Index cards are mostly obsolete nowadays. We use them to create flash cards, write recipes, and occasionally fold them up into cool paper airplanes. But their original purpose was nothing less than organizing and classifying every known animal, plant, and mineral in the world. Later, they formed the backbone of the library system, allowing us to index vast sums of information and inadvertently creating many of the underlying ideas that allowed the Internet to flourish…
How Carl Linnaeus, the author of Systema Naturae and father of modern taxonomy, created index cards… and how they enabled libraries as we know them, and in the process, laid the groundwork for the Web: “How the Humble Index Card Foresaw the Internet.”
* Lewis Carroll (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)
As we do ’em up Dewey style, we might recall that it was on this date in 1991 that the handwritten script of the first half of the original draft of Huckleberry Finn, which included Twain’s own handwritten corrections, was recovered. Missing for over a hundred years, it was found by a 62-year old librarian in Los Angeles, who discovered it as sorted through her grandfather’s papers sent to her from upstate New York. Her grandfather, james Gluck, a Buffalo lawyer and collector of rare books and manuscripts, to whom Twain sent the manuscript in 1887, had requested the manuscript for the town’s library, now called the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library (where the second half of the manuscript has been all along).
Gluck apparently took the first half from the library, intending to have it bound, but failed to return it. He died the following year; and the manuscript, which had no library markings, was turned over to his widow by the executors of the estate. She eventually moved to California to be near her daughter, taking the trunk containing the manuscript went with her. It was finally opened by her granddaughter, Barbara Testa.
Accurately imagining what the world will be like one hundred years in the future is always going to be fraught with difficulties (see this attempt, and also this). The writer of this piece “London a Hundred Years Hence”, which appeared in an 1857 edition of The Leisure Hour, certainly swayed a little off the mark when it comes to an imagining of 1957 London – sadly in being a little too utopian. In addition to the eradication of all poverty and crime, the author talks of a smoke-free city, and the “crystal waters” of the Thames, with fishes seen darting over the “the clear sand and white pebbles lying at the bottom”. However, the vision is surprisingly accurate in other quarters. In addition to predicting the vast geographical expansion of the city in which “Kew and Hammersmith were London; Lewisham and Blackheath were London; Woolwich and Blackwall were London”, it also gets it right with specifics, such as the building of Embankment (which would actually begin only five years after the piece was published): “instead of shelving shores of mud, I saw solid walls of granite, … part paved for wheel-carriages, and part a gravelled promenade for the citizens”. There is also a foreseeing of the shopping mall:
I beheld vast associative stores, the depositories of the skilled worker in every craft, where all that talent could invent or industry produce was displayed in magnificent abundance beneath one ample roof. One shop of this kind for each single branch of commerce sufficed for a large district, and the decreased expenditure in rent, fittings, and service, reduced the cost of management, and consequently the price of products … The purchaser walked through long galleries, where, ranged in orderly array, glittered and gleamed the gold, the gems, the jewels of every clime.
The piece is really notable, however, for its anticipation (albeit a little too early for 1957) of internet shopping:
I observed that from each of these district shops innumerable electric wires branched off in all directions, communicating with several houses in the district to which it belonged. Thus, no sooner did a house-keeper stand in need of any article than she could despatch the order instantaneously along the wire, and receive the goods by the very first railway carriage that happened to pass the store. Thus, she saved her time, and she lost no money, because all chaffering and cheapening, and that fencing between buyer and seller, which was once deemed a pleasure, had been long voted a disgraceful, demoralizing nuisance, and was done away with.
And then also the connectivity across distances which the telephone, and then internet, would bring:
The electric wires ran along the fronts of the houses near the upper stories, crossing the streets at an elevation at which they were scarcely visible from below; and I noticed that the dwellings of friends, kindred, and intimates were thus banded together, not only throughout the whole vast city, but even far out into the provinces, and, in cases where the parties were wealthy, to the uttermost limits of the realm.
More at “London a Hundred Years Hence (1857),” where one will find the full text and links to scans of the original.
