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Harriet Tubman, 1885, by H. Seymour Squyer.

From the Daily News: 

In “Harriet,” the first feature film biopic celebrating the life of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, moviegoers get a chance to see the legendary fugitive freedom fighter like never before.

Starring Tony, Emmy and Grammy Award winner Cynthia Erivo as the African-American woman who helped shepherd hundreds of slaves to freedom during the mid-1800s, the Kasi Lemmons-directed epic, which hits theaters Friday, breathes new life into the legacy of someone who has been a Black History Month fixture for decades.

Harriet Tubman was born Araminta Ross (c.1822 –1913) but changed her name to Harriet shortly after she was married. She was nicknamed “Minty.” There’s a lot to know about Harriet—she was a Union spy, for one—but I thought you might want to see this wanted posted for Harriet and her brothers, when they escaped their slave master in September 1849.

Harriet Tubman reward poster

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Novelist Patricia Highsmith, ca. 1950, Swiss Literary Archives, Bern.

Here is a transcription of a page from one of the journals of American novelist and short story writer Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995).

6/1/50 I am interested in the murderer’s psychology and also in the opposing planes, drives of good and evil (construction and destruction) whereby a slight deflection one can be made the other, and all the power of a strong mind and body be deflected to murder or destruction! It is simply fascinating!

…For perhaps even love by having its head persistently bruised, can become hate. For the curious thing yesterday. I felt quite close to murder, too, as I went to see the house of the woman who almost made me love her when I saw her a moment in December, 1948. Murder is a kind of making love, a kind of possessing. Is it not, too, a way of getting complete and passionate attention, for a moment, from the object of one’s affections? To arrest her suddenly, my hands upon her throat (which I should really like to kiss) as if I took a photograph, to make her in an instant cool and rigid as a statue.

And yesterday, people stared at me…wherever I went, in the trains, the bus, on the sidewalk. I thought, does it show in my face?

Now, more than twenty years after her death, Highsmith’s secret life will become public, as her estate prepares to publish hundreds of pages like this one from her personal diaries which also include her drawings and watercolors. Spanning nearly 60 years, these memoirs—56 spiral-bound notebooks, totaling some 8,000 pages—were found after Highsmith’s death, tucked away behind sheets and towels in a linen closet in her home in Switzerland.

In editing the diaries and notebook, Anna von Planta aims to offer an unvarnished look at the controversial author. Highsmith embraced strong anti-Jewish sentiments, cavalierly dismissing the Holocaust as the “semicaust” because some Jews were spared. Liveright Publishing plans to release the diaries in a single edition in the U.S. in 2021. Von Planta hopes the volume will “show how Patricia Highsmith became Patricia Highsmith” (for those who want to know).

Patricia Highsmith is known for her psychological thrillers, including Strangers on a Train (1950) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955). Both books were made into movies and increased her fame.

Prickly and eccentric, Highsmith was a mystery even to her friends and lovers. She found no pleasure in men. She was a chronic alcoholic and her hostility toward people grew as her condition worsened.

Patricia Highsmith appearing on the British TV program, “After Dark,” June 18,1988, Open Media Ltd.

She preferred animals:

Highsmith loved cats, and she bred about three hundred snails in her garden at home in Suffolk, England. Highsmith once attended a London cocktail party with a “gigantic handbag” that “contained a head of lettuce and a hundred snails” which she said were her “companions for the evening.” wiki

“Patricia Highsmith,” composed of snail shells and cigarette butts, from blog,  “Book Dirt“. Art by Jason Mecier.

Asia Booth Clarke

The 19th-century American writer, Asia Booth Clarke (1835-1888), was born into a family of actors. Her famous brothers were Edwin Booth, Junius Booth, and John Wilkes Booth.

 

booth bros.

Credit…Brown University Library

On the morning of April 15, 1865, Asia was in bed in her Philadelphia mansion, sickly pregnant with twins, when she was handed the newspaper. She screamed when she read the headlines: her brother, John Wilkes Booth, was wanted for the murder of President Abraham Lincoln.

President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th president of the U.S.

