Holidays · Monuments and Memorials

Why We Celebrate George Washington's Birthday Today Instead of Friday

This portrait of George and Martha Washington is in the collection of the Merchant's House Museum
This portrait of George and Martha Washington and her grandchildren .is in the collection of the Merchant’s House Museum, New York City.

Time was when George Washington’s birthday, February 22, was a vigorously celebrated patriotic holiday. Here’s how Julia Lay, the wife of a New York City bookkeeper described the city in her diary entry of February 22, 1852:

A great demonstration. The bells were rung, cannons fired, and there was a general observance all over the city. Thousands of houses were illuminated and decorated with busts of Washington and flags were on house tops and steeples and parlor balconies.

Washington, “first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen” was revered throughout the 19th century. In 1879, congress declared his birthday, February 22, a federal holiday.

But gradually the American Revolution and the founding receded into the distance, and the reverence the people felt for Washington in earlier years faded.

in 1968 George Washington’s birthday became a casualty of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, when an act of congress shifted the fixed dates of certain holidays to designated Mondays in order to give federal employees several three day weekends. Congress did not change the name to Presidents’ Day, but because the third Monday of February falls between Lincoln’s birthday (February 12) and GW’s birthday (February 22), some people began calling it Presidents’ Day, and today it seems to be a holiday to honor all presidents, which in effect really honors none of them.

The third Monday in February never falls on February 22, George Washington’s actual birthday.

paintings · Poetry · Technology

Another Take on Conversation

About the same time as I was writing my last post on the importance of conversation, Herb was working on a post of the same subject for his blog. We didn’t plan it that way. That sort of thing happens when you’ve been married a long time. Here, from his blog, paintingsandpoems.home.blog:

SOLITUDE IS NO SOLUTION

Herb Knapp

THE MIND
Birds, bees, termites, ants, and molds
taken singly are brainless things,
but when they come together with their kind,
they act as if directed by a mind.
We, however, lose our minds in crowds,
grow drunkenly ambitious, start to build
stairways to the stars, or try to kill
our neighbors, pillage stores, set fire to cars.
Solitude is no solution though.
A mountain man’s a crowd of one,
who follows his uncontradicted will, 
as mindless as an ant without a hill.
Our minds are fragile, easily destroyed
by noise or silence, griefs or celebrations.
For minds to flourish, they must be employed
regularly in rambling conversations.

Below iis a conversation between men called “The Long Story” by William Sidney Mount.

And here is a painting of a conversation between two women called “Conversation” by the twentieth century painter Milton Avery.

Thomas Traherne: “The world is best enjoyed and most immediately while we converse blessed and wisely with men.”

Jonathan Edwards: “The being of society, as such, is conversation.”

Michael Oakeshott: “Learning to be human is learning to participate in the conversation of mankind.” 

Technology

Three Smart Phones and the Sounds of Silence

Cell_phones_image

First published on May 17, 2016. Here it is again–slightly edited.

Last Tuesday morning a couple walked into the restaurant where Herb and I were having coffee. They sat down at a nearby table; the waitress took their order, the man pulled out his cell phone and began texting—maybe emailing. For the next five minutes, she sat silent as stone, staring into the middle distance.

After a few more minutes, a second phone in his pocket rang. He took it out, spoke briefly to the caller and then returned to the  business of the first phone.

Finally, she took her phone from her bag and started scrolling. I kept my eye on them, fascinated by a real-life example of what I have been reading about in a compelling and disturbing book, Reclaiming Conversation: the Importance of Talk in the Digital Age by Sherry Turkel.

After twenty minutes, we finished our coffee and left. Not a word had been exchanged between them. I don’t know how two people who are so uninterested in each other could maintain a relationship much less a marriage for long. As someone who has remained happily married ( for a long, looong time—65 years and counting), I am here to tell you this is not the way you do it.