* Samuel Johnson, as quoted in Boswell’s
As we look right, we might recall that it was on this date in 1967 that Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Marianne faithful, and friends were busted:
Just after eight o’clock, on the evening of February 12 1967, the West Sussex police arrived at Keith Richards’ home, Redlands. Inside, Keith and his guests – including Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, the gallery owner Robert Fraser, and “Acid King” David Schneiderman – shared in the quiet warmth of a day taking LSD. Relaxed, they listened to music, oblivious to the police gathering outside. The first intimation something was about to happen came when a face appeared, pressed against the window.
It must be a fan. Who else could it be? But Keith noticed it was a “little old lady.” Strange kind of fan. If we ignore her. She’ll go away.
Then it came, a loud, urgent banging on the front door. Robert Fraser quipped, “Don’t answer. It must be tradesmen. Gentlemen ring up first.” Marianne Faithfull whispered, “If we don’t make any noise, if we’re all really quiet, they’ll go away.” But they didn’t.
When Richards opened the door, he was confronted by 18 police officers led by Police Chief Inspector Gordon Dinely, who presented Richards with a warrant to “search the premises and the persons in them, under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965.”
This then was the start to the infamous trial of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Robert Fraser…
[More at “The Great Rolling Stones Drug Bust“]
“I would be the most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves”*…
Before the early 20th century, public libraries typically used wooden bookcases with fixed shelves to house their volumes. In the 1910s, new public literacy initiatives like Andrew Carnegie’s library-building projects, as well as institutional expansions at the Library of Congress and many universities, drove the need for a different kind of library shelf. The new wave of libraries—bigger and more comprehensive than their predecessors—needed bookshelves that could accommodate their rapidly growing collections of books. The New York Public Library, for example, installed 75 miles of new bookshelves in 1910 in preparation of its grand opening the next year. And the shelves from earlier decades simply weren’t going to cut it.
So where were these new libraries going to get bookshelves that were up to the challenge? Snead & Company, of Louisville, Kentucky, was a cast-iron works business that manufactured everything from window frames to tea kettles to girders to spittoons. In the 1890s, the company took its expertise in metal work and turned its attention to the design of bookshelves, when it became apparent that metal shelves offered a unique solution to the turn-of-the century’s bookshelf crisis. From 1890–1950, Snead & Company designed, patented, manufactured, and installed an unprecedented measure of shelves, generating hundreds of miles of new shelf space.
Snead shelves were multi-tiered, self-supporting bookstacks that, simply put, allowed more books to be packed onto more shelves. The bookshelves were architectural as well as aesthetic. Snead bookstacks were characterized by narrow aisles with very closely spaced shelves. The stacks rested on marble, glass, or slate slabs that were robust enough to support the massive weight of the shelves and the books they housed. The bookshelves had a “z” notch that would allow each shelf to be moved up and down to best deal with the height of the books being stored there. Early Snead bookstacks were built out of exposed steel or cast-iron columns that served as structural reinforcements for the building.
Snead & Company dominated the bookshelf industry for two generations. The company’s influence on the American bookscape diminished in the 1950s—due, in no small part, to the changing nature of library design, which de-emphasized large public institutions in favor of smaller library buildings. But Snead & Company’s behemoth bookshelves are still housing books at countless older libraries across the country, from the Library of Congress to University of Michigan…
More, from the redoubtable Rebecca Onion, at “How One Company Designed the Bookshelves that Made America’s Biggest Libraries Possible.”
