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In recent days I have had the opportunity to take a look at lists of words commonly used as slang a century ago. The lists have been both interesting and instructive.
Many of the phrases in these list are completely unfamiliar to us today, but a few of them have made it through the last century and into our vocabulary. As you can imagine, there are lots of words that refer to “woman,“ including “babe,“ “bim,“ and “frau,“ which actually refers to “wife.“ One of the things that surprised me was the word “cat,“ which is a man or a person. I was under the impression that this expression began in the 1950s, but it was actually en vogue in the 1920s.
During this era of prohibition, there were lots of words and phrases connected to alcohol: gin mill, giggle water, and hooch, just to name a few. Money could be kale, lettuce, or jack.
Among my favorites are “cat’s meow“ and “bees’ knees.“ Those two phrases meant “really good stuff.”
Have a great weekend. I hope it’s the “cat’s meow.”
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Belle de Costa Greene, the extraordinary life of the Morgan Museum’s librarian
By any measure, Belle de Costa Greene lived an extraordinary life for a librarian. During the first two decades of the 20th century, she reigned as an undisputed leader and expert in the area of art and antiquities. She was instrumental in acquiring, organizing, and cataloguing what became the world’s finest private collection of rare books and manuscripts, that of John Pierpont Morgan.
Morgan appointed her as his personal librarian in 1905, and for the last eight years of his life, she helped him collect an unmatched number of rare books and manuscripts. After his death in 1913, she continued her role as director of the Morgan Museum.
As such, she was continually cited in numerous newspaper and magazine articles as one of the most talented, knowledgeable, and article experts in that rarified area. Her physical beauty and infectious personality were also topics of much comment.
What only a handful of people — not including Morgan, apparently — knew at the time was that Greene was Black, or in the term of her day “colored.” She was one of unknown hundred (thousands?) of light-skinned Negroes who obscured their backgrounds and passed themselves as white. She lived in a white person’s world and decided, because the opportunity presented itself, to become a part of that world.
Belle de Costa Green was born Belle Marion Greener in 1879 in Washington, D.C. Her mother was a music teacher from a prominent African-American family in the nation’s capital, and her father, Richard Theodore Greener, was the first Black student and graduate of Harvard College. Greener became a prominent attorney and diplomat, and he served as dean of the Howard University School of Law.
Sometime in her youth, the Greeners separated, and Belle’s mother moved to New York with the purpose of passing themselves as white. She created a Dutch background for herself and took on the name Van Vliet. Belle followed suit and added an “e” to her last name and adopted the middle name of “de Costa” to indicate a Portuguese ancestry. She also implied that she was raised somewhere in Virginia. From that time to the end of her life, she was very protective about her persona and destroyed most of the documents that had any personal information.
In 1902 when she was 23 years old, Greene worked for the Princeton University library and trained to become a library. She had a special affinity for old and rare books and took that on as a specialty. During that time, she met and became friends with Junius Spenser Morgan II, John Pierpont’s nephew. The elder Morgan was a famous collector of books, art, and manuscripts and had commissioned the building of a museum in New York City to house his collection. Junius recommended to his uncle that he hired Greene to advise him, and in 1905, he did just that.
Morgan’s museum would cost $2 million, and his collection was worth far more. Not only that, but the collection was famous. Morgan was generous in lending items to other museums and libraries to display. Very quickly, Greene took charge of organizing and cataloguing the collection, and she too became famous. Morgan continued to acquire items, and his chief collaborator was Bella de Costa Greene.
That someone so young and so knowledgeable wielded so much power and influence in the world of antiquities was unprecedented, and Greene became a magnet for journalists. Typical of the comments in the press that she drew was this entry from the New York Times:
“The ancient librarian is always pictured as having a gray beard and as wearing a skull cap. But here is one with a vivacious laugh, with brown eyes and rosy cheeks, who speaks delectable French, and who picks up a musty tome as gracefully as a butterfly alights on a dusty leaf. And she has individual ideas – ideas which her force of persuasion and her intelligence will eventually develop, backed as she is with Mr. Morgan’s wealth” (“Spending J. P. Morgan’s Money for Rare Books,” April 7, 1912, p. SM8). https://blogs.loc.gov/headlinesandheroes/2022/02/belle-de-costa-greene/
Greene was often photographed and drawn, but more often than not, she appeared very white. Typical is the clipping from the New York World in 1913 shown here.