Asia could not believe it—and yet it was true. On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, the actor John Wilkes Booth assassinated the 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln. Asia—and the nation—would never fully recover from Booth’s terrible act, his retaliation for Lincoln’s freeing of American slaves.

A copy of a hand colored 1870 lithographic print by Gibson & Co. provided by the U.S. Library of Congress shows John Wilkes Booth shooting U.S. President Abraham Lincoln as he sits in the presidential box at Ford’s Theatre

In the immediate aftermath of the crime, the nation went into shock. Disbelief gave way to tears, sobs, and solemn displays of mourning. The newspapers dubbed the moment “our National Calamity.” Easter Sunday came and went with little notice. The people were focused on the President’s funeral procession which was to take place Wednesday.

Lincoln’s body lies in state in the East Room of the White House. Harper’s Weekly, May 6, 1865.

Tens of thousands of people poured into the nation’s capital. Every hotel in Washington, D. C., sold out. Thousands of visitors slept in parks or on the streets.  Somber black crepe and bunting replaced the patriotic banners adorning buildings from just a week before when the city had been positively giddy with excitement, ablaze with candles and gaslights in every window, marching bands, dancing, singing, and the ringing of bells upon learning of the fall of Richmond, the capitol of the Rebel States, spelling a Union victory in the American Civil War.

In his diary, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles noted the city’s sad transformation from celebration to gloom:

Every house, almost, has some drapery, especially the homes of the poor…the little black ribbon or strip of cloth… (1)

On the morning of April 19, the funeral procession carrying the President’s body slowly made its way to the Capitol, “the beat of the march measured by muffled bass and drums swathed in crepe.”

Lincoln’s funeral on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., on April 19, 1865. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

At the Capitol, the President’s coffin was received in the rotunda, where, beneath the Great Dome, thousands of mourners streamed by to view the President’s remains in the open casket.

It was a sacred day except for one detraction. Five days had passed since John Wilkes Booth had killed this most beloved of men and Booth was still a free man.

John Wilkes Booth

The manhunters were aggressively tracking the fugitive’s movements in and around the capital, following all plausible leads and, still, they could boast of NO ARREST. The newspapers abounded with tales of those who had spotted someone matching Booth’s description. Meanwhile, the authorities descended upon anyone associated with Booth, questioning many and arresting scores. Asia Booth Clarke and her husband, the comedic actor, John “Sleepy” Clarke, were not spared. The day of Lincoln’s funeral, swarms of detectives appeared at their door. John Clarke was seized, taken to Washington, and imprisoned in the Old Capitol with two of Asia’s other brothers, Joe and Junius Booth. The Clarke’s house was raided. (2)

Booth was on the run a full twelve days before he was cornered. He refused to surrender and was killed. Three weeks after his death, Asia wrote her friend Jean Anderson:

Philadelphia, May 22, 1865.

My Dear Jean:

I have received both of your letters, and although feeling the kindness of your sympathy, could not compose my thoughts to write — I can give you no idea of the desolation which has fallen upon us. The sorrow of his [Wilkes Booth’s] death is very bitter, but the disgrace is far heavier; – 

Junius and John Clarke have been two weeks to-day confined in the old Capital – prison Washington for no complicity or evidence — Junius wrote an innocent letter from Cincinnati, which by a wicked misconstruction has been the cause of his arrest. He begged him [John Wilkes Booth] to quit the oil business and attend to his profession, not knowing the “oil” signified conspiracy in Washington as it has since been proven that all employed in the plot, passed themselves off as “oil merchants”.

John Clarke was arrested for having in his house a package of papers upon which he had never laid his hands or his eyes, but after the occurrence when I produced them, thinking it was a will put here for safe keeping — John took them to the U.S. Marshall, who reported to head-quarters, hence this long imprisonment for two entirely innocent men –

I was shocked and grieved to see the names of Michael O’Laughlin and Samuel Arnold. I am still some surprised to learn that all engaged in the plot are Roman Catholics — John Wilkes was of that faith — preferably — and I was glad that he had fixed his faith on one religion for he was always of a pious mind and I wont speak of his qualities, you knew him. My health is very delicate at present but I seem completely numbed and hardened in sorrow.

