April 22, 2020, is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Inspired by the anti-war movement of the 1960s, this now-global effort was first introduced by Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970. Nelson encouraged teach-ins on school campuses in the wake of rising awareness about pollution and its effect on public health and the planet, and millions of Americans joined in for the cause with classes, demonstrations, and projects.
The first Earth Day drastically raised public interest in conserving the environment and reducing pollutants. It’s considered to have begun the modern environmental movement. As the clipping below states, it is now the largest civic observance in the world.
Now a global effort each April, Earth Day is given a focused theme. The theme for 2020 is “climate action,” with a focus on digital involvement. Have you participated in observances before? How do you join in?
It’s 2020, which means another Leap Year is upon us once again! For an event that only shows up once every four(ish) years, traditions associated with it are fairly scattered and inconsistent. But if any one tradition is firmly tied to Leap Year, it’s that of women proposing.
Here’s some history on how that might have come to be.
What’s a single young man to do if he must say no to a proposal? Give the young lady an apology gift, of course. The payment of a silk dress is a common recurring part of the proposal tradition.
The idea of a payment for spurned proposals is reinforced in this next part of Leap Year lore. As the story goes, in the year 1288, Queen Margaret of Scotland made it law that a man who dared turn down a perfectly good proposal without proof that he was already otherwise spoken for must pay—quite literally.
Yet, despite the very specific year of 1288 and decades of dedicated historian research, no such law has ever been proven to exist. Not only that, but the actual Queen Margaret on whom this legend is based was born in 1283, making her 5 years old at the time of the law. So this bit of Leap Year history is almost certainly nothing more than a fun bit of mythical trivia.
The Scarlet Petticoat
Perhaps as a reaction to all of these rules for the proposee, a more recent bit of lore adds a restriction for the ladies. Sure, a man must still pay for refusing, but the whole transaction could be nullified for the lack of a bright red petticoat.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this tradition based on open season-style female proposals has often been derided in articles, cartoons, post cards and more over the decades. Men were considered, generally, to not be fans of the whole idea. Cartoonist Al Capp even played off the whole idea in his comic Li’l Abner, leading to the creation of Sadie Hawkins Day.
Many women looked down on it as well, thinking it made girls unbecomingly bold to the point of being embarrassing for all involved.
Now, as gender roles shift and progress, the idea of the “Leap Year Girl” doing things she could never otherwise do is fading into the past. Who knows but that the tradition will continue to change with it?
Groundhog Day 2020 is just around the corner (on February 2nd, for those curious). With it comes the usual hullabaloo surrounding the noble groundhog and his mystical weather predictions. But while groundhogs are firmly established as the main prognosticators in U.S. culture, they are fairly new to the centuries-old prediction game.
Groundhogs only have their current job thanks to their predecessors: badgers. It was only because groundhogs were more easily found in the United States that the groundhog entered the shadow-seeing spotlight.
BEARS OF ALL SORTS
Bears have also had their fair share of predicting the weather. How that worked, exactly, is unclear. It seems unlikely that crowds of people were standing around waiting for a bear to emerge as is done with the groundhog today.
This next clipping takes an entirely different direction. Shadows are cast aside in favor of a furrier approach. Unfortunately for Snow Star, the prognosticating zoo bear, her thin winter coat gave an unreliable prediction.
For almost half of every year, Norway’s valley town of Rjukan sees no direct sunlight. Cable cars to the mountaintop allow residents to seek out sun in high places, but in 2013 the town found a way to bring the sun to them.
Though this project was completed in 2013, it actually began over a century ago with a man named Sam Eyde. Eyde’s name is very familiar to those living in Rjukan; his work using the Rjukan falls for hydropower and the development of saltpeter led to the creation of Rjukan as an industrial town between 1906 and 1916.
It wasn’t long before Eyde realized that the people had given up half a year of sunlight to work at Norsk Hydro. From necessity came this new and incredible plan: bring the sunlight to the people with giant mountaintop mirrors. Eyde supported early efforts to make this plan a reality, but nothing stuck.
In 1928, Eyde decided that if the sun wouldn’t come to the valley, he could bring the people of Rjukan to the sun. He had a cable car built. It gave access to magnificent views of the valley, and still does to this day. And at the time it was the residents’ only way to feel the sun on their faces during the long winter.
A Plan Realized
In the end, the cable car remained the sole method of getting some much-needed vitamin D for decades. But the mirror plan was not forgotten. Funding, tech, and time finally lined up to make it possible in the 21st century. And while some residents think it’s a bit silly—a tourist attraction more than anything else—the town square was filled with people ready to feel the sun’s rays at the official opening in late 2013.
