March 13, 1923: Rock-a-bye, Baby On the Treetop

In 1906, Eleanor Roosevelt, then a young mother living in New York City, bought a cage made of chicken wire and hung it outside the window of her townhouse. The cage was for her daughter Anna to nap in and enjoy the fresh outside air. Her neighbors threatened to call in the authorities. Young Eleanor wasn’t really a wicked mother; she was just a few years ahead of her time. Fast forward to the 1930s; baby cages are a booming business, particularly in London.

In between, Emma Read of Spokane, Washington, had the foresight to apply for a patent for “an article of manufacture for babies and young children, to be suspended upon the exterior of a building adjacent to an open window, wherein the baby or young child may be placed.” She envisioned a cage with removable curtains and an overlapping slanted roof to protect the suspended tyke from rain and snow — And from rattles and other toys maliciously thrown by the rotten little kid in the cage on the floor above.  Her patent was granted on March 13, 1923.

Interest peaked and petered out in the 1950s, and the baby cage disappeared into history despite the fascinating concept of children being caged.



March 8, 1969: Right After The Vows, Go To Your Room

Guiseppe Greco and Marcella Risciglione married in Paterno,holding-hands-dating Sicily, in 1969. The 21-year-old groom was an auto mechanic, the bride a sixth-grade student. She was 12. Somehow convinced that their parents would never agree to their marriage, the couple slipped away from home and spent two nights together, knowing that an unwritten Sicilian Code of Honor would leave their parents with no choice but to let them marry. Which they did.

Marcella’s father had the last word however. He grounded the newlyweds, not allowing them to go on a honeymoon. “She will go back to school and he to work on Monday,” said the father. And they will lose all Facebook privileges when it is invented.

A couple of centuries earlier, a poor young lad about Guiseppe’s age was walking down a London street, gazing into shops and lamenting his own poverty.  His fancy was taken by a portrait in one of the shop windows and he wondered to himself if he too might paint such portraits and perhaps earn a farthing or two.  (This was long before the days of ‘draw me three inches tall’ on matchbook covers.)  He hurried home, scraped together brushes, paints and a bit of a broken looking glass and set about painting a small portrait of himself..  He was quite pleased with the result, and others evidently were as well, since he began to get gigs painting miniatures.  Success followed and he eventually was called on to paint various VIPs including King George III.

One day when the poor King was too far gone in his mental malady to sit for portrait painters, our now thriving artist drew a quick portrait of the King on his own thumb nail.  He later meticulously transferred the portrait to ivory.  The portrait delighted the King who paid the artist a hundred guineas for it.

The artist was Robert Bowyer, a name that rings precious few bells in the art world today.  When he is thought of at all, it is in relation to the profession of his later years as a printer and in particular as the printer of an edition of the Bible that came to bear his name — an elaborate and costly work of 45 volumes with over 600 engravings.


All Day, All Night, Marianne, Part III:

What Light Through Yonder Window Breaks?

Later that morning, Toussaint delivered Herbert Trent-Phillips to a social gathering at the tip of the island, earning in the process the twenty dollars that was to pay for their research at the Crab Hole that afternoon. The Crab Hole was aptly named, except that no self-respecting crab would make a home in this particular hole. Its four rickety tables were generally filled by the water-taxi drivers during the afternoon lull when the French tourists drank wine and insulted each other, the British took tea in the shade, and pasty Americans tried to erase generations of hereditary white skin in an orgiastic bout with the Caribbean sun. The rum was cheap, and the vintage tunes on the Crab Hole’s jukebox even cheaper. Toussaint’s twenty dollars was split sixty-forty between rum and golden oldies, and the two young men spent the afternoon soaking up both. Roberto mostly sat and sipped his courage, for Toussaint was not about to let another day go by before his literacy brought these two starfish-crossed lovers together whether they liked it or not; Roberto would give his performance that very night at Marianne’s back porch. Toussaint himself scribbled on a paper placemat as the seductive words of Johnny Cash, Fats Domino, and the Purple People Eater filled the Crab Hole air. Roberto’s declaration of love was completed by 5 o’clock, and from then until dusk, Toussaint put him through a rigorous dress rehearsal.