The report of Blanche and Edwin are without truth, their marriage not to have been until September and I do not think it will be postponed so that it is a long way off yet. Edwin is here with me. Mother went home to N.Y. last week. She has been with me until he came.

American actor Edwin Booth as Hamlet. Edwin Booth was so beloved that he was not arrested after the Lincoln assassination, although two of his brothers were. He testified at the trial of the conspirators.

I told you I believe that Wilkes was engaged to Miss Hale, — They were most devoted lovers and she has written heart broken letters to Edwin about it — Their marriage was to have been in a year, when she promised to return from Spain for him, either with her father or without him, that was the decision only a few days before the fearful calamity — Some terrible oath hurried him to this wretched end. God help him. Remember me to all and write often.

Yours every time,

Asia (3)

“Miss Hale” refers to Lucy Lambert Hale (1841-1915), the younger daughter of Senator John Parker Hale of New Hampshire.

Lucy Lambert Hale, ca. 1865, courtesy of Ford’s Theatre.

Lucy met John Wilkes Booth at one of his performances in Washington, D.C., when he played the character Charles De Moor in “The Robbers” (1862 or 1863). She presented him with a bouquet. (4) By early 1865, Booth was regularly lodging at the National Hotel in Washington, D.C., where Lucy lived with her parents and sister, Lizzie. We know they were close as Lucy’s cousin stayed in Booth’s rooms during Lincoln’s Second Inauguration. Lucy also procured a pass for Booth to attend the March 4, 1865, inauguration, a pass no doubt she obtained through her father, as only about 2,000 tickets for entrance inside the Capitol were issued. (It was later learned that Booth contemplated killing Lincoln then and there but was talked out of it by an associate also present.)

Although Lucy Hale and John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865) reportedly were seen in each other’s company around the city, it was not publicly known that they were engaged. This plan was kept secret, since Society considered an actor to be in a social class beneath the dignity of the daughter of a U.S. senator. Just a month before, President Lincoln appointed Senator John P. Hale to be the new ambassador to Spain. Shortly, Lucy, Lizzie, and their mom would be moving to Spain with Senator Hale.

By some accounts, Lucy, an ardent abolitionist, had broken off the engagement with Booth when she learned he had strong secession views. A newspaper article suggested that this rejection occurred ten days before the assassination, fueling Booth’s “mental excitement, occasioned by drink.” (5) However, Lucy’s letters to Edwin Booth—written after John Wilkes Booth’s death (as mentioned in Asia’s letter here)—suggest otherwise. According to those accounts, the engagement was very much active when Booth died.

A veiled reference to Lucy Hale’s grief over Booth’s death appeared on page five of the New York Tribune on April 22, 1865:

Lucy Lambert Hale, 1863, photo by Mathew Brady, courtesy of wikimedia commons.

On the afternoon or early evening of April 14, 1865, the day of the assassination, Lucy Hale, age 24, was reportedly studying Spanish with two old friends from the Boston area, where she had attended boarding school. They were President Lincoln’s eldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, and the president’s assistant private secretary, John Hay. She had many suitors but her heart was set on only one. She was one of multitudes of women around the country who were captivated by the charm and beauty of the romantic star of the stage, John Wilkes Booth.

When the fugitive John Wilkes Booth was killed at age 26 by U.S. troops, he carried a diary. Tucked inside were photographs of five women, four actresses and a well-known belle of Washington society. The horrified authorities recognized the society belle as the daughter of the new American ambassador to Spain and, as only Washington gossips knew, Booth’s secret fiancée: Lucy Lambert Hale. Someone ordered the pictures to be suppressed so tongues wouldn’t wag with the tale that Lucy Hale was engaged to a murderer! That knowledge would shred her reputation and Lucy would never find a suitable husband

It would be decades before those five photos were made public. The one of Lucy in Booth’s wallet is the photo of her face in profile.

