Author Archives: personalpedia

Overboard, less than ekphrastic, it was for the insurance

J.M.W. Turner’s “Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead & Dying – Typhon Coming on” (aka, “The Slave Ship”) [Museum of Fine Arts, Boston] was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1840 with lines from a poem that Turner had written in 1812:

“Aloft all hands, strike the top-masts and belay;
Yon angry setting sun and fierce-edged clouds
Declare the Typhon’s coming.
Before it sweeps your decks, throw overboard
The dead and dying – ne’er heed their chains
Hope, Hope, fallacious Hope!
Where is thy market now?”

In spite of John Ruskin’s ekphrastic description in Modern Painters (1843), which culminated in an allusion to the stain of Duncan’s blood in Macbeth (II,2):

It is a sunset on the Atlantic after prolonged storm; but the storm is partially lulled, & the torn & streaming rain clouds are moving in scarlet lines to lose themselves in the hollow of the night.  The whole surface of the sea included in the picture is divided into two ridges of enormous swell, not high, nor local, but a low, broad heaving of the whole ocean, like the lifting of its bosom by deep-drawn breath after the torture of the storm….
Purple and blue, the lurid shadows of the hollow breakers are cast upon the mist of the night, which gathers cold and low, advancing like the shadow of death upon the guilty [Ruskin’s note: She is a slaver, throwing her slaves overboard.]  The near sea is encoumbered with corpses. ship as it labors amidst the lightning of the sea, its thin masts written upon the sky in lines of blood, girded with condemnation in that fearful hue which signs the sky with horror, and mixes its flaming flood with the sunlight, – and cast far along the desolate heave of the sepulchral waves, incarnadines the multitudinous sea.

insurance on slave-cargoes covered only those drowned at sea & not slaves who perished from brutality, disease, or conditions on board, thus profit-minded captains cast the dead & dying into the ocean.

John Ruskin, Modern Painters in The Complete Works of John Ruskin, eds. E.T. Cook & Alexander Wedderburn  (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 3:571-2.


A Prostitute’s Progress*

Eliza Bowen Jumel Burr (1775-1865)

It is said that Betsy Bowen was born in a brothel in Providence, RI. Following in her mother’s profession, she would later claim to have been born on the high seas to a French naval officer & his aristocratic English wife. While still a teenager, she abandoned an illegitimate son & moved to New York City. She kept her past a secret when she met & married the wealthy French Caribbean plantation owner & wine merchant Stephen Jumel in 1804. Without children of their own, they adopted Eliza’s sister’s illegitimate daughter, Mary Bowen. In 1810 they purchased a magnificent Georgian style Palladian mansion in Washington Heights as a country summer home, now known as the Morris-Jumel Mansion.

In 1815, she traveled to Paris & became accepted as a Bonapartist sympathizer, going so far as to offer Napoleon safe passage to New York after his defeat at Waterloo, which he declined. Her opinions & actions in France proved too controversial, & she was asked to leave the country by King Louis XVIII.

In 1826, Eliza returned alone to America with power of attorney over her husband’s fortune. Between his wealth & her wise investment of it, Jumel became the wealthiest woman in America after his death in 1832.

Fourteen months after her first husband’s death, Jumel married the controversial former United States Vice President Aaron Burr in the octagonal parlor of the mansion.  She filed divorce proceedings against Burr in 1834, saying he had squandered her money on Texas land deals & committed adultery “at divers times with divers females.” Burr at the time was 78 years old; Eliza was 58. The divorce became final on the day of his death, September 14, 1836. Eliza’s divorce had stipulated that she could remarry at any time; however, Burr could not marry before her death. Her lawyer was Alexander Hamilton.

While never achieving her desired ranking in New York polite society due to her controversial background, nevertheless, Eliza became a member of the New York Society Library, which gave her a venue as a patron of the arts. She became the first woman in America to form a significant collection of paintings. But her past fueled a controversy sparked by an exhibition of her collection at the American Academy of Fine Arts in 1817.  While this exhibition provided New Yorkers with a rare opportunity to view Old Master paintings, it exposed tensions between elitists & populists, Francophiles & Americanists, & male & female purveyors of culture. [Macleod, Dianne Sachko  “Eliza Bowen Jumel: Collecting & Cultural Politics in Early America,” Journal of the History of Collections  13 (2001) 1:57-75]

Jumel lived the rest of her life in the Manhattan mansion, & died at age 90 in 1865. She was buried in Manhattan at the Trinity Church Cemetery & Mausoleum. The Morris-Jumel Mansion, at Edgecombe Avenue & 160th Street, is a short walk from the cemetery.  Stephen was laid to rest at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Mulberry Street, below Houston.