The sun took its evening dip in the placid Caribbean. With a sense of adventure amplified by alcohol and the growing belief that they had entered a new literary realm in which Toussaint, Roberto, and Herbert Trent-Phillips were the only living souls, pledges in the fraternity of immortality, and not unhappy to remain pledges if the price of full membership were death, they pointed Toussaint’s aquatic hack toward Palmas Bay, where Marianne and her mother lived, if you can call a life without Toussaint and Roberto in it living.

Roberto would find Marianne’s dwelling romance-friendly, for it had not just a back porch but an actual balcony in the Shakespearean sense, one that might have been designed for the delivering of soliloquies. And actually it had been designed that way, or at least as a romantic place to stare at the moon and breathe bosomy sighs, for Marianne’s mother had been a dramatis persona of sorts in her younger days. But that was three husbands, forty years, and 200 pounds ago.

Roberto and his speechwriter crept through the fragrant frangipani up to the back of the house. Toussaint remained at a short distance so he could see everything, but pushed Roberto ahead to where nature in her cooperative way had placed a pretty hibiscus, just the right size and shape for concealing a swain and his cue cards.

“Marianne,” whispered Roberto in a voice not unlike the wicked witch of the west’s. No answer.

“Marianne,” he said louder, his voice cracking but at least without menace in it. The fact that the earth had not opened up and swallowed him gave Roberto a little lift, and he said more assertively and louder still: “Oh, dear one.” When he heard movement on the balcony above, he pointed the little flashlight at Toussaint’s script and cleared his throat.


This story originally appeared in American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines.  It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.



March 3, 1605: And a Decaf Peppermint Almond Latte

Ippolito Aldobrandini was born into a prominent Florentine family in 1536. As a child he was told that any little boy could grow up to be Pope. And didn’t he just do it, becoming a noted canon lawyer, a Cardinal Priest, and in 1592, Pope Clement VIII. He led the church until his death on March 3, 1605. VIII’s enduring papal legacy for most of the world is not his bringing France back into the Catholic fold or leading the opposition to the Ottoman Empire, but rather his blessing of a certain beverage.

“The grain or berry called coffee groweth upon little trees only in the deserts of Arabia,” an English handbill of the mid-17th century proclaimed. “It is a simple, innocent thing, composed into a drink, by being dried in an oven, and ground to powder, and boiled up with spring water . . . and to be taken as hot as possibly can be endured.”

sheepCoffee had been around for centuries from the time when shepherds noticed that the beans when eaten by their sheep caused those sheep to become rather frisky. Naturally, the shepherds were anxious to try it themselves. Eventually, after a lot of broken teeth, they learned to roast it, grind it and brew it.

It didn’t take long for coffee to become wildly popular throughout the Muslim world. Not so in Europe however, no civilized Christian could share the drink of those infidels they had been battling practically forever.  The beverage came to be known as “Satan’s drink.” and Christians pleaded with Pope Clement to ban the evil liquid and declare that anyone who drank it would be destined to burn in Hell or some other nasty spot.

Clement considered this request, but being reasonable as well as infallible, would not condemn the drink without a fair trail. Thus a steaming cup of coffee was placed before him. He took a sip, and immediately became as frisky as those Muslim sheep.. “This devil’s drink is delicious.” he declared. “We should cheat the devil by baptizing it.”

And then came Starbucks.

Note: The popular folk song that came much later was not named for Clement VIII. It was “Oh My Darling Clement IX.”




February 28, 1949: Hey kids, What Time Is It?

Okay, you could be forgiven for answering “It’s Howdy Doody Time.”  Howdy was certainly a pop star of the puppet world. As were Kukla, Fran and Ollie.  But let’s talk importance.  Albert Einstein.  You’ve probably heard of him.  Which puppet show did he watch?  Not only did Einstein watch Time for Beany, he once excused himself from a conference of Nobel prize winners, telling them it was time for Beany.

