A Birthday Post For A Very Dear Friend

Today, June 8, is the birthday of a very dear old friend of mine. Actually, she’s younger than me, so I never thought of her that way, at least not until Pope Gregory XIII came along with his bloody calendar and everybody started keeping track. Anyway, since I’m as poor as a church mouse (Never understood that, really. Why should church mice be considered any poorer than, say, library mice or post office mice?) I thought of doing a post to commemorate the occasion. It’s unusual, it’s personal, and, best of all, it’s cheap. We’ll call her ‘D’, since I don’t know if Dianne would appreciate my using her full first name.

D is a wonderful friend (mind you, she drives her significant other mad) so I thought I’d see what other wonderful things might have happened on June 8. For one thing, she shares that birth date with no less than two first ladies- Ida McKinley and Barbara Bush.

Ida McKinley

Barbara Bush

Perhaps not prime examples of political pulchritude, but hey, all that counts is that they share the date.

Demigod and Uber-architect Frank Lloyd Wright also shares the honors, lending credence to the proposition that D is built like a brick house.

A brick house

Frank Lloyd Wright

Also reflecting her creative side, Alexis Smith, Jerry Stiller, James Darren, Joan Rivers and Nancy Sinatra were born on June 8 of one year or another. But there were also tennis players (Nadia Petrovna), baseball players (Pete Orr) and hockey players (Bryan McCabe). There were at least two Japanese voice actors born on that day, as well as a South Korean rapper and several killers. Make of it what you will.

Chopin’s second greatest accomplishment

On the down side, the eighth of June also saw the death of Chopin’s second greatest accomplishment (after his music)- his paramour, George Sand. I am not in any way demeaning George Sand- the accomplishment was in maintaining the affair. It wasn’t easy.

Also on the darker side of June 8 was the raid on Lindisfarne

A Viking

Abbey by the Vikings in the year 793, beginning the Scandinavian invasion of England. A nasty bit of work, that. I can’t blame D though. I’m pretty sure she was elsewhere at the time.

At any rate my friend, forgive this poor piece of twaddle that must do as a birthday gift. I hope you have a happy birthday, with as many more to come as have passed. At Least.

p.s.  Forgive the terrible layout. I can’t seem to get WordPress to do anything I want it to, tonight.

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Versatile Blogger Award

I have been nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award by J. G. Burdette over at Map Of Time. Many thanks, J. G.

Now for the hard part. As a recipient, I’m supposed to list seven things about myself. Here goes:

* History after WWII leaves me cold. Maybe because I’ve      lived through a lot of it.

* You know that old saw about “jack of all trades, master of none”? You’re looking at him.

* “Hi, my name is Mac, and I’m a Chocoholic.”

* I’m a hardcore Progressive, but I’m not as politically active as I used to be.

* I love British tv series, especially Qi. My dream job would be to become a Qi elf (researcher).

* My favorite actor is Misha Collins, in part because of his charity work.

* I love all things feline.

Next, I have to list 15 other deserving blogs. My picks, in no particular order:

Cyrakitty– A general purpose blog. Fun, interesting and occasionally delightfully snarky.

Bad Archaeology– Helps keep my flights of fancy firmly grounded. Well, most of the time.

Margaret & Helen– Speaking of delightfully snarky… A political blog.

English Russia– Everything Russian.

Strange Maps– Exactly what the title says.

One Good Move– A political blog of links and commentary.

The BS Historian– A no-nonsense approach to historical non-sense.

Calgary Recreational & Ultralight Flying Club– Love their section on aviation history.

The Sideshow– Another political blog of links and commentary.

Neighborhood Cats– All about ferals.

Urban Exploration– Abandoned places.

ZooBorns– Because even the most irascible of us has their awwww side.

seeing red rant– gaming.

Ships on the Shore– Shipwrecks.

Architecture Tourist– As the title implies.

Congratulations to all of my picks. For those I didn’t, I know that I’ll be thinking “Damn! I should have chosen…..” for the next week or so. Now, as I understand this, it is up to each of you above to do the same. Or not, as you are inclined.