DeMarrais, John  “Madame Jumel Comes to Worcester”

*Hancock, Marianne  Madame of the Heights: The Story of a Prostitute’s Progress Mt. Desert, ME: Windswept House, 1998

Macleod, Dianne Sachko   “Eliza Bowen Jumel: Collecting & Cultural Politics in Early America,” Journal of the History of Collections  13 (2001) 1:57-75

Minnigerode, Meade  Lives & Times: Four Informal Biographies; Stephen Jumel, Merchant; William Eaton, Hero; Theodosia Burr, Prodigy; Edmond Charles Genet, Citizen

early American salon culture

Gilbert Stuart Portrait of Anne Willing Bingham 1797

A renowned literary coterie in 18th century Philadelphia — Elizabeth Fergusson, Hannah Griffitts, Deborah Logan, Annis Stockton, & Susanna Wright — wrote & exchanged poems & maintained elaborate handwritten commonplace books of memorabilia. Through their liberal hospitality they initiated a salon culture in their great country houses throughout the Delaware Valley.  Susan M. Stabile (Memory’s Daughters: The Material Culture of Remembrance in 18th Century America.  Ithaca: Cornell, 2004) shows that these female writers sought to memorialize their lives & aesthetic experiences—a purpose that stands in contrast to the civic concerns of male authors in the republican era. Drawing on material culture & literary history, Stabile discusses how the group used their writings to explore & at times replicate the arrangement of their material possessions, including desks, writing paraphernalia, mirrors, miniatures, beds, & even coffins. As she reconstructs the poetics of memory that informed the women’s lives & structured their manuscripts, Stabile focuses on vernacular architecture, penmanship, souvenir collecting, & mourning.

Elizabeth Graeme hosted Pennsylvania’s young literati at her weekly parties in Philadelphia or at her country house, Graeme Park, in Horsham (Bucks County). In the post-Revolutionary period, Anne Willing Bingham became the arbiter of fashion & intellectual conversation at her home, “Lansdowne,” in Philadelphia (3rd & Spruce Sts.). Even Thomas Jefferson, who hated salons in the Parisian mode, felt compelled to attend because the finest minds in the Republic gathered in the Bingham’s parlor.

Annis Boudinot Stockton, New Jersey’s great saloniere in Princeton, taught Martha Washington how to run a republican court, when hosting the Continental Congress (of which her brother Elias Boudinot was president) at her estate, Morven, in 1781.

Branson, Susan. These Fiery Frenchified Dames: Women & Political Culture in Early National Philadelphia. Phila: U of P, 2001.

Kerber, Linda K.  Toward an Intellectual History of Women: Essays Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1997

MacLean, Maggie  “Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson 1739-1801,” in History of American Women

Norton, Mary Beth   Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800 Ithaca: Cornell, 1996

Otter, Samuel   “Philadelphia Experiments.” American Literary History 16 (2004) 103-16

Ousterhout, Anne M.   The Most Learned Woman in America: A Life of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson University Park: Penn State, 2004

Shields, David S.   “The Early American Salon,” Humanities 29 (Jan/Feb 2008) 29

Portraits of Hiram & Elizabeth Brown Montier, 1841

The earliest surviving portraits of an African American couple, Hiram & Elizabeth Brown Montier.

The Montiers descended directly from the first mayor of Philadelphia, Humphrey Morrey (c.1650-1716), appointed in 1691 by William Penn. The Morreys manumitted their slaves during the early 18th century, & Humphrey Morrey’s son Richard, entered into a common-law marriage with one of the family’s freed servants, Cremona.

Upon his death, Richard bequeathed about 200 acres, in what is now the Glenside section of Cheltenham Township, to Cremona, making her one of the first & largest black land owners in what would become the United States.

The family’s prominence undoubtedly influenced the Montiers’ decision to commemorate their marriage with high style portraits, a rare & expensive undertaking for the young couple. By the time of his wedding in May 1841, Hiram Montier was a successful bootmaker on 7th Street, just a few blocks from Independence Hall.

