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The knitting women of the French Revolution. Pierre-Etienne Lesueur’s Les Tricoteuses Jacobines, 1793. (Wikimedia)

At the start of the French Revolution, the market women of Paris, hungry for bread, marched by the thousands to Versailles to confront King Louis XVI and his government over rising food prices and food shortages. Surprising everyone, their demands were met and, in addition, they convinced the royal family—including Queen Marie Antoinette—to relocate to the French capital city. Working class women had never before demonstrated such political clout. These women were hailed as sisters of the Revolution and were invited to important political events. These “mothers of the revolution,”  or “bonnes citoyennes,” became overnight heroines for the cause of liberty. They came to be known as the knitting women, or tricoteuses  (pronounced trick uh TUZZ).

Over time, though, the tricoteuses grew swollen with power and inflamed by the fury of the Revolution. They became rowdy and blood-thirsty, harassing aristocrats in the street, insulting them and urging the radical sans-culottes, or lower class militants, to carry out dreadful atrocities against them. The tricoteuses were like the Greek furies that punished culprits they thought were guilty by hounding them relentlessly.

The French Revolution lasted ten years. Before it was over, it descended into an all-out savage bloodbath known as the Reign of Terror (1793-1794). In just that one year period, 17,000 French people were executed. Shown here are rabid revolutionaries parading shorn heads on pikes. (wikipedia)

The behavior of the tricoteuses became so dangerous that they became a liability to the more authoritarian revolutionary government. On May 21, 1793, the women were banished from government proceedings. Later that week, they were forbidden from forming any political assembly. The tricoteuses were reduced to hanging around the guillotine.

The Tricoteuses of the Guillotine on the Steps of the Church of Saint-Roch, 16th October 1793. Henri Baron (Pinterest)

They were the ghoulish women who sat and knitted while the public executions took place during the French Revolution (1789-1799). Many knitted liberty caps, their sharp needles clackety-clacking, while head after head fell beneath the blade and into the basket.

A French man is transported to the guillotine to be beheaded. In the upper right hand corner of the picture, the tricoteuses jeer, bellow, hurl accusations at him, and call for his immediate execution. Etching from Harper’s Weekly, August 1881, from a painting by Carl Piloty, “The Girondists.”

Charles Dickens popularized the tricoteuses in The Tale of Two Cities (1859), set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. One of the main villains of the novel is Madame Defarge, a tricoteuse, a French Revolution fanatic obsessed with the extermination of real and imagined enemies of the Revolution. She knits and her knitting secretly encodes the names of people to be killed.

The tricoteuse Madame DeFarge (r.) confronts Miss Pross over the whereabouts of the Evrémonde family. Scene from the novel, A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, 1859. Image by Fred Barnard, 1870s (wikipedia)


**Read more about the French Revolution and Marie Antoinette here.

Sources:
wiki: "Reign of Terror"
wiki: "tricoteuse"
The Telegraph: "QI: How Knitting was Used as Code in WW2"
Timeline: "Horror Spectators: The Lady Revolutionaries who Calmly Knit During Executions"
Geri Walton: "Tricoteuses: Knitting Women of the Guillotine"

					

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Marie Antoinette by Gautier-Dagoty, 1775, Palace of Versailles

While Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) cannot take credit for inventing the pouf, she is certainly responsible for its popularity.  In 1774, when she became Queen of pre-Revolutionary France, over-the-top luxury was still very much the rage. For over a decade, fashionable French women had been raising, or poufing, their hair with woolen pads, coating and stiffening it with pomade made of beef lard or bear grease, and dusting it with wheat and corn powder. But, with the help of her Parisian milliner, Rose Bertin, and hairdresser, Léonard Autié, Marie Antoinette adopted the already established mode and took it to outrageous new heights. She made the pouf her signature look.

Marie Antoinette

Fashion plate a la Marie Antoinette

The rumor mill buzzed with tales of her many lovers, gambling debts, and shopping addiction. Of Austrian blood, the French were suspicious of foreign queens. Could they trust her? They might love her or hate her, on this they could disagree. But on one point the French were united. They couldn’t take their eyes off her. Although the Queen was criticized for her extravagant fashion statements and excessive spending, aristocrats and commoners clambered to imitate her style. Paris—and soon, Europe—broke out in a rash of copycat poufs. 