From Kwanzaa candles to Christmas’s electric festoons, end-of-year holidays bring light to the northern hemisphere’s darkest months. Light crackling and twinkling merrily against a frozen winter backdrop is a promise of warmth to come, both physically and metaphorically, and humanity has many traditions to celebrate that promise.
Heat the Hearth
The tradition of burning a yule log to celebrate the winter solstice hearkens back to pre-medieval times. The practice cleared the air, so to speak, of the past year, and merry-makers welcomed the return of spring. Like many wintertime traditions, this one was eventually adopted into Christian celebrations. The logs grew smaller to match shrinking fireplaces, and for many the practice of baking log-shaped cakes replaced the original burning tradition.
Christmas trees were traditionally lit with candles, despite the risk of fire and the fiddly nature of trying to place candles on unstable branches. One legend claims Martin Luther, historic figure of the Protestant Reformation, was the first to so trim a tree.
In 1882, Christmas went electric when Edward Johnson, VP of the Edison Electric Light Company, displayed a tree in his New York home illuminated with electric lights. President Grover Cleveland’s family Christmas tree shone bright with multicolored bulbs in 1894.
The bright shine of festive electricity remained out of reach for most until the turn of the century, when slightly more affordable pre-wired string lights made an appearance. General Electric was the first to introduce them in 1903. But when their attempt to patent the invention fell through, the market opened to competitors and prices began to drop.
What yearly traditions bring light to your winter days?
H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds has been, since its publication in 1898, one of fiction’s most lasting science-fiction stories. In 1938 a radio broadcast of the novel famously caused real-life panic. Multiple movie adaptations have brought the horror of the tripods into modern settings. And this year’s new BBC television series takes the story back to 1905, just a handful of years after the book’s first publication.
Setting this story in a time very like H.G. Wells’ own makes the technological superiority of the Martians all the more clear. It may also better emphasize the destruction of comfortable structure—a society of rules and customs—by a force that simply doesn’t care.
And yet the horror of The War of the Worlds transcends generations and even technology. Orson Welles, who directed and narrated the 1938 radio performance that made such a stir, expressed surprise at listeners’ reactions. He’d worried the story might seem “too old-fashioned.” But the frenzied fear of invasion that resulted just goes to show how pertinent such stories can remain decades—and centuries—later.
Perhaps the greatest reason for this was Wells’ emphasis on surrounding the fictional with the real. His stories were called “scientific romances,” an acknowledgement of the inspiration he found in scientifically-based speculation. He gave his aliens evolutionary traits, reasons for their existence and appearance, and even based their defeat on science we’ve witnessed in our own Earth-bound history. And among all this science was sprinkled a healthy dose of humanity, in which readers, listeners, and viewers see themselves and people they know.
H.G. Wells had flaws too, which are reflected in his work. Women play little part in his stories, a fact he acknowledged in this contemporary interview, and that is remedied in the new BBC series. He held many troubling beliefs on race and religion. And as the article above states, some found and continue to find his endings too sentimental, and some plot points irrelevant. Nevertheless, H. G. Wells and his stories continue to fascinate and inspire more than a century later, which is perhaps the best review an author can hope for.
Find more clippings about H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds and similar topics with a search on Newspapers.com.
The residence’s owner, Mr. Smith, appeared to be a level-headed, logical sort of man. But when a skeptical reporter visited the house nearly a week later, as reported in the article below, Mr. Smith was too nervous to be interviewed and believed the disturbances to be the work of an evil spirit.
It’s a testament to the lasting power of Nancy Drew that yet another screen reincarnation of the beloved book sleuth is on her way. The character may be closing in on 100 years of existence, but many readers today still fondly remember following Nancy through many mysteries. Not all have loved Nancy Drew from the beginning. But she couldn’t be taken down, thanks in part to the teenage girls who channeled their heroine and saved the day.
Not Just Nancy Drew
In the early 1900s, a literary war was being waged on “nickel novels.” Mostly aimed at boy scouts, these novels were considered by librarians to be a “menace of mediocrity.” Rather more graphically, they were thought to “blow out, shoot to pieces, or burn out boy’s imaginations.” It was thought the average 10-year-old ought to turn their sights to higher literature.
Nancy Drew would not be published until 1930, but this was just the beginning of a controversy that would dog series books for decades to come.