Greene not only collected avidly and wisely, but she also made every effort to have items available for public viewing. Another topic she felt strongly about was the important role that librarians played in the public sphere.
When Morgan died in 1913, he left Greene $50,000 and specified that she should remain as the museum’s librarian. His son, also an avid collector, incorporated the museum in 1924 and named Greene as its director. She continued to work until her retirement in 1948. She died two years later, and the secret of her family background seemed to die with her.
That secret was uncovered nearly five decades later when Jean Strouse was researching a biography of J.P. Morgan and came across the birth certificate of Belle de Costa Greene, nee Belle Greener. It was marked with a “C” in the entry for race, which meant “colored.” Eight years later author Heidi Ardizzone published a full-length biography of Greene titled An Illuminated Life : Belle da Costa Greene’s Journey from Prejudice to Privilege.
Annika, the marine homicide cop on Masterpiece
If you are a subscriber to PBS Passport, you have had the opportunity to watch a new Masterpiece Theater series titled Annika. The series features Nichola Walker as a Glasgow police detective and head of something called the Marine Homicide Unit.
The purpose of this unit seems to be pulling out dead bodies from various lakes, lochs, rivers ,and streams and figuring out the who, why, and how of what put them there.
The premise of this series is a bit shaky, but the point is quickly made in the very first episode that detecting the perpetrators are of these “marine crimes“ is only a minor consideration of the series. The focus of the stories is really on Annika. She is the single mom of the inevitable surly teenager, angry because she cannot find herself a place in her new environment.
Nichola Walker plays Annika as a funny, transparent, self-deprecating, and often confused human being who is bewildered not only by the murders she must solve but also by what swirls around her life. And by the way, she looks for love in all the wrong places, as the old song says.
One of the interesting things about Annika is its history and the way the series was created. It is not the product of a set of novels as are so many other dramas on the Masterpiece Theatre hit parade.
Annika is the creation of writer and novelist Nick Walker (no relation to Nichola Walker) and began life in 2013 as a series of 15-minute dramas on the BBC Radio 4. In these short dramas, Annika is a Norwegian detective who heads up a marine unit for the police in Oslo. Each of the episodes in the series contains only the voice of Annika as the narrator. That voice, appropriately enough, comes from Nichola Walker.
So, what you are seeing in the current television version is Nichola Walker reprising the role, slightly altered, that she began on radio nearly a decade ago.
You can listen to the Annika radio series through the BBC Sounds app for your tablet or cell phone or here on the web (requires registration). If you are not a subscriber to PBS Passport, I understand that the Annika series will be broadcast on PBS this fall.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
John Kennedy’s words are still worth our attention
This item was originally posted on JPROF.com in 2018.
This week saw the passing of the birthday — almost without notice — of a recent American president: John F. Kennedy.
Kennedy was born on May 29, 1917, and there was no special reason to note his birthday. He was in office for less than three years, and one could argue that his death — the assassination on November 22, 1963 — had more impact on American history than anything he did while in office. Immediately after the assassination, there was a wave of adulation for Kennedy. Much of that was directed by the Kennedy family themselves.
Then there was the backlash — the reassessment of just about everything that Kennedy had done or had tried to do. Most of the conclusions then were negative or made with the patronizing caveat that he wasn’t in office long enough for us to know what kind of a president he really would have been.
Though flawed politically and personally, Kennedy was a young and powerful voice in the early 1960s, and he was a gifted and eloquent speaker. (He also had a gifted and eloquent speechwriter in Theodore Sorensen.) On many topics, Kennedy articulated the best of what America was or could become. For instance:
Kennedy on the importance of the arts in American life:
“I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty…an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft.” –“Remarks at Amherst College upon receiving an Honorary Degree
“The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation’s purpose…and is a test of the quality of a nation’s civilization.” –“LOOK magazine, ‘The Arts in America’ (552),” December 18, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962. (Inscribed at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.)