French fashion in the age of Marie Antoinette

The pouf was halfway between a hairstyle and a hat. The thickly-powdered hair was teased away from the face then arranged high on the head on a wire scaffolding resembling a cone-shaped garden topiary. Next, the hairdresser added and intertwined false curls—curly, wavy, crimped— sometimes made of horsehair, diamond jewelry, ropes of pearls, yards of gauze, lace, and ribbon, pompoms, ostrich and peacock feathers, bows, rosettes, butterflies, figurines, and props. With such ornamentation, the stylist then set about to create a miniature still-life upon this rickety foundation. The theme of the elaborate, yard-high headdress could be a sentiment, a commemoration of an event, or an expression of a political opinion. The creativity was inexhaustible.

One of Marie Antoinette’s earliest poufs was the pouf à l’inoculation to publicize her triumph in persuading the King to be vaccinated against smallpox. Perched in the hairdo was a serpent in an olive tree (symbols of wisdom and Aesculapius), behind which rose the golden sun of enlightenment. When the French supported the Americans in their revolution, Marie Antoinette showed her support by wearing a pouf à la Belle Poule. The intricate hairdo featured a French ship that had won a decisive victory against the British in June 1778.

The ship itself, with its masts, rigging, and guns, was imitated in miniature on the pouf. This elaborate creation, a celebration of sorts, was an overnight success. It should be noted, however, that many such coifs were supported with wired scaffolding and were very heavy.

Marie Antoinette’s fashion nod to France’s role in the American Revolution. The hairdo is the Pouf á la Belle Poule.

The poufs were almost impossible to wash and became breeding grounds for vermin. They were itchy and uncomfortable. Women used special head-scratchers to alleviate some of the agony. Because they were so expensive to create, many women wore them for a week or more and were obliged to sleep virtually upright upon a mound of pillows. Top-heaviness made dancing difficult. Riding in a carriage was problematic. To keep from ruining her towering pouf, a woman might end up kneeling on the floorboard on the way to a ball or even leaning her head out the window. Satirical cartoons poked fun at these slaves to fashion.

This British satirical etching commented on the French fashion for tall hairstyles, circa 1771. Image courtesy the British Museum.

Ever establishing new and exotic trends, Marie Antoinette spent a lifetime creating her identity as the nation’s most celebrated and reviled fashion plate. The attention she commanded came at a price. During the French Revolution, she was blamed for the country’s financial crisis.  Hidden away in luxury at the Palace of Versailles, she and her husband, King Louis XVI, were oblivious to the plight of the French working classes, starving for bread and suffering from years of poor harvests, rising food prices, and an unfair tax system. Their anger boiled over. In October 1789, an angry mob of perhaps ten thousand market women and their allies descended on Versailles with spears, pikes, kitchen blades, and cannons, calling for the Queen’s death. At the Palace, they beat and slaughtered guards. They compelled the King and Queen to return with them to Paris. The twelve-mile return walk took nine hours as the mob had swelled to sixty thousand. Some of the marchers paraded the shorn heads of royal guards on their upraised pikes.

An illustration of the Women’s March on Versailles, October 5-6, 1789. Artist Unknown. Bibliothèque nationale de France

Over the next two years, the Revolution moved to The Terror. The King was executed. Nine months later, on October 14, 1793, Marie Antoinette’s trial began. Two days later, the Queen was convicted of high treason by the Revolutionary Tribunal and executed by guillotine on the Place de la Révolution. Marie Antoinette’s reign as Queen of France had ended but her reign as Queen of Fashion had not:

Shortly after the guillotine sliced its own bloody version of a necklace in the Queen’s throat, well-born women in Paris began tying thin red ribbons around their necks as reminders of what they might soon suffer.

