Thursday, December 18, 2014

George Washington's Christmas Camel


George Washington had a life-long interest in exotic animals, at one time or another in his lifetime commenting on seeing a “Lyoness”, a “Cugar” and a “Sea Leopard”.  In 1787, two years before his death, the retired President Washington paid 18 shillings to have a camel displayed at Mount Vernon for Christmas.  The Mount Vernon Estate hosts a camel every year during the Christmas season to commemorate the event.



How Martha Washington Lived: 18th Century Customs



Neither Martha Washington nor the women of the South’s leading families were marble statues, they had the same strengths and weaknesses, passions and problems, joys and sorrows, as the women of any age.  So just how did they live?



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Civil War Ghosts: Fact or Fiction?


     Do ghosts from the American Civil War still walk amongst us, or are reported spectral visions and unearthly things that go bump in the night the product of over active imaginations?  Trained lawyer and paranormal researcher Arthur S. Berger points out that paranormal research is not unlike legal advocacy.  In a criminal court both sides present evidence, but evidence is not proof.  It is up to the jury to decide if the evidence presented represents “proof beyond a reasonable doubt”.  If juries have difficulty making decisions even in some fairly straightforward criminal cases, how much more difficult must it be to establish “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” of ghosts. 
     More useful is the standard of evidence used in civil cases, “preponderance of the evidence”.  Preponderance of evidence is based on the quality of the evidence presented and its probable truth or accuracy, and not on the amount of evidence presented. Thus, one clearly knowledgeable witness may provide a preponderance of evidence over a dozen witnesses with hazy testimony.  If a sceptic provides a demonstrable scientific explanation for a seemingly paranormal event, the explanation represents a higher standard of evidence than a dozen sightings by individuals of the paranormal event. 
     Take for example, what are known as “rare atmospheric phenomena.”  In March 2005 a man in Clifton, Virginia reported, “We had a power outage last night and my wife was awakened by the answering machine clicking on and off as the power tried to recover, and then it went out completely. She went to the front door to see if it was raining or windy and saw a very large object hovering over a nearby house about 1/8 of a mile from our house. It was larger than the house, seemed to be at an angle to her view with the bottom exposed and had lights all around it evenly spaced. When it began to move away, several lightning flashes were seen and then it was gone. The power returned two hours later”. The appearance lasted just a few seconds, from the “balls of light” formation to the vertical lightning flash. The woman thought she was seeing a UFO, but was actually witnessing a natural, “rare atmospheric phenomena” involving multiple ball lightening, which, while an extremely rare event, is scientifically demonstrable.

     Preponderance of evidence cuts both ways.  For thousands of years Europeans believed all swans were white.  Black swans were thought to be as mythical as unicorns.  There were “no such things as” black swans.  It only took the discovery of the first black swan in Australia in 1790 to topple thousands of years of European scientific “knowledge”.  Similarly, those who said that tiny invisible organism were swimming in a clear glass of water and causing disease were laughed to scorn until 1676 when Anton van Leeuwenhoek observed bacteria and other microorganism using a single-lens microscope of his own design.

Manassas Battlefield Ghosts





A brief look at the impact of war on civilians living around Manassas based on first person narratives and family histories


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Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Cusco: Temple of the Sun

"Know, whoever you may be who may chance to set foot in this land, that it contains more gold and silver than there is iron is Biscay."           

The Spaniards conquered Peru over the course of several decades in an atmosphere of civil war and chaos.  The Incas had just concluded a war between two brothers, Atahualpa and Huascar when the Spanish arrived on the scene.  Atahualpa had just captured Huascar and was heading south to enter his capital, Cuzco, when he himself was made hostage by the Spanish.  Atahualpa then had Huascar murdered.  After extorting the proverbial king's ransom, the Spanish, in turn, murdered Atahualpa.  The Spanish next marched on Cuzco, the capital and Holy City of the Inca Empire, installing a puppet emperor.  Throughout the period the Incas scurried about trying to hide the most sacred religious items from defilement.        

Gold and silver had no monetary significance to the Incas.   They were considered sacred, with gold regarded as the sweat of the sun and silver as the tears of the moon.  Religious items were made of gold and silver, but they had no worth, other than artistic, to the common man.              Because of their religious significance, gold and silver objects were well hidden and well guarded for generations, never being turned into cash to satisfy short term needs.         