Time for Beany arrived on the television scene on February 29, 1949, a couple of years after Howdy and Kukla.  The show’s  creator Bob Clampett pointed out that these shows featured puppets as puppets, appearing alongside humans.  He wanted to create a fantasy world that would let audiences lose themselves in the illusion that Beany and his friends were full-sized people and that Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent was ten feet tall.

In daily 15-minute episodes, Beany, Cecil and Uncle Captain Horatio Huffenpuff sailed the world aboard their ship Leakin’ Lena in search of adventure. A wild array of supporting characters included Carmen Dragon, Mouth Full of Teeth Keith, Hopalong Wong, Tear-along the Dotted Lion, Dinah Saur and the Red Skeleton.  Dishonest John and Dudley Nightshade provided villainy.  Stan Freberg and Daws Butler were the principal puppeteers and voices.

Time for Beany aired until 1955. An animated version, Beany and Cecil, followed during the 60s.


February 17, 1844: When You Wish Upon a Book

The Sears & Roebuck catalog may have become the Magilla Gorilla of mail order, but Aaron Montgomery Ward , born on February 17, 1844, beat Mr. Sears and Mr. Roebuck to the punch by 18 years — and there was only one of him. As a young traveling salesman, Ward saw firsthand how rural folk were being poorly served by small town general merchandisers. Couldn’t they have some of the same opportunities to buy lots of stuff as their big city counterparts?  Of course they could, Ward answered, and in 1872, the mail-order catalog was born.

That first catalog was a one-page price list featuring 163 items. By 1874, it had grown to 32 bound pages; by 1895, over 600 pages with thousands of items. Dubbed the Wish Book, it was a magnificent thing, fully illustrated with woodcuts and drawings, hawking anything you could possibly want — tools, jewelry, millinery, musical instruments, furniture, bathtubs and buggies.  Cradle to grave.

“Satisfaction or your money back!”

Ward died in 1913 at the age of 69, leaving a company, known affectionately as Monkey Ward’s, that would remain a retailing giant through most of the century.


February 14, 278: Roses Are Red, Etc., Etc.

How did St. Valentine’s Day become a day associated with hearts and flowers and all things romantic? One account puts a definitely sinister spin on the origin of this holiday. It begins back in the third century with a fellow named Claudius the Cruel. As you might guess, Claudius is not going to be the hero of this tale.

Claudius (II, if you’re counting) was the Emperor of Rome, a barbarian that proved that any young boy can grow up to be emperor if he believes. Valentinus, or Valentine, was not a saint at the time, but he was a holy priest.

Claudius, in addition to his barbarianism and cruelty, was a bit of a be_my_valentine_coloring_pagewar-monger. Continually involved in bloody campaigns to destroy upstart nations throughout the region, Claudius needed to maintain a strong army.  But it was a constant battle to keep his military at full strength what with Christianity gaining a toehold and everyone  into family values. The men for their part were unwilling to be all they could be in the army because of their annoying attachment to wives and families.

Claudius had a fairly simple solution; he banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentine, part of whose livelihood was the performing of marriages, thought this decree unjust and defied the emperor by continuing to marry young lovers on the sly.  Claudius, as emperors will, got wind of Valentine’s doings and, true to his name, ordered that Valentine be put to death. Valentine was arrested and condemned to be beaten about the head, and then have said head cut off. The sentence was carried out on February 14, 278.

Legend has it that while in jail, Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer’s daughter, with whom he had had a brief relationship (that will not be explored here), and signed it “From Your Valentine.”  There may have been other cute little Valentine poems as well,  but they have been lost to history.

For this, Valentine was named a saint and had a holiday created after him, though not a legal one with school closings and such. Conspiracy theorists will naturally jump up and down, saying there were several St. Valentines and the holiday could have been named after any one of them. Or it could have come from the pagan festival Lupercalia, a day of wanton carrying on. They should mind their own business.