Sources
Weber, Caroline. Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution
Erickson, Carolly. To the Scaffold: The Life of Marie Antoinette
Fraser, Antonia. Marie Antoinette: The Journey
The Smithsonian. "Marie Antoinette"
wikipedia. "Marie Antoinette"
History Hoydens. "Can You Top This? Marie Antoinette's Hairstyles"
Collectors Weekly. "Fashion to Die For: Did an Addiction to Fads Lead 
Marie Antoinette to the Guillotine?"
Huffington Post. "Marie Antoinette's Craziest, Most Epic Hairstyles"
BibliOdyssey. "Waiter, There's a Hair in My Satire"
wikipedia. "Women's March on Versailles"

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Photo Card No.101, Dancer Josephine Baker posing with a cheetah wearing a collar, photograph by Piaz Studios of Paris, Early 1930's. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

American entertainer Josephine Baker (1906-1975) with Chiquita. ca. early 1930s. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.

Ernest Hemingway called her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” Pablo Picasso painted her, seeking to capture her alluring beauty, saying she had “legs of paradise.” She was Josephine Baker, the glamorous cabaret star that took Paris by storm during the Jazz Age of the 1920s and 30s. In her signature stage act, she appeared onstage wearing only high heels and a skirt made of bananas. She danced and sang with erotic frenzy and wild abandon. She was often accompanied by her pet cheetah, Chiquita, who wore a diamond collar and often escaped into the orchestra pit, terrifying the musicians and adding to the overall sensation of the moment.

Josephine Baker was the first person of color to become a worldwide entertainer and star in a major motion picture (“ZouZou,” 1934). Although born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1937, she married a French man and became a French citizen.

josephine-baker1In 1939, France declared war on Nazi Germany for its invasion of Poland. Within nine months, the Nazis invaded France. Baker was recruited by the Deuxiéme Bureau, the French Military Intelligence, as an “honorable correspondent.” She was so well-known and popular that even the Nazis were hesitant to cause her harm. She made the perfect spy. As an entertainer, she had good excuses for traveling, which allowed her to smuggle secret orders and maps written in invisible ink on her musical sheets. On some occasions, Baker would smuggle secret photos of German military installations out of enemy territory by pinning them to her underwear. To operatives in the French Resistance as well as U.S. and British agents, she relayed information on German troop movements she had gleaned from conversations she overheard between officials with whom she mingled following her performances or at embassy and ministry parties. She also exposed French officials working for the Germans.  She hid Jewish refugees and weapons in her 24-room château in the South of France.

Her steadfast work for the French Resistance helped Baker to rise to the rank of lieutenant in the Free French Air Force. After the war, Baker was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Rosette de la Résistance for her invaluable intelligence work in aid of her adopted country. She was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur by General Charles de Gaulle.

Read more about Josephine Baker here on Lisa’s History Room.

Sources:
http://artdaily.com/news/18219/Josephine-Baker--at-The-National-Portrait-Gallery#.W7Ta2WhKiM8
https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/top-spies-suspect/story?id=15528916
https://www.vogue.com/article/josephine-baker-90th-anniversary-banana-skirt
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephine_Baker
http://historyofspies.com/josephine-baker/
https://www.bedsider.org/features/450-talented-seductive-courageous-getting-to-know-josephine-baker
http://mentalfloss.com/article/23148/5-things-you-didnt-know-about-josephine-baker

 

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Roald Dahl (1916-1990), one of the world's best storytellers for children, among illustrations for his books by Quentin Blake. Undated photo.

Roald Dahl (1916-1990), one of the world’s best storytellers for children, among illustrations for his books by Quentin Blake. Undated photo.

British children’s writer Roald Dahl ate chocolates and sweets “pretty much every mealtime,” remembers daughter Ophelia Dahl:

“He…was fascinated by the cross section of the Mars bar – the layers of chocolate, caramel and nougat. He would never just bite it, but always cut it and have a look at it like it was a section of the Earth.” (1)

Mars bar with wrapper

After dinner, whether dining alone or entertaining guests, Dahl would pass around a little red plastic box full of Mars Bars, Milky Ways, Maltesers, Kit Kats and much more.