Kennedy on the importance of freedom of the press:
Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment– the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution–not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply “give the public what it wants”–but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.
Kennedy on the importance of openness in government
The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment. That I do not intend to permit to the extent that it is in my control.
Kennedy on seeking peace in a dangerous world (American University speech)
Today the expenditure of billions of dollars every year on weapons acquired for the purpose of making sure we never need to use them is essential to keeping the peace. But surely the acquisition of such idle stockpiles — which can only destroy and never create — is not the only, much less the most efficient, means of assuring peace. I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary rational end of rational men. I realize that the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war — and frequently the words of the pursuer fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task.
Kill the Quarterback is part of a group giveaway, June’s Mystery Giveaway, a BookFunnel giveaway that runs through the month of May. This giveaway is exclusively for all sorts of crime-related books and novels.
The giveaway includes more than 40 books of various sub-genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors. The link for this giveaway is https://books.bookfunnel.com/pka-mystery-giveaway/ef8mrjw7cz.
A second BookFunnel.com giveaway also includes Kill the Quarterback. This one is the Summer Read Giveaway. There are more than 50 books in this one, so it is well worth the look. The link for this giveaway is https://books.bookfunnel.com/pka-free-mysteries/uq6xhhcecm.
Finally, a third giveaway that you might be interested in is the Thrillers for FREE, also from BookFunnel.com. This giveaway has more than 40 books in this genre, so have a look and download anything that looks interesting. Remember: they’re all free; the price is your email address. The link for this one is https://books.bookfunnel.com/audreywalker/jy619cj67p
All of these giveaways are open through the month of June. It helps me if you use one of the links above to take a look at the offerings even if you don’t select any of these books.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: The book reader
Best quote of the week:
A man that is ashamed of passions that are natural and reasonable is generally proud of those that are shameful and silly. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, author (1689-1762)
If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try pray-as-you-go.org. The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.
Helping those in need
Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.
It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).
When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: The pitch-perfect prose of Roger Angell, the modernity of crossword puzzles, and the last chance for this month’s group giveawaysnewsletter, May 27, 2022
Murder Most Criminous (Volume 1): resurrecting the father of true crime writing
William Roughead, the Scottish barrister who attended and reported on every major British murder trial for nearly six decades and wrote about each of them in detailed and yet interesting accounts, is returning from obscurity. Roughead died in 1952 but not before he built a huge following for his work both in America and Great Britain.
His name and work, unfortunately, have fallen into obscurity. First Inning Press is bringing him back to life.
Murder Most Criminous: The Cases of William Roughead, Father of Modern True Crime Literature (Volume 1) has just been published. It is the first of several anticipated volumes of Roughead’s work. The editors, Jim Stovall and Ed Caudill, have worked not only to reproduce this great writer’s work but also to give it new life for modern audiences.
The first volume of this series includes four of Roughead’s cases, all from a time before he was able to attend their trials. They include
- Mackcoull and the Begbie Mystery
- The Secret of Ireland’s Eye: A Detective Story
- The Ghost of Sergeant Davies
- The Parson of Spott
Each case has unique features that Roughead interprets with his unique and fascinating writing style. The links above will take you to a JPROF page that contain
We have done a lot of work with editing these cases and trying to make them presentable to modern readers.
We have introduced some typographical innovations that include footnotes, more readable paragraphing, and subheads—all of which we believe will aid the reader. The essential Roughead is still there, and we believe the reader will be captured by his exquisite phrasing and point of view.
During this month, the first volume of this series is being offered to readers at a special ebook price of $1.99. It can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other ebook platforms. Paperback and hardback editions of this work are also available.
Volume 2 in this series, which will include the Oscar Slater case, is due out later this summer.
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