Dressed formally & surrounded by lavish drapery, & leather-bound books, the figures record the Montiers’ affluence as well as their literacy. Signed by Philadelphia painter Franklin R. Street, (1815/16­–before 1894); Phila. Museum of Art;  on loan from the Collection of Mr. & Mrs. William Pickens, III.

Edwin Beard Budding: Democratizing the Lawn

Edwin_Budding_Mower_-_BLM_CuratorThe idea of a machine to cut grass was developed in Gloucestershire, England around 1830 by freelance engineer Edwin Beard Budding (1795–1846).  Budding’s mower was designed primarily to cut the lawn on sports grounds & expansive gardens as an alternative to sheep & the scythe.  His patent of 25 October, 1830 described “a new combination and application of machinery for the purpose of cropping or shearing the vegetable surfaces of lawns, grass-plats and pleasure grounds…. country gentlemen may find in using my machine themselves an amusing, useful and healthy exercise.” By 1885, U.S. manufacturers were pumping out machines at the rate of fifty thousand a year. In 1893, the first steam-powered mower was patented, and a few decades later the gasoline-powered mower hit the market.

Soon mechanical mowers enabled not only “country gentlemen,” but middle-class home owners to have lawns & cut their own grass, thus democratizing the lawn.  A lawn came to symbolize not class distinction, but a commitment to a communitarian project, or rather competition, among neighbors for the greenest, most weed-free, manicured lawn, albeit, non-productive, unnatural, resource depleting, & chemically induced.  A lawn, Robert Fulford has written,  is  the “surest indicator that the deadliest of the seven deadly sins has attacked.  A dandelion’s appearance on a lawn indicates that Sloth has taken up residence in paradise.  And when a whole lawn comes alive with dandelions then that property instantly becomes an affront to the street & to the middle-class world of which the street is a part.  Dandelions demonstrate a weakness of the soul.  They announce that the owner of the house refuses to respect the neighborhood’s right to peace, order, good government”. [The Lawn: North America’s Magnificent Obsession (1998). 

Today, lawns cover 40 million acres, making them the largest agricultural sector in America, consuming 270 billion gallons of water a week, & costing $40 billion a year on seed, sod, and chemicals.  The U.S. spends more on fertilizers for its golf courses than many developing countries spend on fertilizing crops.  No wonder the International Golf Course Equipment Managers Association (IGCEMA) introduced “The Edwin Budding Award” to honor technicians in the golf sector who have made a major contribution to that industry.

Edwin Budding not only invented the reel mower, but also the adjustable crescent wrench (later improved by a Gloucestershire work colleague, Richard Clyburn in 1843).

Babe Ruth

Two years before he left Boston to play for the Yankees, Babe Ruth thought about signing with the Chester Shipyard League

With his win over Philadelphia on the last day of August, Babe Ruth helped the 1918 Red Sox clinch the AL pennant. (Boston will not win another pennant until 1946).  That year as a pitcher, he went 13-7; his ERA was 2.22 & he pitched one shutout. He also started 59 games in left & 13 at first. As a batter that season, Ruth compiled 317 at-bats (his previous high was 136); hit 11 home runs in a year when home runs in the American League had totaled 98, & drove in 66 runs & hit for a .300 average.

In the World Series against the Chicago Cubs, Ruth was used as a pitcher (he had only 5 at-bats). He won the first game 1-0, pitching a complete game.  During the 7th inning stretch of  that game, which was played at Comiskey Park, a military band played “The Star Spangled Banner” although it had not yet been adopted as the national anthem. The custom of playing it before every game won’t begin until WW II. Ruth then pitched in the fourth game (the Red Sox held a 2-1 Series lead) & shutout the Cubs for 7 innings before being relieved in the 9th. The Red Sox won the game 3-2. The seven shutout innings, combined with the 9 he had pitched in the Series opener & the 13 he had pitched in the 1916 Series, gave him 29 consecutive scoreless World Series innings, which broke Christy Mathewson’s previous record of 28 in 1905. It was a record that would stand for 42 years. The Red Sox won the World Series in game six at Fenway Park.  It would be the team’s third title in 4 years & fifth overall (five of the first 15 World Series).