He knew the history of all the sweets and could tell you exactly when they were invented. 1937 was a big year when Kit Kats (his favorite), Rolos, and Smarties (his dog, Chopper’s favorite) were invented. He wrote a history of chocolate, lecturing schoolchildren to commit such dates to memory such as 1928 when “Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut bar popped up on the scene,” (2) saying,

“Don’t bother with the Kings and Queens of England. All of you should learn these dates instead. Perhaps the Headmistress will see from now on that it becomes part of the major teaching in this school.” (3)

chocolate ad

Roald Dahl as a teenager at Repton, UK. Undated photo.

Roald Dahl as a teenager at Repton, UK. Undated photo.

According to Dahl, the Golden Years of Chocolate were 1930-1937. In 1930, Roald Dahl was 14 years old. He was a student at Repton, a prestigious boys’ boarding school in England. It was a harsh environment: those in authority were more interested in controlling than educating the students. In Boy: Tales of Childhood, Dahl writes :

“By now, I am sure you will be wondering why I lay so much emphasis upon school beatings….The answer is that I cannot help it. All through my school life I was appalled by the fact that masters and senior boys were allowed literally to wound other boys, and sometimes quite severely. I couldn’t get over it. I never have got over it. It would, of course, be unfair to suggest that all masters were constantly beating the daylights out of all the boys in those days. They weren’t. Only a few did so, but that was quite enough to leave a lasting impression of horror upon me.”

 

Chocolate with cubesIronically, it was at this difficult period that chocolate became Dahl’s passion. Near Repton was a Cadbury chocolate factory. Every so often, Cadbury would send each schoolboy a sampler box of new chocolates to taste and grade. They were using the students – “the greatest chocolate bar experts in the world” to test out their new inventions.

This was when Dahl’s imagination took flight. He pictured factories with inventing rooms with pots of chocolate and fudge and “all sorts of other delicious fillings bubbling away on the stoves.” (4)

Cadbury chocolate factory workers, UK, 1932

Cadbury chocolate factory workers, UK, 1932

“It was lovely dreaming those dreams….[and] when I was looking for a plot for my second book for children, I remembered those little cardboard boxes and the newly-invented chocolates inside them, and I began to write a book called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, 1964.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, 1964.

For the record, Roald Dahl did not like chocolate cake or chocolate ice cream. He said,

“I prefer my chocolate straight.”

(1) The Daily Mail

(2) Dahl, Roald. “The Chocolate Revolution,” Sunday Magazine. September 7, 1997.

(3) The Roald Dahl Museum

(4) Dahl, Roald. Boy: Tales of Childhood. New York: Puffin Books, 1984.

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436-287-WH64_-Lyndon-and-Lady-Bird-at-the-LBJ-Ranch-on-election-day-in-1964

President Lyndon B. Johnson and First Lady Lady Bird Johnson relax at their Stonewall, Texas ranch following LBJ’s election to the Presidency. November, 1964.

When she was First Lady of the United States (1963-69), Lady Bird Johnson felt that she was often in a moving vehicle. In her diary, she wrote:

LBJ Ranch [Stonewall, Texas]

Saturday, April 10, 1965

“We arrived at the Ranch last night around 10:45 on the Jetstar….

[This morning] Sarge and Eunice Shriver, Ann Brinkley, Lyndon, and I helicoptered to San Marcos to Camp Gary, to the dedication of the Job Corps Camp….”

Lady Bird Johnson (1)

President Lyndon B. Johnson (back to camera at right) speaks with Mathilde Krim and Lady Bird Johnson First Lady of the United States Lady Bird Johnson and Mathilde Krim are on board a helicopter en route from Krim Ranch to LBJ Ranch, near Stonewall, Texas. President Johnson has his back to photographer. November 7, 1966. Photo by Mike Geissinger. LBJ Presidential Library. 3837-37

First Lady of the United States Lady Bird Johnson and Mathilde Krim are on board a helicopter en route from the Krim Ranch to the LBJ Ranch, near Stonewall, Texas. President Johnson has his back to photographer. November 7, 1966. Photo by Mike Geissinger. LBJ Presidential Library. 3837-37

After some emotional speechifying, the ceremony ended, and, around noon, the group was back in the chopper, flying to yet another of the Johnsons’ many Texas properties. This one – the Haywood Ranch – lay northwest of Austin near Kingsland on Lake Granite Shoals (which, by the end of the month, would be renamed Lake LBJ). Though the Haywood Ranch was 4,500 acres of mostly pasture land, undeveloped, it was a lakeside retreat where President Lyndon Baines Johnson kept his many boats. He loved his boats, maybe as much as he loved his Lincoln Continentals.