Had Booth used Lucy to get into social and political circles denied to him as a mere actor? Or, as some close to him say, was he smitten by Lucy, head-over-heels in love to such a degree that he would commit to just one woman when so many threw themselves at his feet?

Lucy went off to Spain with the family. It was nine long years before she would wed—a senator.

As for Asia, when her husband returned home from prison mid-May, he announced he wanted a divorce and wanted nothing further to do with the name “Booth.” John Wilkes Booth had been right about John Sleeper Clarke. Booth had warned his sister not to marry “Sleepy.” He believed that Sleepy wanted to marry Asia only in order to capitalize on the name “Booth” to further his own acting career. The marriage continued but the union was an unhappy one.

Asia went on to establish herself as a writer, writing John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir, a slender volume that offers us a close look at the childhood and personal preferences of the complex arch villain John Wilkes Booth. To remove themselves from the stigma of association with the president’s killer, Asia and her family eventually decided to move away from America and settle in England, where her husband got involved with a mistress and treated her with “duke-like haughtiness and icy indifference.” (6)

Sources:

  1. Diary of Gideon Welles. Manhunt, James L. Swanson, p. 213.
  2. Manhunt, pp. 217-219.
  3. Asia Booth Clarke to Jean Anderson, 22 May 1865, BCLM Works on Paper Collection, ML 518, Box 37, Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, Maryland. cited in John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day, Arthur F. Loux. Note: Only 3 conspirators were Catholic. There is no corroboration that John Wilkes Booth converted to Catholicism.
  4. John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day, Arthur F. Loux.
  5. Chicago Times, April 17, 1865, p. 2, bottom 3rd column.
  6. John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir, Asia Booth Clarke.

Readers, for more on Abraham Lincoln, click here.

These American pre Civil War clothes for women were designed in such a way that a woman’s waist, constricted by a whalebone corset, was responsible for supporting the weight of as many as 15 pounds of 6-8 starched petticoats stiffened with straw or horsehair sewn into the hems and voluminous skirts. Dress reform was a significant focus of concern among early women’s rights activists and for good reason. A “wasp waist,” created by tight lacing of the corset, restricted deep breathing, worsening pneumonia and tuberculosis, diseases that afflicted huge swaths of the population in a pre antibiotic age and resulting in premature death. Women’s back and pectoral muscles grew dependent upon the support of the corset and atrophied. Skirts dragged the ground, collecting filth. Women—styling their hair, changing clothes throughout the day for different events, keeping up with the latest trends from Paris and Germany, sitting for dress-fittings—spent an inordinate amount of time keeping up appearances in heavy clothes that allowed neither free movement, decent digestion, nor comfort. 1858

Amelia Bloomer

In early 1851, Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-1894), the first American woman to own and operate a newspaper (The Lily)took up the idea of wearing a short skirt and loose trousers gathered around the ankles. It was a notion popularized by her friend, Elizabeth “Libby” Smith Miller, who felt that long dresses were “heavy and exasperating.” Amelia made this fashion switch when Libby came to Seneca Falls, New York to visit her cousin, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was Bloomer’s neighbor.

All three women used their voices to enact social change, particularly in the areas of women’s rights to better education, better pay, wider fields of employment, the right to vote, and dress reform. Soon these pioneer feminists were appearing on the village streets wearing their sensible and comfortable short skirts and full Turkish trousers.

Elizabeth Smith Miller (1822–1911), photographed wearing her bloomer outfit, 1851. Carrie Chapman Catt Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (011.00.00)

Amelia Bloomer announced to her readers in The Lily that she had adopted this new dress. In response to many inquiries, she printed a description of her dress and instructions on how to make it. Bloomer recalls the response:

At the outset, I had no idea of fully adopting the style; no thought of setting a fashion; no thought that my action would create an excitement throughout the civilized world, and give to the style my name and the credit due Mrs. Miller. This was all the work of the press. I stood amazed at the furor I had unwittingly caused. The New York Tribune contained the first notice I saw of my action. Other papers caught it up and handed it about.

