The Bixby Letter's Complicated History

The Bixby letter is a brief, consoling message sent by President Abraham Lincoln in November 1864 to Lydia Parker Bixby, a widow living in Boston, Massachusetts, who was thought to have lost five sons in the Union Army during the American Civil War. That might sound familiar - this letter was the inspiration for the movie Saving Private Ryan. Except the letter might be a forgery.

Here's a few more facts about the Bixby Letter. Lydia Bixby, the grieving Boston widow, was likely a Confederate sympathizer. At least two of her five sons survived the war, and it is possible that a third survived as well. By deserting to the Confederate Army. Finally, the letter itself is suspicious, and may have been written by Lincoln's private secretary John Hay.

Shoemaker, late 1900s. With an unimpressed customer, an empty birdcage, and an assistant/fellow shoemaker wearing an eyepatch. I could not find much on this photograph -- so I am asking for your help! If anyone has more information, please send me a message (via "contact us" at the top or bottom of the page)

A Media Milestone

On November 1st, 1896, the National Geographic magazine published its first picture of an African woman with bare breasts. The photo is of a Zulu bride and groom in Witwatersrand, South Africa. The photograph set a precedent: National Geographic would portray indigenous peoples as they were, not changed to suit western sensibilities. It was a huge deal at the time. The photograph was very shocking to American readers. And no, I'm not showing it, you're going to have to find the photograph for yourself.

La Llorona

In English, her name means "the Weeping Woman." She is a legendary figure in Mexico, who wanders for eternity, seeking her lost children. To hear her cries brings misfortune. According to legend, La Llorona was once a living woman, whose husband on day left her for a younger woman. In her grief and anger, La Llorona drowned her children, to hurt their unfaithful father. When she realized what she had done, she drowned herself too. According to some versions, La Llorona will kidnap wandering children who even vaguely resemble her dead children. Crying and apologizing, she will then drown the children, so they can take the place of her own. La Llorona is understandably a popular threat to keep Mexican children from wandering.

The Tragic Tale of Krishna Kumari of Mewar

The Rajput princess’s life is worth remembering, for its briefness and its tragedy. She was famous and fought over, influencing political alliances and causing wars, as recorded in annals and letters composed during her life and immediately after her death. But after Krishna Kumari's death she was largely forgotten. Maybe because of how shamefully she died? Or because it is easier to forget than remember the wasteful tragedy of her short life. Read about her story for yourself, and come to your own conclusions

The Sauds and the Salafis: The History of a Political Alliance

Born in 1703, Muhammad ibn Wahhab came from Najd at the heart of Arabia. After study in Medina and 12 years of travel and study in Iraq, he returned to Arabia to launch a puritanical reform of Islam. He took aim at popular piety, destroying saints' tombs and cutting down sacred trees. He ordered the stoning of adulterous women, and preached jihad against unbelievers -- Shia Muslims among them. In short, he rejected 1,400 years of Muslim thought. But his message was popular. By the mid-1700s, Wahhab's "True Muslims," or Salafis, were powerful enough to be making alliances with the Bedouin Saud family against the Ottomans. In return, the first Saudi state endorsed the Wahhab movement. It benefited both sides: the Wahhabs had support for their extreme religious reforms, and the Sauds had given their new state legitimacy that came not from royal blood but from religious purpose. This symbiotic relationship remains today: Saudi Arabia supports Wahhabist schools around the world, and Wahhabists recognize the Sauds as deserving to rule due to their commitment to purifying Islam.

An Author You've Heard Of, A Game You Haven't

Jane Austen was very good at, and loved, a ball game called bilbocatch. It involves a wooden cup with a handle, and a small ball attached to the cup by a string. To play, the player tosses the ball and catches it in the cup. Jane could -- allegedly -- catch the ball more than 100 times in succession.

This beautiful piece was carved by hand from camel bone! Depicting Kwanyin Mountain, it contains about 27 hand-carved Taoist immortals, flowers, clouds, and a central pagoda. Chinese, 1800s.

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    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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