Then American Vice President Lyndon Johnson entertains guests on his Glaston boat. July 16, 1961. Note Lady Bird Johnson in green. She recalled being “often in a moving vehicle” during the White House years.

LBJ loved packing his boats with guests (especially pretty girls, according to Lady Bird), taking the wheel himself, and zigzagging at top speed across the lake, spray flying, bouncing hard across his wake, oftentimes pulling a skier or two and dropping off guests for a quick dip in the fresh water. Then, around noon, he would head over to Coca-Cola Ranch, slip into the peace of the cove, and – after cutting the throttle – spread out a picnic lunch to enjoy in the warm Texas sun.

At 1:17 p.m., the Presidential party – the Shrivers, the Johnsons, and others – landed at Haywood Ranch. The spring countryside was blanketed in fragrant Texas bluebonnets. LBJ made telephone calls inviting more friends to join the happy party – and to bring bar-b-q and swimsuits. Then the President and guests “went to the boats.” (2)

LBJ diary April 10 1965

excerpt from LBJ daily diary for April 10, 1965

President Johnson couldn’t wait to show Eunice Shriver his new toy. It was a “lagoon blue” convertible. Built in Germany, this Amphicar – half-boat, half-car – was one of only 3,878 produced. The President took Mrs. Shriver and Sgt. Paul Glynn out for a spin in his very unusual car. They drove straight from the land out onto the water and the car didn’t sink. Granted, it only went 15 m.p.h. tops, but it managed to keep the water out. It was a hoot and the President loved a hoot.

President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Amphicar with Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Paul Glynn. April 10, 1965. Photo by Yoichi Okamoto. LBJ Presidential Library A263-8

President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Amphicar with Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Paul Glynn at the Haywood Ranch, near Kingsland, Texas. April 10, 1965. Photo by Yoichi Okamoto. LBJ Presidential Library A263-8.

Joe Califano Jr., then LBJ’s top domestic aide, remembered when the President took him out for a ride in the Amphicar – without LBJ telling him first that it was amphibious:

“The President, with Vicky McCammon in the seat alongside him and me in the back,was now driving around in a small blue car with the top down. We reached a steep incline at the edge of the lake and the car started rolling rapidly toward the water. The president shouted, ‘The brakes don’t work! The brakes won’t hold! We’re going in! We’re going under!’
The car splashed into the water. I started to get out. Just then the car leveled, and I realized we were in an Amphicar. The president laughed. As we putted along the lake then (and throughout the evening), he teased me. “Vicky, did you see what Joe did? He didn’t give a damn about his President. He just wanted to save his own skin and get out of the car.” Then he’d roar. (3)”

President LBJ's Amphicar

President LBJ’s Amphicar

 LBJ’s Amphicar is displayed at the LBJ Ranch.

ad Amphicar arrives in America 196o New York Automobile Show Program

Amphibious cars for the civilian population was a trend that never took off.

Sources

(1) Johnson, Lady Bird. A White House Diary. Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1970. p. 259.

(2) Lyndon B. Johnson’s daily diary, April 10, 1965. LBJ Presidential Library.

(3) Califano, Joseph A. The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years. NY: Simon and Schuster, 2015.

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What would the American Civil Rights Movement have been without the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? On September 20, 1958, we almost lost him.

The weather boded well for a good turnout. It was a sunny Saturday in New York City and Blumstein’s Department Store – at  230 W. 125th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues, Harlem – was hustling to get ready for their big guest. On the ground floor, behind the shoe department, clerks had roped off an area where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would sit behind a desk to autograph copies of his first book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. 

The book related the success of the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott that lead to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the unconstitutionality of segregated transit systems.

wo black ministers who were active in the long boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama were among the first to ride after a Supreme Court integration order went into effect on December 21, 1956. At left, front seat, is the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, while at left in the second seat is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Beside King is white minister, Rev. Glenn Smiley of New York, who said he was in Montgomery as an observer.