Education · Handwriting

The Missing Amenity

ilarge-woman-writing-letter

This post originally appeared on Jan. 10, 2017. In belated observance of National Handwriting Day (Jan 23) I am reposting it today

Over the holidays we had occasion to spend a couple of nights in a hotel, something we hadn’t done for awhile.

Of course we were not at all surprised to find the huge TV, the little ihome clock radio, the microwave, the refrigerator, the coffee maker, the iron , the ironing board, the hair dryer, the illuminated magnifying mirror (I could have done without that), and various lotions, gels, soap, and shampoo. And a note left on the vanity informed us that the management would be happy to supply a toothbrush, or comb if we had forgotten to pack those items. The safe in the closet, I’ll admit, was a bit of a surprise.

I wondered if there might still be a Gideon Bible hidden somewhere. I opened the drawer of the night stand and sure enough! There it was. Since it was almost Christmas, I read the Christmas story as told by Matthew. That was nice.

However even with this superfluity of amenities, there was something missing—NO STATIONERY! And we know why, don’t we? Because nobody writes handwritten notes or letters any more.

 Or do they?

waldorf-stationery

I decided to ask Google about hotel stationery. (Google knows everything.) It seems that while many hotels have stopped offering it, some— mostly high end— hotels still do. In fact there is a luxury hotel in California where complimentary stationery is embossed with the guest’s name! Actually, I think that’s a bit much.

I realize that just because the hotel offers stationery does’t mean that guests use it. Nevertheless, the fact that high end hotels still provide it seems to support a notion I have had for awhile.  That is, that the handwritten note is becoming a status marker. High end parents who want their children to appear refined and well educated may see to it that their children write thank you notes by hand. They may even insist that the kids learn to write a cursive hand, even if they have to hire a tutor. Privileged children then may learn a skill that used to be taught to all children, thus increasing the social divide. This would not be progress. mlk

Museums

Once Upon A Time. . .

This was one of the first hintsandechoes posts, published on June 15, 2012.

2500 years ago to be more or less exact, a Babylonian princess named Ennigaldi lived in the ancient city-state of Ur in what is modern day Iraq. I ran across Ennigaldi in one of those endless meanderings on the internet that lead you further and further astray from where you started out and seems to have no possibility of getting you where you want to go, although the journey turns out to be very interesting. Ennigaldi, by virtue of her station as princess, was the high priestess of the moon god—Nanna—and ran a school to train high priestesses.

The ruins of Ur

Fast forward to 1921. Leonard Woolley, archeologist of the Ashmolean Museum, was excavating the palace grounds at Ur. All was going as one would expect—until Woolley and his team began turning up startling inconsistencies, uncovering objects that predated the site by many centuries. Among them were a boundary marker, a carefully trimmed fragment of a statue, and a stone mace-head. Woolley was puzzled. Why were there so many of these objects and why did they come from such different geographical origins? In his book, Ur of the Chaldees: A Record of Seven Years of Excavation, Woolley wrote, “What were we to think? Here were half a dozen diverse objects found lying on an unbroken pavement of the sixth century B.C., yet the newest of them was seven hundred years older that the pavement and the earliest perhaps sixteen hundred.”

Clay drum excavated at Ur, one of the first museum labels.

The mystery was solved when Woolley discovered clay drums with inscriptions describing the objects in three languages. Woolley realized then that the drums were museum labels and that he had just discovered the oldest museum known to man, a museum that it was determined later had been organized by Ennigaldi herself.

That a Babylonian princess and those of her time were even then looking backward over millenia, collecting and studying objects in order to connect with their ancient history suggests that the impulse is deeply rooted in our nature.  Like Ennigaldi and her students, we want to learn where we came from and how we got here. An object from the past helps us do that.  Today some of those objects can be found behind glass in art museums; some can be seen in context in an historic house museum, but perhaps the object that can be found right in our own homes and connects us immediately to our personal history means the most. What’s in your house?