It's 1933 and President Roosevelt is having a devil of a time finding someone to appoint to the post of ambassador to Germany in Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts. All of the usual picks politely decline the post, as news of Germany’s foreboding political atmosphere drifts to America. Roosevelt eventually settles on William E. Dodd, a historian at the University of Chicago whose primary goal is to finish his multi-volume historical treatise on the antebellum South before he dies. By most accounts, Dodd is an odd pick for ambassador, being neither rich nor well-connected. Most ambassadors entertain lavishly during their appointments, and it is expected that the costs will come from their own coffers. Frugal Dodd immediately made waves by pledging to live solely on his meager income, almost unheard of in cosmopolitan Berlin.
Dodd naively sees the appointment as a respite from the trials of University department chairmanship and a boon of time to work on his project. He, like most Americans, is grossly uninformed about the political machinations happening in Germany, as Hitler, Göring, and Goebbels vie for power and German Jews are increasingly menaced. The entire Dodd family decides to come along to Berlin, ready for a new lark: the professor and his wife, Mattie, their son, William Jr., and their beautiful, flirtatious, 24-year-old daughter, Martha (who happens to also be fleeing the wreckage of a precipitous marriage to a banker).
Ivan Doig’s This House of Sky is a memoir set in the rugged, sheep-raising terrain of Montana. It was a time when the last of the small-town ranchers were on their way out, pushed along by the Great Depression and rich men buying up failed farms to add to their own.
The author’s people were not of the rich kind. They were scrappy, immigrant stock. Ivan’s grandfather came with family from Scotland. They ran sheep til their luck ran out. Then they worked for the big ranchers. Ivan’s father was a little guy, but he broke broncos—sometimes breaking his own bones doing it -- rode herd on sheep, bossed the other hands, and fell in love with a 16-year-old girl.
Josephine Baker was an African-American singer, dancer, actor, and political activist who rose to prominence in the 1920s. In the book Josephine, written by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Christian Robinson, her astonishing life is recounted with powerful text as well as enthralling images. Her story is one of struggle, perseverance, and resilience. Her strength of character and fortitude helped her navigate the precarious pathways of life more than once.
From the mid-1950s to the late 1980s, the world of animation in the United States experienced a severe quality drought. Television animation was cheaply and quickly produced and loaded with errors. Feature-length animation experienced severe budget cuts, and the number of animated movies being released was drastically reduced. Cartoons that many generations grew up watching were made with “limited animation”—a style that utilized as few frames as possible, which resulted in choppy, simplified character motions.
In 1916, Gari Melchers, an internationally famous painter, purchased the Belmont estate in Falmouth, Virginia. With the exception of some European travel in the 1920s, he made this his permanent home during the last decades of his life. Area residents and visitors are privileged to be able to visit this gem of a museum which combines a glimpse of the artist's home life as well as a tour of his studio.
1903 was a banner year for aircraft development, and Stafford County was on the bleeding edge of it. On December 17, Orville and Wilbur Wright had the first successful manned flight of a mechanical, heavier-than-air machine at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. But two months before that, on October 7, Samuel Pierpont Langley—with the blessings of Smithsonian—launched his design at Widewater in Stafford County. The only problem was, the well-funded flight crashed, dooming Langley’s dreams of being first in flight.
By 1900 the forests had recovered sufficiently from the ravages of the Civil War to support a lumber business again. Long boats sailed from Coal Landing to Aquia Creek, up the Potomac and on to Baltimore.
Between 1890 and World War I, wood provided one of the few available cash incomes in Stafford. The locals would cut what timber they could and haul it to Coal Landing by wagon or boat to sell for pulpwood. The stacks of logs waiting at the docks were often forty feet high. Because the docks at Coal Landing were fairly extensive, there were a number of fishing boats that worked out of here, also.
Gold was discovered in Stafford during the eighteenth century. In 1787 Thomas Jefferson wrote in his Notes on Virginia, “I know a single instance of gold found in this state. It was interspersed in small specks through a lump of ore, of about four pounds in weight, which yielded seventeen pennyweight [1/20 ounce] of gold, of extraordinary ductility.” This gold was found in Stafford about four miles below Fredericksburg on the north side of the Rappahannock.
It won’t come as much of a shock to anyone in the Fredericksburg area since our last Blockbuster was closed years ago, but Blockbuster is now closing all remaining stores. The age of video rental as a for-profit business is officially over. It would seem to affect the library very little. After all, we still provide DVDs to our customers, don’t we? And, yes, we will continue to add new DVDs, but the decline of Blockbuster and video rental as a business does have an impact because it changes the very nature of the product Hollywood puts out.
Ah, the wacky uncle. He is an institution as old as the concept of family itself. Many can claim to have one, but few can say that his uncle is one of the most important artists of the 20th century. That's where Uncle Andy's, by James Warhola, figures in.
Before Warhol was a painter, a filmmaker, and a celebrity, he was Andrew Warhola. After college, he shortened his name and left his home in Pittsburgh to start an art career in Manhattan. But back in Steel City was Andy's older brother Paul, who worked in a junkyard and was father to seven children, one of whom was our author/illustrator James. Paul used a lot of the trash he found to make sculptures, and if he found something particularly unusual, he would bring it to Andy.