Two black ministers who were active in the long boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama were among the first to ride after a Supreme Court integration order went into effect on December 21, 1956. At right, is the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, while at left is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Black Americans no longer had to sit at the back of the bus or give up their seats to white people.

Dr. King, with his powerful oratory, had rocketed to fame nearly overnight and had become a significant figure on the national political scene for his participation in the victory. He was making four speeches a week to persuade the nation to stop the practice of racial segregation. It was the dawn of the civil rights movement.

“Dr. King is a rather soft-spoken man with a learning and maturity far beyond his 27 years. His clothes are in conservative good taste and he has a small trim mustache.”(1)

Izola Ware Curry

Blumstein’s Department Store – the site of the autograph party for Dr. King – wasn’t far from where Izola Ware Curry, 42, lived in a brownstone, at 121 West 122d Street in Harlem. Izola was a drifter, a sometimes maid, who had been in Harlem only two months. Izola had Dr. King on her radar. She detested him and all black preachers, calling their boycotts and protests a sham. She felt that blacks should move for social change through appeals to Congress. She hated the NAACP in particular – thought they were controlled by Communists – and white people in general. By 1956, paranoia had taken over her thinking. She started writing the FBI claiming that Communists were out to get her. She was anti-social, tended to babble and rant, her words often unintelligible and ungrammatical. Her neighbors wrote her off as “eccentric.” Izola Ware Curry was African-American.

The Rally The Night Before the Signing

The night before Dr. King’s book signing, just around the corner from Blumstein’s, a rally was held for Dr. King in front of the Hotel Teresa. On the podium he was joined by other dignitaries, among them baseball great Jackie Robinson, New York Governor Averell Harriman, and gubernatorial hopeful, Republican Nelson Rockefeller, with music provided by Duke Ellington. The crowd numbered 5,000. Izola Ware Curry, in her unstable mental state, was there.

When Rockefeller spoke:

This business about [Eisenhower] going slow on integration….I know the man!….Who sent the troops to Little Rock?”(2)

Curry heckled him, calling white people racists. King’s escort in the city, William Rowe,

“did his best to calm her down. And Frederick Weaver, a platform guest, motioned for police officers to make her stop. But the police were reluctant to get tough with her, fearing…an incident…that could escalate into a larger racial disturbance.” (2)

When Dr. King spoke, Curry jeered him, too, as did a few others. Curry shouted that no “negro” should ever try to cooperate with a white person. Rowe had to calm her down once more.

Miraculously, the rally ended without dissolving into chaos. Rowe feared more trouble at the next day’s signing, suggesting a bodyguard for Dr. King, an idea that Dr. King rejected.

The Booksigning

Saturday, September 20, 1958

Blumstein’s Department Store

3:30 p.m.

Izola Ware Curry, 42

Izola Ware Curry, 42

As she pushed her way through the crowd to the desk where Dr. King sat, bystanders couldn’t help but notice the elegantly dressed black woman in her stylish suit, showy jewelry, and sequined cat’s-eyeglasses. Nothing on the surface betrayed the insanity beneath. Little did onlookers suspect that, secreted in Izola Curry’s bra, was a loaded Italian automatic pistol, and, in her enormous leather purse, a 7-inch steel leather opener.

With her purse slung over one arm, Izola Curry strode with purpose straight up to Dr. King, where he was seated, signing a book for a customer.

“Are you Martin Luther King?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied, not looking up. (3)

She reached into her purse and withdrew the letter opener in an arc. Instinctively, Dr. King yanked his left arm up to block the weapon, cutting his left hand as she plunged the blade into his chest. Dr. King recalled:

“The next minute I felt something beating on my chest.”

A bystander knocked Curry’s hand away from the blade before she could withdraw it and stab Dr. King again.

