History & Politics
Because sometimes the truth, is stranger than fiction.
They live under your bed and in your closet. They are subjects of campfire stories and old wives' tales. They love to live in the shadows and the deep recesses of your mind. And, their favorite time of year is now, when seasons change and the dead leaves fall. Who or what, you may ask? Vampires, witches, goblins, and werewolves. Elves, poltergeists, banshees, and skinwalkers.
Folklore. Legends. Myths. Whatever you wish to call them, they continue to dwell within our society today, passed through generations upon generations.
Some people hike through the Appalachian Trail as quickly as they can, trying to set speed records. Some people spend hours in the car each autumn, looking at the bursts of colorful leaves on mountainsides, before heading back to their homes on flatter ground. They get something out of their journeys, sure, but they are missing a whole way of life.
Living in the Appalachians can be hardscrabble. Many of the people there are poor in material things. Why don’t more of them leave for better jobs? Some do. But many prefer to stay, and the answer lies in the strength of their families and communities. For hundreds of years, descendants of mainly Scots-Irish, English, and German immigrants, as well as members of the Cherokee Nation, lived in a culture that is self-reliant, and, yes, hospitable—assuming their visitors remain well-mannered.
Foodways are a big part of that culture. In his James Beard Award-winning Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread, and Scuppernong Wine, Joseph E. Dabney delves into those delicious delights, while including enough personal notes that you’ll feel you’ve spent some time chatting on screened porches.
Genealogical research is a profession for some and a hobby for many. With the advent of TV shows such as Who Do You Think You Are? and the multitude of resources available online, there are some interested novices entering the field who need a little help knowing where to start. The following brief overview is for these beginners.
Virginia has long held the nickname of “the mother of presidents,” and surely its most famous native son was the first president, George Washington. His birthplace in Westmoreland County, now a national monument, can be visited today and often features living history performers demonstrating what life was like in the times he knew. George Washington’s Virginia, by John R.
Home to sprawling plantations, the even more sprawling Fort A.P. Hill, and historic sites such as assassin John Wilkes Booth’s death place and explorer William Clark’s birthplace, Caroline County is an archetypal rural Virginia county, far closer in spirit to the somnolent Clayton County from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind than the avant-garde art and literature communities of cities like New York and Madrid. But for several months back in 1940 and 1941, Bowling Green, Caroline County’s seat, was the unlikely home to artist Salvador Dalí and authors Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin.
Many Americans are largely unaware of the fascinating Native American sites that dot our landscapes and can be visited by the public. From tall mounds, akin in function to the ancient pyramids, to haunting images etched in desert stone, there are many sites to see off the beaten tourist trails. They can tell us a lot about the people who made this continent their home hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago.
In his Ancient America: Fifty Archaeological Sites to See For Yourself, author Kenneth L. Feder gives you a wonderfully friendly tour of 50 such sites. Some are located in state or national parks. Some are found as local museums. All are worth a look. As a professor of anthropology, Dr. Feder is extremely knowledgeable, but his conversational tone makes this is a genuinely accessible guide.
When Glory came out in 1989, movie audiences were excited to see a relatively unknown side of the Civil War that highlighted the sacrifices of the Massachusetts 54th, a “colored” volunteer regiment. Gripping as the story that unfolded on the screen was, there was much more to it, of course. In real life, other people’s stories became part of the regiment’s history as the Civil War gripped the nation.
John Mercer Langston, along with Frederick Douglass, acted as a recruiter for the 54th. As an abolitionist and orator, he was an excellent choice, and this task was just one of Langston’s civic accomplishments. Although he had spent most of his life in a free state, John was familiar with plantation life. His father had been a white plantation owner in Louisa County, Virginia—not far from Spotsylvania. His mother had been his father’s slave. But his parents’ story was not a common one for the era. His father freed his mother, and, although they were not allowed to marry for legal reasons, they lived together as man and wife for the rest of their days, their children considered to be freeborn.
When she was a teenager, Boston native Vickie Preston and the little boy she babysat were almost killed by an escaped serial killer, who chose them at random. Her escape was aided by none other than a real life ghost—the ghost of the little boy's 17-year-old brother who lost his life in a car crash.
Vickie, now a historian, has returned to her hometown many years after the incident. But she doesn't return alone. The teenage ghost has followed her around most of her life, acting as her spectral protector. Overall, Vickie doesn't mind the company.
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When Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bill Dedman noticed a property listing for a grand estate that had been unoccupied for nearly sixty years, he stumbled into one of the most surprising American stories of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Empty Mansions is a rich tale of wealth and loss, complete with copper barons, Gilded Age opulence, and backdoor politics. At its heart is a reclusive 104-year-old heiress named Huguette Clark. Dedman has collaborated with Huguette's cousin, Paul Clark Newell, Jr., one of the few relatives to have had frequent conversations with her, to tell a fairy tale in reverse: the bright, talented daughter who is born into an almost royal family of amazing wealth and privilege, yet who secrets herself away from the outside world. Empty Mansions reveals a complete picture of the enigmatic Huguette Clark, heiress to one of the greatest fortunes in American history, a woman who had not been photographed in public since the 1920s. (catalog summary)
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Whether you consider it a melting pot or salad bowl, America’s culinary culture is rich with spices, both savory and sweet. Caraway seeds add piquancy to Jewish rye breads. Paprika, hot or mild, gives Hungarian stews and meats warmth and subtlety. Vanilla, theoretically the blandest of flavors, is intrinsic to many beloved forms of chocolate, cookies, cakes and even tea and coffee.
Indian spice blends, named curries when made up for Europeans, vary from district to district, from mellow to fiery. In Ethiopia, a berbere spice combination may take a dozen different ingredients—typically including chiles, allspice, cardamom, and fenugreek—to create unforgettable flavor.
If you are interested in exploring new types of cuisine or want to learn more about these ingredients’ place in world history, books about spice can brighten your summer.