* Anna Quindlen
As we agree with Anthony Powell that “Books Do Furnish a Room,” we might send soaring birthday greetings to Mary Violet Leontyne Price; she was born on this date in 1927 (though yesterday’s date in given by some sources). As a child in Laurel, Mississippi, Price played the piano and sang in her church’s choir through high school, then headed to Wilberforce College (in Ohio), where she began training to b a music teacher. Her singing talent got her an audition at Julliard; Paul Robeson performed a benefit to her her with the tuition. She rose to international acclaim in the 1950s and 1960s, one of the first African Americans to become a leading artist at the Metropolitan Opera. Among her many honors are the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1964), the Spingarn Medal (1965), the Kennedy Center Honors (1980), the National Medal of Arts (1985), numerous honorary degrees, and 19 Grammy Awards (13 for operatic or song recitals, five for full operas, and a special Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989– more than any other classical singer). In October 2008, she was one of the recipients of the first Opera Honors given by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Though routinely credited, as above, as “Film Editor,” Tregoweth Edmond “Treg” Brown was the genius sound-effects wizard responsible for sound editing the Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons starting in 1936…
His musique concrète artistry worked directly in conjunction with Carl Stalling‘s hyper-active left-field orchestral scores to create the soundtrack to generations of kids lives. So many of these sounds are completely ingrained into our collective pop-culture (un)consciousness. So much so, that reviewing some of the old Looney Tunes cartoons as an adult, you tend to ignore how utterly ridiculous the doinks and twangs are, for they sound totally natural in context—a testament to Brown’s flawless editing of sounds demanded by the images.
In addition to his incredible sound design which won him a Sound Effects Oscar in 1965 for The Great Race, Brown is also credited with giving legendary Warner Brothers’ voice actor Mel Blanc his big break…
More at “The Sound Effects Madman Behind the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies Cartoons.” And much more– with wonderful examples– in this short documentary (part 2 here):
* David Lynch
As we perk up our ears, we might send melodic birthday greetings to Jerrald King “Jerry” Goldsmith; he was born on this date in 1929. One of film and television”s most accomplished composers and conductors, Goldsmith scored such noteworthy films as The Sand Pebbles, Logan’s Run, Planet of the Apes, Patton, Papillon, Chinatown, The Wind and the Lion, The Omen, The Boys from Brazil, Alien, Poltergeist, The Secret of NIMH, Gremlins, Hoosiers, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Rudy, Air Force One, L.A. Confidential, Mulan, The Mummy, three Rambo films, and five Star Trek films– in a career during which he was nominated for six Grammy Awards, five Primetime Emmy Awards, nine Golden Globe Awards, four British Academy Film Awards, and eighteen Academy Awards. In 1976, he was awarded an Oscar for The Omen.
While presenting Goldsmith with a Career Achievement Award from the Society for the Preservation of Film Music in 1993, fellow composer Henry Mancini (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Pink Panther) said of Goldsmith, “… he has instilled two things in his colleagues in this town. One thing he does, he keeps us honest. And the second one is he scares the hell out of us.”
“It’s really hard to imagine there ever being the kind of impact there was when punk rock happened in the late 70’s”*…
The late 1970s pulsated with an electric energy. Conceptual art and interdisciplinary art replaced Minimal Art. Rock musicians and artists alike were graduating from art schools. Painters were making films. Writers were doing performance art. Sculptors were doing installations. Artists were acting in films, making music and collaborating with each other.
It was in this milieu that I taught photography at Queens College and NYU by day and went out every night to hear music at CBGB’s, Max’s and the Mudd Club, which was also a venue for various artistic events, film showings, readings and theme parties. Guilty at spending so much time in clubs, I convinced myself that my photographic forays into the night, were my art. After taking candid pictures backstage or in dressing rooms at clubs, I would often invite people to my studio for photo sessions where atmosphere could be generated, lighting could be manipulated and props could be employed. My work with the Soho Weekly News, New York Magazine and other periodicals gave me access to photograph people who were well known in the popular culture…
Photographer Marcia Resnick recalls her career, and explains the story behind her new book:
More bad boys (and girls) on Resnick’s site.
* “It’s really hard to imagine there ever being the kind of impact there was when punk rock happened in the late 70’s. I wish there would be one big change like that again, but I don’t know if that’ll ever happen.” – Penelope Spheeris
As we strike a pose, we might send tuneful birthday greetings to Barry Mann; he was born on this date in 1939. With his wife, Cynthia Weil, Mann wrote scores of hit songs including “On Broadway” for the Drifters, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” and “(You’re My) Soul And Inspiration” for the Righteous Brothers, “Kicks” and “Hungry” for Paul Revere & the Raiders, “We’ve Gotta’ Get Out Of This Place” for the Animals, “Walkin’ In The Rain” for the Ronettes, and “Blame It On The Bossa Nova” for Eydie Gorme, Mann and Weil are members of both the Songwriters and the Rock and Roll Halls of Fame.