The instant popularity of Nancy Drew novels painted a target on the series’ back. By 1933 there were already ten titles to her name, and young girls loved them. But these .50 novels, considered successors to the nickel and dime novels, were still being fought against primarily by librarians. One even called them “devices of Satan.” This article from 1944 shows librarians left them out of the stacks because of too-similar plots and impossible situations:
The 60s saw another wave of parent and librarian disdain for the popular series, while readers continued to be infatuated with Nancy’s cleverness and moxie. When papers shared negative opinions about the “literary garbage” that was Nancy Drew, readers gave back as good as they got:
The books were still removed from many libraries, but they could not be kept away from eager readers completely. In time the fervor of fans and changing attitudes toward literature would soften the fight for reform.
Ultimately, it’s hard to argue with the evidence of pure enjoyment, as this columnist found. Nancy Drew books got people reading; they were simply a good time. Decades have passed, times have changed, and now reading for fun is not so often considered a moral failing. In fact, Nancy has become a role model for many women across generations.
There have been 5 feature films made about Nancy Drew, and October 9th’s new CW series will be the third attempt to bring Nancy to life on television. It just goes to show that 89 years has done little to dampen the love for literature’s favorite teenage sleuthing lass. Are you a fan?
Notice the Clues?
If you like solving puzzles and decoding clues, give this one a try to find a clipping of a real-life Nancy Drew situation on Newspapers.com:
1. Unscramble the bold letters in the “Not Just Nancy Drew” section for the month and date to search.
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2. Unscramble the bold letters in the “Nancy Comes to Life” section for the year and the name of the paper. (Hint: each paragraph contains one word)
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_ _ _ _ _ | _ _ _ _ _ _ | _ _ _ _
3. Unscramble the bold letters in the “Nancy Drew Endures” section for the Find/Search term to look for on Page 7. (Hint: each paragraph contains one word)
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ | _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
(Click here to skip the clues and go straight to the clipping.)
And If you liked this post, try one of these next:
This weekend’s release of the new Downton Abbey film will bring fans back to the sweeping grounds and grand halls of England’s Highclere Castle. This stunning edifice serves as the real-life setting of the fictional Crawley home. And if walls could talk, Highclere Castle would tell a few compelling stories of its own—especially about its best-known occupants: George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, and his wife, Almina.
Highclere was almost entirely rebuilt in 1842-1849 on the bones of an older house, which in turn was built on the foundations of a medieval palace. The castle, on it’s 5,000 acres of beautiful park-like land, serves as the country seat of the Earl of Carnarvon. Here George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon was born. Perhaps his birth was accompanied by the Highclere tradition where 500 gallons of beer are brewed to remain unopened until the heir “attains his majority. (The clipping below refers to the birth of George Herbert’s son, Henry Herbert.)
Lord Carnarvon married Almina Wombwell—the illegitimate daughter of millionaire Alfred de Rothschild—on June 26, 1895. Her connections left her with plenty of wealth, which would play a significant role throughout her life. Downton Abbey watchers may recognize Cora Crawley—an heiress who marries into a titled family—is loosely based on Almina. And the similarities don’t end there.
At the start of World War I, just as in the show, Highclere Castle was converted into a hospital.
But later wealth came, as it so often does, with scandal. In the mid-1920s, shortly after her husband’s death, Lady Carnarvon married a Colonel Dennistoun. Dennistoun’s ex-wife drew the wealthy Almina into a high-profile court case, demanding Dennistoun pay the alimony he owed her from their divorce. The case was splashed across papers for months, and every move Lady Carnarvon made was scrutinized (as seen by the clipping below). In the end, the jury ruled that no payment was required from the new couple.
The most sensational story in this history is that of Lord Carnarvon. He was an avid Egyptologist who–with the help of his wife—funded the expedition that would discover Tut’s Tomb. Lord Carnarvon traveled to Egypt in late 1922. He was one of the first in modern times to see it opened, and to enter within.
Five months later he was dead, the victim of a bad mosquito bite gone wrong. But with his recent visit to Tutankhamen’s tomb on everyone’s minds (and with a little help from a certain superstitious author), the idea of a mummy’s curse entered popular culture. And Lord Carnarvon was its unfortunate poster child.
Lord Carnarvon himself may not be directly mirrored in any of the show’s characters, but his love of Egypt is. All of the fictional Lord Grantham’s four-legged companions have Egyptian names.
The history of Highclere Castle is, of course, much longer and more complicated than anything shared here. Perhaps the Downton Abbey film will provide further glimpses into the non-fictional past of its iconic castle backdrop and the real-life people who walked its halls.