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A Last Word About Oscar

HMS Cossack LO3, Oscar’s ship

Since we’re on about ships and cats, I finally got my e-mail problems sorted and  contacted the HMS Cossack Association. You may remember HMS Cossack from my posts here , here and here as figuring prominently in the story of a cat named Oscar. The Secretary of the association kindly (and promptly) responded to my questions about this.

I had hoped that some of the brave crew of LO3 were still around, but sadly they are all gone (if you know any WWII vets, find out all you can from them- there are so few left), so there are no first-hand witnesses to Cossack’s engagement of the Bismarck or the supposed rescue of Oscar.

In the Secretary’s opinion, however, “the geographic separation between the ships make it virtually impossible that Oscar was picked up from Bismarck” He also stated he had no doubts as to the existence of a ship’s cat named Oscar, “but matelots, like fishermen, are prone to embellish their tales. It is though a good and intriguing story.” I heartily agree with him there.

So there you have it. An unimpeachable source has debunked the tale.  I was wrong about the Oscar story; it was nothing but spun yarn after all, though at least he actually was a ship’s cat. It is rather a shame. It was a good story.

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Were There Cats Aboard RMS Titanic?

RMS Titanic, leaving Southampton

April 14th and 15th mark the 100th anniversary of RMS Titanic striking an iceberg and sinking in the north Atlantic. Since then Titanic has featured in hundreds of books, scores of movies, and dozens of websites.

Rather than rehash topics so exhaustively covered, I’m inclined to correct an (admittedly minor) error. Quite a few  websites have incorrectly claimed there were no cats aboard. In fact there were at least two and very probably more. Indeed, as early as the 1600s Louis XIV  ordered that all French ships were to carry two cats. Most ships of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including military vessels, carried one or more cats to help keep down rats, and as mascots, for good luck.  Other liners from the Titanic era, such as the Lusitania and the Empress of Ireland, carried cats as part of the crew.

We have statements from Titanic crew and passengers that there were plenty of rats aboard.  A fireman/stoker named Jack Podesta saw half a dozen rats running through the boiler room on April 13th. Mary Katherine Gilnagh, a survivor from third class, saw a rat scurry past her in the third common area on April 14th. Certainly the Titanic would have followed the general practice of the day, and kept cats, to keep the rodent problem under control.  Being such a large vessel, the Titanic undoubtedly would have had several.

Third Class common area where Kate Gilnagh saw a rat.

We have evidence for this from two of the Titanic crew. A fireman/stoker named Mulholland (whether this was  J. or Daniel I have been unable to verify. Both are on the crew list.) saw one of the cats, named Mouser (though that may refer to her duty as opposed to her name), removing her kittens from Titanic when the ship docked at Southampton. He was a member of the delivery crew, but was considering staying on for the maiden voyage. Supposedly, the cat’s action changed his mind.

Violet Jessop, while serving on Brittanic

Stewardess Violet Jessop (who also served on Brittanic, Titanic’s ill-fated sister) mentions a cat named Jenny, with a litter of kittens, who lived in the galley. Stories have circulated that this was the cat who carried her kittens off at Southampton but Violet saw this cat after Titanic left the port. She also mentions a “pantry cat”, that may be distinct from Jenny or Mouser, though I have been unable to find more information to confirm or deny it.

It seems unlikely that Jenny alone served as rodent control for a ship the size of Titanic. Certain departments may each have had their own ‘pest control officer’. Was Mouser the engineering department cat, like Jenny was the galley cat?  At this late date we may never know, but I think it is likely. In any event, we know that Titanic had at least one cat (Jenny), probably two (Mouser) and likely more.

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They are still with us-

after a century of progress.

Rather than the typical season’s greetings, I wanted to show one of our more unfortunate Christmas “traditions”. I truly hope you and yours are not among them, and have a happy holiday.

Children at a soup kitchen, 1900

Soup kitchen, 1910

Soup kitchen for children, 1920

Soup kitchen 1930's

Traveling soup kitchen, 1940's

Soup kitchen, 1950

Soup kitchen, 1960's

Table at a soup kitchen, 1970's

Food bank, 1980's

Feeding the needy, 1990's

Feeding the hungry, 2000's

Lining up for food, today

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In Memoriam Cyra

Cyra in her halloween costume from a few years back

Cyra, our oldest cat and beloved pet is gone. She had been ill for a while, battling cancer, when last week we had to make the difficult decision to end her suffering. We had no choice.

