Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Everyone loves man-eating lions!

The weather was much nicer today. I sat in the park while I ate lunch, and didn't worry at all about man-eating lions ... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

First we need to cover this week's Collector's Item:

From this angle, it looks like any other book with a really nice morocco leather binding; but inside lies history! It seems that in 1881, the famous John Wentworth (a major figure in Chicago history -- editor of the "Chicago Democrat", twice the town's mayor, and six times its congressional Representative) was asked by the Chicago Historical Society to present an address about the history of Fort Dearborn. Fort Dearborn is something of an icon in Chicago; it played a part in the War of 1812, was rebuilt once and was eventually destroyed by fire.

Wentworth's address was then printed up and combined into a pamphlet with appendices about Chicago icons such as Mark Beaubien. (Mark Beaubien is one of my favorite Chicago historical figures; this is mainly because I read in Miller's excellent City of the Century that, in the days when Chicago was little more than some taverns and hunters' houses, Beaubien used to love giving away land to people who amused him or beat him at cards. Of course, this land was immensely valuable later, when Chicago became a huge metropolis! But when asked how much money he'd lost in those rash gifts, Beaubien apparently shrugged: "Didn't expect no town.")

You can actually read the whole text of said pamphlet on Google Book Search by clicking here; it looks as though the Google copy came from the University of Michigan, and has many bits restored or damaged. But we have it in hard copy -- and it's in practically perfect condition, because it's been bound into this little volume. Even the cover is in beautiful shape:

... but that's not all this book has to recommend it. Whoever had this pamphlet bound over a century ago had a fine sense of history. She (or he) extra-illustrated it by binding in many, many etchings and portraits of people and places mentioned in the narrative. Even better, he (or she) also bound in a number of contemporary newspaper clippings about Fort Dearborn. My personal favorite headline is "More Light on Fort Dearborn: How a Lying Half Breed Abetted the Massacre by a Small Pox Scare." I'll be reading that article during my next lunch break, unless someone swipes this book out from under my nose (at $300.00).

Back to man-eating lions. Look at this Affordable and Interesting little thing!

A reprint of a 1925 pamphlet, this recounts the "main events of Colonel J. Patterson's remarkable experiences with man-eating lions". Since man-eating lions are awesome, I went ahead and read the first paragraph:

When the visitor to the Field Museum pauses before the life-like forms of the Tsavo man-eaters, it will be hard for him to realize that these two ferocious brutes killed and devoured, under the most appalling circumstances, one hundred and thirty-five Indian and African artisans and laborers employed in the construction of the Uganda Railway. For over nine months these insatiable monsters carried on an intermittent warfare against the Railway and all those connected with it in the neighborhood of Tsavo. This finally culminated in a "reign of terror" when they finally succeeded in bringing the railway works for a time to a complete standstill.

Apparently Teddy Roosevelt himself said that "the story of the Man-Eaters of Tsavo is by far the most remarkable account of which we have any record," and the veteran hunter and African pioneer Selous once wrote that "No lion story I have ever heard or read equals in its long sustained dramatic interest the story of the man-eaters of Tsavo." Goodness. I guess man-eating lions are even more awesome than I thought; you can learn just how awesome for $4.00.

But I'm afraid this week's Favorite is not for sale:

One day, Doug came in and said happily, "Look! Store mascots!" The next fifteen minutes went to playing with our two new action figures, Shakespeare and Jane Austen. Apparently they were well-played-with at home until Jill tired of them, and so now they stand with dignity upon our counter, smiling benevolently upon all who enter. I'm trying not to let them distract me too much, but they seem so cheerful that they're hard to ignore! Again, they're not for sale ... but you can certainly play with them if you come into the store. Maybe we can make up an exciting time-travel drama with the two great writers as main characters ... oh, right, less with the distractions.

Wait! Maybe we can add man-eating lions to the time travel story! -- Oh, but it's almost 6PM. See you later, gentle readers!

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