Ruth, who never really got along with manager Ed Barrow, even threatened to leave the Red Sox to play for the Chester Shipyard League, a semiprofessional team in Chester, Pennsylvania.  But Harry Frazee, the Red Sox owner, threatened a lawsuit & put an end to Ruth’s proposed mutiny. (photos credits: AP/Library of Congress; inset – Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum)


africa-corn-bread1the taxonomic study of place-names, including their origins & meanings; based on various etymological, historical, & geographical aspects,

e.g., hydronyms (water features), like “Oxford,” named after a river segment shallow enough to facilitate bovine transport, & “Schuylkill River,” from the Dutch literally meaning “hidden river” River;

oronyms (relief features), like the Welsh toponym “Bryn Mawr,” meaning “big hill,” which is not to be confused with “Bryn Athyn,” which is a “very tenacious hill”.

And of course, there is the not quite emergent neologistic sub-category of “gastronyms,” which might include Malta or “Island of Honey,” & this example of fried evidence which may help to solve the problematic etymology of the name “Africa” once & for all.


Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias (1818)

ozymandias1I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert
. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Ozymandias is the Greek name for the Egyptian king, Ramses II (1304-1237 BC), third pharaoh of the nineteenth dynasty of ancient Egypt, perhaps most popularly known by his portrayal by Yul Brynner in Cecil B. de Mille’s 1956 melodramatic (read, kitsch) epic (read, grandiose) film, The Ten Commandments.

ozymandias-stanley-marsh-parody In keeping with those biblical proportions, one will find a statue in honor of Ozymandias, located on W. Sundown Lane, off of route 27, in Amarillo, Texas.
It was created around 1997 by Lightnin’ McDuff who was commissioned by eccentric millionaire, Stanley Marsh, 3 (uses the Arabic numeral “3” ithinking the traditional Roman numeral “III”  pretentious.)  He is also the creator of Cadillac Ranch on Old Route 66.
The statue, which consists of two giant legs (one 34′ tall, the other 24′ tall), however, is a parody on Percy Bysshe Shelley’s much anthologized sonnet of the same name.  There is an official-looking plaque with the sonnet that inspired this “road art” preceded with the inscription:  “In 1819 while their horseback trek over the great plains of New Spain, Percy Bysshe Shelley & his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft (Author of “Frankenstein”), came across these ruins, [actually, Shelley was in Italy at the time] here Shelley penned these immortal lines: “Ozymandias”.  Needless to say, this is risible “fractured history”.  Just as humorous are the athletic socks which were painted on the legs  in 2006  (subsequently sandblasted away).

It (the sonnet & the original statue) still “stands” as a metaphoric reminder of Lord Acton’s (John Emericozymandias-matthew-goodeh Edward Dalberg) anti-Ultramontanist eponym that “Power tends to corrupt, & absolute power corrupts absolutely,” & that humanity’s hubris cannot withstand the shifting sands of time.

Those who follow the comic book genre, are undoubtedly familiar with the character of “Ozymandias,”  who is the alter ego of Adrian Veidt, the costumed vigilante character appearing in the “Watchmen,” a comic book series written by Alan Moore & illustrated by Dave Gibbons. Originally published by DC Comics as a monthly limited series from 1986-87, & recently released in a film version by Warner Bros, where the character is portrayed by Matthew Goode.

Dan Ellis-Killian

The Cadaver Synod (the Synodus Horrenda)

laurens-le-pape-formose-et-etienne-vii-1870the posthumous ecclesiastical trial of Pope Formosus, held in the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome during January of 897.  Before the proceedings the body of Formosus was exhumed &, according to some sources, seated on a throne while his successor, Pope Stephen VI, read the charges against him & conducted the trial. [The council acta do not survive, but the proceedings are described by Hincmar, Annales, entry for 878, ed. in Monumenta Germaniae Historica Scriptores vol. I, p. 507]

In the years surrounding the Cadaver Synod (872-965) there were 24 popes. Often, these brief papal reigns were the result of the political machinations of local Roman factions. One such faction involved Guido, Duke of Spoleto, who had been crowned Emperor of Rome by Formosus’ predecessor, & Formosus had been pressured into crowning Guido’s son Lambert as co-emperor in 892.  But when Guido died in 894, Formosus had Arnulf, the Carolingian king of Carinthia, crowned emperor instead. Soon, however, Arnulf was forced to withdrawal his army to Germany. The Spoleto’s saw their chance for revenge on Formosus.  But before they could act the Pope died of natural causes on April 4 896. (He was succeeded by Boniface, whose papacy lasted only 15 days before he died).