“I’ve been after him for six years!” shouted Curry, starting to run. “I’m glad I done it!” (2)

A group of women chased her with umbrellas, shouting, “Catch her!” A journalist jumped out and grabbed Curry by the left arm and turned her over to the store security guard, who handcuffed her.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sits calmly with a letter opener protruding from his chest as Nettie C. Jackson tends his cut hand. September 20, 1958

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sits calmly with a letter opener protruding from his chest as Nettie C. Jackson tends his cut hand. September 20, 1958

Meanwhile, Dr. King sat still and calm and clear-thinking, with the letter opener protruding from his chest. Someone called for an ambulance to Harlem Hospital. Dr. King was carried, still seated in his chair, to the back of the store. When the ambulance arrived, he was placed carefully on his back. He was told, as was everyone present, that he must not touch the letter opener.

The stabbing nearly cost Dr. King his life, as the blade of the letter opener had lodged in his sternum, within millimeters of piercing the aorta. At Harlem Hospital, surgeons extracted the blade in a delicate operation. He developed pneumonia and had a long convalescence.

Surgeons performed a delicate 2 1/4 hour surgery to extract the letter opener from Dr. Martin Luther King's manubrium, the top bone of the sternum. September 20, 1958

Surgeons performed a delicate 2 1/4 hour surgery to extract the letter opener from Dr. Martin Luther King’s manubrium, the top bone of the sternum. September 20, 1958

A rare photograph of the operation on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, when he was stabbed in Harlem on September 20, 1958

A rare photograph of the operation on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, when he was stabbed in Harlem on September 20, 1958

Izola Ware Curry, Dr. Martin Luther King's assailant. Following her arrest, psychiatrists evaluated her and diagnosed her with paranoid schizophrenia and an I.Q. of about 70. She was institutionalized and died in 2015, at the age of 98. (Getty Images)

Izola Ware Curry, Dr. Martin Luther King’s assailant. Following her arrest, psychiatrists evaluated her and diagnosed her with paranoid schizophrenia and an I.Q. of about 70. She was institutionalized and died in 2015, at the age of 98. (Getty Images)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is embraced by his wife Coretta Scott King during a news conference at Harlem Hospital in New York, Sept 30, 1958, where he is recovering from a stab wound following an attack by a woman. At left is his mother, Alberta Williams King. (AP Photo/Tony Camerano)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is embraced by his wife Coretta Scott King during a news conference at Harlem Hospital in New York, Sept 30, 1958, where he was recovering from a stab wound following an attack by Izola Ware Curry. At left is his mother, Alberta Williams King. (AP Photo/Tony Camerano)

Ten Years Later

On April 3, 1968, ten years after the Harlem stabbing, Dr. King recalled it in his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech in Memphis, Tennessee:

“The x-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And, once that’s punctured, you’re drowned in your own blood – that’s the end of you.”

The surgeon told him that, if he had sneezed before the operation, he would have died. To lively applause, he continued, in his “Mountaintop” speech:

“And I want to say tonight – I want to say tonight that I, too, am happy that I didn’t sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting in at lunch counters. 

 “If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1961, when we decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation in interstate travel.

“If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Ala., aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream I had.”

He closed his speech with remarks about the possibility of his untimely death. The next day, in Memphis, he was assassinated by James Earl Ray, a white supremacist.

(1) “Battle Against Tradition: Martin Luther King, Jr.” The New York Times, March 21, 1956

(2) Pearson, Hugh. When Harlem Nearly Killed King. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003.

(3) “Izola Ware Curry, Who Stabbed King in 1958, Dies at 98.” New York Times. March 22, 2015.

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My husband Tom and I just returned from touring “Ladies and Gentlemen…The Beatles!” (June 13, 2015 – January 10, 2016) at the LBJ Presidential Library here in Austin, Texas. This fantastic traveling exhibit focuses on the years 1964-1966, when the British rock band landed in America and took the world by storm.

While some of the memorabilia in the museum was standard Beatles fare – clips of the Fab Four performing on the Ed Sullivan TV show, photos of George, Paul, Ringo, and John running from the ceiling to the floor,

George Harrison

George Harrison

Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney

Ringo Starr

Ringo Starr

John Lennon

John Lennon

videos of fans being interviewed,

Interviewer: Do you have Beatlemania?

Female Fan: Yes, but we don’t know why we act as we do.

