March 20, 2015

It Happened on March 20th

Mr. Rogers' Birthday, 1928
Mr. Rogers meeting the President in 2002
Fred Rogers was the host of the long-running children's program, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. When the show came on the air in 1968, I was too old to appreciate it, but I know that it was loved by many. He dealt with themes that were important to young children, and he dealt with them in a calm, safe, and loving environment. 

Here are a few bits of information that you may not know about Mr. Rogers and his iconic TV program: 

  • Fred Rogers was actually an ordained minister. The Presbyterian Church charged him with a special mission -- to keep on doing what he did so well.
  •  Ever wonder about those sweaters? All of the original sweaters Mr. Rogers wore on the show were knit by his mother.
  • As far as the sneakers go, they started out as more of a technical necessity. In his early days on TV, Rogers found that he could run around the stage soundlessly in them, for example, when he needed to get quickly from the organ to the puppet area.
  • Michael Keaton's first TV appearance was on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. He was a member of the production crew, and appeared onstage to run the trolley.
  • As a teenager, Fred Rogers took golf lessons with his friend Arnold Palmer from Arnold's father. (Arnold was better at it.)
  • If you ever record television shows, you may have Fred Rogers to thank for it. In 1981, he testified in the matter of Sony Corporation of America v. Universal City Studios, a landmark case in which the Supreme Court ruled that recording television programs for watching at a different time did not constitute copyright infringement. This cleared the way for the VCR industry by providing a legitimate market for the devices.
Death of St. Cuthbert, 687
12th Century Wall Painting of St. Cuthbert
St. Cuthbert is the patron saint of Northumbria (northern England). As a young man he served as a monk, and later as a soldier, finally returning to his religious roots. When he was 42, he became a hermit and retired to one of the Farne Islands, where he led a solitary and ascetic life. 

While on the Farne Islands, he set up special laws to govern the protection of Eider ducks and other waterfowl on the island. These are probably the first bird protection laws to be instituted anywhere in the world. The locals still refer to eider ducks as "cuddy ducks," ("Cuthbert's ducks" in the Northumbrian dialect.) 

In later life, Cuthbert was persuaded to give up his solitary life and become Bishop of Lindisfarne, although he returned to seclusions shortly before his death. 

Eleven years after his death, Cuthbert's casket was opened and his body was said to have been perfectly preserved. This was considered a miracle, and various other miracles were attributed to his intercession. At one time, Cuthbert was the most popular saint in Northern England. He may have actually been the most popular saint in all of England prior to the death of Thomas Becket in 1170. 

Theft of the Peacock Throne, 1739
19th Century Depiction of the Peacock Throne
We know about the Peacock Throne from the writings of a French jeweler and traveler, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, who saw the object when it belonged to the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan. 

He described it as being in the shape of a bed, standing on golden feet set with jewels. It was ascended by silver steps. On the back it was adorned with the images of two peacock tails, also crusted with precious jewels. In all, he said, it contained 108 large rubies and 116 emeralds. In the front was a large diamond of 80 or 90 carats. Tavernier was most impressed with the pearls, however, which he considered the most valuable part of the throne. 

Tavernier thought that construction of the throne had been started by Tamburlaine, but this is probably false. More likely it was Shah Jahan himself who had had it built. The Shah was not one to pinch pennies when it came to grandeur --  it was Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal as a memorial to his beloved wife. 

Tavernier - He liked the pearls.
When Nader Shah of Iran invaded India in 1739, he gained not only the Peacock Throne, but also two now-famous diamonds, the Koh-i-noor and the Darya-ye Noor. (The Koh-i-noor may have been the large diamond in the Peacock Throne. If it was, it was considerably larger than 90 carats.) After Nader Shah's death, the Throne disappeared, and was likely dismantled. Various "Peacock Thrones" have turned up in Iran from time to time, but they are almost certainly different items. 

Uncle Tom's Cabin Published, 1852
"So this is the little lady who started this great war." According to her son, these were the first words that Abraham Lincoln addressed to Harriet Beecher Stowe when he met her in 1862. The story may not be true -- no one else ever mentioned it except for Stowe's son. Nonetheless, it certainly reflects on the enormous impact that Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, had on the cause for emancipation.
Stowe was born in Connecticut, and lived most of her adult life in Cincinnati, Ohio. When she was 40, disturbed by the passage of The Fugitive Slave Act, and inspired by the autobiography of Josiah Henson, an escaped slave, she wrote the famous work. Uncle Tom's Cabin was first published as a serial in National Era, an abolitionist newspaper. Soon it was reprinted as a book, selling 300,000 copies in its first year of publication. It was the best-selling novel of the 19th century, and the second best-selling book of the time, second only to the Bible. It sold nearly as well in England.
Today the novel is often criticized for taking a condescending tone toward the black characters. There is also the charge of racial stereotyping, especially in the characters Uncle Tom, Mammy, and Topsy. A great deal of this criticism could be more properly aimed toward various theatrical productions of the novel (over which Stowe had no control), and especially those that could be considered melodramas or minstrel shows. The novel itself was a significant tool in spreading abolitionist attitudes and helping to bring about the end of slavery.

No comments: