The American Revolutionary War saw thirteen mere colonies declare themselves independent from one of world history’s most powerful empires, the British Empire. Even more revolutionary were the remarkable men that fostered the Revolutionary War - from aristocratic men and lawyers to silversmiths such as Paul Revere and self-made statesmen like Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton. Yet, even these exceptional men could not have officially declared the colonies “free and independent states” without the rally of ordinary men, women, and yes, children. Casey Selina explains.

A statue of Sybil Ludington in Carmel, New York.

A statue of Sybil Ludington in Carmel, New York.

Nicknamed the “Female Paul Revere,” Sybil Ludington was only sixteen years of age when she embarked on horse through the night in order to warn Patriot militia of the approaching British Army. Sybil was born in 1761 in Fredericksburg, (now called Ludingtonville) New York. She was the eldest of twelve children and the daughter of Colonel Henry Ludington who had fought in the French and Indian War. Loyal to the British crown until 1773, Colonel Ludington volunteered to lead their local militia in Duchess County, New York, during the Revolutionary War. His area of command was along a vulnerable route between Connecticut and the coast of Long Island Sound that British troops could easily take.

On the night of April 26, 1777, two years after the famous Midnight Ride, barely 16-year old Sybil Ludington was putting her younger siblings to bed when a horseman reached the Ludington residence with news that a nearby town, Danbury, Connecticut, was attacked by British forces. Danbury at the time contained a supply depot for the Continental Army. Colonel Ludington’s regiment was disbanded and returned to their homes, the horseman was exhausted, and there was no neighbor to contact. Sybil then volunteered to ride through the countryside and alert the disbanded militia.


Night Ride

Her night-long ride began at 9 PM. Sybil rode through the stormy night on roads roamed by outlaws, British soldiers, and loyalists. She rode through the towns of Kent, Mahopac, and Stormville bringing her through both Putnam and Dutchess Counties in New York, her only defense being her horse Star and a stick she carried throughout her ride. Some historians believe that along Ludington’s ride, a man offered to travel with her but instead, she turned him away to warn a town called Brewster of the impending British forces. One account retells that Ludington defended herself against an outlaw that attempted to accost her. Sybil Ludington rode a total of 40 miles (twenty miles more than Paul Revere’s ride) and warned the approximately 400 militiamen who gathered at the Ludington residence to fight the British under her father’s command. Her exact words were, “The British are burning Danbury. Muster at Ludington’s at daybreak!”

Meanwhile, the militia captain of the British forces that attacked Danbury, William Tryon, decided to burn Danbury, capture its supplies, and withdraw towards Long Island Sound. Although the militia arrived too late to defend Danbury, they were able to force the British to retreat in what became known as the Battle of Ridgefield, making them pay dearly for their destruction of Danbury. Sybil returned to her home at dawn the next day, soaked with rain and exhausted.

For her heroic acts, Sybil received personal thanks from General George Washington of the Continental Army and General Rochambeau, the French commander fighting alongside the patriots. Future Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, wrote to Colonel Ludington: “I congratulate you on the Danbury expedition. The stores destroyed have been purchased at a pretty high price to the enemy.” Her father, Colonel Ludington’s memoir claims:

One who even now rides from Carmel to Cold Spring will find rugged and dangerous roads, with lonely stretches. Imagination only can picture what it was a century and a quarter ago, on a dark night, with reckless bands of “Cowboys” and “Skinners” abroad in the land. But the child performed her task, clinging to a man’s saddle, and guiding her steed with only a hempen halter, as she rode through the night, bearing the news of the sack of Danbury. There is no extravagance in comparing her ride to that of Paul Revere and its midnight message. Nor was her errand less efficient than his. By daybreak, thanks to her daring, nearly the whole regiment was mustered before her father’s house at Fredericksburg.


Following the end of the Revolutionary War, Sybil Ludington married a farmer and innkeeper, Edmond Ogden at the age of the twenty-three and had one son named Henry, presumably after her father. She died on February 26, 1839 in Catskill, New York. She was buried near her father in the Patterson Presbyterian Cemetery in Patterson, New York.

Following her death and the revelation of her little known heroic ride in 1907, several commemorations were made in her honor. In 1912, a poem by Fred C. Warner, On an April Night 1777, narrated her journey using the form and style of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (1863). In the 1930s the New York State Education Department posted historical-marker signs along her probable route and her home site. In 1940, a statue of her and her horse, Star, was erected by Anna Hyatt Huntington and placed on Gleneida Avenue in Carmel, New York. In 1975, Ludington became the thirty-fifth woman to be honored on a United States postal stamp.

A plaque underneath her statue in New York reads:

Sybil Ludington – Revolutionary War Heroine, April 26, 1777. Called out the volunteer militia by riding through the night, alone, on horseback, at the age of 16, alerting the countryside to the burning of Danbury, Conn, by the British.


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Disastrous warfare, lethal weaponry, brave soldiers, French beaches; these are perhaps just a handful of things that come to mind when one thinks about the Second World War - and rightly so. Since the Armistice of the War on August 14, 1945, we have repeatedly paid homage to a generation of predominantly young male soldiers that rescued Europe from Hitler’s fascist clutches. The following article will attempt to uncover the tragically short but eventful life of an altogether different war-hero (but a hero nonetheless), the man that Marvin Minsky called ‘the key-figure of our century’; Alan Mathison Turing. Analysis of Turing has tended to focus on his scientific advances and the role of the code-breakers at Bletchley Park in hastening the end of the war. Yet Bletchley stands as an archetype for a more undervalued aspect of British life: eccentricity. Jon Hill explains.

Alan Turing.

Alan Turing.

Early Life

Born in London on June 23, 1912, Turing spent much of his childhood under the care of an old army couple whilst his parents spent most of their time in India due to his father’s work with the civil service. At school, he was never one to follow strict principles, spending much of his time in advanced mathematics to the neglect of his work. Turing’s school head teacher ironically claimed ‘if he is to stay here he must aim at becoming educated’. According to Turing’s biographer Andrew Hodges, his academic life changed when he met Christopher Morecambe, a future love interest who helped him become more communicative with his peers and more focused on his studies. Following Morecambe’s early death, Hodges suggests that Turing became even more determined to focus his analysis into his notorious machines. Before he left school, he had rather unintentionally won the respect of his peers for his own peculiar methods.

In 1931, he entered Kings College, Cambridge, as a mathematical scholar, where he enjoyed a more welcoming atmosphere, and was awarded a fellowship at 22.


Making of the Digital Computer

Turing made his most significant contribution to the age of computers in 1935, when he began his investigation into mathematical logic that would lead to the creation of the ‘Turing Machine’. His paper ‘An Application to the Entscheidungsproblem (decision problem)’ spawned the idea that a machine could be used to compute anything that a human mind could. In effect, Turing had created the first modern day computer, revolutionizing human activity in the process; every keyboard stroke you make owes something to Turing’s work.

The ‘Turing Machine’ was subsequently used by engineers at the University of Manchester to build the world’s first working digital computer in June 1948. For his work in Computer Science, the ‘Turing Award’ was established in 1966 - the highest accolade in the computing industry.


Wartime Work

In 1939, Turing was headhunted by the government to head the Bletchley Park cipher-breaking mission to crack Nazi encryption. Then, working day and night, Turing and his team oversaw the creation of the ‘bombes’ – the machine built to crack the ‘Enigma code’ in order to enable the government to read German naval signals. Every German U-boat carried an Enigma machine to receive operational orders. To stop them, Enigma had to be broken. This quiet mathematician’s code-breaking endeavors were quite literally a matter of life or death for millions. By 1941 the code had been cracked, thanks, in large part, to this quiet, unassuming, gay man, who wore a gas mask for his allergies, and chained his teacup to a radiator to ensure its safe-keeping.

For his wartime services he was awarded an O.B.E by King George VI in 1946. According to Churchill, Turing made ‘the single greatest contribution to the Allied forces victory in the Second World War.’

It is hard to imagine that such a peculiar group would be amassed by the British government today. Yet the undeniable eccentricity at Bletchley was key to its success. The mission brought together a distinctive cocktail of mathematicians, linguists, cryptanalysts, crossword geeks and other boffins, but left alone in a space to flourish, they experimented their way to greatness.


Betrayal and Death

Although Turing enjoyed popularity in his private life and at Walton Athletics Club (where he was very successful and almost qualified for the 1948 Olympics), the eccentric genius which made him a wartime hero was not as appreciated in peacetime. In 1952, when reporting a burglary to the police, he naively admitted to a relationship with a man. He was subsequently arrested for ‘gross indecency with males’, one of 1,600 men who had been convicted in 1952 alone. Instead of a prison sentence, Turing was ordered to undergo psychoanalysis and a year’s treatment of estrogen injections.

Turing’s homosexuality was not completely secret. Many of his friends and peers at Bletchley and Cambridge endeavored to keep his relations covert, which, according to I.J Good, was just as important to the war effort as the code-cracking mission itself; ‘if the security people had known he may well have been fired and we would have lost the war.’

On June 7, 1954, Turing was found dead at his home, with a cyanide poisoned apple confirmed to be the cause of death. The investigation stated it to be a suicide, although many Turing experts have ruled it to be an accident. With no suicide notes, no prior symptoms of depression, his regular trips abroad, and his knowledge of British intelligence, some have even suggested that he was deemed too much of a national security risk and was subsequently murdered with the knowledge of the government.



It seems to me that Turing’s life (and death) is a reminder of much that was terrible about the twentieth century. His genius was suppressed by an embarrassing education system; he was used by the government to make one of the largest contributions to human survival in recent history, before being swiftly sidelined while lesser scientists took his work onto ‘the next level’; he was not only persecuted but tortured for his homosexuality and was allegedly condemned as a ‘risk’.

Bletchley Park now stands as not only a code-breaking museum, but also for the triumph of the outsider. Turing’s posthumous pardon in 2013 stands as a beacon of hope for a suppressed generation of gay people, made to suffer for the prejudices of others.

In his 1937 paper on computer machines, Turing stated ‘the human memory is necessarily limited.’ Turing’s legacy stands as a reminder that one should not allow their memory to become limited. The age of tolerance should remember Turing as a necessary sacrifice made by a man far ahead of his time. And for that, he deserves to be considered as one of the greatest men in human history.  


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Ben Macintyre, ‘Bletchley Park: a fitting memorial to our enigmatic nature.’ Times (London, England), 22 August 2008.

Ben Macintyre, ‘The genius Britain betrayed.’ Times (London, England), 14 July 2006.

‘Codebreaker’, directed by Clare Beavan and Nic Stacey (2011).

M.H.A. Newman, ‘Alan Mathison Turing, 1912-1954.’ Royal Society, vol 1 (1955), pp. 253-263.

Richard Morrison, ‘The war’s forgotten hero.’ Times (London, England), 22 August 2008. 

There were incidents all over the divided United States in the years before the American Civil War. And a violent incident even took place in the US Congress as the battle lines between north and south, and those who opposed slavery and those who supported it were drawn…

On May 22, 1856, Republican Senator Charles Sumner from Massachusetts exited the Senate Chamber covered in his own blood. Unconscious and with his skull exposed, Sumner was carried away from the chamber. Standing in the middle of the chamber was the calm and collected Preston Brooks, a Democratic Representative from South Carolina. In his hand Brooks held a gutta-percha cane with a gold head and coated with the blood of Senator Sumner. Brenden Woldman explains.

A lithograph cartoon depicting the incident.

A lithograph cartoon depicting the incident.

An 1873 portrait of Charles Sumner.

An 1873 portrait of Charles Sumner.

Preston Brooks, circa 1857.

Preston Brooks, circa 1857.

The event[1],  which became known as “The Caning of Charles Sumner”, did not just represent the personal vendettas between two men who had contrasting political views. The assault became a symbol of the ever growing divide between the anti-slave North and the pro-slave South. Knowing this, the greatest representation of this pre-Civil War strain came from Preston Brooks’ actions on Charles Sumner.


A Personal and Political Vendetta

Senator Charles Sumner was elected to the Senate in 1851 and devoted his time in office as an anti-slave advocate and a fighter against “Slave Power”.[2] For Sumner, the idea of slave power was nothing more than a form of “tyranny” that had no place within the United States.[3] His anti-slave rhetoric did not wane throughout his years in office. The culmination of Sumner’s ideals came when he addressed the Senate on May 19-20, 1856.

In his speech entitled “The Crime Against Kansas”, Sumner criticized the Kansas-Nebraska Act (which allowed slavery to advance westward through popular vote) and argued for the immediate admission of Kansas as a free state. His reasoning was that the admittance of Kansas as a slave state was nothing more than, “the rape of a virgin Territory, compelling it to the hateful embrace of slavery”.[4] The anti-slave ideals that came from Sumner’s speech did not shock or surprise any of the senators within the chamber that day. However, what did cause the controversy that ultimately led to Representative Brooks’ fury were the personal attacks against two of his fellow Democrats.

Sumner blamed the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the subsequent violence to occur during “Bleeding Kansas” on two Democrats. The first to feel Sumner’s verbal wrath was Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas, the architect of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In private, Sumner said Douglas was a “brutal, vulgar man without delicacy or scholarship [who] looks as if he needs clean linen and should be put under a shower bath”.[5] In public and on the chamber floor, Sumner looked directly into the eye of Senator Douglas and described him as a “noise-some, squat, and nameless animal… not a proper model for an American senator”.[6]

Sumner then turned his attention to South Carolinian Senator Andrew Butler. Ironically, Butler was one of the few senators who was not present on the day of Sumner’s speech.[7] Sumner assaulted Butler’s claim that he was a southern gentlemen and a “chivalrous knight”, as the belief that Butler was chivalrous was hypocritical in the eyes of Sumner because an honorable man would not support the institution of slavery.[8] Sumner charged Butler of choosing “a mistress… who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean the harlot, slavery”.[9] Sumner continued his accusations against the Senator from South Carolina as being one who supported “tyrannical sectionalism” and was “one of the maddest zealots”.[10] Furthermore, Sumner insulted Butler’s intelligence by stating, “[Butler] shows an incapacity of accuracy, whether in stating the Constitution or in stating the law, whether in the details of statistics or the diversions of scholarship. He cannot open his mouth, but out there flies a blunder”.[11] Sumner’s berating of both Douglas and Butler did not go unnoticed. For Preston Brooks, the actions of Charles Sumner crossed the gentlemanly lines on both a political and personal level.

Preston Brooks was elected to the House of Representatives in 1853 from South Carolina’s 4th District. Much like his fellow South Carolinians, Brooks was a Democrat who was also a passionate supporter of slavery and believed that any restriction on the expansion of slavery was an attack on southern society. Due to these beliefs, it would come to no surprise that Brooks was infuriated when he heard of Sumner’s “Crime Against Kansas” speech. For Brooks, Sumner had insulted both South Carolina, southern society, and the institution of slavery. On a personal level, however, Brooks had to defend Senator Butler, as they were both South Carolinians and second cousins.[12] By cause of his southern, political, and family pride, Preston Brooks demanded vengeance on Charles Sumner.


Slaughter in the Senate Hall

Brooks’ initial response was to challenge Sumner to a duel, the traditional form of combat between two gentlemen who had a disagreement. However, Sumner was no gentleman according to Brooks, as dueling was reserved for honorable gentlemen who held an equal social standing.[13] Due to Sumner’s foul and crude language, Brooks and fellow South Carolina Representative Laurence Keitt decided to treat the Senator from Massachusetts not as a gentlemen but instead like an animal. According to Brooks and Keitt, it was far more appropriate to publically humiliate Sumner by beating him with Brooks’ gold headed gutta-percha cane and treating him not as a man, but as a disobedient dog. [14]  

On May 22, 1856, three days after the “Crime Against Kansas” speech, Representative Preston Brooks awaited outside the Senate Chamber doors for Senator Charles Sumner. Shortly after the Senate had adjourned for the day, Brooks entered the chamber, where he approached Senator Sumner, who at that moment was attaching his postal markings to copies of his now famous speech.[15] Brooks calmly spoke to Senator Sumner and said, “Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine”.[16] As Sumner began to rise from his chair but before he could get a word out, Representative Preston Brooks from the 4th District of South Carolina took his gold-headed cane and struck Charles Sumner as hard as he could on the top of the Senator’s head.

The first strike left Sumner pinned to his senatorial desk and was beaten viciously until he was able to briefly break free and stumble up the aisle of the chamber floor.[17] Sumner recalled the force of that first blow years later, stating, “I no longer saw my assailant, nor any other person or object in the room… What I did afterwards was done almost unconsciously, acting under the instincts of self-defense”.[18] As he staggered his way toward the exit, Sumner, who was blinded by and choking on his own blood, collapsed due to his injuries only a few yards away from his desk.[19] It was there that Preston Brooks stood over Charles Sumner and repeatedly struck the Massachusetts Senator until his cane cracked in pieces and was covered in Sumner’s blood. Those who tried to defend Sumner were met by Representative Keitt, who held the crowd back at gunpoint and threatened to shoot anyone who tried to intervene.[20] Keitt was heard yelling, “Let them alone! Goddamn, let them alone”.[21] All in all, the “Caning of Charles Sumner” lasted only one minute, and by the recollection of Preston Brooks he struck Senator Sumner with, “about 30 first-rate stripes”.[22] However, the lasting legacy of the ordeal lived on in the American mindset.

 Covered in blood, Senator Sumner was carried away in an unconscious and unrecognizable state. Representative Brooks on the other hand coolly walked out of the chamber, his knuckles covered with Sumner’s blood and his face slightly cut due to the backlash caused by his cane. Due to the witnesses being stunned by the whole ordeal, Brooks calmly left the Senate chamber without being detained or charged with any crime. As Brooks saw it, he left the Senate chamber not as a criminal but as a defender of the southern way of life. On the other hand was the Senator from Massachusetts, who may have left the Senate chamber a bloodied, unconscious mess, but also left as a hero of the north and the anti-slave movement.


A Southern Defender and A Northern Martyr     

After the assault, Brooks did not walk away from it without being punished. Brooks was given a fine by the Baltimore district court and Senators demanded an investigation of the incident whilst members from the House demanded the removal of both Brooks and Keitt.[23] To avoid further prosecution, Preston Brooks resigned from his seat within the House. Fatefully, due to his soaring popularity within South Carolina and the South as a whole, Brooks was reelected to Congress during the special election that was supposed to replace his vacant seat.[24] After his first full term finished, Brooks was reelected in November of 1856, but suddenly died two months later on January 27, 1857, due to a respiratory infection.  

Sumner left the chamber on the brink of death but was proclaimed in the north as a martyr of the abolitionist cause. The serious nature of his injuries, which included head trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, caused Sumner to take leave from his Senate duties for three years.[25] His slow recovery led to a triumphant return to the Senate in 1859, where he continued to be a leading voice in the Republican Party and the abolitionist movement. Sumner remained in the Senate until his death on March 11, 1874.


A Country’s Point of No Return

There are moments in history that are so dramatic they seem as if they were written by a Hollywood screenwriter. In this instance, two relatively unknown members of the House and Senate became legendary figures due to a personal dispute. However, interpreting the “Caning of Charles Sumner” as simply an interesting and gruesome moment between two men is unfair to the historical significance of the event. One must not forget that this whole dispute was sparked due to “Bleeding Kansas” and the debate about slavery within the United States. Brooks’ assault on Sumner was more than the defense of “southern and personal honor”. It became a defining moment of a nation reaching its breaking point. This breakdown in reason within what was considered the “world’s greatest deliberative body” became known as a symbolized moment of discontent between the north and the south. It should come as no surprise that only five years after Brooks’ attack on Charles Sumner that the Confederate States of America attacked Fort Sumter, sparking the Civil War.


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[1] Manisha Sinha, "The Caning of Charles Sumner: Slavery, Race, and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War," University of Pennsylvania Press 23, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 233, doi: Journal of the Early Republic.

[2] Anne-Marie Taylor, Young Charles Sumner: and the Legacy of the American Enlightenment, 1811-1851 (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001), 266.

[3] Ibid., 266.

[4] Charles Sumner, "The Crime Against Kansas. Speech of Hon. Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts. In the Senate of the United States, May 19, 1856,", 2, accessed July 2017,

[5] ""The Crime Against Kansas"," U.S. Senate: "The Crime Against Kansas", April 17, 2017, 1,

[6] Ibid., 1

[7] Ibid., 1

[8] Sumner, “The Crime Against Kansas” 3.

[9] Ibid., 3

[10] Ibid., 4.

[11] Ibid., 29.

[12] Stephen Puleo, "The US Senate’s Darkest Moment,", March 29, 2015, 1,

[13] Michael Daigh, John Brown in Memory and Myth (Jefferson City, NC: McFarland, 2015), 113.

[14] "The Caning of Senator Charles Sumner," U.S. Senate: The Caning of Senator Charles Sumner, April 17, 2017, 1,

[15] Ibid., 113.

[16] Michael Daigh, John Brown in Memory and Myth, 113.

[17] Ibid., 113.

[18] Puleo, “The US Senate’s Darkest Moment”, 1.

[19] Michael Daigh, John Brown in Memory and Myth, 113.

[20] Ibid., 113.

[21] Puleo, “The US Senate’s Darkest Moment”, 1.

[22] Ibid., 1.

[23] "South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks's Attack on Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts," US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives, 1,

[24] Ibid., 1.

[25] Ibid., 1.

Gone with the Wind (1939) is one of the most influential films in American history. Part romance and part historical drama, the film tells the story of how the Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara vainly pursues Ashley Wilkes, the boy-next-door, despite Rhett Butler’s affections for her. Set partially in the O’Hara (Tara) and Wilkes (Twelve Oaks) plantations, the film shows how black and white Americans led parallel but contrasting lives on Southern plantations. Black slaves and white masters lived and worked together. Yet, they differed in their roles and powers. They were also impacted differently by the American Civil War (1861 – 1865). The film’s “Lost Cause” portrayal did not represent the lives of all black and white Southerners, and was sometimes inaccurate in glorifying the antebellum years on the plantation. Nonetheless, it is more accurate in showing the postwar devastation of plantations and their inhabitants. Thus, the film illuminates the active role played by slaves on plantations, but distorts the slave-master relationship, presenting it as a positive experience. Wen Li Teng explains.

A 1939 poster for Gone with the Wind - available here.

A 1939 poster for Gone with the Wind - available here.

Different Roles on the Plantation

Gone with the Wind was largely realistic in showing how white and black people had different roles on the plantation. In the film, Tara and Twelve Oaks serve as social settings for their white residents. Firstly, the plantation houses are home to the O’Hara and Wilkes families respectively. Secondly, the houses serve as a place for social gatherings. At Tara and Twelve Oaks, Scarlett entertains admirers such as Brent and Stuart Tarleton. The plantation itself, however, serves distinctly financial purposes – the growing of cotton. For the black residents of the plantation, this means work for Big Sam the foreman and the field hands he leads, as shown in the scene where the men toil in the fields till it is “quitting time” at sunset.[1] Not only do the slaves work in the fields, they also work in the houses. The film shows how Mammy, Prissy, and Pork serve their white masters at Tara, and how other domestic servants wait on the guests at the Twelve Oaks party. Thus, Gone with the Wind establishes the plantation as a place of riches and recreation for white Southerners, and a place of work and servitude for black Southerners.

Yet, the film’s portrayal of white activities on the plantation is extraordinary, for the plantation lifestyle was enjoyed only by a minority of people. Only 12 percent of slaveholders held twelve or more slaves, which was the dividing line frequently given between a plantation and a farm.[2] Furthermore, while some planters lived in grand two or three-story Greek Revival or Federal mansions, even these houses were not as majestic as the Tara house, which was compared by the film’s makers and consultants to the State Capitol at Montgomery, Alabama.[3] The social life thus enjoyed by white people at Tara and Twelve Oaks was enjoyed only by a minority of Southerners in reality.

Black plantation life was also idealized, for the portrayal of slaves being happy, contented, and well-treated was not representative of the experience of many slaves. For one, numerous slaves went hungry because their stingy masters failed to provide them adequate rations.[4] Other slaves had to work in hostile conditions. Lu Lee, an enslaved person from Texas, was made to herd sheep in the prairies despite the dangerous wolves, panthers, and wild cattle that roamed about.[5] For many, slavery was an arduous experience markedly different from the peaceful scenes of ploughing and cattle herding shown in Gone with the Wind.


Relations of Power and Authority

The film also shows the dynamics of power and authority between white and black people on the plantation. White people assert a formal (but benign) authority over black people. The black house servants are obliged to perform tasks for their masters and mistresses when requested to do so. Early in the film, Mammy helps Scarlett with her dress, while Prissy delivers “vittles” on a tray.[6]  Black people are shown to have an informal authority over white people as well. Mammy harangues Scarlett over eating, napping, and behaving at the party. Neither is she abashed about comparing Scarlett and Suellen to “poor, white-trash children” when they bicker over Ashley.[7] The harmonious co-existence of slave and master strengthens the film’s wistful, nostalgic portrayal of a bygone age.

Nevertheless, such interactions between slave and master may be atypical. Not all slaveholders were as benevolent as Gerald O’Hara, who believed that “one must be firm with inferiors but … be gentle with them.”[8] Slaves were whipped for offences such as escaping, dishonesty, indolence, stealing, and showing disrespect to their masters. Solomon Northrup’s account of life on a Louisiana cotton plantation evinces the clear authority of the master to abuse his slaves. In his famous Twelve Years a Slave, Northrup describes how new slaves were “whipped up smartly” before being sent into the field to pick cotton as fast as possible.[9] Thus, the relatively violent-free treatment of slaves shown in the film was unrepresentative of all plantations.


Impacts of the Civil War

These interactions within and between white and black people were not to last. The Civil War, and its wave of destruction across the South, led to an upheaval of the Southern landscape and way of life. For white people, the plantation became a site of Northern defilement and exploitation. Upon her return from Atlanta, Scarlett finds that Twelve Oaks has been left in ruins. At Tara, she is informed by Pork that “the Yankees done burned [the barn] for firewood.”[10] She is then informed by Mammy that the Union soldiers “stole most everythin’ they didn’t burn,” including the clothes, rugs, and even rosaries, and that “there ain’t nothing to eat.”[11] To add further insult to injury, a lone Union cavalryman sneaks into the Tara house and attempts to steal the O’Hara’s jewelry. Such rapacious Union soldiers contributed to the breakdown of white society. The comfortable plantation life as Southerners knew it simply became non-existent.

The film’s representation of the dismal state of the South is truthful. Union soldiers certainly partook in pillaging plantations and the rest of the former Confederacy. Like the members of the O’Hara family, Mrs. Mary Jones and her daughter (both of Liberty County, Georgia) found themselves raided by Yankees. These soldiers stole food and rifled through the women’s personal belongings.[12] Other bands of soldiers, known as “Sherman’s bummers,” also pillaged livestock from farms and plantations.[13] The plantations that survived Union destruction were unable to sell their products during the war. In the Reconstruction era they suffered further from severely depressed prices. Thus, the victimization and poverty of plantation owners was no exaggeration in Gone with the Wind. The sense of normalcy and security they once had was directly and permanently violated by the Union movement into the South.

So too was there an upheaval in the status of African Americans. Their emancipation shifted the racial dynamic which had given power to white Americans. In the film, this is evidenced by the triumphant black carpetbagger who sings “Marching Through Georgia” as he travels by horse carriage along the roads of the Southern countryside. While the film depicts such changes for northern blacks, it shows the southern black servants faithfully standing by the O’Hara family when Scarlett returns. Mammy washes the clothes of the returning Confederate soldiers and helps Scarlett to make a dress out of her mother’s portieres. Pork assists by getting the horse shod and by stirring the soap when instructed by Scarlett to do so. The film thus shows that even as northern blacks challenged the prewar notions of black inferiority, some slaves continued in servitude to their masters.

For a variety of reasons, slaves continued to serve their masters. Many slaves, including children and adults, appeared unwilling to leave the places where they had lived and worked.[14] They considered such places home, even if they loathed their subjugation there. Some slaves remained loyal to their masters because the latter had been kind to them.[15] Others stayed with their masters because they feared the Union soldiers, who sometimes robbed them of their possessions.[16]  Moreover, African American women were vulnerable to violent crimes: one female slave was raped in front of her white mistress, while another was drowned in a ditch.[17] It would not be unrealistic for slaves like Mammy, Prissy, and Pork to continue to serve the O’Hara family.

Still, most African Americans fervently wished for emancipation.[18] Even before the war ended, many black southerners participated in a massive labor withdrawal termed by W. E. B. Du Bois as the “General Strike.”[19] With white masters like Ashley Wilkes away on the war front, slaves seized the opportunity to work slowly, defy orders and instructions, move freely from one place to another, and engage in other activities that they had been disallowed from.[20] Slaves escaped as the war drew closer to the Southern homeland – one South Carolina planter, serving in the Army of Northern Virginia, was infuriated when his “faithful” body servant ran away.[21] As seen in Tara after the war, where it appears that there are no other slaves, Mammy, Prissy and Pork may have been the exception. Most slaves are likely to have stopped working as slaves for their masters.



Overall, the film is an overwhelmingly sympathetic portrayal to a lost Southern way of life, where the plantation is a place of tranquility, prosperity, and satisfaction. White people such as Scarlett and Gerald O’Hara are shown as benevolent masters, and black people such as Mammy and Pork are shown as willing and subservient slaves. In line with the Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War, the Confederacy and its institution of slavery are portrayed as honorable. With slave and master happy with the status quo, notions of ending slavery (celebrated by the Emancipation Cause as the war’s aim) should be dismissed. The film also forces those who support the Union Cause to re-consider how honorable their cherished war heroes were. Collectively and individually, Yankees are shown to have driven Southerners to misery with their wanton destruction and pillaging of Southern plantations and their homes. Such dishonorable behavior by Union troops challenges the Reconciliation Cause as well, which celebrates equally the bravery of white Union and Confederate soldiers.[22] The film thus champions the Lost Cause over other interpretations of the Civil War.

However, the film’s portrayal of slave-master relations is on a whole unrepresentative of the entire experience of Southern slavery. Conditions of slavery within the United States varied from region to region, since slavery was present from Texas to Virginia. Slavery remained highly diverse even within regions. Slaves worked both in cities and in the countryside. Slavery also differed in scale: some owned one or two slaves while others owned hundreds. Undoubtedly, there were large plantations with luxurious houses and numerous slaves. So too were there owners who were even-handed and kind. Nevertheless, the portrayal of plantation slavery in Gone with the Wind likely represented the experiences of a privileged minority of Southerners.

Furthermore, the film’s portrayal of slavery shows that racist attitudes did not end with emancipation, but continued into the 20th century. The film includes the racial epithet “darkies,” which Gerald O’Hara used to refer to African Americans. More significantly, the film evokes the smiling complaisance of Mammy, Pork, and Prissy to suggest that black people were inclined to subordinate themselves to their white betters. Evidently, racism was still present five decades after the Civil War.

Gone with the Wind illuminates the roles of blacks and whites on plantations, the relations of power between them, and the impact of the Civil War on both. By contrasting the positive side of slavery and the negative aspects of Reconstruction, the film aides the Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War. Slaves and masters are shown to lead parallel lives, living together, contented with their station. However, in reality, black and white lives were highly dissimilar. The film thus distorts the suffering and inferiority experienced by most slaves.


What do you think of the article? Let us know below…



[1] Gone with the Wind, directed by Victor Fleming. (1939; Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video, 2004), DVD.

[2] Gary W. Gallagher and Joan Waugh, The American War: A History of the Civil War Era (State College, PA: Flip Learning, 2016), 12.

[3] Christopher G. Bates, ed., s.v. "Planters and Plantations," in The Early Republic and Antebellum America: An Encyclopedia of Social, Political, Cultural, and Economic History (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2010); and Jim Cullen, The Civil War in Popular Culture: A Reusable Past (Washington: The Smithsonian Institution, 1995), 90.

[4] Christopher G. Bates, ed., s.v. "Slavery, Life and Culture," in The Early Republic and Antebellum America: An Encyclopedia of Social, Political, Cultural, and Economic History (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2010).

[5] Andrew Waters, ed., I Was Born in Slavery: Personal Accounts of Slavery in Texas (Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, Publisher, 2003), 11.

[6] Gone with the Wind, directed by Victor Fleming. (1939; Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video, 2004), DVD.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9]  Solomon Northrup, Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New-York (New York: Miller, Orton, & Mulligan, 1855), 165.

[10] Gone with the Wind, directed by Victor Fleming. (1939; Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video, 2004), DVD.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Jacqueline Glass Campbell, When Sherman Marched North From the Sea: Resistance on the Confederate Home Front (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 15-6.

[13] Ibid, 44-5.

[14] Campbell, 49.

[15] Ibid, 48.

[16] Ibid, 65.

[17] Ibid, 66.

[18] Gallagher and Waugh, 93.

[19] Ibid., 94.

[20] Ibid. 93.

[21] James M. McPherson, For Cause & Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 106.

[22] Gallagher and Waugh, 240. 

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

Edgar Allan Poe, one of America’s most famous 19th century writers, had a fascinating life, but his death remains shrouded in mystery. How did he die? Was it through alcoholism or one of several other possible causes? Stephen Bitsoli explains.

An 1849 daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe.

An 1849 daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe.

Oscar Wilde wrote, “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” Edgar Allan Poe's literary executor made sure Poe was talked about, but he probably wouldn't have enjoyed the way people talked about him or what they said, which was something like: Edgar Allan Poe was a creepy guy, probably mentally ill, a sexual deviant, a drunkard and a dope fiend.

That’s what his executor, the infamous Rufus W. Griswold, said about Poe in a pseudonymous obituary – partially plagiarized from the description of a villain in a novel – and in the introduction to a posthumous collection of his works. Surely the individual entrusted with a writer's legacy would be expected to put the best possible spin on the subject. If that’s what he said, the truth must be much worse!

Poe certainly seemed to display many of the physical signs of alcohol abuse and general debauchery: pale, dishevelled, seedy and in poor health. And it must be said that a reputation for depravity may have enhanced his fame and kept at least the more horrific of his Tales of Mystery and Imagination alive more than 130 years after his death.

Alas, that reputation is not true, at least probably not. By all accounts, Poe only looked like the guy in those photos in his last year of life. Griswold, however, had nursed a grudge against Poe for many years. By hook or by crook he arranged to oversee Poe’s literary estate seemingly out of pure malice (and maybe avarice; by all reports, he didn’t give any of the proceeds to Poe’s heirs). Griswold even forged or altered Poe’s correspondence to make him look worse. He created the caricature of Poe the madman, Poe the sot, Poe the sexual deviant that persists to this day.

As a young man, Poe was much more handsome than his popular image, as pointed out by Lynn Cullen, author of the novel Mrs. Poe. He never had much money, but he had a notorious affair with a married woman (Frances Osgood, who also flirted with Griswold, another source of enmity). Even the day he died, the year he looked like that, he was engaged to be married. If Poe was that guy, why would so many women be attracted to him? 

An 1845 portrait of Edgar Allan Poe by Samuel Stillman Osgood.

An 1845 portrait of Edgar Allan Poe by Samuel Stillman Osgood.

Poe’s Drinking Problem

So if Poe was better looking than his popular depiction, what about alcoholism? The mental and psychological as well as the physical signs of alcohol abuse could explain his death: dementia, ill-health, sudden death. In his paper “Leading E. A. Poe through a Standard Test for Alcoholism,” Todd Richardson attempts to use the Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test to determine whether or not Poe was addicted to drink: “A tally of Poe’s answers produces a MAST score of thirty-seven points,” Richardson decides, “more than seven times greater than the score needed to produce a diagnosis of alcoholism.”

The bulk of the available evidence however suggests Poe’s “drinking problem” was that he couldn’t safely drink even one glass of wine or ale. He had no tolerance for alcohol at all. Alcoholics develop an enormous capacity for drinking. The physical signs of alcohol abuse overtook Poe too quickly for him to be a heavy or even regular drinker. As a Southern-raised gentleman in the early nineteenth century, expected to drink socially, that was a severe handicap. Even laudanum, a popular panacea at the time (a mix of a tincture of opium and alcohol), made him ill, so it’s unlikely he was frequenting an opium den.

Well, didn’t he marry his 13-year-old cousin? Wasn’t his writing full of men obsessed with dead or dying women? Doesn’t “Annabel Lee” end with the narrator confessing that he sleeps beside his dead childhood love in her “In her tomb by the sounding sea”?

Yes, he did marry Virginia Clemm, 13, his mother’s sister’s daughter, and yes she was far too young by modern standards. Neither circumstance was so unusual at the time. Besides, it seems to have been more of a brotherly marriage than a romantic one, a way to stay close with his remaining family (his father ran off, his mother and his foster mother both died, and his foster father disowned him).

And, yes, a literal interpretation of the poem does support that reading. But it’s a mistake to take much of Poe’s fiction too literally, and it’s a bigger mistake to assume Poe is like his famously unreliable narrators. Poe famously wrote that “the death … of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world,” and he returned to it again and again.


How Poe Died

How he died and what he died of is a mystery. He was found passed out in the street, and was wearing a different set of clothing than he had brought with him or was wearing when last seen. He died four days later, though what was the cause (more than a dozen have been suggested) is unclear.

Aside from drugs or drink, the most popular theory has been that he was the victim of cooping, a practice in which people were press-ganged into voting for a candidate many, many times, and forcibly intoxicated to make them more malleable. Sometimes they were made to change their clothing or wear disguises to seem like different men (an election had just taken place). He then died from drink and/or exposure afterward.


Matthew Pearl, who devoted a novel to his own speculations, The Poe Shadow, thinks it might have been a brain tumor, based on a report that something was rattling around in Poe’s skull when his grave was exhumed to move it to its present resting place. At least Pearl thinks it likely that Poe had a brain tumor; something else might have killed him first.

(Pearl also suggests a solution to the ill-fitting clothing mystery: In his novel, the protagonist discovers that it is a common practice for gentleman caught out in the rain without an umbrella to exchange their rain-sodden clothing for that of a previous gentleman’s that have already dried.)

Other theories abound, more than a dozen by some counts, falling into two broad categories:

Natural causes. Flu, epilepsy, hypoglycemia, diabetes, heart disease, the skin or nervous disorder porphyria.

Misadventure. Physical assault, accidental or intentional poisoning, rabies, murder.


Rabies was a popular theory for a while (a 1997 CD compilation of renditions of Poe stories and poems was titled Closed on Account of Rabies), since that’s how one doctor diagnosed Poe’s symptoms without knowing his identity. Lately it’s fallen into disfavor since Poe had no reported hydrophobia (fear of water), which is almost like having measles without a red rash.

Given the facts of his death, the testimony of his contemporaries (friend and foe) and Griswold’s animus, the only conclusions are that Poe was not an addict, or at least deserves the benefit of the doubt. In pace requiestat!


Stephen Bitsoli writes about history, literature, and related matters. A journalist for more than 20 years, and a lifelong avid reader, Stephen enjoys learning and sharing what he’s learned. He has asked us to link to a rehabilitation center here.

References OCR/Dionysos_Vol 9_No 2_.pdf

What comes to mind when the ‘Dark Ages’ is mentioned? Religious conflict? Anti-science sentiment among the illiterate and uneducated? Noble knights conquering on horseback amid plagues and unsanitary cities? In contrast, the Middle Ages were marked by the preservation of knowledge following the collapse of the Roman Empire and the pursuit of further innovation that birthed the Renaissance. Casey Titus explains four infamous myths about the Medieval Era. 

King Richard II of England (1367-1400) holding an orb and scepter for his coronation nearly a century before Christopher Columbus made his famous sail across the ocean blue. 

King Richard II of England (1367-1400) holding an orb and scepter for his coronation nearly a century before Christopher Columbus made his famous sail across the ocean blue. 

Myth 1#: Medieval Woman had no rights

As opposed to the image of an oppressed, powerless peasant woman in the Middle Ages, women wielded considerable power outside of domestic duties. In the church, women could hold high positions as abbesses of convents or the female head of a community of nuns. This position possessed great responsibility and superior authority over the monks. Women also exercised political power, most prominently as queens and substitutes for the male monarchs during their periods of absence, illness, or due to their youth. Some queens were remarked in history as powerful and influential. In one historical example, Isabella of France or the “She-Wolf of France,” joined forces with her lover, exiled Marcher Lord, Roger Mortimer, to end the reign of her husband, Edward II, and took the English throne for herself. While an overwhelming majority of women did not hold such positions of power, taking up the role of wives and nuns instead, those that were widowed had legal independence. It is worth noting that both young aristocratic men and women had little say in their choice of spouse. By all historical accounts, women in the Medieval Era were resilient, skillful, and practical people.


Myth #2: Medieval people had terrible hygiene and a low life expectancy

The disastrous effects of the Black Death (1346-1353) prompted people during the Dark Ages to explore the link between health, hygiene, and disease. It was during this time the crusaders brought soap from the Far East to Europe along the Silk Road. People generally bathed in cold water with the exception of the wealthy who bathed in hot water. Before entering the Great Hall in Medieval Castles, guests and nobility alike were expected to wash their hands. Teeth were brushed with the use of a cloth or mixtures of herbs and even ashes of burnt rosemary. Bad teeth could be pulled out – the only remedy – without the use of anesthetic or painkillers.

In 1388, the English Parliament issued the following statement in an effort to improve hygiene in Medieval London: “Item, that so much dung and filth of the garbage and entrails be case and put into ditches, rivers, and other waters… so that the air there is grown greatly corrupt and infected, and many maladies and other intolerable diseases do daily happen… it is accorded and assented, that the proclamation be made as well in the city of London, as in other cities, boroughs, and towns through the realm of England, where it shall be needful that all they who do cast and lay all such annoyances, dung, garbages, entrails, and other ordure, in dithes, rivers, waters, and other places aforesaid, shall cause them utterly to be removed, avoided, and carried away, every one upon pain to lose and forfeit to our Lord the King the sum of 20 pounds…”


Myth #3: People believed the earth was flat

The full common myth follows: Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the new world disproved the Church’s teachings of a flat earth. This was a belief defended vigorously by people living in the Medieval Era on punishment of imprisonment or worse – similar to Galileo’s case while championing heliocentrism (that the earth and other planets revolve around the sun) in the 1610s, over a century after the end of the Dark Ages. In reality, that popular myth was coined in 1828 by author Washington Irving who wrote a biography of Columbus, depicting him as a “radical thinker” who turned his back on a backwards Old World in favor of the rationalism promised to the New World without historical and factual backing, in favor of popularity and publicity. During some kings’ coronations, a golden sphere was held in the king’s left hand to symbolize the earth (see the above image of King Richard II of England). In a collection of German sermons dated to the thirteenth century, its  peasant audience was told that the earth was “round like an apple.”


Myth #4: The “Dark Ages” had no technological and scientific breakthroughs which is why progress was stalled for centuries

With the Western Roman Empire’s collapse in 476AD, funding for engineering and large-scale infrastructure depleted. Many of the skills necessary to create monumental buildings and complex technology withered away to history. Then over time, the decline of long-distance trade between Europe and Asia resulted in self-sufficient production to solely meet local needs. This method was used in communities so efficiently that it led to its continental spread across Europe and the invention of the horse-collar, mouldboard plough, water mills, and power mills. The blast furnace and development of cast iron were two innovations that advanced metal technology in Medieval times that even exceeded that of the Romans!

Moreover, innovations in wind and water-power during the Second half of the Middle Ages (1000 – 1500 AD) revolutionized agrarian Europe, turning the continent into a rich, populous, and expanding Christian power. In the thirteenth century, the first mechanical clocks were installed across Europe. This clock was the most complex form of mechanism at the time, taking eight years to complete its full cycle of calculations. Universities were on the rise in Medieval Europe, providing a large market for books, while experiments with block printing led to the best known Medieval invention: the printing press.


A closer look into Medieval Europe debunks our perceived image of the infamous “Dark Ages”. In between two revolutionary eras of breakthroughs, innovation, and artistic expression lies a thousand-year period of struggles, self-sufficiency, and a bridge into future human progress.


What do you think of progress during the Dark Ages? Let us know below…


Frater, Jamie. "Top 10 Myths About The Middle Ages." N.p., 7 Jan. 2009. Web. 6 June 2017.

Gabriele, Matthew. "Five Myths about the Middle Ages." The Washington Post. N.p., 23 Sept. 2016. Web. 6 June 2017.

O'Neill, Tim. "How the Middle Ages Really Were." The Huffington Post., 08 Sept. 2014. Web. 06 June 2017.

The space race was one of the key battlegrounds during the Cold War. And as the space race became ever more important during the 1950s and 1960s, chimps became a key part of the US space program. Andrew Walls explains.

Ham the chimp, prior to his test flight in January 1961.

Ham the chimp, prior to his test flight in January 1961.

The era of the spacefaring chimp

The era of the rocket monkeys was a confusing one. Both for the chimps themselves and for those working towards the eventual moon landing. The Cold War was in full swing and the American and Soviet space programs were battling for ideological supremacy. The Soviets had just sent two dogs, Belka and Strelka, up into the Earth’s orbit and had touched them down safely.

The American public wanted a similar milestone for the American space program. So when Ham touched down in the Mercury capsule the public treated him not like a research animal and more like a “short, hairy astronaut”. Gifts and flowers began arriving for Ham. People wanted his autograph. He was one of those golden age American heroes that made people weep with pride.

This didn’t thrill Alan Shepard, who was to go up following Ham’s safe return to prove its safety for humans. Neither really piloted the craft. They both just sat there and let the guys on the ground prove the flights were safe. Alan Shepard in short wasn’t thrilled with this monkey stealing his thunder and reasonably chose not to attend the furry American hero’s funeral some years later.


Space Chimps Made In America

Albert was the first chimponaut to be launched into space. The term launched is right because they strapped him to a V-2 rocket and let him suffocate during the flight. Albert ll, his successor, was killed when the V-2 rocket he was strapped to had a parachute failure. During this suicidal flight Albert ll became the first monkey in space after passing the Karman line of 100km above sea level. In fact the first Albert to survive the landing was Albert Vl, who along with his 11 mouse crewmates touched down safely. However, once they touched down, the monkeys weren’t finished yet.

Next came the battery of medical tests which ascertained what impacts, if any, weightlessness and other phenomena of space travel had on them. They wisely stopped numbering the chimps and just started giving them nicknames. So “Baker” was the first chimp to survive both the flight and the post flight operations. At the age of 27, Baker was buried on the grounds of the United States Space & Rocket Center. Ham, our American hero and Enos, his successor, were the two most well-known astrochimps but there were many others who lived and died with little fanfare.

Ham the chimp is welcomed back with a 'handshake' after his January 1961 flight on the Mercury Redstone rocket.

Ham the chimp is welcomed back with a 'handshake' after his January 1961 flight on the Mercury Redstone rocket.

Furious George

Beyond the States, Russia, France, Argentina and Iran have all launched their own chimps - most of whom also perished during their flights. Astronauts dying mid-flight has always been horrendous for space programs. The Columbia and Challenger disasters crippled the American space program. So for riskier flights, especially during the initial testing phases, it made sense to send a chimp who will garner far less media attention in the event of a malfunction. Chimps are very similar to humans biologically and it is reasonable to assume that any effects they experience from space flight could also be experienced by a human.

What most people don’t realize is scientists of the time had no idea of what to expect from people in space. No person had ever been that far from the ground before. It just hadn’t been possible. We know now that people are fine in space with the appropriate precautions being taken. At the time, however, they were just guessing. Would lessened gravity distort people’s eyeballs and blind them? Maybe the change in weight of body parts would restrict movement, leaving the pilot unable to control the ship at altitude. Would the space radiation kill people before they could safely land? NASA, the Soviet space program and the rest of the world had absolutely no clue. So they sent up chimps and hoped for the best.


Monkey Business

The use of chimps in aerospace was an unfortunate necessity of the time. A space program that had as many astronauts die as chimps did would have been cancelled and condemned very quickly. Chimps were a necessary sacrifice in the vital quest for information. But I want to finish this story with a happy ending. One about what happened to the chimps after the space programs no longer needed them. This story reinforces where using chimps or any surrogates as research tools can go wrong when the agency using them doesn’t respect them as intelligent organisms.

In the 1970s the Air Force decided it no longer needed its chimp colony. The space race was finished; they had all the information launching chimps could give them. So they began leasing them to medical facilities in New York and New Mexico State. That lasted for a while.


Gorilla Warfare

Then in 1997 they decided to officially “retire” them forever. Luckily that didn’t mean putting them to sleep. The Air Force would instead sell the chimps on the open market. In a mock “bidding” process, they only considered one bid, which came from The Coulston Foundation. This foundation had a horrendous track record of animal cruelty and had once had 300 chimps seized because of negligent care. Important people asked that instead these chimps go to a sanctuary.

They still had memories of Ham and other chimp sacrifices in the Space Race and wanted these chimps to be treated with some respect and dignity. Here’s where Dr. Carole Noon comes in. With the backing of Dr. Jane Goodall and Dr. Roger Fouts, Noon fought hard for the chimps to be moved to a sanctuary. The Air Force, in what they must have thought was a “show of good faith”, awarded 30 chimps to Dr. Noon and the rest to The Coulston Foundation. Dr. Noon was less than pleased. She raised the funds herself and built a sanctuary in Florida. After a year-long court battle she finally won custody of the remaining 21 chimps and moved them to her sanctuary. Today she operates the Save the Chimp foundation which is where these chimps are living out their days peacefully and without testing.


Chimpy Meadows

A life of rest and peace is a fitting end for the descendants of the monkeys who helped us reach space. But the fact that the Air Force was going to condemn them to an abusive testing facility reaffirms the lack of respect they have for these animals’ intelligence and their contribution to the space program. Moving forward it would serve any agency using animals for testing to consider the following: Will this test give us information that could not be obtained otherwise? Can we use people instead without putting those people through some significant risk? And in the event they do decide animals are necessary: Are we treating these animals with respect and dignity both during the testing process and afterwards?

Thank you astro-chimps the world over for your sacrifices. You may not realize it, but you’ve helped to start something which could change humanity’s destiny forever.