February 13, 1937: No Prince Valentine, This One

Hal Foster had been drawing the Tarzan comic strip based on the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs for several years, but itched to create his own original strip. He began work on a feature called Derek, Son of Thane, set in Arthurian England. Before the strip had its coming out party on February 13, 1937, it had gone through a couple of name changes, first to Prince Arn and eventually to Prince Valiant.

Prince Valiant was five years old when his story began, a continuous story that has been told through 4,000 Sunday episodes. Without a whole lot of deference to historical accuracy, Val’s adventure’s take him throughout Europe, Africa, the Far East and even the Americas in a time frame covering hundreds of years. He does battle with Huns, Vikings, Sorcerers, witches and a slew of monsters from prehistoric to modern, but always big.

Foster drew the strip until 1971 and wrote the continuity until 1980. Since then, other artists have kept it alive. Foster died in 1982, at age 89.

Thaw Out the Holly

With the giving and getting of gifts growing to a crescendo in late valentines-day3December, it is to many a glass of cold water in the face when the merriment suddenly gives way to a bleak long winter with scarcely a box or a bow in sight. The people of Norwich, a city on England’s east coast, a couple of centuries ago found a way to keep on giving by elevating February 13, St. Valentine’s Eve to a Christmas-like celebration.

According to an 1862 account, this Victorian tradition was evidently peculiar to Norwich: visitors to the city were often puzzled to find the shop windows crammed with gifts in early February and newspapers full of advertisements for ‘Useful and Ornamental Articles Suitable for the Season’ available from local retailers.

As soon as it got dark on St. Valentine’s Eve, the streets were swarming with folks carrying baskets of treasures to be anonymously dropped on doorsteps throughout the city. They’d deposit a gift, bang on the door, and rush away before anyone inside could reach the door. Indoors there were excited shrieks and shouts, flushed faces, sparkling eyes and laughter, a rush to the door, examination of the parcels.

Practical jokers  were everywhere as well, ringing doorbells and running off, leaving mock parcels that were pulled away by string when someone attempted to pick them up. Large parcels that dwindled to nothing as the recipient fought through layer after layer of wrapping, and even larger parcels containing live boys who would jump out, steal a kiss, and run away.

As with most holidays that involve children out after dark and mischief, the celebration of St. Valentine’s Eve fell out of favor, to be replaced by the Hallmark-inspired and saintless Valentine’s Day.

February 13, 1971

Golf is thought of as relatively safe sport.  But for the safety of others, there are just some people who should not be allowed on a golf course.  Vice President Spiro Agnew had the dubious distinction of beaning not just one but three spectators on this day during the Bob Hope Desert Classic.  On his very first drive, he sliced into the crowd for a two-bagger, bouncing off a man to nail his wife as well.  On his next shot, he hit a woman, sending her to the hospital.  The previous year, Agnew had managed to hit his partner in the back of the head.




February 7, 1812: A Very Umble Person

Little Charles Dickens knew the adversity he would later write so dickens-at-deskeffectively about. Born February 7, 1812, he attended school in Portsmouth during his early years but was sent to work in a factory in 1824 at the age of 12, when his father was thrown into debtors’ prison. Dickens learned first-hand about the deplorable treatment of working children and the horrors of the institution of the debtors’ prison.

In his late teens, Dickens went to work as a reporter and soon began publishing humorous short stories. A collection of those stories was released in 1836 under the title Sketches by Boz,(later titled The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club). The stories about the quixotic innocent Samuel Pickwick and his fellow club members quickly became popular: 400 copies were printed of the first installment, but by the 15th episode the print run had reached 40,000. Publication of the stories in book form in 1837 established Dickens as the preeminent author of his time.

Oliver Twist followed in 1838 and Nicholas Nickleby in 1839. In 1841, Dickens visited the United States, where he was treated as a conquering hero. As a writer, he kept churning out major novels at almost a yearly pace each one seemingly more masterful than the last, among them: David Copperfield in 1850, Bleak House 1853, Hard Times 1854, A Tale of Two Cities 1859 and Great Expectations in 1861.

