Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Atoms are our friends; Blagojevich is not. Are P.T. Barnum's sideshows?

Fun Book Hour with Lydia once again, dear readers. Looks like I'm pretty much back in the saddle for regularly writing the blog; my plans to depart have briefly been derailed. (I can't say I'm too depressed about that, when I work in such a wonderful place as this!) But I have a treat coming up for you in two weeks: our prodigal daughter Helena will write that blog entry! She moved to the West Coast earlier this year, but she'll be back for Christmas, and she contacted us saying that she actually wanted to use part of her holiday break working at the good old bookshop. So she'll be covering the place while many of our employees scatter to the four winds for vacation, and she'll write the next blog entry.

Why Helena would want to return to Chicago, city of vice, for her holiday is her business. Recent events with Governor Blagojevich have hurled Illinois once again to top the list of Dens of Sin. Our history -- partly encapsulated in this week's Favorite -- has always been thus:

"The Light" was apparently a regular magazine that considered itself the "official organ of the American Purity Foundation"; this is the 1911 issue, which had a special feature on vice in Chicago. Specifically, the article is titled "The Social Evil in Chicago", and begins with an amazing rundown of recommendations -- firstly, the appointment of a Morals Commission, and secondly the establishment of a Morals Court. Many proposed ordinances follow! Other articles of note include "The Prevention of Insanity" (including a subheader: "The Relation of Alcohol to Insanity") and "The International Conference Relative to the Repression of the Circulation of Obscene Publications". I wonder if the American Purity Foundation's solutions could be applied today? For $75.00, I suggest that you purchase this fine magazine, study it, and let me know. Maybe together we can prevent another Blagojevich.

Blagojevich is not our friend. But this Affordable and Interesting book can tell us who is:

That's right -- the atom is our friend, and in 1956 Walt Disney produced a book to tell us so! Author Heinz Haber writes at the beginning that although "we all know the story of the military atom, and we all wish that it weren't true," and although "so far, the atom is a superb villain", "it is up to us to give the story a happy ending" -- to "make a hero out of a villain". It's "a story with a straightforward plot and a simple moral"!

This vintage paperback is basically a history of the scientific discovery of the atom, but it's noteworthy both for the chipper "Hey kids, aren't atoms great?!" tone and the fabulous 50s graphics. At $5.00, it makes the perfect gift for anyone interested in both 1950s nostalgia and the history of science. I wonder how common people like that are.

People without arms are not common. And least common of all are people without arms like the one pictured in this Collector's Item:

Ann E. Leak was a remarkable woman: born without arms, she simply learned to do everything with her feet. Really. Everything. Look closely at the (regrettably a little faded) photograph above, then read the back:

"This is a specimen of toe-writing," proclaims the calligraphy. Miss Leak sold these cards while traveling both on her own and as part of P.T. Barnum's circus -- toe-writing all the while! She even published an autobiography, describing good times roaming America and Australia. Interestingly, she believed she was born without arms because her father, an alcoholic, came home from the pub with his coat thrown over his shoulders without his arms in the sleeves, and her mother saw this image while pregnant with Ann (click here). We are selling this photograph of Miss Leak for $250.00, but we certainly have no idea why she was born armless. If you do, please leave a comment!

Hyde Park is probably quite charming over Christmas, but I won't know because I'll be away. Welcome Helena next week, gentle readers, and I'll see you in January!

1 comment:

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