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“Love Me Do,” the Beatles first single, was released on Oct. 5, 1962

there were still plenty of choice nuggets to be discovered among the trove, including this “Love Me Do” 45 RPM record, signed by all 4 Beatles the day after it was recorded.

Included were John Lennon‘s first pair of granny glasses.

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John  Lennon 1967

John Lennon 1967

The centerpiece of the show was one of John Lennon’s beloved Gibson guitars.

John Lennon's Gibson Guitar

John Lennon’s Gibson Guitar, 1962. John Lennon bought this electric-acoustic, Gibson J-160E guitar at Rushworth’s Music House in Liverpool, England, soon after the Beatles signed their first recording contract with Parlophone Records. The guitar cost £161 (approximately $450). Lennon used it on several famous Beatles recordings from 1963 to ’64, including “Please Please Me,” “She Loves You, and “A Hard Day’s Night.” The guitar made a limited appearance in Austin (June 13-29).

While we’re talking about John, here is a lock of his hair he bestowed on a British fan, signing his autograph with ‘love from “Bald” John Lennon xxx.’

John Lennon's autograph with lock of hair

John Lennon’s autograph with lock of hair

Featured was the original Ludwig drum head Ringo played on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

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Ringo’s drums

At an oral history booth, I made an audio recording of my personal recollections of the Beatles. I was nine years old when the Beatles made their first appearance – live – on the Ed Sullivan Show. It was August, a Sunday night, and a hot one. I grew up in South Texas, in the days before air conditioned houses. Our casement windows were cranked open.

When the Beatles debuted with“All My Loving,” the teen-aged girls in the audience went wild, screaming. Then we heard screams in the neighborhood. The next door neighbor children were screaming as they watched the performance.

The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. Feb. 9, 1964

The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. Feb. 9, 1964

Instead of playing house, my sister Loise, my neighbor, Katie, and I played a variation on that theme that we called “Beatles Wives.” We pretended we were each married to a Beatle and were waiting for the men to come home. We would get dressed up and plan the (imaginary) dinner we would serve them. I thought I was Jane Asher (Paul’s girlfriend at the time), as I was “married” to Paul McCartney.

My mother loved the Beatles as much as we children did. She would put one of their records on the stereo and we – my mom, my sisters, my neighbor friends, and I – would hold hands and dance around and around in a big circle in our living room. The album, “Beatles 65,” was a favorite.

Back at the LBJ exhibit: At the entrance, there was also a huge wall map of the United States pinned with ticket stubs for Beatles concerts.

In 1966, $4.50 bought you a ticket to a Beatles concert. The Candlestick Park, San Francisco, would be their last official concert. The 11-song set included hits such as  “She’s a Woman,” “Day Tripper,” “I Feel Fine,” “Yesterday,” and “Paperback Writer.”

In 1966, $4.50 bought you a ticket to a Beatles concert – in this case, the Beatles’ last official concert – at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. Their 11-song set included hits such as “She’s a Woman,” “Day Tripper,” “I Feel Fine,” “Yesterday,” and “Paperback Writer.”

(l. to r.) Paul McCartney and George Harrison perform at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, in August of 1966. This was their final official performance. They were burned out and complained that the fans were so loud they couldn't hear themselves playing the music.

(l. to r.) Paul McCartney and George Harrison perform at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, in August of 1966. This was their final official performance. They were burned out and complained that the fans were so loud they couldn’t hear themselves playing their music.

One wall case was devoted to Beatles products sold by Woolworth’s department stores: Beatles bubble bath, bobble-headed dolls, “Build a Beatle” kits, Beatle lunchkits, record holders, and rings.

Bobble headed Beatles

Bobble headed Beatles

I saved the best for last. Here is a song written in longhand by Paul McCartney.

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This is an early draft of the song, “What You’re Doing,” written by Paul McCartney with help from John Lennon, 1964. During their first U.S. tour, the group rested in Atlantic City, where McCartney tossed this draft in the trash. It was retrieved by a maid and given to Atlantic City concert promoter George Hamid.

Our tour ended with a photo op of Tom and me walking across Abbey Road.

Tom

Tom

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Me

Readers: For more on the Beatles, click here

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