For more of Andrew Walls’ writing visit his space and entrepreneurship blog: Landing Attempts.

Out of respect for the chimps discussed in this article, Landing Attempts has made a donation to the Save The Chimps Foundation founded by Dr. Noon. Save the Chimps works to reclaim and house chimps affected by biomedical testing facilities. They deserve our support and respect.


Roach, Mary. Packing for Mars.

Cassidy, David and Davy Kristin. Space Chimps.

Wall, Mike. Scientific American.

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

The varsity sports teams at the University of Notre Dame are called ‘The Fighting Irish’. Thousands of Irish pubs have sprung up across the world; the Irish are notorious for their drinking. Where did these stereotypes come from? Have the Irish always been thought of in this way?

Becky Clark considers these questions and explains what happened when many Irish people immigrated to England in the nineteenth century.

An American anti-Irish cartoon, The Usual Irish Way of Doing Things, by Thomas Nast from Harper's Weekly in 1871.

An American anti-Irish cartoon, The Usual Irish Way of Doing Things, by Thomas Nast from Harper's Weekly in 1871.

Today, the Irish are known for being friendly, fun, and the best drinking companions; in reality, the Irish stereotype has fluctuated throughout history.

The truth is, most people know very little about the history of Ireland. Most of us recognize St Patrick’s Day; some of us might know that there was a potato famine, and others probably have snippets of information to pull out about the IRA. What most of us don’t realize is that Britain was the source of a great deal of anti-Irish sentiment in the nineteenth century. It’s something that maybe isn’t taught about as much as it should be, but equally something that we should really be aware of.

I didn’t really come across much Irish history until my fourth year of university, when I started to learn more about the great famine of Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century. I discovered that poverty was rife in Ireland in the nineteenth century; only a quarter of the population were literate, and life expectancy was a mere 40 years of age. A majority of the Irish peasants subsisted on a diet of mainly potatoes. When the leaves suddenly turned black and the crops began to die, peasants struggled to find an alternative to replace it. Calls for help to the British government only met a response of a ‘laissez-faire’ approach. The result was that an estimated one million people died from starvation. Hundreds of thousands more emigrated in the hope of a better life. 200,000 Irish immigrants a year between 1849 and 1852 travelled across the sea, causing cities like Manchester, Glasgow and London to be cast as ‘Little Irelands’.

However, their reception upon arrival was hostile and unwelcoming. Workplaces began to advertise jobs in their windows with the words: ‘Irish need not apply’. Newspapers began to publish stereotype images of ‘Paddy’, the Irish Frankenstein:  unhygienic, violent, ungrateful and inherently criminal. Where did this hostility come from? The ‘paddy’ of the early nineteenth century had been presented as somewhat of a lovable rogue. Several factors could be induced for causing this hostility – anti-Catholicism, the perceived contagious degrading nature of the Irish, and the accusation that they were taking English jobs – but these all aligned under one overarching aspect: the consequence of timing. These masses of Irish immigrants arrived into a country besieged by economic, religious and social problems, and one that was looking for a reason on which to pin these problems. The Irish immigrants provided a ready-made scapegoat.


‘They’re taking our jobs’

This one might be familiar to you. It’s one that comes out in any time of economic crisis, when financial stability is under threat. You might be interested to know that this one goes back centuries; working class English people lamented the arrival of the Irish for fear that they were a threat to the security of their own jobs and income. Due to the extent of their poverty, these Irish immigrants were often willing to work any kind of job; longer hours, for less pay, and in worse conditions than their British counterparts. One ballad outlines:

When work grew scarce, and bread was dear,

And wages lessened too,

The Irish hordes were bidders here,

Our half paid work to do.’


In effect, the Irish immigrants provided a ready-made target for the frustrations of a class suffering from the job insecurity and poor living conditions of a newly industrialized state.


Degrading influence’

Britain was still undergoing industrialization when the influx of Irish arrived, and the symptoms of any industrializing state are squalor and misery. Industrial Britain proved a troublesome and unsanitary place for the lower classes. Living standards were low; disease, overcrowding, poor sanitation and consequent crime made life difficult in the bigger cities. The arrival of the Irish provided an easy scapegoat for this poverty: they were blamed for bringing degrading characteristics with them to pollute England. Inflated rents, a lack of accommodation and the general hostility of the community forced the Irish to overcrowd in poorly conditioned houses far from the city, forming what the English perceived as ‘ghettos’.

These ghettos were usually associated with high levels of drinking (due to the Irish drinking culture), casual violence, vagrancy, diseases and high levels of unemployment. Social investigators were horrified at the extent of violence they found. Rather than addressing the problems of industrial Britain, however, they tended to blame the Irish for their ‘degrading influence’. Nowadays, we know that political prejudice resulted in the Irish being vastly over-represented in crimes. At the time, however, people feared not only the squalor of the Irish, but that their habits would be a contagion, spreading to the lower classes.

In reality, this was not the spread of the contagion of Irish character, but the spread of poverty. Once again, anti-Irish sentiment was whipped into a frenzy, concealing the true root of the problem. It is interesting to see this technique of scapegoating those in the worst position for the country’s problems, particularly because it is a debate that we may still find in societies today.


‘No Immigrants. No popery’

Protestantism was the dominant religion in England in the nineteenth century, and this type of Protestantism was predominantly anti-Catholic. Loyalty to Rome was believed to compromise loyalty to the state, and people feared that the Catholic Irish were doing just that.

With the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in 1850, ‘No Popery’ processions emerged throughout England and, on bonfire night, Catholic effigies were burned in numerous cities. The 1852 Stockport Riots are thought to have been prompted by anti-Catholicism, yet 111 of the 113 arrests were Irish – it became clear for many who the problem was. Religious conflict came to be associated with the perceived violent nature of the Irish. They had arrived into an environment already strongly anti-Catholic, at a time when people feared a revival of Catholicism. A good deal of the hostility towards these immigrants stemmed from a strong suspicion of their religion, which usually accompanied growing national sentiments.


An incomplete history?

It is surprising that the relationship between Ireland and England – from its early origins to the modern day – is so unknown in our historical and cultural imagination. Maybe it has something to do with the reason why British Imperial History is not a popular topic either. A friend had studied history for a year in Dublin; when she came back she told me that she was shocked by the long history between Ireland and Britain, of which she had hardly known about it. ‘It ought to be taught in schools,’ she told me. I agreed. We should study history as it happened – the good things and the bad. The moments that we can be proud of, and those that we cannot. 


What do you think of the article? Let us know below…


De Nie, Michael, The Eternal Paddy: Irish Identity and the British Press, 1798-1882, (Wisconsin, 2004)

Finnegan, Frances, Poverty and Prejudice: A Study of Irish Immigrants in York 1840-1875, (Cork, 1982)

MacRaild, Donald, Irish Migrants in Modern Britain 1750-1922, (London, 1999). [last accessed April 17, 2016]

Just who was Vladimir Lenin? While we know that he came to power after the Russian Revolution, much of his life is shrouded in myths and lies. Author Tanel Vahisalu explains all.

PS - you can find out about Tanel’s latest project on Russian history here.

A painting of Lenin by Isaak Brodsky - Lenin in front of Smolny.

A painting of Lenin by Isaak Brodsky - Lenin in front of Smolny.

Ninety-three years after his death, Vladimir Lenin continues to make headlines. During 2017’s commemoration of the Russian Revolution, a poll conducted by the independent Levada Center demonstrated that 56 per cent of Russians believe Lenin played a positive role in history. What’s more, many of the remaining 44 per cent of Russians fail to see that Lenin was actually a supreme master of using fake news and mass manipulation.


The question becomes: How much do we actually know about Vladimir Lenin?

Despite a massive collection of history books, we still know surprisingly little about the man lining the pages. Perhaps that is because each of the 653 million volumes of Lenin’s published works – dated through to 1990 – contain fake biographies.


According to Russian historian, Dmitry Volkogonov, during Soviet times, there were at least 3,725 documents that were carefully collected and sealed within the cellars of Party archives that nobody was permitted to see. Many of these documents were said to be classified because they reveal the actual cause of Lenin’s death. Furthermore, many of the documents contain information about the true Ulyanov family tree, which was kept secret within the Soviet Union.

Bearing that in mind, let’s now turn to the most prevalent “alternative facts” of Vladimir Lenin.


Contrary to his official biography, Lenin was neither a Russian by ethnicity nor was he a peasant by descent.

