out of Seven Ain’t Too Shabby

Screen shot 2014-04-30 at 3.55.33 PMThanks to Statcounter I am pleased to report that Keith Harris History now has readers on six out of the seven continents. How about that!!! Worldwide readership.

The thing is – I feel that Antarctica is kinda missing out. So I am calling on you my Antarctic friends!! Aren’t you interested in American history?? I promise – it is really REALLY fascinating. I think if you give it a chance, you will be as captivated as I am.

So come on – don’t get left behind. Check it out.

With compliments,

Keith

Is There Any Other “Copse” of Trees?

Screen shot 2014-04-28 at 4.27.32 PMMention the copse to anyone with even a passing knowledge of the Civil War and that person will know precisely to what you are referring. The copse…or rather, Copse of Trees is of course the culminating point of Longstreet’s famed assault – known to most as Pickett’s Charge – on Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg…what many believe was the turning point of the Civil War.

But why copse? Why not “patch” or “grove” or “thicket” or something like that? It seems that the word was selected for this particular growth of trees by historian/artist John B. Bachelder back in 1870 – in a book detailing a painting on the repulse of Longstreet’s Assault (at least that is the earliest reference that I am aware of). And the name stuck. As the Battle of Gettysburg ascended higher and higher again into American lore and legend, the copse became The Copse of mythic proportions.

So by my estimation, this little stand of trees has ruined the word for any other copses out there. That is all well and good, I suppose. I mean, no one really uses the word any more to refer to other trees…so what’s the trouble with having only one copse? Maybe other small groves of trees should go by the term “coppice.” It’s almost the same and such a reference won’t confuse any Civil War enthusiasts who happen to be nearby.

With compliments,

Keith

February 24th 1942 – a date which will live in obscurity: The Battle of Los Angeles

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 11.44.44 AMMy analysis today is even less heavy-handed than usual. You know…I spend a lot of time wading waist deep in academic nitwittery and today I feel like telling an interesting story – just because.

I sort of stumbled upon this story while looking into Los Angeles during WWII. So imagine this: you live on the west coast of the United States. It is February 1942 – on the heels of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. The country is at war and excitement is sweeping across the land. Another attack seems eminent. The people of Los Angeles are bracing themselves for the next onslaught…

Did you ever see the 1979 Steven Spielberg film 1941? It starred John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy and other well-known comedic actors of the time. It is a fictional tale of a renegade Japanese submarine commander intent on attacking Hollywood, and a group of Los Angeles residents running amok in the first days of war.

Well, 1941 is laden with disturbing racial stereotypes (Hooorrryyyywoooo!!!!!!) meant (I believe) to convey Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 11.44.25 AMwar-era Americans’ perception of Japanese people rather than vulgar racist jabs. But racial analysis aside, I think Spielberg did a wonderful job capturing the hysteria that gripped the west coast in the early days of war. And as an added bonus, John Belushi is superb as fighter pilot Captain Wild Bill Kelso. You have to love the scene where he strafes Hollywood Blvd in his Custiss P-40 Warhawk. While the film received low marks from critics and audiences alike, I would recommend it nevertheless. It is a first-rate fictional tale and a visually stunning period piece.

But the truth is, the film wasn’t really that much of a stretch. Something along these lines actually (kind of) happened way back on February 24th 1942. It seems that reports of a Japanese air raid sent the good citizens of LA into hysterics. That evening, radar picked up several unidentified objects closing in on the Los Angeles area. After a bit, an artillery colonel reported enemy planes (although the radar blips had vanished) flying 12,000 feet above LA. This prompted coastal defense teams to send up flares and open up with a barrage of anti-aircraft fire. Four enemy planes were reported shot down, including one that was supposed to have crash landed on Hollywood Blvd.

People watched the scene unfold from rooftops and as the excitement persisted…they freaked out. Cars crashed, shell fragments fell on the city, and at least one person had a heart attack and died. But there was no attack, no enemy planes shot down, and no explanation for why coastal defense crews opened fire. Just a couple of unexplained blips, some spotlights, and a whole lot of artillery fire. The next day the Washington Post referred to the “battle” as a “recipe for jitters” and the New York Times simply stated that the event was “expensive incompetence and jitters.”

Well, call it what you want. At any rate…it is certainly a good story. I keep finding all kinds of little tidbits about LA during the war. Perhaps a short book is in order….

With compliments,

Keith

Moronic Party Politicking

 

Screen shot 2014-04-14 at 7.45.27 AMFor my latest installment on how not to be a moron during the next election season I offer you this painfully misleading political meme. Yes, Democrats did indeed write, promote, and enforce Jim Crow laws in the segregated South during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One thing that this meme does not mention, however, is that during this particular period the Democratic Party was – hang on boys and girls – the conservative party. Conservatives during this period were quite adamant about keeping black folks in their “place” after the Republican Party (quite progressively, if you ask me) passed a few Constitutional amendments guaranteeing black people basic citizenship rights. In fact, conservatives did everything they could in the post Civil War decades to insure that free blacks were reduced to slavery in all but name. I’ll put things simply if you are not following along: Democratic Party in the nineteenth century = conservative party. Well, that sort of changes things doesn’t it?

For those of you party politickers (on either side) who think you have stumbled on to something clever and can’t wait to embarrass the living hell out of the opposition…I counsel you to think first about context and to consider that history is quite dynamic. Extracting some bit of information from the past and applying it to a twenty-first century situation is well…ahistorical. (and not that clever at all).

With compliments,

Keith

A Beastly Chamber Pot

Screen shot 2014-04-21 at 2.23.54 PMThe other day I jokingly mentioned on the usual social media platforms that I was in the market for a good chamber pot. It seems my bathroom is out of commission for a while so an army of plumbers and various other contractors can continue plying their avocations for the next several weeks as I slowly get a new water closet. In the meantime, I’m using my next-door neighbor’s private pilates studio to take care of business.

Why is this important? Well, in response to my inquiry, several of my Internet friends reminded me of the infamous “Beast Butler” chamber pots available to the loyal citizens of Civil War era New Orleans. It seems that once Union forces seized control of the city in early 1862, incensed New Orleans belles would empty their chamber pots on the heads of Union soldiers passing below their windows. The Federal commander, one Benjamin F. Butler, issued an order stating any woman caught performing such a heinous act would be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation. Well, suggesting that chamber-pot emptying southern ladies were prostitutes was a bit much, at least to the good citizens of the Crescent City. Capitalizing on the event, enterprising entrepreneurs, seeing a need and filling it, came up with the Beast chamber pot with the general’s image right smack in the bottom. Perfect for target practice.

With compliments,

Keith