Dickens was the literary giant of his age, unparalleled in his realism, social criticism and humor, a master of characterization (think Fagin, the Artful Dodger, Pip, Uriah Heep, Oliver Twist, Tiny Tim and, of course, Ebenezer Scrooge). The 1843 novella that featured Scrooge, A Christmas Carol, is one of the most influential works ever written, still popular after 170 years and still inspiring adaptations in every artistic genre. Dickens even has his own adjective, Dickensian.

Dickens died in 1870 at the age of 58, leaving an enigmatic unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He has been celebrated by statuary, in museums and even on currency — all against his dying wishes.


An inferiority complex is the lack of self-worth, a doubt and uncertainty about oneself, that often leads a person to overcompensate with extreme aggressiveness.  Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler, born February 7, 1870, though up this concept without ever having met he who shall go unnamed.

Roy Sullivan gained fame for the unlikely accomplishment of being struck by lightning seven times and surviving them all.  Born February 7, 1912, the “Human Lightning Rod” was first struck in 1941, although he claimed to have been struck as a child which would have made it eight strikes if it could have been verified.  He died in 1983 under mysterious circumstances that did not involve lightning.


On this day in 2001,  Dale Evans bought the ranch, so to speak, following Roy Rogers and Trigger off into the sunset.  Oddly enough, she was also born in 1912 though she and Roy Sullivan probably did not know each other.



February 5, 1957: One If By Land, Two If By Saxophone

It has been endlessly debated when and with whom rock and roll actuallypromo began, but most enthusiasts have pretty much settled on a guy who cut an unlikely figure for a rock artist but who brought rock and roll into the public eye with a bang in 1955. The man was Bill Haley, along with his Comets, and the song was “Rock Around the Clock” introduced in the film Blackboard Jungle. During the next few years a string of hits including “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and “See Ya Later, Alligator” followed.

Time passes quickly and when you’re at the pinnacle of musical stardom, you’re on a slippery slope. Along comes a guy named Elvis and you’re yesterday’s sha-na-na. Who’s going to scream and carry on for a thin-haired, paunchy 30-year-old musician with a silly curl in the middle of his forehead and a garish plaid sports jacket?

The Brits, that who.

By 1957, Bill Haley and the Comets had already enjoyed their golden days of American super-stardom. But the battle of Britain lay ahead. When they stepped off the Queen Elizabeth in Southampton on February 5, they began the first ever tour by an American rock and roll act and launched what rock historians called the American Invasion.

When Haley and the band reached London later that same day, they were greeted by thousands in a melee the press called “the Second Battle of Waterloo.” These were the British war babies just becoming teenagers, and they were ready for American rock and roll. Among those who turned out for Bill Haley and the Comets were a few that would make their own music history.

“I’ve still got the ticket stub in my wallet from when I went to see Bill Haley and the Comets play in Manchester in February 1957—my first-ever concert” said Graham Nash. “Over the years I’ve lost houses. . .I’ve lost wives. . .but I’ve not lost that ticket stub. It’s that important to me.”

“The birth of rock ‘n’ roll for me?” said Pete Townshend, “Seeing Bill Haley and The Comets….God, that band swung!”

“The first time I really ever felt a tingle up my spine was when I saw Bill Haley and The Comets on the telly,” said Paul McCartney. “Then I went to see them live. The ticket was 24 shillings, and I was the only one of my mates who could go as no one else had been able to save up that amount. But I was single-minded about it. I knew there was something going on here.”

In 1861, Samuel B. Goodale who hailed from Cincinnati received a patent for a clever hand-operated stereoscope device on which still pictures were attached like spokes to an axis which revolved which caused the pictures to come to life in motion — a mechanical peep show that folks viewed through a small hole for a penny a pop.  Peep shows eventually descended into naughtiness.

Jean Lafitte, the infamous pirate who helped Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans during the War of 1812, died in 1823 while trying to plunder a Spanish ship.

Speaking of swashbuckling . . .