Cyra was born around September 17, 1995, at Dreher Park Zoo in West Palm Beach, Florida. She was one of a litter that was found after the mother cat disappeared (we think she was struck by a car while crossing I-95, since the litter was near the road) Cyrakitty (guess how she got her screen name) and I took one of the litter home, bottle fed her every two hours, burped her, cleaned her, and eventually weaned her to more solid food (how blissful were those first few nights of sleep, uninterrupted by feedings!).

She was named Cyra (from the Persian word for crown, since she had a small orange spot atop her head) and was a lively, happy and intelligent kitten. Her favorite toy was the plastic ring that’s left after unscrewing the cap from a bottle of milk. We would toss one for her and she would chase it and bring it back. She was very gentle in her play, not biting or using her claws. She would often enjoy laying on her side and using her front legs to pull herself along the carpet, “swimming” across the living room.

She never made a sound until she was an adult and had been around other cats, who taught her to meow. This was because her bosom buddy when young was Fizz, a large bunny retired from the zoo, who didn’t vocalize.

Unlike other cats, Cyra didn’t care for catnip. She much preferred a related herb- mint. We soon learned to keep the toothpaste where she couldn’t get at it.

She was the best of kitties and will always be missed.

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The Men Who Went Up

Frank De Martini, Pablo Ortiz, Peter Negron, Carlos DaCosta

Today is the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01. It is a time to remember those who are gone. It is part of our nation’s fiber to commemorate the fallen, to commemorate heroes.

I have a problem with the word ‘hero’.  The New Oxford American Dictionary defines hero as “a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities”. Since 9/11 it has been used incorrectly to describe anyone who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, though I completely understand the reasons and emotions behind this. I feel the greatest sadness and respect for those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks, but it’s intellectually dishonest to call someone a hero, who, when all is said and done, was merely a victim of circumstance. And it seems, somehow, to lessen the achievements of those who truly deserve the term.

People like Frank A. De Martini (architect) Pablo Ortiz (construction inspector) Peter Negron (environmental specialist) and Carlos DaCosta (general manager of building services).

Mr. De Martini was the construction manager for the World Trade Center. If you needed alterations to your office space, he was the man you saw. Mr. Ortiz, as a construction inspector was responsible for making sure the job was done right. It wasn’t in their job descriptions to be in the frontlines of life-saving efforts in the North Tower, but they were. Even before most first responders arrived, while people were desperately trying to get down, they headed up.

After De Martini and his team made certain that everyone on the 88th floor had a clear way down, De Martini sent his wife down with them, telling her he would follow shortly. He knew there would be people trapped above. De Martini and his crew headed for the 89th floor.

Those who were trapped by a jammed door in the offices of Drinker, Biddle & Reath were grateful when Mr. Ortiz smashed through with a crowbar. The twenty-three people from the office on the 89th floor were directed down, but they saw Ortiz start up to the 90th floor.

While the building still stood, De Martini and his crew ranged from the 90th to the 78th floors, prying open doors, clearing escape routes and sending people down the stairways. On the 78th floor Mr. De Martini helped free Anthony Savas, a co-worker who was stuck in an elevator. Savas got out of the elevator but not out of the building. He may have stayed to help De Martini’s crew, and waited too long.

From 78 De Martini radioed out a warning that the express elevators were in danger of collapse. I have always wondered if, by then, he suspected what was going to happen, but selflessly stayed on, as long as there was a possibility of helping others.

As Greg Trapp, a security guard, started down the stairs from 78, he saw De Martini and his crew head toward the other end of the hall. I can find no record of anyone who saw or had radio communication with Frank De Martini, Pablo Ortiz, Pete Negron, or Carlos DaCosta after that time. They had freed more than fifty people (we may never know how many more) and paid the ultimate price for doing so. Their jobs didn’t require it, but their humanity did. I don’t think you’ll find a better definition of ‘hero’, nor anyone more deserving of it.

(Many thanks to Cyrakitty for invaluable help on this post.)

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