My exchanges all had something to say. Some praised and some blamed, some commented, and some ridiculed and condemned. “Bloomerism,” “Bloomerites,” and “Bloomers” were the heading of many an article, item, and squib; and finally someone—I don’t know to whom I am indebted for the honor—wrote the “Bloomer Costume,” and the name has continued to cling to the short dress in spite of my repeatedly disclaiming all right to it and giving Mrs. Miller’s name as that of the originator or the first to wear such dress in public. Had she not come to us in that style, it is not probable that either Mrs. Stanton or myself would have donned it.  2

Currier & Ives, The Bloomer Costume

During the summer of 1851, the nation was seized by a “bloomer craze.” Women from Laramie, Wyoming to London, England, embraced the freedom of the new outfit and rejoiced. A million versions of the blouse, skirt, and pants combo emerged. Managers of the textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts, gave a banquet for any of their female workers who adopted the safer dress before July 4.  In Toledo, Ohio, sixty women turned out in Turkish costume at one of the city’s grandest social events. Bloomer balls and bloomer picnics were held; dress reform societies and bloomer institutes were formed. The craze inspired music to be composed.

The Bloomer outfit became a symbol of women’s emancipation. Thousands of women were soon wearing the reform dress.

But then the tide turned. Controversy erupted. There were laws in some American cities that made it illegal for a person to dress in the clothes of the opposite sex. At the time, pants were considered the domain of the American male, which was also the right to vote. Backlash from men ensued. The movement for a sharing of pants was viewed, in some quarters, as a threat to male power. 3

The same newspapers that had once celebrated the trend as tasteful and elegant were, by August of 1851, scorning it. Public meetings were called to denounce the fad. Some young women were turned away from church membership for wearing the dress. The satirical London magazine Punch lampooned the Bloomers.

The term “Bloomerism” came to be associated not just with wearing trousers but also with other supposedly deviant and negative (for women) behaviors, such as smoking, drinking, gambling, serving in the military, and abandoning husbands and children. Punch cartoon, 1851, artist, John Leech

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Elizabeth Cady Stanton with daughter, Harriot, 1856-57

Although Elizabeth Cady Stanton had felt at first “as joyous and free as some poor captive who has just cast off his ball and chain” when adopting the Bloomer costume, her young sons didn’t want to be seen with her. Her father banned the Bloomer costume from his house. Her older sister cried and her brother-in-law, a senator, said that “some good Democrats said they would not vote for a man whose wife wore the Bloomers.” After two years, Stanton gave up the Bloomers.  “Had I counted the cost of the short dress,” Stanton told cousin Libby Miller, “I would never have put it on.” 4

 

Although Amelia Bloomer “had found the dress comfortable, light, easy, and convenient, and well adapted to the needs of my busy life,” after wearing it six to eight years, she, too, laid it aside and returned to long skirts. Bloomer wrote:

We all [women’s right activists] felt that the dress was drawing attention from what we thought of far greater importance—the question of woman’s right to better education, to a wider field of employment, to better remuneration for her labor, and to the ballot for the protection of her rights. In the minds of some people, the short dress and woman’s rights were inseparably connected. With us, the dress was but an incident, and we were not willing to sacrifice greater questions to it. 5

Alexander Calder’s “Josephine Baker IV”. Calder Foundation

Josephine Baker was already the toast of Paris when American artist Alexander Calder arrived there in early 1926. Her show, “La Revue Negre,” which opened at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees on Oct. 2, 1925, was an instant hit. The finale of the evening was a “Charleston Cabaret,” whose featured number became known as “La Danse de Sauvage”:

A big, good-looking performer named Joe Alex, wearing next to nothing, paced onto the stage with a woman slung over his back: the 5-foot-8, coffee-colored Josephine, built like a Modigliani Venus. The handful of feathers she wore did not impede anyone’s appreciation of her nudity. She slid down her partner’s legs and proceeded to offer up to him every soft spot of her body, in musical time. In fact, she seemed to create musical time, her movement setting the pulse, with the orchestra going along for the ride. There wasn’t a dance step in sight, but “La Danse de Sauvage” created one of the great dance effects of the 20th century.