In May 896 Stephen VI was elected pope, due in part to the intercession of the Spoleto family, in particular Lambert. Lambert’s anger at Formosus’ death knew no bounds, for the Pope, by dying, had eluded his revenge.  Nine months after the death of his Corsican predecessor Formosus, Stephen conveyed a synod.  All of Formosus acts as pope & bishop were invalidated, including every clerical appointment & ordination he had made; three fingers of his right hand were cut off, the ones used to give blessings.  Initially, as legend has it, Formosus’ corpse was ignominiously buried, but then dug up again & thrown into the Tiber; seruptiously rescued from the river & reburied.  Eventually support, including that of the Spoletos, for Stephen wained.  He was deposed, stripped of his vestments & thrown into prison where he was strangled to death in August 897.

In November 897, Pope Theodore II, a member of a pro-Formosan faction, held a synod invalidating the Cadaver Synod, announced that all of Formosus’ ordinations were valid & ordered that Formosus be dug up once again (by this time Formosus, who was 76 at the time he was elected, probably wasn’t ‘living’ up to the Latin meaning of his name, “looking good”).  The corpse was then dressed in papal vestments brought to St. Peters & reburied.  In 898 John IX (898-900) also nullified the Cadaver Synod, convening two synods (one in Rome, one in Ravenna) which confirmed the findings of Theodore II’s synod, ordered the acta of the Cadaver Synod destroyed, & prohibited any future trial of a dead person. However, Pope Sergius III (904-911), who as bishop had taken part in the Cadaver Synod, overturned the rulings of Theodore II & John IX, reaffirming Formosus’ conviction. Sergius’ decisions were never reversed — the nullification of Formosus’ ordinations, having never been reversed, raises more questions about a  mechanistic understanding of apostolic succession. Dan Ellis-Killian


A zibellino, from the Italian for “sable,” is a pelt from one of the mustelids  (sable, marten, ermine) worn draped at the neck or hanging at the waist, or carried in the hand; a women’s fashion accessory popular in the later 15th & 16th centuries. Some zibellini were fitted with faces & paws of goldsmith’s work with jeweled eyes & pearl earrings, while unadorned furs were also fashionable.  Although it had been suggested that the furs were intended to attract fleas away from the body of the wearer, that appears to be merely urban, or perhaps, feudal legend.

The sartorial taxonomy represented by the codification of sumptuary laws (sumptuariae leges), especially during the Renaissance, preserved the demarcations of class distinction.  We wouldn’t want just anyone to wear a zibellino! And so we find the likes of Mary Queen of Scots & Elizabeth I of England wearing their sable zibellini, while those of lesser standing could wear fur pieces more suited to their station, de facto.

Cremonese court painter to Philip II of Spain, Sofonisba Anguissola (c.1532-1625), includes several zibellini in her works.  The detail from the painting above is from a portrate of Bianca Ponzoni, Anguissola’s step-mother, painted in 1557. Perhaps the most famous is her portrait of Queen Elisabeth of Valois with the pelt of a marten set with a head & feet of jewelled gold.  (It was the most widely copied portrait in Spain; copied by artists such as Peter Paul Rubens).

Although carrying zibellini as a fashion statement died out in the 17th century, fox & mink pelts were worn in similar fashion in the 19th & 20th century.  But be not dismayed.  You too may carry a zibellini (although preferably not to a PETA meeting), as advertized by Sable Greyhound:

‘Your zibellino will be made to order. You get to choose your:

  • Type of fur: I always have mink or marten on hand.  Also, I will occasionally I have fox and sable pelts available as well.
  • Color of “metal”:  My zibie’s heads and feet are made of a durable polymer clay, which is much lighter weight and economical than real gold or silver.  You have your choice of gold, silver, copper, black, or pearl.  Other colors available upon request.
  • Decorations: Gold or silver filigree & your choice of crystal colors for the collar, eyes & overall ornamentation.  (Actual layout of decoration will be up to my discretion.)

Included is a photo of my own personal zibellino.  Actually, it’s a mink’s head from a stole I purchased at a “flea market,” then mounted on a small 3×5″ plaque in order to parody a relative’s trophy room.

Sherrill, Tawny  “Fleas, Furs, & Fashions: Zibellini as Luxury Accessories of the Renaissance,” in Robin Netherton & Gale R. Owen-Crocker, editors, Medieval Clothing & Textiles, Vol 2, p. 121-50

Facelle, Amanda E.  Sumptuary Law & Conspicuous Consumption in Renaissance Italy,” BA Thesis, Wesleyan University 2009

Basic Chart of Tudor Sumptuary Laws for Dress