When the Chiricahua Apaches of what is today southern Arizona went on a raiding party, they adopted a special speech. One informant told anthropologists Morris Edward Opler and Harry Hoijer:

I used to know many words, but I have forgotten just about all of them. Only one sticks in my mind, and that is the ceremonial way of asking for a drink of water. Instead of saying, ‘I want to drink some water,’ we had to say, ‘I begin to swim the specular iron ore.’

This formal, alternative way of talking had to be maintained as long as the raiding party was away from home. As soon as they were back in camp, they could switch to everyday language.

A Linguistic Mix-Up

This newspaper report is false. In 1844, British general Sir Charles Napier was criticized in Parliament for his ruthless campaign to take the Indian province of Sind. On hearing this, 16-year-old schoolgirl Catherine Winkworth “remarked to her teacher that Napier’s despatch to the Governor General of India, after capturing Sind, should have been Peccavi (Latin for ‘I have sinned’).” She sent this immortal pun to Punch, which unfortunately printed it as a factual report.

The Ottoman Australia

From an Ottoman Empire atlas published in 1803. Notice how the island of Tasmania is part of the mainland -- Australia had been added to western maps for only a few decades at this point.

How A Major Canadian University in Ontario Connects To Chengdu, In Western China

Queens University in Kingston, Ontario was founded in 1841 by a royal charter from Queen Victoria. Although initially founded to prepare Presbyterian ministers, it quickly added a medical college, and even a women's medical college in 1883. Near the turn of the century one Dr. Omar Leslie Kilborn graduated with both his bachelor’s and his MD from Queens University. And in 1891, he left Canada for western China as a medical missionary. Dr. Kilborn's goal was to open a series of clinics in the region in order to make healthcare more widely available to the people there. His first clinic opened its doors on November 3, 1892, and he went on to open a number of other clinics and hospitals, including a women's hospital and a dentistry clinic. He also helped establish the Medical College of West China University so local clinics and hospitals might be staffed by locals. Today, a number of hospitals in Chengdu trace their history to Dr. Kilborn.

The title is mostly true! Back in the day, there were no national or even state-wide requirements for what a doctor had to know. So many were barely literate, learning their profession like apprentices more than students. When, in the 1870s, the new Harvard president wanted to have written exams before MDs were given their degrees, the faculty at Harvard protested!

Professor of Surgery Henry Bigelow, the most powerful faculty member, protested to the Harvard Board of Overseers, “[Eliot] actually proposes to have written examinations for the degree of doctor of medicine. I had to tell him that he knew nothing about the quality of the Harvard medical students. More than half of them can barely write. Of course they can’t pass written examinations… No medical school has thought it proper to risk large existing classes and large receipts by introducing more rigorous standards.”

Texan Founder Was Good At The Subtle Diss

Sam Houston -- the guy they named Houston, Texas, after -- was deposed as governor of Texas by the legislature in 1861. Why? He refused to support the Confederacy, which the legislature wanted to join. Sam Houston said “you may win Southern independence if God be not against you, but I doubt it.”

A slightly less modern-friendly fact: Sam Houston was perfectly happy to have Texas secede from the union, but after they did so, he declared Texas was once again an independent republic. It was merely the joining of the Confederate States of America that he opposed, not secession. He was deposed after refusing to swear allegiance to the Confederacy.

The Mystery of Belle Gunness

Belle Gunness was a Norwegian-American serial killer who vanished from her farm in Indiana on April 28, 1908, after having killed as many as 40 people. Belle had a simple pattern: she would start pen-pal relationships with men, who responded to her personal advertisements for investors looking for possible relationships. She corresponded with her victims for a number of months, and would then convince them to visit, bringing with them their life savings in cash while telling no one where they were going. A number of men, most of them homesick for their native Norway, would turn up at her door with a $1,000 or more wrapped in paper parcels, after which they would never be seen in one piece again.

Belle was believed at one time to have died in a fire at her home, where the remains of three charred bodies, thought to be her children, and an equally burned female torso were found. Belle’s sometime boyfriend, Ray Lamphere, was arrested and questioned and charged with arson. However, when police began to excavate the farmhouse, they found a number of bodies, and body parts, that clearly had nothing to do with him. It was later believed that the headless torso was not that of Gunness at all but rather her housekeeper. Who had just happened to disappear around the time of the fire. Another piece of evidence that she was not dead: Gunness had withdrawn large amounts of money from the bank immediately prior to the fire. Lamphere is said to have confessed before his death that he helped Gunness to set the fire, and drove her to the train station to make good her escape. There were many sightings over the years, but Gunness' whereabouts -- alive or dead -- have never been determined.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney: Artist, Patron, Collector

Born a Vanderbilt and marrying into the wealthy Whitney family, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney was an unusual upper crust matron. She was an artist. Her family and husband did not support her artistic ambitions, but Gertrude persisted, establishing studios in both New York and Paris and, by 1910, began showing her work under her own name. Her sculptures won several awards and were accepted at the Paris Salon of 1911. After the end of World War I, she focused on public memorials, many of which can still be seen across the United States.

Gertrude's wealth also allowed her to become a patron of the arts, and she was particularly keen to support fellow female artists. She used her influence to ensure that other women were included in group exhibitions and supported female-only shows. Among other things, in 1914, she established a club in New York where young artists could gather and chat, also providing housing stipends to help working artists make ends meet.

Gertrude also helped establish American art as, well, art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art declined her offer to donate her collection of almost 700 works of modern American art, because at the time, they did not accept works from the United States. So Gertrude decided to build her own museum. In 1931 she established the Whitney Museum, and she appointed a woman as its first director. The museum’s embracing of modernism was a huge institutional shift in the United States; it helped push American art from being seen as provincial and inferior to European art, to being unique and desirable in its own right.

A traditional Han Chinese bridal sedan chair, which would carry a bride to her wedding. The journey in the chair is meant to represent the bride’s transition from one family to another. Photographed by Englishman Thomas Child in the 1870s or 1880s.

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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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