Lenin’s mother, Maria Alexandrovna, had Jewish-Swedish roots. His great-grandfather, Moshe Blank, was known as a “mad Jewish merchant,” who had once set fire to 23 houses in his home village. Lenin’s grandfather, Alexander Blank, was a highly respected doctor and wealthy landowner, who bought an entire village near Simbirsk (today’s Ulyanovsk, Russia), along with 39 peasants and their farms.

The Ulyanov family was relatively affluent in local Simbirsk. Lenin’s father, Ilya was a high state official in the field of education. When he unexpectedly died, while Vladimir was 16, the family had sufficient income to easily support themselves. In fact, they even had servants.


Lenin was neither a kind-hearted, modest child nor was he a devoted revolutionary from a young age.

Already as a baby, Volodya – as he was called – stood out from his siblings. He began speaking at three and had trouble standing up on his weak feet. His head was larger than normal and he used to bang it against the floor in fits of rage. Lenin’s mother was sincerely worried about his cognitive development.

Lenin’s sister recalled - when their parents gave him a toy horse for his birthday – that he creeped away to a solitary space to tear its legs off, one by one. Volodya was a troublesome child, always fighting with his little brother, Dmitry, and purposely frightening his sister, Maria. It was documented that his parents found his behavior very disturbing.

Although Volodya grew up to be an extremely bright child, and was awarded a gold medal upon graduation, there is no evidence that he took any particular interest in revolutionary ideas prior to moving to Saint Petersburg in 1893.


In 1887, Lenin was neither expelled from university, nor was he detained in a Siberian prison camp.

A good example of “alternative facts” in Lenin’s official biography is the story about how the young revolutionary was expelled from Kazan University to a remote village of Kokushkino because of his revolutionary activity.

Truth be told, Volodya had only taken part in a peaceful student meeting and, when confronted about this, he wrote a voluntary resignation letter to the university. It is also worth mentioning that the village of Kokushkino was the same village that Lenin’s grandfather had bought. The Ulyanov family used it as their summer estate. So technically, he was “deported” to a nice vacation at his grandfather’s place.


While in Switzerland, Lenin was neither struggling to make ends meet nor did he have a happy marriage.

Lenin and his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya lived as refugees in Western Europe for seventeen years, though neither of them had to work. They had several bank accounts in Zürich, and Lenin’s family regularly sent them money and packages of goods.

“In Zürich I messed around quite a bit an ended up in a … Swiss health resort”, Lenin joked in a letter he had written.

History has also revealed that Lenin had many relationships prior to Krupskaya, and he continued to have them during their marriage. The most famous of which was his affair with Inessa Armand, a political activist and family friend.


The cause of Lenin’s death was not cerebral atherosclerosis.

During his final years, Lenin suffered from loss of consciousness, paralysis, hallucinations, and epileptic seizures. His official death certificate stated his cause of death was cerebral atherosclerosis, yet two of his closest personal doctors refused to sign it.

No doubt that is because he likely died of syphilis, contracted at an early age and left untreated. In 1922, a number of doctors prescribed him salvarsan, which is a medication used only for treating syphilis. Additionally, a German physician who specialized in syphilis was summoned and commented: “Everyone knows for which brain disorder I am called”.


Taken together, if we look at Lenin’s life story, there is not too much that can be viewed as factual. Many of these “alternative facts” were perpetuated by Lenin during his lifetime, and were bolstered, posthumously, by Joseph Stalin and his successors to create a god-like cult figure for the Soviet Union.

Quite simply, Vladimir Lenin is the sad embodiment of the very problems that we face today – “post-truth politics” and manipulation based on “alternative facts”.

Learning from history, we would do well to question what we are told, and hold our political leaders accountable by calling truth to power.


Find out more about Tanel’s book, History of Russia in 100 Minutes, here: Amazon US | Amazon UK


Volkogonov, Dmitry. Lenin: A New Biography. The Free Press, 1994.

Service, Robert. Lenin: A Biography. Harvard University Press, 2002.

Kolata, Gina. Lenin’s Stroke: Doctor Has a Theory (and a Suspect). The New York Times, 2012.

Roig-Franzia, Manuel. Medical Sleuths Discuss the Forensics of Death. The Washington Post, 2012.

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

Jack the Ripper is one of the most infamous murderers of all time. He killed five women in London in 1888 in gruesome fashion. But did Jack the Ripper ever murder people in other countries? Specifically, did he commit a terrible crime in New York City? Aaron Gratton explains.

The Nemesis of Neglect, an 1888 Punch magazine cartoon showing Jack the Ripper as a phantom in Whitechapel.

Anyone familiar with British crime history will know the name Jack the Ripper and the Canonical five, but did the killer’s onslaught cross the Atlantic?

In London, England, five women were found brutally murdered in 1888; all bearing similar injuries that suggested a surgical blade was used as the murder weapon. Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly would all be collectively known as the Canonical five, whose lives were brought to a devastating end at the hand of the serial killer simply known as Jack the Ripper.

Many experts believe those five murders, all of which occurred under the mask of the night in Whitechapel, a district in the English capital, to be the killer’s only victims. However, events that transpired three years later in New York question the legitimacy of those claims.


Timeline of Events

·       August 31, 1888: Mary Ann Nichols is found dead at 3.40am, she suffered two severe cuts to the throat and the lower part of her abdomen was ripped open by a jagged object

·       September 8, 1888: Annie Chapman’s body was discovered at 29 Hanbury Street, also with two cuts to the throat and her abdomen completely cut open – it would later be discovered that her uterus was ripped out

·       September 27: The first letter signed from Jack the Ripper, entitled ‘Dear Boss’, is received by the Central News Agency

·       September 30, 1888: Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes are killed just an hour apart from each other with the former’s body found in Berner Street and the latter’s in Mitre Square

·       October 16, 1888: George Lusk, who headed up the investigation, received the famous ‘From Hell’ letter signed by Jack the Ripper, containing half a kidney that is believed to have belonged to Catherine Eddowes

·       November 9, 1888: Mary Kelly, believed to be the killer’s last victim, is found dead in Dorset Street Spitalfields

Other bodies that were originally thought to have been linked to Jack the Ripper were found in the months and years after the five murders, but experts have since ruled out the possibility of the killer having any involvement.



Half-an-hour before the discovery of Annie Chapman’s body, a witness claimed to see the woman at 5.30am with a foreign, dark-haired man fractionally taller than the 5 feet tall Chapman. If accurate, the description would match that of Aaron Kosminski, a Polish barber who arrived in London in the early 1880s.

An investigation into the killings claims to have DNA evidence linking Kosminski to the murders, although the time between the events and the investigation have cast serious doubt on the results. In truth, no one will ever be able to definitely name the killer.

The nature of the murders would suggest a killer with a background in surgery, due to the precision of the cuts and removal of various organs and genitalia. On top of this, the letters penned with the name of Jack the Ripper also suggest that the killer, or at least whoever was behind the correspondences, to have poor literary skills owing to misspellings and bad handwriting.


Did The Ripper head to New York?

Almost three years after what was thought to be the killer’s final victim was killed, Carrie Brown was found strangled with clothing and mutilated with a blade in New York on April 24, 1891, sparking rumors that Jack the Ripper had crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

Chief Inspector of New York City, Thomas Byrnes, had boasted on more than one occasion if the killer had ever shown up in his jurisdiction that he would be caught in a matter of days. Three more murders took place in the following 11 days after Brown’s murder, and rumors of a letter from Jack the Ripper sent to Byrnes, taunting the Chief Inspector with a bloodied body part, were rife. This was officially denied, but several police and newspaper sources claimed the rumors to be true.


One last Letter

Nothing else was then heard of the killer for two years since the events in New York City, until October 1893 when a newspaper received a letter believed to be from the killer. The correspondence bore details of the murder of Carrie Brown and, when inspected by a police officer from Scotland Yard, the handwriting of the letter was said to match that as seen in letters received in London in 1888.

If the letter containing details of the murder is indeed from the killer, known as Jack the Ripper, it would be the last known correspondence of the murderer. This is, of course, far from concrete evidence that the same killer that roamed the streets of London in 1888 showed up in New York three years later.

In fact, London’s Metropolitan Police categorically ruled out any involvement of the killer in the death of Carrie Brown in 1891, suggesting this was the work of a copycat that may have been inspired by Jack the Ripper. The theories remain as to the identity of Jack the Ripper, and whether or not the killer did, in fact, turn up in New York, moved on to another city or remained in London without causing suspicion.


Aaron works for the Jack the Ripper Tour in London, UK. You can find out more about the walking tour here.