January 31, 1990: Next Day on Your Dressing Room They’ve Hung a Tsar

mcdonalds-russiaContinuing severe economic problems and internal political turmoil took a backseat on January 31, 1990, as Muscovites lined up to try a most unRussian guilty pleasure. The Soviet Union might be crumbling around them, but that icon of Western decadence, purveyors of glasnost on a sesame seed bun, was riding high. McDonald’s had come to town.

Those Big Macs, with fries and shakes might cost a day’s wages, but the people of Moscow were eating them up. The notorious golden arches of capitalism were signs that times they were a’changing in the Soviet Union – in fact, within two years the Soviet Union would dissolve. A Soviet journalist saw no great political earthquake but rather an “expression of America’s rationalism and pragmatism toward food.” Could the Quarter Pounder be the ultimate example of the People’s Food?

Whatever it was, they took to it in Moscow like a Bolshevik takes to a putsch. Located in Pushkin Square, this McDonald’s was the world’s largest, boasting 28 cash registers and a seating capacity of 700. Its opening day broke a McDonald’s record with more than 30,000 customers served. It remains the world’s busiest McDonald’s, serving more than 20,000 customers daily.

Moscow resident Natalya Kolesknikova told Russian State Television that when out-of-town guests came to visit, she showed them two things, McDonald’s and the McKremlin.


coconut woman Harriet Forrester was no fool. For one thing, she gave no heed to Everett Limpole’s bodeful warning that this stretch of beach would be completely underwater within five years – four-and-one-half feet below sea level in 1,856 days, to be exact – a prediction he reiterated after each session of poring over a loft full of books and charts, in a loft owned by Harriet for which Everett promptly paid the first of every month. Harriet Forrester was no fool.

Nor did she pay much attention to Malachi Thorpe, an Everett Limpole cohort, who had his own set of books and charts, with maps as well, but an entirely different hobbyhorse – namely, that the pirate Henri Caesar had plundered these parts and that some of his treasure lay buried and still undiscovered, possibly on this very beach. Malachi also accepted the Everett Limpole rising ocean scenario, thereby giving a certain sense of urgency to his treasure hunt. Harriet Forrester did not share either his belief in pirate treasure or his urgency. She was no fool.

Harriet did, however, have her own hobbyhorse, the Coconut House – her bed and breakfast inn, her first love, her world. It sat right on one of the prettiest beaches on the entire island against a backdrop of sea grapes and frangipani. It had, in addition to the Limpole loft, which brought in just ninety dollars a month (but steady, month in, month out), three small suites that fetched ninety dollars a night, albeit more sporadically.

Harriet’s rental units had become microcosms of her own ideas, travels and interests. The Casablanca Suite revolved around its ceiling fan. Persian and Oriental rugs were scattered over a tile floor and, in some places, up the walls; fifty-four strings of bright beads served as the bathroom door; a jeweled music box played a tinny version of As Time Goes By; and portraits of Bogart, Bergman, Greenstreet, and Lorre were simply framed and grouped on one wall, looking very much like members of the family. The New Orleans Suite was all that jazz, from a 1980’s stereo flanked by a vinyl who’s who of the Dixieland world to the trumpets, trombones and banjos Harriet had rescued from pawnshops and second-hand stores. And the Coconut Suite looked as though the Marx brothers had washed up during high tide.

Despite detailed literature warning what one would encounter at the Coconut House, guests would often arrive only to refuse to stay in any one of the three rooms. It didn’t bother Harriet any. It was her place, and if folks didn’t like it, they weren’t her kind of folks anyway. And those that did stay loved it, and they came back, and they told friends who came and told other friends, and Harriet kept pretty busy.

Harriet would frequently sit with her guests on the big front porch that faced the beach. There they could talk while waves tumbled in, pelicans cruised in perfect formation inches above the water, and sandpipers darted here and there like tiny wind-up toys. Everett Limpole would more than likely join them, and Malachi often did as well.   continued

Coconut Woman is one of 15 (count ’em) stories featured in Calypso: Stories of the Caribbean. Every story at least 78 degrees Fahrenheit.  Warm up at  Amazon  or Barnes and Noble.  Or order it through you favorite book store.