As the U.S. remained mired in an economic depression in 1896, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (commonly known as “the Katy” line) faced two major problems: how to boost revenue and ticket sales amid increasing competition in the rail industry and what to do with an aging fleet of locomotives as it upgraded to larger, more advanced steam engines. And so the company’s creative passenger agent for Texas, William Crush, pitched an idea that would address both problems in one spectacular fell swoop.
With atom bombs and Justin Bieber still far off on the horizon in the late 19th century, an explosive train collision was perhaps the most eye-catching manmade disaster imaginable. And Crush knew he had the trains, the space and the public appetite to attempt such a spectacle. His plan was simple: ferry paying spectators to an isolated locale where two obsolete locomotives would be positioned face-to-face on the tracks. After gunning the trains to full speed, the engineers would jump to safety, and the masses would enjoy the fiery demolition from a safe distance. “Oh,” the exuberant Crush effused to The Galveston Daily News, “but it’s going to be a smash-up”…
In the event, over 40,000 people gathered at in the temporary town of “Crush, Texas” (for the day, the second largest city in the State). And what a “smash-up” they saw. As planned, the engineers stoked their locomotives, got them steaming toward each other, and jumped clear… But though Crush had been assured by the railroad’s technicians that the engines’ boilers were strong enough to hold together on impact, both exploded. As The Dallas Morning News put it: “The rumble of the two trains was like the gathering force of a cyclone… [then, a huge explosion, and] the air was filled with flying missiles of iron and steel varying in size from a postage stamp to half of a driving wheel… black clouds of death-dealing iron hail.” Three spectators were killed, six others seriously injured; and countless onlookers were scorched by the hot shrapnel — many long after the explosion, when they picked through the flaming locomotive carcasses in a hunt for souvenirs.
Crush was immediately fired from the railroad. But given a lack of negative publicity, he was rehired the next day.
Read more at “Staging a Texas-size train disaster for fun and profit,” and check out the photos from the event here (one of which is used above).
* Charles Barkley
As we ruminate on the rails, we might send foresightful birthday greetings to the extraordinary Jules Verne, imaginative writer non pareil; he was born in Nantes on this date in 1828.
Best known for his novels A Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), From the Earth to the Moon (1865), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1869–1870), Around the World in Eighty Days (1873) and The Mysterious Island (1875), Verne is the second most translated (individual) author of all time (behind Agatha Christie). He is considered, with H.G. Wells, the founder of science fiction.
Verne was startlingly prescient: Paris in the 20th Century, for example, describes air conditioning, automobiles, the Internet, television, even electricity, and other modern conveniences very similar to their real world counterparts, all developed years– in many cases, decades– later. From the Earth to the Moon, apart from using a space gun instead of a rocket, is uncannily similar to the real Apollo Program: three astronauts are launched from the Florida peninsula– from “Tampa Town” ( only 130 miles from NASA’s Cape Canaveral)– and recovered through a splash landing. And in other works, he predicted helicopters, submarines, projectors, jukeboxes, and the existence of underwater hydrothermal vents that were not invented/discovered until long after he wrote about them.
From the always-illuminating folks at Dangerous Minds:
It’s arguably the greatest LP gatefold image of all time: the drool-inducing food porn Mexican spread from the inner fold of ZZ Top’s 1973 Tres Hombres album. Only Coven’s Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reap Souls comes close to matching it’s exemplary use of the medium, but as far as gatefold images go, it’s hard to top THE TOP.
In what is destined to be the the greatest short film of 2016, Austin chef Thomas Micklethwait lovingly re-creates this enviable meal and proceeds to eat the shit out of it.
As someone who has often dreamt of being at that fabled table, all I can say is kudos to the chef for allowing me to live vicariously through him and yet not have to experience the following day’s Afterburner tribute.
Fans of ZZ Top or grande burritos, take note:
* Mark Twain
As we settle in for Concussion Fest 50, we might recall that today is Pork Rind Appreciation Day.