Cuzco's Temple of the Sun, was the most revered shrine in the empire.  Only three Spaniards ever saw the Temple in its full glory.  These men were sent by the Spanish commander, Francisco Pizarro, to speed up the collection of the royal ransom.  The temple had gardens in which everything.....trees and grass and flowers, animals, birds, butterflies, cornstalks, snakes, lizards and snails were all made of hammered gold.  The main room of the temple held the high altar which was dedicated to the sun.  The four walls of the room were hung with plaques of gold, from top to bottom, and a likeness of the sun topped the high altar.  The likeness was made of a gold plaque twice as thick as those that paneled the walls and was composed of a round face, surrounded by rays and flames.  The whole thing was so immense that it occupied the entire back of the temple, from one wall to the other.  The disc was positioned to catch the morning sun and throw its rays into the gold-lined temple, filling it with radiant light.  


On either side of this enormous golden sun were kept mummies of former Inca kings, which were so well preserved that they seemed alive.  The mummies were seated on golden thrones and looked directly out at the visitor.


Where was the Garden of Eden?

General Gordon

The Seychelles are a group of islands and islets in the Indian Ocean. Praslin Island, the second largest of the group, is unique in all the world...distinguished for being identified as the original earthly paradise, the Garden of Eden.

Praslin is a sun drenched paradise, with lush vegetation and a climate that ranges from 68 o to 88 o Fahrenheit year round. Over a century ago, British General and biblical scholar Charles George Gordon (Gordon of Khartoum) visited the island and became convinced that it was the location of the Garden of Eden.

Gordon developed his extraordinary idea after studying the unique vegetation in the Valle de Mai. Here in this Valley, in the center of Praslin Island, Gordon discovered a unique palm tree that is found nowhere else in the entire world. The male palm is distinguished by a catkin that dangles from a confluence of giant palms and resembles the male sexual organ. The female palm produces a fruit (the Coco de Mer), a giant coconut that resembles the female pelvis.


The island was uninhabited when discovered by Europeans in 1744. Since then an island myth has grown up that on windy nights the tall palms, male and female, sway against each other and entwine to procreate. Anyone foolish enough to venture into the forest to watch the nighttime “mating” will be struck dead on the spot.





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Monday, December 08, 2014

The Original Builder of Mount Vernon


Rippon Lodge

     Richard Blackburn (1705-1757), although little noted in national history, stands out as a kind of “representative” man of the colonial period in northern Virginia.  Born in Ripon, England, Blackburn came to America to make his fortune, and according to his gravestone, because, “He was a man of consummate prudence, frugality and indefatigable industry…he made a large fortune in a few years.”  Among his other talents, Richard Blackburn was a master builder, who built his own house, Rippon Lodge, and the first Truro Parish church at Falls Church.  It was to master builder Richard Blackburn that George Washington’s father turned to build a house on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River, the house that was later to be known as Mount Vernon.  The survival of this early structure within the fabric of the present house is confirmed by a diarist who in 1801 identified the central portion of the house as having been “constructed by the General’s father.” 
     Colonel Thomas Blackburn, the son of Richard, was the contemporary and comrade-in-arms of George Washington.  Thomas Blackburn was a representative to the second, third, and fourth Virginia Conventions in 1775 and was elected Lieutenant-Colonel of the Second Virginia Regiment in 1776.  Colonel Blackburn served as an aide on George Washington’s military staff until he received a disabling wound at the battle of Germantown, after which he returned to Rippon Lodge, where he continued to support the patriot cause, feeding and clothing a regiment of Continental troops at Rippon Lodge one entire winter.  In the spring he sent them back to the army free of expense.
      In the time of Col. Thomas Blackburn, the Washington and Blackburn families were on close terms, and George Washington’s diary speaks of his visits to the Blackburns at Rippon Lodge, and frequently of entertaining the Blackburn family at Mount Vernon.  Thomas Blackburn’s daughter Ann married George Washington’s nephew Bushrod Washington, and a granddaughter (Jane Charlotte Blackburn) married John Augustine Washington. These ladies of Rippon Lodge thus became, in time, each in turn, the first lady of Mount Vernon.





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