On Oct. 3, Josephine Baker woke up to find herself the American in Paris, her rear end the subject of odes, her thighs the subject of universal speculation. 1 

Josephine was 19.

Calder was entranced by Josephine.

Back in America, “Sandy” Calder had been a newspaper illustrator and a painter, but, in moving to Paris, he had abandoned all that and was newly dedicating himself to his love of wire sculpture. “I think best in wire,” he said. With his bare hands, a spool of wire, and a pair of pliers, Calder proceeded to twist, pinch, coil, and bend lengths of wire to capture Baker’s sensuous body and springy movements. Between 1926 and 1930, he created five of these roughly three-to-four feet tall “drawings in space” of the exotic Josephine Baker:

The swaying line of her arms and torso, the spiral breasts and the legs crossed in a dance movement came to life when the artist suspended the figures from a string. 2

Calder with “Josephine Baker IV” at filming of British Pathé newsreel,1929

American writer Ernest Hemingway said that French-American performer Josephine Baker was “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” photo: Josephine Baker, France, ca. 1920s, Atelier Sautier

For more on Josephine Baker, click here

For more on Alexander Calder, click here. 

Alexander “Sandy” Calder (1898-1976), American sculptor most renowned for his invention of the mobile, wrote the Kellogg Company in 1923 with a suggestion for improving their cereal packaging. At the time, they were putting the wax paper on the outside of the boxes. Calder recommended putting the wax paper on the inside. Kellogg adopted Calder’s idea, sending him a note of thanks along with a box of Corn Flakes.

“Boomerangs,” by Alexander Calder, 1941. Made of sheet metal, wire, and paint, this massive, hanging mobile measures 45″ x 117″, approximately 3.5 x 10 ft. Calder Foundation, New York.

queen_elizabeth_ii_in_march_2015

Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of England, during her visit to HMS Ocean in Devonport to preside over a ceremony to rededicate the ship. March 2015 (courtesy wikipedia)

Queen Elizabeth II (b. 1926) is the only person in Britain who can drive without a license or number plate on her state car.

According to British law, the Queen does not need a driving license because driving licenses are issued in her name. She is the Sovereign.

The 92-year-old has been driving since she was 19. She was then titled Princess Elizabeth. She had not yet been crowned (that happens in 1953 at age 27), and the BBC reports that she did indeed, in 1945, have a driving license. She learned to drive at a training center at the wartime Auxiliary Territorial Service. Known as Second Subaltern Elizabeth Windsor, she trained in London as a mechanic and military truck and ambulance driver. She is the only female member of the royal family to have entered the armed forces and is the only living head of state who served in World War II.

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Taken at the Mechanical Transport Training Section, Camberley, Surrey, Princess Elizabeth in overalls changes a tire on a military Tilly truck. March 1945

She likes to drive.

the-queen-driving-polo-match-windsor-1958-z

The Queen attends a polo match at Windsor, UK, 4th August 1958. Getty Images

Nowadays, she primarily drives around her Balmoral, Sandringham, and Windsor estates rather than on the streets of London, where she is definitely chauffered, as is the protocol. Her passion for driving is well-documented in photos of her behind the wheel.

the-queen-prince-philip-secretary-z

In 1998, Queen Elizabeth had a great “Gotcha” moment. Prince Abdullah  — then the crown prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia — was visiting Balmoral, the Queen’s estate in Scotland.

After lunch, the Queen had asked her royal guest whether he would like a tour of the estate. Abdullah agreed. The royal Land Rovers were pulled up in front of the castle. The Crown Prince climbed into the front seat of the front Land Rover. His interpreter sat in the seat behind.

To Abdullah’s surprise, the Queen climbed into the driving seat, turned the ignition, and drove off.  Women, at the time, were not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, and Abdullah was not used to being driven by a woman, let alone a queen. Evidently, the Queen drove like the wind, navigating the narrow Scottish estate roads, talking all the while, and accelerating. Abdullah was terrified. He begged the Queen to slow down and concentrate on the road ahead.

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